How do you feel when you walk into a messy, disorganized room? Does it feel any different than a clean and orderly one? There is lots of evidence that our physical environment can have a tremendous impact on our well-being. Dark, cramped or cluttered rooms can make us feel anxious or sad, while well lit rooms with tidy surfaces can have a calming effect that makes one feel composed. An appetizing kitchen, a bedroom that fosters a good night's sleep and a work space that motivates us, are all essential components of any healthy home. When these spaces are optimized, we can begin to focus on important life goals that we have set for ourselves, andour space becomes a supporting environment.
During an earlier time in my social work career, I returned to school in the evenings to study Health Care Interior Design at the New York School of Interior Design. There, I had the chance to learn first-hand from some of the experts in this field. Now, in my clinical work, I make a habit of always considering the lessons I learned in NYSID, as a way to enhance my patients' health and well being from yet another perspective. It is quite clear that we are all deeply affected by the space in which we spend our time, and, as it turns out, there are practical things that we can each do to enhance our environments for healthier living. Simple changes such as adding a floor lamp, a brightly colored piece of art or a fresh coat of paint to the walls can make a big difference and I often make these recommendations to clients I see for therapy. It’s important to recognize the principle of designing spaces with your health in mind, while integrating your own personal style.
There is research that demonstrates that exposing hospitalized patients to images of nature resulted in better better overall health outcomes for them compared to patients who were not. In addition, exposure to certain colors can affect our appetite and mood. This sort of knowledge emphasizes the significance of healing environments, and while this field of inquiry is still emerging in the medical, psychological and design fields, there is little doubt of the impact of design and architecture on our physical and emotional health. It is a fascinating topic, and something important to consider when moving into a new home or office.
For adults and children with significant medical or physical challenges, ranging from autism to post-traumatic stress disorder, dementia, visual impairments or physical disability, the implications of the design on their living space are even more concrete. While adding a ramp or other assistive devices like grab bars is essential, it’s important that we don’t forget to address the overall 'spirit' of the room by making healthy color and lighting choices.
The bottom line is that our homes should be safe spaces where we return after a long day to relax and enjoy leisure time. The environment exerts significant power on our mental, and even physical health that can change the way we experience time spent at home. Treat your home the same way you treat your body, by filling it with things that make you happy and healthy and by avoiding things that don't. It's yet another way in which we can help ourselves to improve our health.