You might have noticed how you feel more at ease when spaces are designed with careful thought, and on the contrary, how you feel unsettled when a place is not in good shape, or properly designed. This is because our health and well-being is affected by the quality of environments we live in (Lopez, 2012). Keep on reading to understand the characteristics of our urban life that negatively influence our health and wellbeing, and discover some home design hacks to create anxiety reducing spaces.
When you feel anxious, how often do you use a specific location as a refuge? Perhaps you've found a park, a store, or a restaurant particularly calming, but you might find the most beneficial place to create a calming space is in your own home. Creating a healthy, relaxing place in your home to reduce anxiety is challenging, but it can provide considerable benefits. How often do you really have a place for yourself or one that makes you feel comfortable even when you're handling a stressful week? People tend to look away from their immediate vicinity for comfort when feeling anxious, whether that means going for a drive, leaving home to exercise, or finding a store to go to...
Peace and relaxation should be created and available in places you can use quickly and easily, and ultimately allowing your home to reduce anxiety is the best place to create such a space.
Learn in this article why it's important to address mental health in your spaces and how to create calming spaces where you can feel healthier, safer and happier.
1. Why is it important to address mental health in our modern spaces?
2. Why does contact with nature increase wellbeing?
3. How does biophilic design contribute to our wellbeing today?
4. Home design hacks to create anxiety reducing spaces.
1. Why is it important to address mental health in our modern spaces?
The effects of urban living on mental health: Urban vs. Rural
Previous studies have shown that those living in cities and with urban upbringing could be affected by neural social stress processing (Florian et al., 2011, Tost et al., 2015) and are associated with higher rates of psychosis (Van Os, 2004), anxiety disorders and depression (Peen et al., 2010) than those growing up in rural areas.
A Focus on Work
We might be aware on how urban living is usually related to longer working hours, heavy workload, tight deadlines and unsatisfied working environments (Facey et al., 2015). In the same way, the risk of mental disorders has been increased in the population bearing psychosocial work stressors in their working environments (Stansfeld and Candy, 2006, Wadsworth et al., 2010).
Mental health issues today
Mental disorders have already become one of largest factors in global disease burden (Whiteford et al., 2013). Approximately one in five adults in the U.S. (i.e. 46.6 million) experienced mental illness, including anxiety and depression, which are often associated with, or triggered by, high level of stress (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2018).
Better understanding of interventions that ameliorate stress and anxiety are needed given their negative consequences on human health (Danielsson et al., 2012).
2. Why does contact with nature increase wellbeing?
Contacting with outdoor natural elements, settings and process has become a frequently used approach to seek relief from stressful urban lives (Hartig and Kahn, 2016), which could be explained by people’s innate affinity with nature since we were primarily exposed to nature during our evolutionary process (Ulrich et al., 1991, Wilson, 1984).
Consensus has been reached that experience of natural environments are associated with increased psychological well-being and reduced risk factors of some types of mental illness (Bratman et al., 2019).
The effects of exposure to natural environments on restorative benefits have been explored through many pathways with two dominant theories from environmental psychology perspective (Browning and Alvarez, 2019): attention restoration theory (ART) (Kaplan, 1995) and stress reduction theory (SRT) (Ulrich et al., 1991).
Attention Restauration Theory (ART)
ART proposed that natural environments abound with “soft fascinations” could replenish people’s cognitive capacity and thus reduce their mental fatigue and increase their focus and attention (Kaplan, 1995).
Stress Reduction Theory (SRT)
SRT suggested that exposure to nature activate our parasympathetic nervous system and facilitate the psychophysiological stress recovery because of our innate preference for natural environment developed through evolution (Ulrich et al., 1991).
Although these two theories are debating the mechanisms of how nature affect human health, they both emphasized that exposure to natural environments could improve restoring capacities, including attention restoration and psychophysiological stress recovery (Markevych et al., 2017).
3. How does Biophilic Design contribute to our wellbeing today?
Nowadays, we are living in a rapidly urbanizing world where accessibility to nature is typically limited (Turner et al., 2004, United Nations, 2018). Moreover, based on the statistic from the National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS), people spend almost 90% of their time indoors (Klepeis et al., 2001), which indicates the further disconnected from nature.
In recent decades, biophilic design, stemming from the concept of biophilia, which hypothesizes human have innate connection with nature, has become a new approach to incorporate the positive experiences of nature into the design of the built environment (Kellert, 2018).
By bringing nature into living and working building spaces, people could increase their time and frequency of connecting with natural elements while being indoors (Yin and Spengler, 2019). Recently, building evaluating system, such as the WELL (International WELL Building Institute, 2018), Living Building Challenge (International Living Future Institute, 2014), and The 9 Foundations of a Healthy Building (Allen et al., 2017) have listed biophilia into their design categories as a key element that can be implemented into the indoor environment to positively impact mood, sleep, stress levels and psychosocial status.
In clinic settings, studies found that the inclusion of natural sounds, aromatherapy, green plants and views of nature into hospital interior spaces reduced mental stress, increased pain tolerance and shortened hospital stays (Bringslimark et al., 2009).
How do different types of biophilic design impact us?
According to a recent study (Effects of biophilic indoor environment on stress and anxiety recovery), it was shown that biophilic environments had larger restorative impacts than non-biophilic environment in terms of reducing physiological stress and psychological anxiety level.
Additionally, restorative effects differ among three different types of indoor biophilic environments with indoor biophilic elements (i.e. green plants, wooden material) facilitate the recovery of physiological stress, and having a window with daylight and an outdoor view to natural environments facilitated the recovery of anxiety.
4. Home design hacks to create anxiety reducing spaces
Having a space that reduces anxiety is especially important as we continue to spend more time indoors - and even before 2020, we were spending 90% of our time inside doors - whether at work, home, cars, establishments... Now, more than ever, architects and designers are called on to design spaces that allow people to feel good and thrive.
Here are a few suggestions to create a space and a home that keeps you healthy and happy.
1. Create restorative, natural environments
Of course, our first recommendation would be to create restorative environments inspired in nature. As previously described, these spaces actively work to improve emotional wellbeing, happiness, health and recovery. These are spaces that use natural materials, neutral tones, simple forms and foster connection to the outside environment.
Natural solid wood, 100% organic natural upholstery and rugs such as natural seagrass matting introduce warmth and tactility to a room. The simulation of nature in the home is fundamental to the human condition – improving air quality in your home, the addition of plants, and the exploration of natural scents and sounds.
In photo: Fresh Breeze Mural at Forest Homes
Allowing continuous views through a space to the outdoors provides continuity and a connectivity to the earth and serves as a peaceful reminder that beauty surrounds us.
Nature inspired interiors tend to feel timeless. Think of those of the Hamptons, with their honest material pallets used in coastal living. They are universally admired – and emulated – for good reason as these environments are some of the best examples of restorative spaces in the purest form.
2. Think about holistic lighting
While the majority of us aren’t blessed with spaces abundant in natural light, identifying and amplifying your natural light sources will boost your sense of mental wellbeing and help to create a more inspired sense of place.
The ability to balance natural light, room lighting, and ambient lighting to reflect the mood or activity is essential for comfort. You can do this by layering on or shading natural light, accenting a space with room lighting, or adding ambient lighting and task lighting where needed.
Our homes continue to become predominantly work settings and we need to quickly adjust between focused work, collaborative zoom calls, and periods of relaxation, reprieve and rejuvenation. Lighting provides energy, and as a building block of life, it signals mood and expectations when we enter a room.
We're aware that light changes through the day, shifting its intensity, colour and temperature depending on the day cycle. A more holistic approach to artificial lighting can significantly aid the regulation of our circadian rhythms, improving productivity and positivity. Read more on Circadian Rhythm Lighting here at Forest Homes.
In photo: Vora Lights at Forest Homes
The correct temperature of artificial light is absolutely vital to setting the right mood and ambience in your space. When selecting ambient bulbs, carefully consider the temperature (Kelvin range). For example, a range of 5500 – 6500K reflects daylight and a range closer to 2,200 – 3000K reflects a warm and inviting evening ambience.
3. Simplify (but not necessarily be a minimalist)
The key is simplification: this is less to do with the western concept of ‘minimalism’ but the process of simplification and reducing clutter. The Japanese are the recognised masters of simplicity. In traditional Japanese interiors, spaces are formed through a balance of restraint, texture, material, light and shadow to create harmonious spaces. These qualities are believed to calm the spirit and sharpen the senses.
It’s important to simplify your living spaces to retain only what’s truly necessary for functional day to day living, and de-clutter.
Clutter represents holding on to emotional baggage, which can weigh you down and prevent you from moving forward. A cluttered home doesn’t reflect who you want to be or the future you want. Quick, regular purges create both physical and psychic space to welcome something new into your space and your life.
Consider only the things or objects which are an embodiment of your lifestyle, from books, art, photographs to your favourite woven throw.
In all, strive toward simplicity and de-clutter. If it’s not functional for your day-to-day or beautiful, ask yourself what it is for…
A Focus on Storage
We mean, functional and intelligent storage solutions. They allow you to create focused and refined spaces which are free of clutter, while also creating areas for the display of carefully curated objects.
The consideration of correctly positioned and well-proportioned storage systems can also significantly aid in the balance, composition and harmony of a space. For example the timeless shelving system by Dieter Rams, which can be scaled to fit any space or scenario and allow for both concealed and open display.
The Shaker design movement is also recognised for beautiful, simple and pragmatic storage solutions, imbuing the philosophy that everything should have its place. Such solutions allow for a single room to evolve from a domestic living environment into a space of simplicity and ritual.
4. Embrace neutrals with hints of color, and textures
Softer neutrals with hints of color bring calm into an environment. Woods, stone, natural fibers enliven the senses. Tactility plays an important role as well - we all want softness - but a feeling of safety and cleanability, not sterility, is also important. Natural fibers like wool offer softness, while also using renewable resources.
Use authentic colors and textures through material choices. Selecting materials and keeping them in their pure state, like concrete being concrete color or wood species remaining in their natural color state, can provide familiarity and comfort with the item as well as prevent confusion visually.
We recommend carefully balancing a selection of materials and color palettes within spaces in order to not overwhelm the senses and allow all of the other personal, movable elements in a space to be curated and arranged in a manner to further enhance balance and comfort.
5. Create your own relaxing spot
As our living habits continue to evolve, there has been an overwhelming need for designated spaces that separate working and living. Quiet corners or spaces for retreat or privacy are fundamental to reducing anxiety.
Spaces which allow for the pursuit of lifestyle interests and activities, rest and relaxation and an engaged use of downtime all help to elevate stress and boost immunity.
For example, Hifi listening rooms, reading nooks, yoga and meditation rooms and craft spaces. This important consideration between devoted space for personal and social interaction allows for focused, uninterrupted calm and recalibration of the mind.
Tips on creating your own anxiety-reducing space
Find your spot.
Everyone's home is different, but there is always some location within a home that can be used to create space for oneself. Whether that's a living room, a bedroom, or even a bathroom, there are spaces available that we can use to renew and rejuvenate ourselves.
Your spot should be one that you have control over, that can be used in isolation for at least five minutes, and that you have a natural affinity to or comfort with. This may take some experimentation, but identifying a location in your home that you can associate with relaxation is a positive step towards reducing anxiety at home.
Make it yours.
Once you've found your spot, the real work begins. Whether you live alone, with a roommate, or have multiple family members living with you, it can be a challenge to take control of and own your spot. Anxious thoughts tend to follow from room to room, and family members and kids can do the same.
So once you've identified your spot, take ownership of it. Tell your anxiety, your family, or your roommates that space is restorative for you. When you are there, it should feel like your space alone, and when you are there you can relax with yourself. Use it often. So you've found your spot and marked your territory, what's left to do?
Use, use, and keep using that space.
Just like with any habit, cultivating an anxiety-reducing space at home requires practice. If you never go to your relaxing space, it won't become a source of rejuvenation for you. Similarly, if whenever you do go there, you just read emails or use your phone, then it also may not feel like a relaxing space. You need to use the space regularly in a manner that allows you to feel more relaxed and rejuvenated. In the same way that you protect this space from intrusive negative thoughts and even other people, you should also protect it from activities that you know are not relaxing for you.