A growing number of architects, designers, professional organizers and environmental psychologists believe the spaces we live in are as inextricably linked to our neurological well-being as sleep, diet and exercise.
“Homes have served the same purpose since the beginning of time,” said Sally Augustin, an environmental psychologist who runs the consulting firm Design With Science. “We’ve always had the need for some sort of retreat or sanctuary.” Given what some are calling an anxiety epidemic — with nearly one-fifth of Americans reporting a stress-related disorder — the need for a safe and calming place feels especially important.
Most environmental psychologists are reluctant to be overly prescriptive; every person and family is different. That said, if you’re looking for small ways to make your home feel more peaceful, here are 10 research-backed steps worth trying.
• Get light right: Exposure to natural light helps our bodies produce vitamin D, serotonin, and melatonin, and can even increase productivity — but it can also have hidden stressors. One is glare, which can cause eyestrain and sensitivity, especially for those with anxiety disorders or chronic migraines. Sheer or anti-glare blinds help filter sunlight and are especially helpful in rooms where you use a computer.
Once the sun goes down, do what you can to achieve full darkness, especially if you live in a city. Invest in room-darkening curtains or blinds in your bedroom.
When it comes to artificial light, most LED light bulbs deliver sharp, bluish hues (which tend to keep us up), so it might be worth replacing them. Any home light bulb labeled “warm and white” will do.
• Keep walls muted and bright: “Research suggests that we feel cooler in cooler-toned rooms and warmer in warmer-toned rooms, regardless of the actual temperature, so this is one way to steer a space to your comfort zone,” says Toby Israel, an early expert in the field. Mine your memory for colors that have sentimental value, and steer clear of shades that trigger negative emotional responses.
• Choose patterns wisely: Shoot for a balance of color, texture, and pattern. “Places that are stark and devoid of detail are just as unnerving to us as spaces with way too much going on,” says Augustin, “so your best bet is to aim for moderate visual complexity.” Limit yourself to one or two colors and patterns and casually repeat them throughout the space.
• Consider scent and sound: Studies have shown lavender is calming, but environmental psychologists also recommend finding scents you personally respond to, perhaps one reminiscent of a Redwood forest vacation, nights by a bonfire or even baked cookies. Certain sounds can be soothing, too.
• De-clutter: Recent studies show a link between disorderly living spaces and stress, procrastination and life dissatisfaction, suggesting Marie Kondo is onto something. “The bigger the pile, the more you procrastinate, the more stressful it becomes,” says Stacy Thomes, a professional organizer in Calabasas, California. “Anxiety, ultimately, is about a loss of control.”
— Megan Buerger, The Washington Post