How Gardening Can Fight Stress And Improve Your Life

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It’s National Nutrition Month, which makes it a great time to evaluate how you’ve been fueling your body. If one of the changes you’ve decided to make involves eating more fruits and vegetables, you might want to consider starting your own garden. Not only could this decision be beneficial to your waistline, it could also improve your mental health.

The Research

We’re fascinated by nature and this curiosity can help us better cope with life’s challenges. In fact, one study showed that engaging with a garden distracts us from our worries and stops us from obsessing about our problems. Over 12 weeks, participants saw an improvement in the severity of their depression during and immediately after the gardening study, and three months later, they still reported significant improvements!

Cortisol is a hormone released by the body when we’re experiencing stress. When the levels remain elevated in our bodies, it can increase our risk of depression, mental illness, impaired immune function, weight gain, heart disease and so much more. Incredibly, spending time in nature can help keep things under control.

Japanese researchers discovered that spending 30 minutes in the woods could not only lower cortisol levels, but could also improve heart rates and blood pressure. Similarly, another study showed that after 30 minutes of gardening, participants’ cortisol levels dropped and their moods were boosted by the activity.

The takeaway? Spending just half an hour with your hands in the soil, surrounded by vegetation, can provide serious benefits for your body, mind and overall health. Interested? Here are some tips to help you get started.

Keep it Simple

If you’ve never gardened before, you might feel overwhelmed by the prospect of starting a new hobby. The key is to start small and keep it simple. You don’t have to tear up your whole backyard and plant a farm — be realistic about the time and effort you’re willing to put into it. The last thing you want is to be stressed out about your stress-relieving garden!

While it’s great to listen to suggestions and advice from experienced “green thumbs,” this garden is all about you. No, you don’t need a specific type of shoes or apron to do this. Yes, starting with a few potted plants on your porch counts. Gardening is an escape and a hobby, so as soon as it starts feeling like a chore, simplify!

Unplug and Dig In

When you step out to your garden, leave the world behind. Thirty minutes from now, everything will be right where you left it. You’ll devote more than enough hours to texting, emails and social media throughout the rest of your day. When it’s time to weed, plant and till, allow yourself to slow down and disconnect.

Interestingly, studies have shown that multitasking decreases efficiency and that excessive mobile phone use can disrupt sleep and actually increase feelings of stress and depression.  Besides, you don’t want to get soil and grime in the grooves of your smartphone, right? Easy solution — leave it inside!

Stress-Reducing Designs

Ready to take your gardening efforts to the next level? There’s nothing wrong with keeping things small, but this is an opportunity to get creative. Use your imagination when choosing plants and a color palette and let it be a reflection of what you love to see.

For those seeking a little guidance, Dr. Leonard P. Perry at the University of Vermont Extension Department of Plant and Soil Science described some of the traits associated with gardens designed for serenity. As he explained, stress-reducing gardens “are often similar to any other woodland or flower garden, only emphasizing certain design principles and colors.”

Live in the Moment

There’s so much to see and do in a garden. Rather than dwelling on the challenges you’re facing or the lengthy to-do list waiting for you, give yourself permission to live in the moment. Notice the birds chirping, the gentle breeze and aromatic scent of soil and vegetation.

Practice mindfulness, a stress-relieving technique, by becoming fully captivated with what’s happening in your garden. Notice the ants scurrying to find shelter, note the color of the blossoms and contemplate the texture of the earth on your fingers. Be fascinated by all of the life that’s happening right before your eyes. It’s life-changing.

Get Down and Dirty!

This spring, for both your mental and physical health, consider planting a garden. As an added benefit, if you grow fruits and vegetables, you’ll have fresh produce to enjoy! No salad will taste better than the one grown by your own hands.

Even if you’ve never had a green thumb, give it a try and see what happens. Set aside 30 minutes, start small and see what happens. You might be surprised by how much you enjoy it!

Jeanne is a social sciences professor and writer.

This Is Why Millennials Are Obsessed With Houseplants

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From the popularity of the sleek online ship-to-you startup the Sill to the Instagrammable plant craze to Costco’s $20 succulent gardens,AOL reports that one-third of houseplants in the United States are sold to Millennials. (That stat came from Ian Baldwin, a business adviser for the gardening industry.)The reason? They’re waiting longer to buy houses out of financial necessity, which often leaves them packed into smaller urban dwellings without gardens. They’re putting off marriage and delaying or forgoing children. This leaves plants as the only things they can nuture – and make them feel like adults.


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“’I found myself gravitating toward plants,’ says Tommy Engström, who is 30 and works at a marketing agency,” said in a 2018 L.A. Times article. “’Everyone made fun of me because I was sleeping on an air mattress and buying plants. But having living things to care for soothed me.’”

A 2017 Washington Post story headline said that Millennials were filling “their homes – and the void in their hearts – with houseplants.” The article went on to say that plants made great Instagram bait – filling other types of voids, like the need for attention.

Writer Jess Melia says there is “a need for us millennials to feel as if we’re caring for something other than ourselves in a time where making major life choices have to come later and later.” In a world where everything feels transient, why not take comfort in something with roots?

Welllll… there is a way to take it too far. As Joe Queenan wrote in the Wall Street Journal in 2018:

“Are millennials so cunning, so diabolical that they would use houseplants as an excuse to avoid visiting their parents?

“’Absolutely,” says one West Coast millennial whose parents live in tony, twee Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. ‘As soon as I set foot in their house, my parents give me a hard time about dating a tone-deaf sitar player and not doing anything about my hair. Now that I have 135 houseplants, I have a perfect excuse not to go home. You can’t ask your friends or neighbors to stop by every three days to water 135 plants. Anyway, I don’t have any friends.’”

Surely Queenan is being satirical. Nobody would ever have 135 plants. Except… Instagram personality Summer Rayne Oakes, who keeps 700 in her New York City apartment.

Shine on, Millennials, shine on.

4 Science-Backed Ways to Add More Happy to Your Life

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Clear the Clutter

You know that junk drawer you dread opening? It’s no bueno. Not only can chaotic environments stress us out by competing for space in our brains, but clutter in a room like the kitchen can also make us more likely to eat unhealthy stuff. Clean the deep recesses of your cupboards and fridge, then organize and maintain them (try adding hooks, racks, or dividers) so you don’t have to panic every time you open ’em.

Cook With Friends

Maybe there’s no such thing as too many cooks in the kitchen. An 80-year-long study at Harvard University found that close relationships—more than lavish lifestyles or money—are what keep us happy and healthy. Invite your loved ones to help you chop, stir, and savor meals together. Another way to keep the good vibes going? Find kitchen soaps or candles with scents that remind you of happy times—research says it can up your mood.

Just Add Greenery

Even though your garden isn’t growing outside, you can still bring plant life inside and reap the positive effects it can have on your well-being and mood. Research shows that greens can improve our attitude, reduce stress, and make us more productive. Decorate your kitchen counter with a hearty potted herb like sage; add a bamboo plant to a side table; or fill a vase with fresh-cut flowers and place it on your dining room table.

Get Creative

Coloring books for adults are more than just a quirky pastime: A 2016 study at the University of Otago in New Zealand found that people who spent time on creative goals during the day felt more positive the next day. Take a break to knit a scarf, bake a cake, write a poem, play a song, or craft with your kids. Short on time? Add creativity to workday tasks by using colored pens to take notes, or make domestic duties more fun by listening to an audio book.

The Best Plants For You Based On Your Personality Type

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By Erin Magner

Personality quizzes aren’t just a fun way to procrastinate when you’re on deadline for a big project. (Note to my editors: I never do this.) In reality, they can actually give you some pretty valuable insight into living your best life, from your ideal career path to your biggest relationship dealbreakers to the kinds of plants that are best suited for you.
That last one may sound kinda trivial, I know. But your personality is actually a really key thing to consider when choosing a leafy green friend to share your space. “Personality type definitely plays a part in what kind plant parent someone is,” says Joyce Mast, resident “plant mom” at online houseplant shop Bloomscape. “Be honest with yourself about how much time you can and want to devote to caring for your plants.” Think of it like getting a pet. For instance, if you’re a clean freak, you probably wouldn’t get a long-haired dog—and, similarly, you probably shouldn’t get a plant that’s going to shed its leaves everywhere.

Luckily, says Mast, there’s a perfect plant out there for everyone, no matter what your individual quirks are. I asked her to recommend a few varieties for each of the four personality archetypes that scientists have recently claimed we all fit into. The first thing you’ll want to do is take this quiz to find out where you land on the spectrums of extraversion, openness, neuroticism, conscientiousness, and agreeableness. Then, armed with your “Big 5” traits, read on to meet your perfect soil-mate. (Sorry, had to.)

Have your “Big 5” personality test results ready? Here’s what they say about your plant parenting style.

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Role Models

Highly extroverted, open-minded, agreeable, and conscientious; not very neurotic

Role models are happy-go-lucky people with a creative streak, who are curious and love to try new things. In short, they’re not the type to want the same ol’ philodendron that everyone else has. “I’d recommend a plant that matches the role model’s colorful and exuberant personality,” says Mast. “However, this personality type is a social butterfly, so plants that are easy to care for are ideal to make room for all those nights out.”

A role model’s perfect kinds of plants:

  • Mast loves stromanthe triostar for a role model because it’s “large, colorful, and low-maintenance—guaranteed to be a conversation starter at the next cocktail party.”
  • Dracaena Janet Craig is another great option for this type, thanks to its “dynamic and eye-catching tufts of green.” (It also happens to be one of the “it” houseplants for 2019.)
  • Okay, so monsteras may not be so exotic anymore, but Mast feels like role models would still dig ’em for their larger-than-life vibes. “These dramatic, and fast-growing plants will be the envy of everyone,” she says.
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Average

Highly neurotic, extroverted, agreeable, and conscientious; not very open 

Average personality types are similar to role models in many ways, except that they’re not quite as drawn to unusual things. They’re also the most neurotic of all the types, which means they’re extra prone to stress. Essentially, says Mast, they should look for a plant that won’t add to their agita. “Plants that maintain their green and that don’t drop leaves are best for this traditional personality type, so the plant life stays enjoyable and doesn’t become a source of anxiety,” she explains.

An average type’s perfect kinds of plants: 

  • Parlor palms are a good choice for average types because they’re super adaptable. “This plant always looks lush, and will make even the most neurotic person feel like an amazing plant parent,” Mast says.
  • Conscientious average types aren’t the kind to forget about watering their plants. That’s why Mast recommends the bird’s nest fern. “It has lovely, showy foliage and this personality type will enjoy misting it regularly,” she says.
  • For timeless good looks, hedgehog aloe is a classic pick that’ll thrive without much effort, says Mast. (Just make sure to put it in a sunny spot.)
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Self-Centered

Highly extroverted; below average in openness, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism

No shame whatsoever if you fall under this category—it just means that you know exactly what you want and your plants need to live by your rules. So if you want to put one in a certain corner, that’s where it’s going to go, no matter how much light it gets. “For self-centered people, we recommend tried-and-true plants that are highly adaptable to different conditions and will thrive anywhere this personality type wants to put them,” says Mast.

A self-centered type’s perfect kinds of plants:

  • Spider plants get top marks for self-centered types because they’re “adaptable, easy to care for, and a timeless classic,” says Mast.
  • For a plant that’ll adapt to pretty much any light condition and requires very little care, Mast recommends going for a strikingly cool sansevieria, or snake plant.
  • Philodendron Brasil is another mellow option that doesn’t need a ton of attention from a self-centered owner—and its trailing vines are “exceptionally Instagrammable,” says Mast.
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Reserved

Low in extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness; slightly more conscientious than average 

If you’re a textbook introvert who prides yourself on being responsible, you can take on a slightly more hard-to-care-for plant. And you might even enjoy it, according to Mast. “Plants that require a bit more care, but are also fast growing will help the reserved person feel accomplished and rewarded,” she says.

A reserved type’s perfect kinds of plants: 

  • Red prayer plants aren’t hard to care for, but they need to be misted on the reg—so they need an owner who spends a decent amount of time at home. But don’t worry, it’ll be worth the effort. “This fast-growing plant will be a constant source of happiness as it thrives,” Mast says.
  • The fiddle leaf fig is another plant that demands lots of love. Not only does it require very specific light conditions, but it also needs loads of misting and watering. Yet according to Mast, “when it’s happy, its large glossy leaves and new growth really make the extra care worthwhile.” Hey, reserved types clock a lot of hygge nights at home—may as well make them a little lusher.
  • “The bird of paradise loves to be misted, and its large leaves need to be dusted and wiped down regularly,” says Mast. The reward:  You’ll feel like you’re on a South African vacay (where this plant is from), every day.

If you’re more of a Myers-Briggs fan, here’s how others see you and how you manage stress, according to your personality type.  

 

HELP YOUR HOUSEPLANTS GET PROPERLY LIT WITH A SUPER PRETTY DIY GROW LIGHT


Thumbnail for Help your houseplants get properly lit with a super pretty DIY grow light

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This winter has been particularly rough for my indoor jungle. My prized monstera, once thriving and cheerful, is now droopy and depressed. With limited sunlight throughout the day, even through South-facing windows of my apartment, I can only do so much to give my plants what they need. Needless to say, I was thrilled to find out that you can fake it with a DIY grow light. Easier to construct than I expected, a grow light will mimic the sun, bathing my plants in all the brightness they deserve.
Grow lights can be expensive, not to mention ugly. While I want my plants to be healthy, I’m averse to the idea of dropping hundreds of dollars on an eyesore. But Adam Besheer, co-owner of the botanic design company Greenery NYC, has a genius solution. You’ll find his indoor vertical gardens and green walls throughout New York City—all of which depend on grow lights to stay healthy.

“Plants require certain wavelengths of light to grow, and different wavelengths cause different grow patterns. Too much can burn them, but too little and they starve to death,” he tells me. “Grow lights still aren’t as good as sunlight—they still aren’t able to cover the breadth of wavelengths emitted by a burning mass of hydrogen we can’t really conceive the size of. But they’re a great substitute.”

How to build a DIY grow light

When creating your own grow light, there are a few things to consider, such as the aesthetics and the kind of light it will emit. According to Besheer, you can DIY a version that will actually complement your home with something as affordable as a lamp you already own or one from Ikea. (A lamp that hangs over the plants provides plenty of direct light.) You just need to screw in a suitable light bulb, available for about $15 on Amazon, and voilà—it’s done.

“The important thing for a standard grow light is that it’s labelled as a grow light. The brightness you need to keep plants alive isn’t something normal light bulbs are manufactured for,” he says. “LED screw-in bulbs have just become widely available that have a relative intensity that’s good for plants, but to really know, you’ll need to measure the light yourself.”

How to know if your plants are getting enough light

To make sure your plant is getting the exact amount of light it needs, you can measure it using a light meter (which runs for around $20 on Amazon), or you can use the Light Meter app on your phone, which Besheer says gets pretty close to what the actual meter reads. The result will be shown in “foot candles” (or FC), and different plants require different ranges.

On the Greenery NYC website, you can group plants by light requirement: Low-light options like snake plants and pothos require 25 to 75 FC, medium-light plants like monsteras and dracaenas require 75 to 150 FC, and high-light plants like fiddle leaf figs and haworthias require 150+ FC. As for how long they should spend basking in the LED light’s glow every day, Besheer’s go-to is between 10 to 12 hours.

With a little help from a DIY grow light, your indoor plants will be thriving once more. Honestly, I might grab my happy light and sit right there next to ’em.