The environment around you affects the way you feel. Your immediate surroundings can contribute to good mental health or to poor mental health. This may be obvious to you; perhaps you’ve directly experienced the impact of your environment on state of being. But recognising this,and thinking about how you can alter your environment to support your wellbeing, can open up awareness to a number of lifestyle factors that imact your physical, emotional and mental wellness.
The wider environment, in terms of where we live and what’s happening in the world beyond our day-to-day life has a huge impact on us. But here we’re focusing on things youcan change quickly and with relative ease.
How might the home environment you create affect the choices you make?
See the Light
A number of studies have shown that spending time in bright rooms improves your mood. Natural light is amazing — but if your living space isn’t well lit by the sun during daytime hours, you can still benefit from mood-lifting light. Actually, there is evidence that artificially lit rooms have a positive impact on mood and emotional states too.
And the timingof your exposure to light is also important for your mood. A detailed review of research in the Translational Psychiatryjournalsuggests that following a light and dark cycle in your daily life which matches the natural environment outside your window could have a significant positive impact on your mood — as well as quality of sleep and stress levels overall.
You can shift your light exposure at home to mirror the outside world by opting for low lighting before and after sunrise. If you need to use your laptop, tablet or smartphone during the darker hours you could try a blue light blocking screen protector, too.
As well as improving your mood, paying more attention to the quality and timing of light exposure could drive you to make choices about when to go to bed, and when to get up, which are more in line with your body’s rhythms.
Carve Space for Connection
There is an extensive body of research highlighting that well laid out public social spaces, which facilitate human connection, are really good for our wellbeing. Surprisingly, there is less insight available about how our home environments affect us; but psychologists Lindsay Graham and colleagues have identifiedsix aspects of the homewhich they argue should be the focus of more research — including the capacity for comfort, togetherness and intimacy.
We all need connection to feel good. So whether you live alone or with others, creating spaces in your home which encourage social connection can improve your sense of fulfilment. This could mean moving chairs and couches to face each other instead of the TV; finding ways to adapt rooms easily when you have a few people over, so that everyone can sit comfortably; or arranging a table so that you and other members of your household can sit quietly together to work, rather than working on individual projects in isolation.
Shop for Wellbeing
You’re tired. You want to eat — and you want to eat now. If you open your fridge to find a few vegetables on one shelf, and a ready-to-cook pizza on another shelf, you’ll probably go for the pizza rather than work out what you can make with the vegetables.
Filling your cupboards with nourishing food is a simple way to ensure you’ll make healthy choices — and by extension, feel better physically and mentally. But it’s not just about buying healthier options; it’s also useful to think carefully about how much time you’re willing or able to spend cooking.
Studies of food choices within the homeshow that money and time are the two key factors which drive our buying decisions. We need to buy food we can afford, but it also needs to suit our time constraints — work, family, and lifestyle affect how much time we can spend preparing food.
Can you shop for healthy food that doesn’t take a long time to cook? Can you prepare healthy snacks a few days in advance — for example, chopping up vegetables and storing them in tupperware or empty jam jars, or buying dried apricots and dates instead of sweets — so that it’s easy to grab something nutritious in a rush?
Clean for Calm
Evidence showsthat having a clean and tidy home can make us physically and mentally healthier. It’s even been found that something as simple as making your bedin the morning can make you sleep better at night. And a cluttered or disorganised home environment can make it more difficult to focus— too many objects can overwhelm the visual cortex, so it’s harder to direct attention and work efficiently.
In contrast, having a clean, organised and uncluttered living environment is associated with better mental health, concentration and the ability to find clarity.
It can also change the way you make decisions. Have you ever ‘given up’ on a day because your home is too messy and just looking at it completely destroys your motivation to do anything productive, or even anything nice for yourself? Being in a space that makes you feel calm and clear means you’re more likely to get on with tasks or do something that makes you feel good rather than get into bed and watch Netflix all evening.
What do you crave in a home environment?
Most of us want to feel comfortable, safe, and connected at home. We want to look forward to getting back there when we’ve been away — and we want to be able to feel focused, calm, and motivated at home. Think about what you really crave in your home environment.
What would make you feel good? What would help to balance the stresses and pressures you experience outside of your home? What changes would help you to make choices which support your sense of wellbeing?
Some of the things you really crave might not be possible straight away. But some of them will be. With some small changes, you can make your personal spaces more uplifting, and give yourself a better chance of developing habits which improve your daily life.
About the writer: Izzy Arcoleo BA(Hons) RYT-500 is a yoga and meditation teacher — and always a student — from London. Currently based in south west France, she and her partner are renovating a building to become a centre for movement arts and meditation. Izzy is dedicated to creating space — both physically and mentally — for meditative practices and wellbeing.