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Eliminate Stress at Work by Putting This on Your Desk

Science says taking a "nature break" can kick anxiety to the curb.

Does the pressure of deadlines and presentations have your shoulders tensed up in knots? Does your boss breathing down your neck give you nightmares? Well, new research suggests it may be time to invest in a small plant for your desk.

Researchers from a University in Japan set out to discover whether plants could offer respite to distressed employees in the workplace. While other research has pointed to the stress-reducing effects of indoor plants, these have typically been conducted in lab or home settings, so a study done in a real office is pretty new and exciting.

For the study, researchers set out to determine if intentionally gazing at a plant could help to eliminate or reduce workplace stress. At the beginning of the trial, the researchers assessed the stress levels of employees that worked at a Japanese electric company during days when they felt fatigued using something called the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) index. They also recorded the employees’ heart rates using a pulse monitor in the morning and at night. The first week of the trial was a control period where no plants were introduced. The subjects recorded their pulse rates at the beginning of the day, the end of the day, and when they felt fatigued. When they felt fatigued, they were instructed to spend three minutes staring at their desktops and record their heart rate afterward. 

For the next part of the study, each subject chose a “favorite” plant and was given specific instructions for how to water and care for the plant. For the next two weeks, the subjects were instructed to keep the plant on their desk and to care for it. They were also instructed, again, to record their pulse rates when they felt fatigued, then to spend three minutes staring at the plant before recording their pulse rates.

At the end of the study, results showed that after the plant was introduced, STAI scores decreased slightly (meaning less anxiety) in those who initially had high scores. What’s more, resting heart rates after three minutes of staring at the plant were found to be significantly lower in 27 percent of employees. A reduced heart rate indicates that the parasympathetic nervous system, or the system that puts us in “rest and digest” mode, has been activated, leading to a decrease in anxiety symptoms.

The results of this study suggest that taking small “nature breaks” during the day can help in the reduction (and perhaps elimination) of workplace anxiety and could contribute to better mental health in the workplace. In the study, the researchers stated, “The adoption of greenery into the office environment is becoming widespread as the need for improving mental health becomes greater,” citing the frightening levels of stress-related mental health disorders in Japan as a motivation for their research.

We hope that as more about the positive health implications of plants in our environments comes to light, employers and employees will take advantage of all the benefits nature has to offer. 

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