May is Mental Health Awareness Month! Make a big difference in your mental health with these simple home upgrades.
There is a strong connection between the spaces we spend time in and mental health, even if we're not always fully aware of it. And since we tend to spend the majority of our time indoors (about 90 percent, according to the Environmental Protection Agency), interior design can be a pretty powerful tool in supporting mental well-being. Here, we address some changes you can make to your own home to better support your mental health and daily happiness.
1. Let in the light
It may seem obvious, but natural light can do wonders for mental health. Natural light can help toregulate the function of serotonin, improve mood, and lower the risk of mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety. Of course, it's ideal to get that exposure while spending time outdoors, but if you're working or live in a colder climate, you can also get that exposure through windows or from artificial sources.
If you're relying on windows for light exposure, make the most of natural light by keeping windows uncovered or using sheer draperies if privacy is a concern. You may also find it helpful to re-situate your home workspace or your child's homework space near a window to better reap the benefits of natural light.
Artificial light sources can be used to supplement natural light---or in lieu of it, if your home lacks sufficient natural light exposure. In fact, some modern lighting devices are specifically designed to support mental wellbeing. For example, light therapy devices, which mimic the sun and can help to regulate circadian rhythm, increase alertness, boost productivity, and improve mood.
You can also make some subtle changes to your existing lighting system to better support mental health. Something as simple as replacing your light switches with dimmable versions will give you more autonomy over the mood and brightness of your overhead lighting, allowing for a gentler, calming transition from day to night. Meanwhile, swapping out the lightbulbs in your bedroom for something that's blue-free or emits less blue light can help to promote better sleep.
2. Put some thought into air quality
If you suffer from asthma or allergies (and even if you don't), poor air quality can affect your health, comfort, and overall happiness in your home. Fortunately, there are many ways to improve the air quality in your home, with some methods being quite simple.
- Keep your windows open when weather permits.
- Utilize the fans in your kitchen and bathrooms.
- Make sure your vents and fans are unobstructed.
- Keep furniture away from walls to allow air and heat flow.
- Use a portable air purifier.
- Clean or upgrade your furnace filter every few months.
- Upgrade to a deeper pleated furnace filter.
- Add a HEPA filter to your HVAC system.
- Test the paint in your home for lead. (This is especially important if your home was built prior to 1978.)
- Use low or no VOC paint.
- Integrate plants into your interior decor.
3. Start a plant habit
In interior design, plants have plenty of decorative merit. They can be used to add color, emphasize a focal point, or draw the eye upward in a particularly spacious room. Moreover, keeping a plant or two in your home can have extensive health benefits, and there is research to back that up! Studies have shown that plants can help to improve indoor air quality,reduce stress, and spark creativity. Plus, the process of caring for them and watching them grow can be rewarding and cathartic.
If you want to start a plant collection but are unsure how to start, there are many varieties that are easy to care for and known for their physiological and psychological benefits. For instance, aloe vera has healing properties, air purification properties, and is famously easy to care for. Meanwhile, lavender and snake plants are known to alleviate stress and promote sleep.
4. Use symmetry and repetition
Repeating objects or using repetitive patterns, textures, and colors in your interior space can be inherently calming. This is because repetition is logical, predictable, and easy for our brains to understand. And the same goes for symmetry. While asymmetrical designs are unexpected and challenging for our brains to perceive and make sense of, symmetrical designs often involve repetition and precision and can be quite soothing.
Symmetry is a relatively cost-effective change to make in your home because it can be achieved by rearranging the furniture and decor you already have. If you're struggling with your mental health, test out a symmetrical layout in the rooms you spend the most time in. Your bedroom, home office, or living room are all good places to start.
5. Play around with mood-boosting colors
Colors evoke emotional responses, which is why we're attracted to some colors and repelled by others. Because of how polarizing color can be, it's important to consider how certain colors will affect your mood, energy levels, and ability to focus before using them in your home.
If you're concerned about stress and anxiety levels, muted colors—for instance, light blue, light green, and gray—tend to have a more calming effect than bright or dark colors. Along those same lines, neutral colors are designed to evoke a mild emotional response, if any, making them a safe option if you're concerned about the evocativeness of more saturated colors.
It's also important to factor in personal preference. While green might make one person happy, another might find it to be off-putting. Ultimately, you should fill your home with colors that appeal to you and improve your mood to look at. This can be a process of trial and error. If you're unsure of how a certain paint color might make you feel, test it out on a small section of wall or in a space that you don't use frequently, such as a laundry room or powder room.
6. Work from home better
If you work from home, having an intentionally-designed workspace is important, especially if you tend to work long hours. And while an at-home setup can sometimes be limited, there are simple tweaks you can make to your workspace to better support your overall mental and physical health.
Separate your workspace from your living space. If possible, set up your workspace in a secluded room or area. If you have no choice but to work in a communal area of your home, make an effort to pack up your work at the end of each day so that you aren't being reminded of your job after you've signed off for the day.
Put some thought into the ergonomics of your workspace. Make sure your workspace gets sufficient light, your chair has proper lumber support, and your computer screen is positioned no lower than eye level and at least an arm's length away to prevent eye strain.
Protect your eyes against blue-light. During the day, blue light boosts attention, reaction times, and even mood. But overexposure to blue light is also known to hinder sleep and can increase feelings of stress and anxiety. Blue light blocking glasses and blue light screen protectors can help to reduce the negative effects of blue light exposure. You should also avoid looking at bright screens beginning two to three hours before bed.
7. Use your home to nurture your hobbies
One of the best ways to improve and support your mental health is to engage in hobbies that you enjoy. And there's plenty of data to back that up! Research shows that having a hobby can reduce stress, depression, and anxiety, amongst more.
If you have the space for it, dedicate a space in your home to your hobbies. Think a reading nook in an un-used corner, a home gym in your basement, or a sunny, plant-filled spot to practice yoga. We often associate our homes with utility—a place to work, cook, clean, and sleep—so the idea here is to re-associate your home with activities that you choose to do and can look forward to.