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7 Ways to Cultivate a Nourishing Space for Mental Health

Our homes are our havens. They’re the place where we escape from the world and come back to ourselves. Creating a nourishing space for mental health is essential—especially if you struggle with your emotional wellbeing during certain times of the year.

Many of us seek ways to stay mentally healthy in the fall, winter, and even spring months. When days get shorter and colder, it can be difficult to feel energized. Add on work and life stressors that we all face, and it’s a recipe for a challenge.

Mental health is an integral part of wellness and wellbeing. Here’s how you can focus on cultivating a nourishing space for mental health and wellbeing in your home.

Why Home Matters to Our Mental Health

I love that we've become more transparent about the importance of mental health these days. Years ago, there used to be a stigma attached to discussing psychology and mental health challenges. Keeping our feelings, emotions, and struggles inside led to many health problems on the outside.

Today, though, we all face certain social challenges to our mental health. We're often sharing our lives and working online, giving way to comparisons, feeling left out, or missing human connections. We may scroll through the perfect lives we see on Instagram and wonder why we're the only ones who are struggling.

Know that you aren’t alone. Many of us have struggled at different times with our mental health. Life brings up so many hurdles that can cause us to experience anxiety, depression, distraction, and many other mental health issues. Compound those stressors with genetic predispositions toward mental illness, chemical imbalances, and health issues, and it’s no wonder that over 18% of the population suffers from mental health challenges each year.

Photography: Caroline Sharpnack

Environmental exposure like noise, air pollution, and even weather can also contribute to mental health disorders. It's also important to note that not every mental health challenge results in an official diagnosis either. Many people battle insomnia, short tempers, headaches, and lowered immunity that may not accompany a formal mental health disorder diagnosis.

Mental health is part of our overall sense of wellness. When we feel happier at home, we generally feel better physically and mentally. We have more energy; our sleep improves, we're more social, engaged, and confident. When we feel mentally healthy, we may do better at our jobs, be better parents and partners, and have better friendships.

According to Dr. Laurie Santos, Yale Professor and creator of the Happiness Lab podcast, there are some important things we need to feel mentally well: social connections, gratitude, presence and mindfulness, rest, exercise, and kindness. Many of these factors can be cultivated and fortified from our homes.

7 Ways to Support Your Mental Health at Home

People spend 80 to 90% of their time indoors, and about two-thirds of that time is inside our homes (even more for those who work from home). So it’s no wonder that we need to figure out how to turn our homes into a nourishing space for mental health. Here are 7 ways we can boost our mental health at home.

1. Focus on the Purpose of Each Area

Home should be a place that uplifts you and feeds your sense of wellbeing. We can create an inviting space by focusing on the purpose of each area. Some rooms of your home are for focus, work, exercise, and creation (like the kitchen). In those spaces, you can focus on establishing more dynamic energy. Bring in light, brighter colors, and more efficient designs. You might create meeting spaces—arranging chairs around a table or areas in the living room for conversation.

Photography: Jennifer Lavelle

For the rooms where you practice self-care, like your bathroom and bedroom, you’ll want to focus on imbuing a sense of warmth and coziness. To create comforting spaces for resting and relaxation, use soft textiles, muted colors and tones, and softer lighting. Create spaces for solitude—reading nooks, a dressing and vanity area, a quiet meditation corner.

Cultivate a space for self-care, whatever that looks like for you. If you find it uplifting to play with skincare techniques or give yourself a manicure, create a space for that. If you love reading and find it an emotionally beneficial escape, dedicate a spot in your home for book-time.

2. Reduce the Noise

One thing that can really harm our mental health is sound and noise pollution. We might not even think about it, but ambient noise can be distracting, anxiety-provoking, and stressful for some people. Think about the difference you feel when you walk into a room where there’s soft, relaxing music, or maybe a small water feature, versus the sounds of being in a busy public space.

One of the most significant contributors to noise pollution in our day-to-day lives is the television. Some people like to have a TV or radio on for company, but the reality is that it can be distracting and even stressful when there's always media playing.

Photography: Caroline Sharpnack

If you live in a city, along a busy road, or somewhere that sound is a problem, make sure your windows and doors have the right thickness and insulation to muffle the noise. Choose a room in your house that’s quiet to create a retreat space—somewhere you can go to escape in silence throughout the day. Take time for quiet reflection and solitude, like taking a nice long bath or finding a spot for meditation. If you're working from home, noise-canceling headphones can also help.

3. Engage Your Senses

Sights and smells can be powerful influences on our moods and our sense of wellness. If you’re trying to create a nourishing space for mental health and wellness, look for scents and sights that bring you positive feelings and peace.

I love to keep a collection of art and design books on my coffee table. Leafing through the beautiful pages is a great way to escape after a long or stressful day. When I choose art for my home, I often look for pieces that have a sense of calm, include natural themes, and/or bring back happy memories.

As for our sense of smell, there are many healthy and natural ways to scent your home. It’s best to use the most natural solutions possible, like warming herbs or diffusing pure essential oils. Synthetic fragrances like those found in some candles and other household products can contain chemicals that can affect our health.

Photography: Caroline Sharpnack

4. Adjust Lighting

Our bodies are on a cycle called our Circadian rhythm; this rhythm affects our sleep, appetite, and mental health. It's why most of us feel tired at night and more alert and awake when the sun comes up in the morning. However, some of us are on a slightly different cycle—we might find we have more energy later in the day or function better when we work later at night.

We can set the lighting scheme in our house to complement our Circadian rhythm and nurture mental wellbeing. Often following the sun’s natural patterns works the best, but it’s important to let yourself find the right balance for your body. In the morning, try to get as much sunlight as you can. Open the shades or even take a quick walk.

Photography: Caroline Sharpnack

In the evening, when we're trying to wind down and sleep, it helps to block out light. Even light from a full moon can impact our sleep, so consider ways to keep your bedroom dark at night. Blue light emitted from electronics can affect our Circadian rhythms and interfere with sleep. It's generally best to avoid screen time for a few hours before bed. Switch to soft, low lighting to signal your brain that it's time to rest.

5. Clear Clutter

We can feel stressed when we're in a cluttered space—even working on a messy desk. Clutter increases a sense of chaos, which raises our cortisol levels, triggering our flight or fight response in the brain. People who struggle with focus may also find that they’re much more distracted in a cluttered, busy space.

We may think that surrounding ourselves with items near and dear to us will make us feel more connected, bring up positive memories, and make us feel more at home. But unfortunately, when our space becomes too cluttered, it's hard to keep clean, difficult to organize, and can make us feel distressed and even isolated.

If you're struggling with your mental health at home, consider creating a clean, clutter-free space where you can spend quiet time and decompress. Keep your bedroom and restful spaces as clutter-free as possible, and periodically sort through items that you no longer want or need. Clean out, and you'll find a greater sense of calm.

Photography: Caroline Sharpnack

6. Get in Touch with Nature

Many experts recommend the healing power of nature for improving our mental health and helping to reduce stress. Sitting near a window, tending to a houseplant, or spending time on your porch or balcony can really improve your mood and overall sense of wellbeing.

Nature helps us realize that we’re connected to something larger than ourselves. We can reflect on the changes that take place as plants and animals change and grow. It helps us feel a sense of peace, wholeness, and wellbeing.

I’ve long recommended using natural pieces in home design. Natural materials like stone, marble, wood, and cotton are healthier for our bodies and good for our minds. I find that incorporating natural materials into our homes feels grounding and authentic. We can sense the history of the piece. Not to mention that natural items are often more beautiful and last longer—making them also more sustainable.

7. Create Healthy Nourishing Spaces

Even if you don't have a formal workout room or studio in your home, it's beneficial to create a spot where you can work out and focus on your health. Exercise is crucial for our mental wellbeing, and experts have found that exercise increases the endorphins (feel-good chemicals) in our brains. Not only that but exercising tends to help us stop reeling through worst-case scenarios or ruminating on past upsets. A sweat session brings us back to the present.

If you find that yoga or Pilates helps you feel at peace, create a spot to do your practice regularly without interruption. If running is your go-to movement, have a place to store your shoes or set up a treadmill corner that's inviting.

Similarly, focus on creating nourishing spaces in your kitchen. Fill your fridge with fruits and vegetables that help keep your body healthy. Keep cold, filtered water on hand, fresh lemons, or mint to encourage yourself to get plenty of hydration. Show yourself that you truly care about your body and wellbeing by keeping nourishing, healthy items ready to go. In any space, whether it's your kitchen, bathroom, or bedroom, focus on how you will take care of yourself and value your body and your health.

Keeping ourselves mentally healthy can be a significant challenge in today's stressful world. When we make our homes a place of wellness, we can see emotional benefits in addition to the aesthetic and physical benefits we already enjoy.

What do you do to create a healthy environment in your home? I’d love to hear all about it!

X Lauren

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