September is Suicide Awareness Month, which is a helpful reminder that we must all focus on ways to elevate our own mental health, equipping us with the mental endurance, strength, and awareness to support others. (If you’re experiencing depression or thoughts of harming yourself, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.)
Believe it or not, the physical spaces around us can have huge impacts on our mental health, not just physical health. While it’s difficult to change everything about the design of our homes, small interior design and wellness changes can add up. Here are some small ways to boost your mental health inside the places you spend the most time.
Studies show that even small amounts of air pollutants can dramatically impact the severity – and the number – of mental health incidents. Unfortunately, outdoor air pollutants can get trapped inside and air quality inside is often worse than outside. Poor air quality has physical implications, which translate to mental health challenges like lack of sleep and loss of ability to exercise.
Temperature is another element of air quality. Regulating a comfortable temperature in your space can also elevate your mental health.
Monitor outdoor air quality on PurpleAir’s free mapping tool, and consider purchasing an indoor air quality monitor for your home. Once you have the ability to monitor indoor air pollutants, you will be able to identify factors that are impacting how you feel physically and mentally.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that typically emerges during the change of seasons, most commonly in winter when the weather is cold, cloudy, and people mostly stay indoors. SAD is one of many mental health challenges related to the lack of access to natural light. Studies show that hospital patients even benefit from proximity to windows and views to natural light.
If possible, reorient the rooms in your home to maximize exposure to natural light, and open your window treatments when possible. Not only does this help you align to your natural circadian rhythm to promote a good sleep cycle, but it can elevate your mood as well. If you don’t have access to many windows, consider investing in human-centric lighting to blend interior design and wellness.
While they rage in price, you can typically find lower-cost lamps that mock the sun’s changing color throughout the day. We recommend Philips’ Somneo Sleep & Wake-Up Light, Circadian Optics Light Therapy, or any Ketra Human-Centric products.
As mentioned above, windows can let in natural light that is critical to stabilizing mental health. In addition to access to light, they can also help ventilate spaces when there are challenges with air quality. Not only do windows help you adjust for air quality and lighting, they also provide views that help stabilize mental health. Studies show that views to natural features like trees, grass, water, or mountains can reduce stress and anxiety levels.
If you don’t have access to windows with views of natural features, consider getting some indoor plants – even fake plants – which have been shown to provide the same powerful stress reduction qualities.
To blend interior design and wellness, use your space to create mental separation between tasks or stressors. Try to have a dedicated space for work that is separate from your space for sleeping, relaxing, or eating. When these spaces are combined, your mind can get distracted or overloaded. Even if your space is small, try to create dedicated areas for specific tasks, which can be defined by area rugs, differing color schemes, lighting features, and furniture type.
While all of these spaces are important, identifying a sleep space for restoration is the most critical. Treat your bedroom like a sacred, peaceful space and try to leave stress at the door.
We know that food has a powerful impact on mental health. It provides necessary fuel for exercise, supports restorative sleep, and includes nutrients to support a healthy chemical balance that equips us to make informed decisions and adapt to stressful situations.
We don’t often discuss how our physical space can impact how we eat. Perceived availability and access to food is a big factor to healthy eating at home. We are more likely to have a bite of a cookie if they’re sitting on the counter in a container that’s easy to open. We are even more likely to eat it if we can see it from where we work during the day. Use the physical barriers of your home to help you eat healthier; put unhealthy snacks in the back of a cabinet in a container that’s difficult or burdensome to open and leave healthier snacks on the counter and in the front of the refrigerator. Consider putting out a fruit or vegetable bowl on the counter, or grow your own in an outdoor space or balcony!
The sense of smell is often forgotten, but can be hugely critical to mental health. The most obvious relationship between odor and mental health relates to poor odors. Bad smells can be distracting, reduce productivity, and even impact physical health by creating headaches or interrupting restorative sleep.
Bad odors can come from many places, but can be amplified by our physical environment. Ventilation (either naturally through windows or powered through equipment) is important to releasing indoor odors created from residual cooking, off-gassing from furniture or materials in your home, or from something you can remove like garbage or pet odors.
Good smells can be just as impactful. A familiar smell, especially a personal one that has provided historical comfort, can be hugely beneficial for mental health. Tap into those comforts by finding a candle or natural air freshener that mimics those familiar smells. If that’s difficult to identify, consider fragrances that are commonly associated with stress reduction, such as lavender or vanilla. It is important to avoid traditional air fresheners, which are designed to mask odor. They often emit VOCs, which can hugely impact mental and physical health.
While we’re talking about the five senses, consider the power of sound, which can impact mental health as well. Just like smells, we want to avoid disruptive sounds, which often create stress and raise anxiety. We can also introduce soothing sounds to negate the bad sounds and provide comfort.
Studies show that constant noise, like street traffic or proximity to an airport, raise the chances of cardiovascular disease. These sounds, which mostly come from outside of your home, can be masked at a dim volume that shouldn’t be overpowering. Small physical interventions to your space can reduce the impact of noise pollution – consider installing a white noise maker or using a fan to drown out sounds from outside. Music can also be helpful, but remember that music set too loud can create long-term hearing loss.
Comfy furniture is more than just about lounging. It also facilitates important restorative qualities that are critical to elevating physical health, which impacts your mental health. Of course, a comfortable bed can support a good night’s sleep, but other furniture can help your body rejuvenate as well. Consider other furniture in your home and make small changes to optimize interior design and wellness, including using pillows and blankets.
If you work from home, the ergonomics of your work furniture can also impact your mental health. Working at a desk for multiple hours can have long-term effects on your back and neck, so ergonomic furniture supports your physical health. At the same time, it also supports concentration and productivity, and can reduce stress.
Home decor creates a sense of place, providing comfort through interior design and wellness. Small personal features can reduce stress and allow mental restoration. Art, including paintings, photos, and sculptures can stimulate the creative side of your mind, especially in spaces where you are working and required to stare at a digital screen.
As mentioned above, plants can reduce stress levels and can improve air quality. Even colors can impact mental health. Consider adding some plants to your rooms and painting the walls or adding pops of color to your space.
The perception of safety is also hugely critical to your mental health, including your ability to relax or socialize in the surrounding community. There are many critical factors to this feeling, but it includes many elements discussed throughout this article. Physical threats are often presented through loud noises, bad odors, or poor air quality. Appeasing those concerns inside your own space can begin to help the sense of security.
However, your surrounding community is an important factor for your mental health as well. Use the proximity of your physical space to connect with others and gain a better sense of community. Meet your neighbors, join local community groups, and find ways to work together to improve your neighborhood environment. This can elevate your mood and reduce stress by promoting a feeling of comfort, sense of place, and connection to others.