How Home Design Can Impact Our Mental Health

gray wooden house

We’ve all been through days when we feel like heading home is the only good part. It might have been caused by anxiety due to work problems or emergencies. Or it could be due to a fight you might have had with a family member or spouse. You might have lost an important game. Or worst suffered the loss of a loved one. Once we’ve gone over the shock, our natural instinct is to go back home where we know we are safe and secure. It is here that we can destress and recharge. Lick our wounds, so to speak. It is in the homes that we retreat when we feel like we need social and emotional protection.

Although we have very little control over how the rest of our lives shape up, it is in our homes that we have full authority with the help of local contractors. No matter the style that you prefer – be it minimalist, maximalist, contemporary, or modern – the way we design and furnish our home, paint the walls, organize our personal items will always have a huge impact on our sense of security and overall well-being.

This is evident in children. You will often see them creating nests in their own bedrooms. They always want the things they love close by. Without any thought, they try to make their rooms as personal as possible, at the same time ensuring that it is a safe haven, free from the influence of others like parents and other siblings.

 Home Design and Mental Health

living room

Depression and anxiety are the two most common mental health problems that people face, according to the Mental Health Foundation. However, there have been several techniques implemented through interior design that has been shown to reduce both stress and depression. The connection between emotional well-being and home design is not new. But it is only recently that actual studies have been conducted to ascertain to which extent this connection is rooted. Within the healthcare industry, this link is well established. By creating space that facilitates social support helps boost our mental wellbeing.

We can cite an example of how delivery rooms have changed over the years. In the past, labor and delivery were done in a separate wing of the hospital. Family members were asked to wait outside while the mother goes through labor and delivery on their own, although assisted by doctors and medical staff. The delivery rooms of today are basically regular rooms where the family can visit and help support the mother in labor. Even during delivery, a spouse or a family member can stay with the mother to help her get through the process of giving birth.

Within the corporate and business world, there is careful consideration of the layout of office spaces. Corporate interior designers will pay attention to lighting, color, textures, layout, and even artwork to create a space that is motivating and uplifting to promote productivity, efficiency, creativity, and satisfaction. These designers pay close attention to the mindset as well as the aesthetics.

There are a lot of interior design elements that can be associated with helping improve the mental health of people. However, there are specific elements that are mentioned over and over again to have the greatest impact. These include natural light, expansive space, flowers and plants, color, natural elements, and artwork. When these are used correctly, it’s possible to create an environment that helps to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety.

The Effects of Sunlight

white concrete house near green tree during daytime

A room that is well lit brings out a lot of positive feelings in us. But natural light may also help reduce depression. Whether you get it through being outdoor or through a window, a dose of sunlight is enough to lift our mood. As a matter of fact, with enough sunlight to light up a room, it can really make us happier. A prolonged period of not getting enough sunlight is enough to cause us to become anxious and depressed. In mental health, there is a term called “Seasonal Affective Disorder” which is a form of depression that many people experience during the winter months – when there is sunlight. Scientists have experimented with light exposure as a way to help boost people’s mood during this time of the year.

turned off laptop computer on top of brown wooden table

Sunlight may also energize and motivate people at home to work. A study conducted in 2002* reported that it is daylight that has the biggest impact in improving the productivity of people and increasing sales. There have been a lot of studies that demonstrated the many positive mental and physical effects of natural light. Another study* in particular states that workers who are exposed to natural light are able to outperform their colleagues who don’t get as much sunlight. And workers who are exposed to artificial light, there is signs of lower motivation, poor sleep, and lack of vitality.

Spaciousness Improves Our Spirit

flat screen monitor inside room

If you ask people, they will always prefer a spacious room rather than one that is cramped. Having an expansive space to live and work can be a great way to elevate our mood. One study* stated that people become more creative in rooms where the ceilings are high. Their moods are also greatly improved. Another way to achieve the benefits of having enough space, ironically, is in rooms with lower ceilings. It seems, rather, that a sense of spaciousness is a key element in creating happier spaces.

A home with a clean and open layout improves our mood. This is dictated by human evolution. For thousands of years, humans roamed the plains of Africa hunting and exploring the grasslands for food. Our brain is wired to function best when our eyesight is not obstructed by large objects. We can apply the same philosophy in our modern settings. Our homes can be made to feel open by how we design them, the choice of furniture, lighting, and how we organize our personal items.

In recent years, there has been a lot of buzz about the Konmari method of organizing our items. This method was founded by Mari Kondo, a champion of how best to tidy up and what it does to our well-being. She draws inspiration from the ancient practice of Feng Shui. For example, she espouses the idea that if an object doesn’t bring you joy, then you should let go of that thing. In her hit Netflix show, “Tidying Up,” she helps people with dramatic decluttering cleanses, helping them arrange and store their remaining possessions. She helps them transform their homes into a space that is cleaner, lighter, and noticeably happier.

Plants and Flowers Make Us Happy

two black suede armchairs during daytime

When we bring nature into our homes, it elevates our moods. An effective way to do this would be through house plants and flowers. A study that was conducted by Texas A&M* reported that the presence of plant life can help improve concentration and memory, as well as reducing stress.

There are many types of houseplants, many of which serve as natural air filters which help reduce allergens and improving the overall air quality. They can also increase the oxygen in the air, help stabilize the humidity, and improve the look of any room. There is little doubt why people feel more relaxed, at ease, and a lot more centered when plants are around.

Flowers can also help to lift our moods. In fact, flowers in the homes can reduce the chances of residents form developing depression. And besides their aesthetic beauty, flowers can have a relaxing and calming effect on a lot of people. Not only are flowers a great addition to just about any room, but they also make people happier.

Bringing Natural Elements to Boost Our Mood

gray fabric loveseat near brown wooden table

The use of space, sunlight, plants, and flowers all help to make people feel happier and more relaxed inside their homes. All of these elements are natural ones. All through the history of mankind, we have tried to mimic the beauty of nature inside our homes. Whether it is through woven grass mats, animal furs, or a Christmas tree, we have been bringing nature into our personal spaces for thousands of years.

The practice of Feng Shui is influenced by shapes and textures that represent the natural elements of earth, wood, water, metal, and fire. Modern homes of today can incorporate these elements in many different ways. The use of pools and fountains is a great way to celebrate the water. Mirrors and any reflective surfaces can also provide the same benefits. Open windows and fans help to bring the wind but fabrics that move can also provide the same benefits. Candles and fireplaces are responsible for bringing fire. As for earth and metal, this is represented in materials like iron, silver, brass, stone, and wood.

Colors for Mental Health

multicolored wall in shallow focus photography

A well-documented mood-stabilizing design is in the use of colors. Both researchers and designers continue to study the effects of colors and all their elements to improve the emotional well-being of people. When we talk of colors, we refer to reds, orange, and yellows as warm colors. Blues, greens, and purples are cool colors. This is not a coincidence. When we enter a noticeably warm room, we feel it physically. Cool colors make us feel the cold. This is one reason that the color red is so popular during the winter months while colors like teal and turquoise are popular during the summer.

Each color is also associated with certain emotions and decades of research has confirmed this idea.

  • Red is the color associated with aggression, passion, and power.
  • Orange is known for energy, competition, sports, and innovation.
  • Yellow is often associated with warmth and relaxation.
  • Green is a color best for soothing and making us feel calm.
  • Blue is the color that we use to evoke a sense of freshness, calmness, and serenity.
  • Purple evokes the feelings of luxury and privilege, at the same time the feeling of being special.
  • Grey is used in accenting the homes as it is a neutral color and evokes balance.
  • Brown is the color commonly found in nature. It makes us feel strong and reliable.
  • People think that black is the absence of color but in reality, black means all colors are present. It is linked with death, mystery, or unhappiness. But it is also the color for seriousness, sophistication, and intellectualism.
  • White is the most neutral color and one that is quite common in many homes. It helps make the room appear brighter, bigger, and more expansive.

It is also these personal spaces of ours that we live out important moments in our lives. It is this exact reason why our homes should be as comfortable, supportive, and relaxing as much as possible in order to provide us the needed emotional energy that we need to get through our day today.


References:

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00994480.2002.10748389

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4031400/

http://www.informedesign.org/Rs_detail/rsId/3387

 Texas A&M

Why Everyone Should Watch “Toxic Beauty” Documentary

white and brown plastic bottles on white textile

Brief summary of Toxic Beauty

Toxic beauty is a documentary feature film following a class action lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, a renown household brand. We follow personal stories of whistle blowers, survivors and women in a race against time revealing a series of ugly cover ups in the beauty & cosmetic industry. Besides that, the film weaves in a human experiment conducted by Mymy Nguyen, a Boston University Masters student who measures her chemical body burden when using different cosmetic products.

“The cosmetic industry is destroying women’s cells.”

This powerful statement mentioned by an ex formulator of one of the biggest cosmetic brands hooked me on immediately. I’ve had sensitive skin and eczema when I was a child, and the prolonged periods of itchiness and rash were not fun. Since then, I’ve always been wary of chemicals I apply on my skin, always fearful of a reaction. Even though I outgrew the sensitive skin phase, my sense of wariness about products I apply on my skin never left me. While my peers were playing with make up and slathering themselves in an assortment of cosmetic products, I stuck to the most routine: washing my face with water and applying sunscreen. After the unpleasant realization that I end up consuming the wax like substance, lipstick on my lips, I resulted to eyeliner as the only form of make up I use.

three makeup brushes on top of compact powders

Granted, some of the times, the lack of available scientific information in the present results in health issues in the future and cannot be avoided. However, what shocked me was that renown household companies like Johnsons & Johnsons which specialize in a range of baby products was engaged in a lawsuit that unveiled a series of cover ups that spanned across decades. Bear in mind this isn’t a direct hit on Johnson & Johnson as talc is used rampantly in other products. However, a link between talc and ovarian cancer was discovered all the way in early 1980s by world renowned epidemiologist Dr Daniel Cramer. However, nothing was done. No warning label was placed on talc even after the International Agency for Research on Cancer declared Talc as a possible carcinogen. The cosmetic industry has had little change since 1936, and the way we regulate personal care products need to improve.

I’d like to believe I’m an over cautious person, however, there is overwhelming scientific evidence that point that conglomerates often use harmful chemicals and ingredients in products and sell them to unwitting buyers. Labels such as “fragrance“, “parfum” and “aroma” do not show the ingredients used and can conceal a range of potentially hazardous chemicals. Furthermore, the fact that we live in a world operated by a post- market regulatory system is hazardous as a product goes into the market and a regulatory system kicks in only when there are incidents. The fact that we are slathering ourselves with potentially harmful chemicals every day of our lives doesn’t sit well with me. In 2004, Dr Phillipa Darbre, a scientist from the UK found parabens in breast tissue. In 2018, a study by the National Institute of Health linked breast cancer to the use of personal care products. Furthermore, the use of certain products high in oestrogen were found to link to hormonal disruption in baby boys causing a myriad of side effects such as developmental delays, low sperm count, infertility, cancer, diabetes, obesity and skin disease. The idea that a lot of these “bodily malfunctions” are essentially self induced is worrisome. How do we make informed decisions? How do we know which product is okay to use?

black makeup brush, lipstick, and blush on powder

It is scary that our physical and mental health risks can be self induced through using products containing harmful chemicals. The documentary follows Mymy Nguyen who conducts a self experiment to measure chemicals in her body when she doesn’t use any self care products at all, when she uses all of her usual routine, and when she uses natural and clean products. It was shocking that when she used her products she’s been using for years eg shampoos, toothpaste, make up, the parabens and phthalates (toxic chemicals) found in her urine samples were higher than the 95th percentile of Americans. It is close to impossible to not use any personal care products as tasks like washing your hair or brushing your teeth cannot be avoided. She expressed her fear of not being able to have children and like the women we follow in the lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson expressed the guilt that the health risks were almost like it was self induced. I disagree with the statement, as I feel the chemists and R&D part of companies should be more stringent and responsible about the types of ingredients they choose to use. But how do we make sure that the products we use aren’t harmful to us?

Regulatory bodies such as the FDA should aim to be more stringent with regulating cosmetic products instead of buckling under the pressure of conglomerates who promise to self regulate. Furthermore, consumers should take one step further and use ingredient analyzer platforms such as 1Source, EWG, and Incidecoder to make sure that the products they use do not contain harmful ingredients / chemicals. It is really simple to use, especially if your ingredient label is filled with long chemistry names we are unfamiliar with. Simply type the name of the product into the platform. A rating of the products will be shown and toxic ingredients will be flagged. By making smarter purchasing decisions, consumers can support clean businesses and put pressure on other companies to use cleaner ingredients. For starters, here are some toxic ingredients and chemicals to look out for in your personal products.

Different types of harmful chemicals

woman in gray sweater holding lipstick

Endocrine disruptors:

  • Mimic hormone activity with links to birth defects, reproductive harm and cancer
  • Found in hair, nail, sunscreen and baby products, makeup, lotions, toothpaste, soap, fragrance

Phthalates:

  • Endocrine disruptors linked to developmental disorders, reproductive harm & cancer
  • Found in fragranced lotions, body wash, hair, skin, baby products, nail polish, perfume, color cosmetics.

Parabens:

  • Endocrine disruptors linked to reproductive harm, developmental disorders, cancer
  • A preservative found in deodorants, antiperspirants, soaps, hair, shaving, fragranced products.
Toxic Beauty Documentary: Endocrine Disruptors chemicals, even in small amounts, it is not worth the long term harm? “One common adage is that the dose makes the poison, that is not so straightforward with endocrine disruptors”

Toxic ingredients and Chemicals to look out for

  • Shampoos containing formaldehyde have a high risk of serving as an endocrine disruptor, and bring about side effects such as allergies, depression, and cancer
  • Deodorants contain endocrine disruptors such as formaldehyde which causes hormone disruption, reproductive problems, and tumors
  • Skin cream containing mercury, coal and tar may serve as endocrine disruptors that causes tremors, insomnia, and/ or cognitive dysfunction
  • Soap containing coal, tar and 1,4 dioxane may serve as endocrine disruptors that causes allergies, infertility and heart disease
  • Fragrance often contain toxic chemicals that are not disclosed and may cause allergies, reproductive disorders, and cancer
  • Skin lighteners containing chemicals hydroquinone and mercury may cause skin disease, organ damage or cancer

References:

“Carbon Black, Titanium Dioxide, and Talc – IARC Publications Website.” https://publications.iarc.fr/Book-And-Report-Series/Iarc-Monographs-On-The-Identification-Of-Carcinogenic-Hazards-To-Humans/Carbon-Black-Titanium-Dioxide-And-Talc-2010. Accessed 10 Apr. 2021.

“The Film — TOXIC BEAUTY.” https://www.toxicbeautydoc.com/the-film. Accessed 10 Apr. 2021.

“TOXIC BEAUTY.” https://www.toxicbeautydoc.com/. Accessed 10 Apr. 2021.