Physical spaces can nourish our mental and emotional health through a comfortable living, working and sleeping environment, while simultaneously mitigating stressors that can cause us short-term and long-term anguish.
Failure for a space to do so can contribute to and exacerbate other well-being issues, either directly or indirectly, such as anxiety, depression, diabetes, asthma, cancer and cardiovascular disease (WELL v2, 2018).
Below is a compilation of resources which you can use to improve your circumstances at home, either at a personal level or at an environmental level. These suggested solutions range from educating yourself on mental health resources to utilizing natural elements in your indoor space for improving your mental well-being. Moreover, the majority of these solutions are budget and time friendly for students: the majority cost less than $100 to implement.
A positive mental health environment at home is important because:
- Poor mental health is attributed to cause at least eight million deaths a year globally, or 14.3 percent of the world’s population and increases the mortality rate of these individuals by about 2.2 percent as compared to a healthy adult.
- 30 percent of all adults develop some form of mental illness in their lifetime, with 35-50 percent in high-income and 76 to 85 percent in low- and medium-income countries live with it without receiving any treatments, respectively.
- Untreated mental health conditions such as depression can lead to suicidal ideation and suicide, which alone claims 800,000 deaths per year globally.
(Source: WELL v2, 2018)
By making smarter choices for our spaces, quarantining for longer periods of time may become more manageable, enjoyable and perhaps more hopeful, especially over the harsher winter months of a COVID pandemic.
Here are 10 DIY ideas for a positive mental health environment at home (from an individual’s parameter to spatial parameters) within a reasonable price range:
1) Educate yourself on mental health
Educating yourself on mental health is important because it prepares you to recognize signs and symptoms ahead of time, within yourself and in others and to be equipped with knowledge on how to heal from them as well.
There are plenty of resources on the internet, however if you live in Canada, please refer to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health here.
2) Take a 10- to 20-minute nap early in the afternoon, when needed
Although it is recommended that adults (age 18 and over) should get between seven to nine hours of sleep each day (MayoClinic.org, 2019), this can sometimes be insufficient, either because of restlessness or lack of quantity.
Consider taking a 10- to 20-minute nap early in the afternoon, when needed, to restore your energy and mental focus. Set an alarm so that you do not exceed 30 minutes as it has been shown to disrupt your sleep cycles in the evening.
Also, make sure the napping environment is comfortable, relaxing and promotes restfulness. If your mind is anxious, consider grabbing a notebook and write those things down to clear your mind to make the napping process easier.
3) Spend 30 minutes honing a hobby each day
By allowing yourself to focus onto something productive, a hobby can provide some joy and hope when struggling with mental health challenges. Some possible hobbies you could try:
- Music (includes singing, playing, songwriting)
- Reading (i.e. self-help books)
4) Ensure a clean and organized environment at home
There is a saying that a cluttered space is a cluttered mind. Purchase non-transparent storage and cabinets so that they allow you to put objects away and out of plain sight. By keeping your spaces looking minimal and organized, it can encourage an individual to concentrate their efforts on more productive matters. It will also make cleaning in the future easier.
5) Purchase indoor plants within regularly occupied spaces
Bringing natural elements into the indoors has a calming effect on our mental health. You may purchase as many plants as you want, however a general rule of thumb from a cleaner air quality perspective is to purchase one indoor plant for every 100 square feet (SF) of space. Seek out plants that “speak” to you when you are plant shopping, but most importantly, have fun with it!
6) Make use of outdoor and natural spaces
If a stay at home lockdown is not in order, try to maximize your time outdoors by exposing yourself to green spaces, water bodies and ample amount of sunlight for Vitamin D, which has been shown to regulate and improve our mood.
Furthermore, a change of scenery and routine can be a powerful and effective way to help someone who is struggling with their mental health. By removing oneself from a stagnant and possibly negative situation, an environmental change can sometimes trigger a “mental reset” that can help us see things more clearly in a new perspective than when we are stuck in it.
7) Furnish your space using natural materials and elements
Furnishing your place with elements of wood, brick, terracotta, stone and other natural materials is a great way to incorporate natural design elements into your space.
Plan ahead by making use of photomontages that evoke a certain mood that you wish to emulate, then purchase furniture and accessory items accordingly.
Play with color, texture, patterns and the other elements and principles of design. Make your space feel comfortable and enjoy the process.
8) Holistically meet all the functional elements of a comfortable space
Not only should a space be beautiful, but it must holistically find a way to balance the following functional parameters to make the space feel comfortable, such as:
- Sound masking
- Thermal control
- Seating and ergonomics
- Visual privacy
9) Plan your space(s) with a variety of uses
Do you have a workspace that faces a wall with minimal daylight? Balance that with a laptop station in the living room right against the window with ample daylight.
Do you have an open, outdoor balcony/patio with lush greenery and seating? Balance that with a more intimate living room space that is dimmer and cozier.
The idea here is to encourage a contrast of mental scenery so that a person at home can always find the best place to be at based on their daily mood and preference. Furthermore, variety also encourages people to move around and to be less sedentary as well.
10) Designate a quiet space at home
If room permits, designate a space at home, preferably 75 SF minimum as per WELL v2’s suggestion, for non-work-related purposes as a quiet, contemplative or reading space.
It can also be a self-designated “No Social Media Allowed” zone so that a person can decompress from the stresses of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the like. This can sometimes be caused by our potential misuse of it as a way of hiding our problems or from other societal pressure issues, such as the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) effect.
Sam Luong is an architectural intern from Toronto who has worked on a variety of large-scale architectural projects for international firms. Sam is also passionate about physical health and well-being and hopes to one day design a smart-technology home. He also runs his own consulting service, Studio Cloud Nine. If you like the following content, please give him a Like, and follow him at his Facebook Group or Linkedin Page at Studio Cloud Nine.