A blooming great way to beat stress
Giving flowers is more than an act of love — it may produce a health benefit, too.
So found researchers in the University of North Florida’s Department of Public Health, who recently released a study, "The Impact of Flowers on Perceived Stress Among Women," which concluded that adding fresh flowers to an indoor environment reduces stress (among women) in a statistically significant way.
The Florida researchers thought that benefit came from "an opportunity for nature contact," which is an established health-promoting practice.
Sara Aristizabal, director of health sciences at the Well Living Lab in Rochester, thinks it’s a little more complicated than that.
Biophilia, humans’ innate connection to and love of nature, has been an environmental design concept since the ’60s, she said.
Today, more than 54 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas, according to the 2014 World Urbanization Prospects by UN DESA’s Population Division.
That number may increase to 66 percent by 2050.
All of that urbanization takes humans farther away from nature, which in turn, prompts designers to find ways to bring nature indoors, Aristizabal said.
"We’re starting to miss nature, and we’re seeing benefits of that design," she said.
Amit Sood, the chair of the Mayo Mind Body Initiative, also sees the benefit.
"When we’re surrounded by life, we feel relaxed," he said. Previous studies on the benefits of flowers have indicated a positive effect on blood pressure, pain tolerance, and the need for pain medication in a hospital setting, he said.
Color also has a positive impact on life, and plants have a pleasant smell, which lifts one’s mood.
Our cultural associations with flowers can also add to their uplifting effect, Sood said.
"I’m sure you remember the last time someone gave you flowers," he said. "Flowers are generally associated with thinking positively about people."
Plants are just one way to bring the outside in.
Humans evolved in the savannah, Aristizabal said, and design choices that emulate that environment are often beneficial.
Having natural light and plants around is helpful, she said — and so easy access to food and water, unimpeded views of one’s surroundings, a somewhat sheltered area (quiet and private).
"If you want to reduce stress, you should think about having access to daylight," Aristizabal said. "Without that, people complain — they feel like they are in a dungeon when they can’t see outside."
Although the Florida study did show that flowers had a statistically significant effect on women’s stress, it was a short-term study measuring short-term benefits, Aristizabal said.
The Well Living Lab is looking for much more long-term results.
They’ve begun studying the effect of a congruent approach to biophilia, she said. For its next study, the lab is adding natural visuals to nature sounds, and tracking attention restoration in workers.
Many studies have focused on how nature makes people feel, Aristizabal said. They want to see whether the relaxation and mood improvement also help people maintain focus at work.
Participants will spend seven hours a day working at the Well Living Lab, surrounded by natural visuals, sounds, or a combination of the two.
"We’re hoping — and this is a hypothesis — that we are going to see greater benefits when (sound and visuals) are combined," Aristizabal said.
While it would be nice if you could outfit your home or office to be biophilia-friendly, most of us don’t have a lot of control over where we work, or the budget for large renovations.
Here are a few easy steps.
Bring in a houseplant or flowers.
Not able to see out of your cubicle? Aristizabal said taking a walk around every once in a while provides the same ability to monitor surroundings.
Plants play into biophilia visually, but there are other ways to get the nature fix. Aristizabal said listening to nature sounds or being exposed to natural scents (like petrichor, the smell of rain) may have a similar relaxing effect.
Also, try ‘nature analogs’ - wood and fractal patterns in decorating call back to nature.
And, of course, nature sounds are just a set of earbuds away.
"When you work in an office where everyone is speaking, that starts affecting the way you feel," Aristizabal said. "If you have headphones, you can reduce the noise pollution … (and) listen to nature sounds that way."