In today’s fast-paced society, anxiety and stress can take a toll on our happiness and well-being. We have discussed many ways we can decompress, including music-enhanced meditation, green light therapy, getting restorative sleep, practicing gratitude, eating stress-reducing foods, practicing abdominal breathing, exercise, maintaining a healthy gut, and supplementing key nutrients. All are important pieces of the puzzle, but there is something else to consider this Spring. A 2005 behavioral study out of Rutgers University determined that flowers can improve emotional health, positively affect social behavior, and help us feel more overall satisfaction with life.
The Rutgers study specifically examined the emotional impact of receiving cut flowers as a gift, and found that those receiving flowers experienced “an elevation in mood that lasted for days.” The researchers reported anecdotally that in the final phase of the 3-part study, where flowers were delivered to older participants (55+), the responses received were unusually fervent and beyond what the experiment was designed to detect. They reported receiving hugs and kisses, thank you cards and letters, photographs of the flowers, and invitations to come back to the recipient’s home for refreshments. From all three phases of the study, the authors concluded that the sensory properties of flowers elicit positive emotions, similar to those elicited by companion animals.
A more recent study out of the University of Florida found that women living with flowers had a significant decrease in their stress levels. The lead author, Dr. Erin Largo-Wight, spoke about her research and recommended that we get out into nature as much as possible, or to bring nature indoors in the form of plants and flowers.
If you can get out into nature, now is the time! Of all the spring flowers, cherry blossoms have been found to be the most soothing among all the spring flowers tested. They were associated with relief and relaxation, leading to a feeling of security and freedom, and an improvement in self-reported depression.
According to a 2017 article in Psychology Today, there is evolutionary science behind the happy emotions that flowers evoke. Dopamine is a “happy” neurotransmitter that’s released in our brain when a reward is expected. Our ancestors saw bright spring flowers as a signal that abundance was coming after a cold and sparse winter. Today the blossoming of a flower still triggers that evolutionary reward system that something good is coming.
If you are giving or receiving flowers, additional “happy” chemicals are released in the brain. Oxytocin is the “bonding hormone” that promotes connection and social trust. Historically, ancient cultures thought flowers to be associated with the gods, and later societies used flowers to communicate, ascribing different meanings to different varieties. The oxytocin released helps build “social trust.”
Serotonin, another “happy” neurotransmitter, is also released when we see or receive flowers. Interestingly, the scent of certain flowers can also trigger serotonin release. Lavender has been reported to improve anxiety, depression, and sleep. Inhalation of lavender oil resulted in “more active, fresher, and relaxed subjects” than controls who smelled a base oil. Roses and rose oil have been reported to reduce anxiety of women in labor. Various citrus scents such as Neroli (from citrus blossom) and Yuzu have also been found to decrease stress in women. Also, a variety of floral scents have been reported to bring relaxing changes to our brainwaves.
Seven simple ways to benefit from the mood-boosting effects of flowers
- Get outside into nature. This time of year, tulips and daffodils are blooming and fruit trees are blossoming, and parks and botanical gardens are coming to life. If you are lucky enough to live near a formal garden or botanical garden, take an afternoon stroll among the flowers.
- Try a flower arranging class. A florist in the UK sent flowers to 17 people with Fitbits with a small flower-arranging task. 90% of participants reported feeling less stress after focusing on something creative. On average, the 30-minute task resulted in a 7.17 bpm reduction in heart rate during the project with a further 4.8 bmp decrease while sitting and appreciating their creations. If you don’t have a class near you, you can make an arrangement at home using these DIY tips.
- Fill your home with flowers and flowering plants. In the florist’s study mentioned above, in a follow-up questionnaire, 100% of the participants reported that the flowers made them feel happier. 75% reported a reduction in stress levels and 50% said they felt more productive with flowers in their home. All participants said they would buy more flowers. Why not try it? Buy a bouquet of your favorite flowers and put them in a prominent spot where you’ll see them often. Let us know how you feel!
- Fill your workplace with flowers. If you work from home, this one should be easy. But even if you don’t, bringing some flowers to the office can help calm some of that workplace stress. A study out of Texas A&M University showed that both creativity and innovation in the workplace were improved in an environment with plants and flowers when compared to one with abstract sculptures or no embellishments at all.
- Make and tend a flower garden. Gardening is known to be beneficial to mental health:
- You are outside in nature, breathing fresh air, taking in the sights and smells, and listening to the birds, all of which can boost your mood.
- The soil itself contains bacteria that trigger the release of serotonin in the brain.
- Staying mindful to each task can be meditative and can reduce stress and improve mood.
- Gardening is a form of exercise, which is known to boost mood. Digging holes, pulling weeds, and other tasks use different muscles and can get the heart rate up.
- Being outdoors in the sun will increase your vitamin D levels, and vitamin D can help improve mood.
- Take a Botanical Drawing class or a Painting class in a local garden. Sit amongst the flowers and learn to draw or paint.
- Photograph flowers and greenery. Break out that camera (or phone) and head to your nearest park or botanical garden for some up-close flower pics. You’ll reap all the benefits mentioned above from being out in nature and being around flowers, and you’ll also be able to revisit those gorgeous images if you’re feeling a little down. A recent study in the Netherlands found that simply looking at images containing flora lowered stress and supported relaxation.