We have a long winter ahead of us. The temperatures are dropping, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is still very much ongoing, and the approaching new year isn't going to be the flip of a switch back to normal life that we'd hoped. For many of us, this means we'll be spending even more time indoors in the coming months than we have for the past several. Add in the prospect of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is estimated to affect 10 million Americans, and this is a scary outlook—but it doesn't have to be. We can't control everything happening outside, but we can control our indoor surroundings, and making some small changes to our interiors can have a positive impact on our mental health.
Whether you're an interior design lover or not, being mindful about the setup of the rooms you spend the most time in can benefit your emotional well-being. So, we rounded up some tips that don't just look nice but have also been shown to evoke a calmer and happier mood.
How to Make Your Home Better for Your Mental Health:
1. Declutter your space.
A 2016 study found that the presence of clutter could negatively impact an individual’s perception of home—making people feel less happy toward their home space—and their overall satisfaction with their life. "When [clutter] becomes excessive, it can threaten to physically and psychologically entrap a person in dysfunctional home environments which contribute to personal distress and feelings of displacement and alienation," the study reads.
If you're already in a depressed state, it can be hard to work up the motivation to tidy up your space, but doing so can bring more peace and comfort—both mentally and physically. Another 2009 study found that home environments that are more organized and tidy can lower stress hormone levels, lower blood pressure, alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression, and improve overall mood. So don't wait for spring cleaning time to tidy up your space.
2. Add calming colors.
The research behind color psychology is still largely debated, but many color theorists believe that certain hues can evoke different emotional responses. For example, warm colors—like reds, yellows, and oranges—are thought to be associated with more active feelings, while cool colors—like blues and greens—are thought to provide a calming and soothing response.
By this thinking, yellows and reds may be good for your workspace or living area, where you may want to be more productive and engaged. In spaces where you want to unwind and relax, like your bedroom, however, it'd be better to incorporate blues, greens, and lavender hues. Even if you're not up for a painting project, you can incorporate these soothing colors through throw pillows and decor to inspire a sense of calm in your space.
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3. Change your lighting.
We've heard it from researchers and doctors time and time again: Natural light is good for your overall health. That's because, as Healthline reports, exposure to sunlight gives us vitamin D, which can prevent bone loss, reduce the risk of heart disease and various cancers, ward off seasonal depression, and improve sleep.
So, to maximize the natural light in your home, you can pull back the curtains, move your workspace in front of a window, and add mirrors on your walls to reflect the sunlight and cast more light into your room. That's only if you're lucky enough to have the option, though. If your windows are blocked by a building or you just don't get much natural light in your room, this isn't something you can easily change.
However, you can still alter the lighting in your indoor space to help improve your mood—starting by changing your lightbulbs. Blue light is thought to disrupt your circadian rhythm—aka your sleep cycle—which has been linked to long-term effects like cardiovascular issues, obesity, and depression. So, swapping your lightbulbs—especially those in your bedside lamps—for something in a warmer hue can help mitigate these effects.
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If you lack natural light in your home, suffer from SAD, or just want to supplement for the darker winter days, you can also invest in a light therapy lamp. Research has shown that the use of light therapy lamps (which mimic sunlight) is effective in boosting mood and treating seasonal depression.
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4. Add natural textures and patterns.
A 2008 study on the effect of textures on human emotions found that textures that mimic water movement or are like natural plant patterns are directly correlated to calm, content, and positive emotional states. Adding house plants is one of the most straightforward (and millennial-approved) ways to apply this theory, but you can also incorporate nature-inspired patterns through art prints, throw pillows, or blankets.
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A 2008 study in HortTechnology, a journal by the American Society for Horticulture Science, also found that having fresh flowers in your home can help ease anxiety—so there's all the reason you need to justify buying yourself flowers whenever you feel like it.
5. Incorporate calming scents.
According to WebMD, aromatherapy can ease stress, anxiety, and depression as well as alleviate some types of pain and nausea. So the smell of your home can quite literally set the mood. An essential oil diffuser is one of the easiest ways to swap out scents based on your desired emotion. Of course, if candles are more your thing, those can do the trick, too. Lavender is one of the most popular scents for calming the nervous system, and other scents like chamomile, geranium, and jasmine are believed to have similar effects.
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While you take the time to reimagine your interiors for a calmer and happier mood, don't forget to get outside and breathe the fresh air when you can, too. It's a tried-and-true remedy that we shouldn't neglect.