It can be difficult moving your whole life into one space. This article covers some of the psychology behind why that is, and how you can transform your space to help!
This article is loaded with hyperlinks so that we can connect you with all the resources that you need to learn more!
1. Bring Life In:
Sunlight, Fresh Air, & Plants.
Being in self-quarantine does NOT mean that we have to seal ourselves off from the outside world. We are creators of nature, and it's important for us to remember so. Read below to find out why sunlight, fresh air, and greenery are so important, or watch the video below.
Sunlight is crucial for helping our body produce the nutrients that it needs; in particular, vitamin D, melatonin, and serotonin.
Vitamin D helps us take in and use certain minerals like calcium and phosphorus, and is important for our bones, blood cells, and immune system.
Melatonin helps regulate our sleep-wake cycles; without good sleep, our productivity, immune function, and mood suffer.
Serotonin can give you more energy and help keep you calm, positive, and focused.
How to create more light: If you don’t have many windows, you can use reflective surfaces to bounce sunlight around your space. This could mean hanging up mirrors, painting your walls white, or rearranging furniture in your home. You could also consider investing in a “SAD light”: an artificial alternative to sunlight. Personally, I bought a hammock for my balcony !
Fresh air increases the flow of oxygen, which is crucial for our energy levels, clarity of mind, memory, attention span, productivity, quality of work, blood pressure, digestion, cell regeneration, and immune function. The lack of fresh air results in a buildup of harmful pollutants, mold, and carbon dioxide. If the carbon dioxide levels in your blood get too high, you may experience rapid breathing, confusion, restlessness, drowsiness, increased blood pressure, sweating, headaches, and low productivity. Plus, because fresh air smells and feels good, we are more likely to take big deep breaths. This relaxes our nervous system, giving us the many downstream benefits of reduced stress.
To increase the fresh air in your space: open windows, turn on fans, change your air filters, use air purifiers, take down objects obstructing air flow, and ADD PLANTS.
Plants are a major key to physical and emotional well-being. Not only do plants produce oxygen and filter out carbon dioxide, but research has shown that that plants will remove around 87% of the pollutants in the air. Less pollutants in the air means less irritation in your lungs and therefore clearer breathing, so you can get all that fresh oxygen to your brain and body. Plants are also helpful for reducing stress! Yes, sure, because they are pretty; but also because they release phytoncides and other airborne chemicals. Furthermore, it is believed that nurturing a living thing may improve relationships by soothing frustration and enhancing a sense of compassion and reciprocity. Remember, less stress means things like better sleep and immune function. In fact, studies in Norway found support that illnesses drop by 60% through the use of plants in the home.
Another plant-based method that purifies the air, is called "smudging". This practice involves burning bundles of sage, which not only smells good but removes 94% of bacteria in the air. According to research, this air purifying effect requires an hour of burn time and lasts at least 24 hours.
2. Environmental Triggers:
Whether consciously or not, we are constantly picking up on subtle cues in our environment. This can have a major impact on our mood, productivity, and relationships. Here are a few ways that you can use this information to your advantage:
Declutter: Clutter takes up your time, consumes your space, increases stress levels, creates hazards, and more. This may be a good time to purge! Or, if you'd rather, organizing your space can go a long way (see video below).
Remove Negative Cues: Notice what in your space is bringing you down or holding you back. This may include reminders of tasks that you cannot pursue right now, or objects that create a barrier in areas that are intended for connection. For example, research has shown that individuals engaged in meaningful conversations experience significantly less trust and empathy if a cell-phone is in the vicinity than if it is not.
Enhance Positive Cues: Place inspiration around your space – books, instruments, past artwork, photos, positive affirmations, inspirational quotes, symbols of inspirational people, past achievements, etc! Even if you don’t get to it today, having these items around is likely to get your creative juices flowing and potentially motivate you to pick it up eventually. If you have returned to your family home during this time, another important thing to consider is personalizing your space! You can significantly boost your well-being by hanging up some pictures of positive memories, re-painting your room to fit your vibe, or filling the air with smells that remind you of good memories.
3. Division of Spaces:
Many of us build motivation and momentum through routines that get us out of the house and into a fresh environment. When your home, work, gym, social, and private space suddenly become blended into one, it can become difficult to maintain your structure and productivity. This largely has to do with the different states of mind that each of these environments triggers us into. Let me explain:
Based on your past experiences, your brain learns to recognize what chemicals you are likely to need in certain environments and it releases these chemicals in anticipation. For example, if you always work out at a certain gym, over time your brain is likely to release endorphins as soon as you walk into the gym – before you even start running. But if you're forced to work out at home and this is new for you, you're unlikely to start out with the same runner-high that helps you to get going at the gym.
This is a powerful process that overrides your conscious intentions. Although you can't will this chemical release into effect by simply telling yourself that it's "gym time", you can train your brain to release endorphins in response to new triggers at home. To do so it's important that the "trigger" (ex. a certain area of your house) be associated with the kind of chemicals that you want your brain to release (ex. exercise = endorphins) as repeatedly and exclusively as possible.
To train your brain to your advantage, it's important not to mix activities that call for different states of mind with the same trigger. For example, people who only use their bed for sleeping and sex will have an easier time relaxing at night than those who bring their work into the bedroom.
For those of you who are limited to a small apartment at this time, you may want to consider rearranging your furniture in order to psychologically divide activities. Videos like the one below can help you get started:
4. Build Willpower With a Functional Space:
Unless you are used to doing most of your daily routines at home, you may be finding it especially hard to put distractions aside and stick to your long term goals, or to stop yourself from letting your emotions take over. If so, this may mean that you are running low on willpower.
Willpower is a limited resource that depletes with every decision or act of self-control that you make throughout the day. For this reason, you'll likely find that you are happier, healthier, and more successful in your work and relationships if you can reduce the amount of decision making that you do in a day.
You can use this information to your advantage by arranging your space so that it limits the amount of choices that you have to make or options to choose from, thereby automatizing your daily routine! This may mean embracing a more minimalistic space, or doing things like storing granola bars in a drawer at your work space (if you often fuss over when to stop for a snack break).
If you want to learn more about the importance of routines watch the video below, or select from one of several apps to help yourself get started.
In order to use your space wisely to cope during quarantine, my final recommendation is this – make your space somewhere that you want to be!
Aesthetically pleasing environments can improve your quality of life, perceived meaning in life, vitality, and reduce stress. So much so, that it can actually improve your capacity to fight off illnesses and heal.
What makes for good ambiance in an environment is up to you, but here are some things that I consider:
Cozy throw blankets
Has your sleep been negatively impacted since beginning working from home? This article will help you understand why that may be and what you can do about it.
This article was written by the owner of this website, Sarah G. Bickle, M.Psy., R.P. (Qualifying). Sarah is offering online mental health therapy during the COVID-19 pandemic. She is also recruiting research participants for a study on treatment development for survivors of sexual trauma.
To learn more about Sarah click