Sally Augustin Featured in Article

Dr. Sally Augustin, author of Designology, has been featured in an article written by Lauren Leazenby for the Chicago Tribune website.

More than decor: Houseplants can boost your mental health while COVID-19 has you stuck inside

Water plants are among the house plants available at Rooted on Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square on Aug. 11, 2020.

Water plants are among the house plants available at Rooted on Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square on Aug. 11, 2020. (Abel Uribe / Chicago Tribune)

Anthony Galvez has lost count of how many plants are in his Belmont-Cragin home, but estimates his indoor garden at anywhere from 80 to 100 plants. Galvez — who goes by anthony_planted on Instagram — said he was not really into plants until he started his collection during the COVID-19 pandemic. The nurse said it’s not just for looks; he likes having something to take care of.

“I probably don’t fit the description of a plant person but, (it’s about) the energy and mood it puts me in,” he said.

#Plants has over 34 million posts on Instagram: photos of crawling ivies and philodendrons, massive monsteras and leafy parlor palms taking over houses and apartments like jungles. Like Galvez, many plant parents started or grew their collections during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Dr. Sally Augustin, an environmental and design psychologist, said having plants in your home can reduce stress levels and help you mentally refresh when you feel exhausted. “Green, leafy plants have curvy lines, which we find comforting to cope with stress,” said Augustin, principal at Design With Science, adding that the color green is linked to increased creative thinking.

“All this probably goes back to … the origin of our species when we saw green, leafy plants and that meant there was something around that we could eat,” she said. “That gave us a psychological boost.”

Lynn Fosbender, owner of Rooted, a house plant shop in Logan Square, holds a Maranta prayer plant on Aug. 11, 2020.

Lynn Fosbender, owner of Rooted, a house plant shop in Logan Square, holds a Maranta prayer plant on Aug. 11, 2020. (Abel Uribe / Chicago Tribune)

These days, Augustin said, taking care of plants can give you a feeling of control over your physical environment, which has been shown to enhance cognitive performance. The act of caring for something and watching it grow is also beneficial: “If you’re caring for the plant, that gives you a feeling of accomplishment, which is desirable.”

Regan Azizi said plants are a form of meditation for her. Azizi, plantmomchicago on Instagram, said her plants help her take a breath. They keep her mind busy and help her focus on something other than what’s going on in the outside world. It’s also a project she can work on with her daughter. Since she got into plants about a year ago, she said they’ve now become an integral part of their day.

“One of the highlights is waking up in the morning and checking our plants to see which ones have new leaves and which ones have new growth,” Azizi said. “You get to take a moment out of your day to actually focus on something else besides yourself.”

Anna Lauterbach, botanicbutterfly on Instagram, said plants gave her a “total distraction” from the pandemic. Living in the city can be harsh, she said, so bringing green plants into her space made it feel more comfortable and peaceful. She moved from her Wicker Park apartment to her parents’ home in Michigan, taking her plants — and the sense of home they bring — with her.

In two years of collecting, Lauterbach said she has accumulated over 70 plants. She said she especially likes large plants, which take up a lot of space. “I’ll be living in a jungle if I get any more,” she said.

But too many plants can add clutter and stress, Augustin said. Plants that are particularly difficult to care for, like orchids, might also introduce frustration. She said to opt for just a few low-maintenance plants to experience the most positive mental health effects.

“I’ve learned the lesson of how many plants you can actually own before it doesn’t work out in your favor,” Azizi said. To find her balance, she scaled back from 75 to 50 plants by giving them away. Azizi connects with other plant lovers on Instagram — an online community she said has grown during the pandemic as more people have started showing off their collections.

Galvez said he’s also part of the plant community. For him, the Chicago plant community has been especially supportive during these times. “You have to be caring to take care of these plants, so most of the people who you talk to are just genuinely nice,” he said.

Galvez said plants also provide hope for the future because caring for them now is caring for what they will grow into tomorrow. “The more you put into them, the more they give back,” he said. “If you take care of these plants, they’ll take care of you.”


How to Find Your PlaceType and Align Your Life With Design

DESIGNOLOGY gives readers the tools they need to instantly understand themselves and how to work with the world around them. DESIGNOLOGY cuts through the fads of clutter and cleaning books and delivers the clear, uncomplicated truth about why we respond to certain spaces in certain ways, and how we can use colors, scents, and other sensory experiences to create spaces that serve our real needs. Sally Augustin delivers straightforward action plans we need to develop places where we can live our best lives.

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