By now, we're all (painfully) aware that our work environments have gone through a massive shift. COVID-19 has moved us out of traditional office spaces and into our homes, and isolated us from day to day physical interactions with colleagues. And while the evolution of workplace design is a constant topic of conversation, the constraints imposed by our current environment are highlighting the importance of workplace mental health to an ever greater degree. One way employers are using to help improve the mental well being of their teams is bringing nature and natural elements into work spaces. Access to nature and living plants can improve your mood, enhance your productivity, and even make you healthier.
Plants do these things thanks to an idea called biophilia. Biophilia means “love of living systems” and is a concept dating from the 1960s that describes humanity's intrinsic and innate attraction to the natural world.
Biophilia suggests that humans have a biological need for connecting with nature on physical, mental, and social levels, and that this connection affects our personal wellbeing, productivity, and societal relationships. Hundreds of scientific studies have been conducted to demonstrate that humans do in fact have an innate attraction to nature. But why?
Well, for 95% of our evolutionary history, humans have lived in and amongst nature and have become hardwired to respond to the stimuli of our natural surroundings. It has only been in the last 200 years of human existence that we have moved into cities and urban areas and away from close interactions with nature.
This modern urbanization has brought with it a slew of positive outcomes, but some negative ones as well--stress, crime, absenteeism, and depression.
We spend 90% of our life indoors, and our bodies and mental states reflect the fact that we are displaced from the natural world.
Biophilia and biophilic design is the idea that we can still live in our urban centers, but we need to design the natural world into our built environments. When we are exposed to nature, there is a measurable, physical change that happens in our bodies--interaction with nature regulates our nervous system and increases the response of our parasympathetic system, the system that relaxes our bodies.
When this system is engaged, our bodies feel comfortable, safe, and secure in our surroundings. And when that happens, our blood pressure lowers, our heart rate slows, and we feel calmer. We are able to focus and concentrate.
Studies comparing research subjects that walked through forests/natural areas versus those who walked through urban areas found that those subjects that walked through forests had:
- Lower pulse rates by 6%
- Lower stress hormones by 15%
- Lower blood pressure levels
- Increased parasympathetic activity by 56%
In the workplace, studies have demonstrated that views of or access to green space:
- Increased productivity (by an average of 6%)
- Reduced stress/anxiety
- Increased creativity
- Improved employee mood and job satisfaction
Studies in Japan have indicated that exposure to nature can even increase immunity, boosting the creation of killer T-cells!
On a day to day level, how does this translate? If you’re working at your desk, take a 15 minute break to go outside, breath fresh air, and get some sunshine--especially if you’re working in a room without much natural light. You’ll reset your body, give your eyes a rest, and allow your parasympathetic system a chance to re-engage.
Get a plant (or two or three)! Even a little bit of green or a natural element can be a welcome visual distraction from staring at a computer. Living plants release oxygen, take in carbon dioxide, and their soft textures break up the hard lines of our living and working spaces. If you can’t get out for a walk in a forest, you can still get many of the same benefits by incorporating living plants into your rooms.
Wondering where to start? If you’d like to bring home a plant for your office, or work from home office, here are three easy to care for plants:
- Sansevieria --snake plants-- they come in a variety of colors, textures, and sizes, and they don’t need much light to survive. They also don’t need much water--they hold water in their underground rhizomes, so they can go weeks without water.
- Pothos -- these trailing plants can also tolerate lower light levels and also come in a variety of colors, from neon green to variegated green and silver. They are forgiving if they are overwatered, and forgiving if they’re underwatered, but if they’re happy, they’ll grow long, trailing, leaf covered vines that look great cascading off a bookshelf.
- ZZ plants -- These lovely plants are also low light and low maintenance, but have a really dramatic look with tiny leaflets coming off of a thick stem. Their dark green, waxy leaves unfurl beautifully, almost like sea shells. They are also great at absorbing micro toxins like benzene and toluene out of the atmosphere.
If you work in a space that doesn't have access to good natural lighting, moss walls and even faux plants can provide many of the same benefits. Moss walls are made of preserved moss, so while technically "living," they do not require water or light. They can be made in any size or shape, and can even be customized to fit your style or branding.
If you’d like to learn more about interior plants or moss walls, explore our other blog posts and videos here on our website. You’ll find plant care tips, ideas, as well as curated collections of plants for an instant biophilic office boost.
Improve your your health, or the well-being of your employees and staff--plants really do make people happy!