If you’re struggling through a stressful workweek, you may feel like you have no time to lower your stress. You’re juggling multiple tasks while your attention springs from one event to another. This is typical as we try to get through the avalanche of work that piles up. By Friday, we’re burnt out and ready for a change. But deciding what that change is can be tricky. Yes, you can plop in front of a screen with a show or video game, but that may only increase our stress. Yes, there’s shopping at the mall but shopping costs money. This is why I always fall back on an old reliable standby to destress from work: playing with my houseplants.
Now, don’t get me wrong. When I say “playing” with my houseplants, what I mean is fiddling with them. I arrange their pots on shelves and stands for a new look. I clean up their dead leaves and water their soil. Lastly, I transplant whatever looks pot bound. The plants reward me with not only a fresh look for my room, but a simple, relaxing endeavor.
The relaxation part is a subconscious event. It’s not anything I consciously think about as I’m doing it. But I gradually feel a sense of “coming down” from the hectic pace of my workweek. I slow my behavior toward a task that doesn’t have a big end goal. There aren’t a million things to do with houseplant care. It’s actually really simple. And that’s the playing part. Play has low goals, isn’t complex, and happens at a comfortable pace.
Science Says Fifteen Minutes Is Enough
What’s interesting is my little visit with a houseplant here and there reaps big rewards. Researcher Yoshifumi Miyazaki helps us see why. He conducted a small study with young men in their twenties who transplanted plants during a break from stressful, computer-oriented work. The subjects worked for 15 minutes with a Vining Pepper Plant (peperomia dahlstedtii) over the course of three days. Their sympathetic nervous systems and blood pressure were monitored. He also measured these systems while the subjects worked at a computer task.
You can guess the results. During the plant-related task, the sympathetic nervous system activity was about four points lower than the computer-related task. Blood pressure lowered by six points. By contrast, sympathetic nervous system activity and blood pressure were both higher during computer-related engagement. Subjects reported feeling much more comfortable, soothed, and natural when working with the plants. They felt much less comfortable, soothed, and natural when working on the computer. It’s not too surprising. But this study scientifically proves the value of playing with houseplants, even for a brief time and with little experience.
Which Plant to Play With?
This weekend, see if you can make time to fiddle with a houseplant. Saturday morning always work for me. And the ritual doesn’t have to be long. It seems 15 minutes will do. And if you don’t have a houseplant, this study offers a good reason to buy one. You can spend as little as fifteen dollars, if you’re willing to start with a small plant in a four-inch pot. A pothos or snake plant are good choices. Set near a north or east-facing window and water every seven to ten days. On the weekends, take your time checking on it. Trim its brown leaves off, dust it with a damp cloth, turn it so another side faces the light. You may enjoy this soothing little activity so much that you’ll want to grow another and another and another until you create your own special plant playground.
A couple days ago, I talked about the importance of playing with plants. As I mentioned, play researchers have found play boosts our spirits and deters sadness. So today I thought I’d offer three unique ways to play with plants. There are, of course, many ways to play with plants but I’ve noticed they mostly focus on children, as if play doesn’t apply to adults. So here are three ways to play with plants for adults. I know that kids are our pride and joys, but your well being matters too.
Plant Plants in Weird Planters
You’ve probably seen pictures of planters in old boots and such. That’s cute and what not but planting in footware kinda grosses me out. Having said that, there are so many other items you can grow plants in. (See the crazy head above.) I’ve been messing around with my own unique planters and I’ll write a future post in more detail about what I’ve been planting in. In the meantime here are a few ideas.
What about an old sewing machine with a basket inserted in the cabinet’s opening? It seems every charity store has the sewing table but not machine inside. Also, what about tomatoes in an old trunk? Goodness knows there are a ton of those that have little use nowadays. Especially the broken or curved ones. Or how about a water lily in an old crystal candy dish? The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.
A Fantasy Garden for Grown Ups
When a friend of mind was a boy, he had a little castle. He dragged it outside and gathered moss, sticks, rocks, and other little plants to landscape around his castle. He played battles and tournaments, even had a dragon. It’s no wonder he became a medieval historian and a gardening nut as an adult.
So how about, instead of a fairy garden that’s for kids, why not create a fantasy garden for yourself? Like a Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings garden? You could buy or build a lego castle and create a mini landscape around it. I even know where you can get a Tormund action figure (email me.) The upshot is if you have kids, they’ll want to play too.
Salty Chips Only With Yummy Leaves
You know how kale chips are all the rage? Or were a few years ago? I’ve made them several times myself. But really, the bottom line is I don’t want to eat kale that much. Potato chips are better, right? But what about drying and eating other plants? Besides root vegetables. What about artichoke heart or brussel sprout chips? You know how they naturally flake off anyway? Also, what about zuccini or carrot chips? Or spinach or butter lettuce? Leeks? It seems to me almost any green leaf that’s not bitter might work. And most leaves are less bitter than kale.
This spring, think about how you can have fun with plants. And if you already have ideas and methods, let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear about your experiences.
Photo by Nick Fewings
Today I was thinking about why to play with plants. It seems frivolous and like not something that matters whether we do or don’t. But play offers a host of benefits and since plants can relax us, playing with plants can create a special kind of fun happiness. Here are five healing benefits of play according to play therapist and researcher Charles Schaeffer.
Play elevates the spirit
Because the goals you pursue when you play are ultimately non-consequential, it takes the pressure off. So, when we play, we feel energized rather than sapped of energy. Fiddling with houseplants or gardening or even tossing a ball amidst trees combines the visually relaxing benefits of plants with the lighthearted euphoria that play offers. A great combination.
Play begets optimism
During play we sometimes win or accomplish a little goal, which can be a pleasant surprise, but when we lose or fail at whatever we’re doing, we’re usually not too upset because the goals aren’t consequential. That’s the theory anyway. So because the pressure’s off, we’re more likely to maintain a relaxed feeling that everything will be okay. Plants are similar. If you care for just one plant successfully, you’ll feel more positive about yourself and perhaps ready to take on another.
Play teaches new skills
When we play, we often develop a skill without really trying. Take for instance, guitar. I love playing around on the guitar, figuring out new melodies while also practicing chords and the songs I love. There’s really no pressure. Applied to plants, you’ll learn more about how to best care for them by reading up on what conditions they like and experimenting with what to do from day to day. If you can maintain that feeling of fun for the sake of fun, you’ll get better at horticulture while hardly noticing.
Play betters our physical health
Not only does play provide a sense of optimism and elevate the spirit, if done as a physical activity, it can get us in better shape. We all know that playing a game of tennis will circulate our blood, strengthen the heart, and release the happy drug of endorphins. So, playing physically with plants can do the same thing. And by that, I mean gardening in your backyard or hiking in the woods or even riding a stationary bike while watching a houseplant video. It all adds up to better bodily health.
Play connects us to others
When we play with others, we see each other for our best, most lighthearted selves. We also monitor our feelings as well as other people’s feelings. It’s excellent practice in social interaction. Plus, we don’t feel so alone and make wonderful shared memories. Our family has played a lot of badminton and has shared memories around that. But you don’t need a yard. If you can get into nature and stroll with a friend or toss a ball around in a park, you’ll take in those fractal patterns while building better relationships.
Do you ever play with plants? If so, let me know how in the comments. I’m always looking for new ideas.
Photo by Khamkhor
Today I wanted to share the lovely bread art I came across online. It shows a fun way to put plant art in food and play for the sake of play. It also offers a new idea for getting some stress releaf. With chives, basil, peppers, onions, olives, and all else, you can use plants to create a beautiful bouquet of flowers in focaccia bread. It’s almost too pretty to eat!
The trend began with Vineyard Baker on Instagram, who as she says puts the art in artisan bread. She has several great ideas for plant art in food, including dessert breads, which use fruit and nuts. Afterward, Elizabeth at Sugar Geek Show showed us a great basic recipe for baking a bouquet into bread. Apparently, it’s fairly easy. You stretch your focaccia bread into the edges of a sheet pan so it makes a rectangular canvas, then let it rise, then decorate and bake. I love it!
I haven’t tried it yet but I’d like to. I imagine you could use certain vegetables, herbs, and spices if you want more of an Italian flavor, Mexi flavor, Middle Eastern, etc. I might experiment with my daughter this weekend. If you try it, let me know. I love it when people get creative with plants!
There’s growling, there’s yelling in mock pain, there’s laughing, squealing, arguing, a sudden scream. I mean, high-pitched, ear-splitting screams. It’s children noise and the accompanying chaos. Right over my fence.
Do I mind? Oddly, no. Twelve years ago, before having my own kids I would have. Because I’m solitary and quiet and an introvert, I would have hated it. But now I don’t mind it. In fact, I like to listen. You never know what sound will come out next.
The Embarrassment of a Loud Child
When we first moved into our house, we took advantage of the large backyard. The kids played basketball, splashed in the blow-up pool, ran through a sprinkler, climbed on the play set. Because we have three and because they were all traumatized via abandonment by their birth parents, they were more vocal and volatile than your average kids. They were emotional, they were insistent. Extra nervous and ready to cry. They fought hard for what they wanted. Especially my youngest who’s cognitively delayed.
To our neighbors on both sides of our house, we apologized for the noise. Both couples said they didn’t mind it. We thought they were lying. We nodded gracefully and tried to keep our kids quiet. It was impossible. If my youngest missed tossing the basketball in the hoop, she threw a fit. If it was nap time, she threw a fit. If her sister scolded her, she threw a fit. There were lots of screams. We soldiered on.
Soon, we learned our neighbors really didn’t mind the noise. It reminded them of their kids when they were young. They laughed at our youngest’s “lungs.” They said they actually missed the noise. Our older neighbors even said they didn’t like it too quiet. We were grateful and tried to curb the noise as best we could.
A New Quieter Era
My kids are now 12, 14, and 16. They no longer make noise in the backyard. Hell, I can barely get them to even go in the backyard. My youngest has grown out of her tantrums. Instead, she spends time reading and singing in her bedroom. But now, there are young grandkids next door. As I write this, they’re spraying hoses and squealing and running around. A crazy roar. Fast words. A sharp whap. It’s all music to my ears.