Right now, you’re likely itching to get back into your work office having been cooped up at home for so long. Yet it’s highly possible that your employer isn’t letting anyone end the COVID-19 shutdown and that you’re facing a few more weeks or even months of working from home. While this might seem daunting in some ways (particularly if your kids are now on summer break – we feel you on that!), it’s also an opportunity to create the kind of environment that’s conducive to both increased productivity and enhanced wellness.
One of the easiest wins in a home office doesn’t involve a custom-made adjustable desk, fancy new window blinds, or spending more on a new cell phone than should be legal. All you’ll need to do is head to your local garden center or hardware store and fork over a few dollars. In return, you’ll get something that can help you enjoy cleaner air, relax when you’re taking a break from all those marathon Zoom calls, and looks nice as well. What we’re talking about isn’t some biohacking pseudo-science or too-good-to-be-true hacking shortcut, but rather getting a little greenery into your home office.
To Infinity and Beyond
NASA is always looking for ways to help its astronauts overcome the harsh reality of living hundreds of miles above the Earth, and helping to preserve as much normalcy as possible to relieve the chronic stress that can develop on long space missions. Back in 1989, NASA conducted its extensive Clean Air Study. The goal was to find best practices for filtering the thin air in shuttles, the International Space Station, and other settings where humans would have to survive outside the atmosphere. An additional challenge unique to astronauts is that not only are they floating around in zero gravity, but they also have to breathe in air that’s recycled far more times than the oxygen you or I would breathe in during a commercial airline flight.
The hypothesis that NASA scientists wanted to test is that certain plants could provide an additional layer of air cleansing on top of the powerful HEPA filters built into America’s space fleet (feel free to add a Space Force joke here if you’d like). They found that their theory was correct: a bevy of everyday house plants can remove a wide range of nasty pollutants from the air, including ammonia, formaldehyde, and benzene.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy
House plants don’t merely make the air you breathe cleaner. There’s a growing body of evidence to show that they also bust stress, enable you to reset your nervous system, and elevate feelings of happiness and contentment. A study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology found that simply putting house plants in a room with stressed out adolescents helped improve their autonomous tone, which is a fancy way of saying the greenery made them less stressed. And if you’re still homeschooling your kids, put a plant or two where they do their schoolwork, as findings released via the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that seeing foliage helped kids improve their concentration and focus.
OK, we understand that you’re unlikely to put on a bonafide space suit while you’re working from home during the continued coronavirus lockdown – though it’d probably be a good conversation starter on video calls with your colleagues. But you’d do well to take what those NASA boffins discovered and put it into practice in your office. Some of the top picks listed in the results of the Clean Air Study are snake and spider plants, dracaena, and English ivy. If you want to add a little more color into the mix, you could also purchase a peace lilly or florist’s chrysanthemum, while a pair of Boston ferns would allow you to recreate Zach Galifianakis’s irreverent talk show.
A natural objection here is, “I’m not a green thumb,” “I don’t have time for gardening,” or even “I’ve managed to kill every plant I’ve ever tried to grow.” We totally get it – us too. But fortunately, most of the items on your garden center shopping list are pretty hardy, and we defy you to neglect a snake plant enough to kill it off. Still unsure of your talents as a budding horticulturalist? Online companies such as Bloomscape, The Sill, and the budget-friendly Woodies Garden Goods (which, conveniently, has a whole section of its website dedicated to air-cleaning houseplants) remove the guesswork by shipping you the plants you select in just the right size pots and guiding you through every step of the planting and watering process.Or if you want to go high-tech, ēdn embeds sensors in its Small Garden so that each drop of water is prescribed via text and growing monitored by an app. So now there’s no excuse but to make your home office healthier, happier, and, deadlines notwithstanding, less stressful by adding plants.