Plant Therapy and SAD

Winter in North Dakota…need we say more? Sure, there are a few festivities and activities that can make winter fun, but the reality is that the cold, snow, and lack of a green garden to cheer us up can get the best of us sometimes. As one of the coldest states in our country (second only to Alaska), it's no surprise that our long and harsh winters can induce seasonal depression. Luckily, there are a few methods for dealing with seasonal depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), to help you endure the season—including plant therapy, of course.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder? During cold weather, we tend to spend much more time inside than we do during other seasons. While curling up with a mug of hot tea and a good book might be great for your mental health, the overall lack of sunshine, physical activity, and fresh air certainly aren't. The decrease in Vitamin D from the sun, which we absorb through our skin, can lead to imbalances in serotonin and melatonin levels and throw off our internal clock, affecting everyday functions like sleep, appetite, and mood.
While many of us might not look forward to winter weather, there are a few things that set SAD apart from simply disliking the season. SAD sets in at the same time each year, typically from late fall until spring, and symptoms are similar to symptoms of clinical depression, including:

  • Oversleeping or insomnia
  • Increased anxiety and irritability
  • Loss of energy and motivation
  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of interest in your favorite activities
  • Appetite changes
  • Sadness, hopelessness, and guilt
  • Headaches

Common Treatments for SAD
The most effective way to combat seasonal depression is to address the problems that are causing it in the first place. Bright light therapy involves making your home and workspace sunnier and brighter by keeping the blinds open or using light boxes or lamps that mimic natural light. Finding motivation to exercise will also work wonders by boosting dopamine, serotonin, and other brain chemicals that help to regulate your mood.

While experts can't say for sure that a vitamin D supplement can alleviate depressive symptoms, the correlation is still being studied, and it's definitely worthwhile to get your levels checked by a healthcare provider and discuss the use of a supplement. They may also prescribe antidepressant medications or recommend psychotherapy, if necessary.

Plant Therapy for SAD
For those of you who already have plants scattered throughout your home, we don't have to tell you twice what pleasant houseguests they can be. So it makes complete sense that surrounding yourself with lush greenery and bright blooms will help to revitalize your space and uplift your mood.

The benefits of keeping plants in your home go far beyond their decorative qualities, though. Many houseplants, like the spider plant, Boston fern, and pothos, function as air-purifiers that rid your home of toxins and pollutants from synthetic materials, as well as allergens and mold. In turn, they pump out oxygen, and sometimes moisture, to keep your home safe and fresh. Since there's not a lot of humidity or window-opening going on in January, this boost in air quality is important for overall wellness.

A huge benefit of houseplants for people dealing with depression is that it gives them something to nurture. They're like pets-they make us feel important because they depend on our care to thrive. When depression makes you feel sad or insignificant, tending to your plants makes you feel productive, and gives you a purpose. Although houseplants are pretty much the only thing to nurture during the season of SAD, this horticulture therapy isn't exclusive to them. There's plenty of research that suggests those who suffer from depression and anxiety year-round could benefit from tending to an outdoor garden!

Getting Started with Plant Therapy We understand just how much depression can affect your motivation to be productive, so it's ideal to surround yourself with houseplants that enjoy your company but don't mind a little bit of neglect. We carry plenty of low-maintenance plants that help with SAD at our garden center, and we'd be happy to help you pick a few out.

The most important thing to consider is that you want houseplants that are going to thrive in your home. If sunlight is limited where you live—especially during the winter when there just aren't enough daylight hours—then it's best to select houseplants that'll still be full of life in low light. We recommend a snake plant, pothos, ZZ plant, or philodendron.

If you aren't entirely sold on the commitment of caring for houseplants, you might be interested in trying plant-derived essential oils instead. A few drops of lavender, bergamot, basil, or citrus blend essential oils in a diffuser will fill your home with a fresh, pleasant fragrance while also triggering an increase in production of serotonin in your brain. The aromas will help you feel better by easing tension, calming the mind, and lifting your spirits.

Plants brighten your home and your mood all year long, but anyone who suffers from seasonal depression will especially appreciate them during the long, cold winter months. Surround yourself with your favorite plant friends as a much-needed reminder that winter doesn't last forever, and like the season, your SAD will pass, too. Stop by Plant Perfect in Bismarck for a little combination of plant and retail therapy!

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