Control, Planted in a Pot

Published on December 16, 2015

A classic experiment almost 4 decades ago revealed that elderly residents of nursing homes who bore the onus of nurturing a potted plant outlived their counterparts who did not. More recently, research has extended advantages of indoor potted plants to the reduction and increase of stress and productivity respectively - even going as far as to boost creativity.

What gives a potted plant its invigorating properties? More specifically, what is it about a touch of green in a room that brings about a series of positive well-being related outcomes? The locus of these effects may in part lie in the physical and tangible. The presence of leaves in an enclosed space would certainly improve interior air quality as well as regulate humidity levels - not to mention serve to be a comfort for the eyes.

Just as much however, the benefits generated may be psychological.

The biomedical model of health holds that all abnormalities in functioning stem from the anatomical, physiological, and/or chemical. While it has to its credit paved the way for revolutionary progress in the field of medicine, the biomedical model is considerably outdated in present time.

One clear piece of supporting evidence for this is something we may all be familiar with - the experience of psychosomatic transfer. Our anxiety may translate into frequent trips to the bathroom, our constant worrying manifests in pounding headaches. That body and mind are intertwined is at the core of the holistic view of the person, and is a perspective adopted by most health practitioners today.

Drawing back to topic, nursing a potted plant may gratify one with a sense of control. Being responsible for an orchid plant that would each day require light, the right amount of water, and to be rid of pests entails a sense of having a stake in its survival and flourishing.

And yet, there will be the odd plant through which all the tender, loving care in the world will seem to bypass and be rendered invalid. There will be the one Boston Fern that refuses to thrive, stubbornly resistant to the optimum conditions provided for its growth. Its poor, devoted gardener is left feeling helpless and out of control.  

When pondered more deeply, this loss of control is in fact, central to a whole range of psychological disturbances. We want to be manipulators of our environment and be able to dictate courses of events. We desire to know every fact about a situation before we act, long to test our beliefs and have our predictions confirmed in a world that is inherently uncertain in nature.  

Whether actual or merely perceived, a sense of control - having both hands firmly planted on the steering wheel – indeed helps us to cope with life’s inevitable challenges as studies have shown. Just as importantly per contra, we too have to be aware of the limits on the amount of control we can possess at any point of time. One does not have to be religious to make sense of the Serenity Prayer.

God grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change;

courage to change the things I can;

and wisdom to know the difference.



Photo sources
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Category(s):Control Issues, Self-Care / Self Compassion

Written by:

Maryann Wei

Maryann is commencing the 4th year (Hons) in her Bachelor`s degree in Psychology (University of Wollongong, Australia). Preceding this, she was blessed with an internship opportunity at Scott Psychology Centre, where the experience proved far more fulfilling than its duration may suggest.

In her free time, Maryann attempts to wax lyrical - but ends up being mostly dreary and melancholic - at

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