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10 July 2020

Mental health and the built environment

Another six weeks in lockdown is a dreadful thought for many. 

Six weeks being camped up inside will affect everyone’s mental health in different ways, but there are things we can do to improve our mental wellbeing. 

And one of these things is to adapt our environment. 

The connection between built environment and mental health 

Everything that we encounter or do on a daily basis has the ability to impact our mental health. 

Our relationships, our work, physical activity and the food we eat are some examples, just to name a few. 

But the environment we exist in – our home, our workplace, and other man-made or natural environments around us – can have a great impact on our mental health too. 

Colours, lighting, smells, noise, architecture/design, temperature, and access to fresh air all play a part. And fortunately, we can adapt some of these things in our environment to our advantage. 

Colour

Colours play a big part in our mood and how we perceive our environment.

The overuse of dark or dull colours can make us feel depressed, unproductive, or unsafe.

On the other hand, overly bright colours can cause discomfort and make us feel like we can’t relax. 

The colour green, while not a widely favoured colour, can help to alleviate mental fatigue*. Science also shows us that spending time outdoors, be it in the garden, the park, or other natural environments, can improve mental wellbeing. 

So while you may not be willing to paint your walls green, getting some indoor plants or using green décor can make a difference. 

Also, using a combination of fresh or warm colours, like whites and beiges, are perfect to create a cosy and welcoming feel in your home. 

 

Air, temperature, and scents 

Indoor plants are also a great way to help improve air quality in your home.  

Opening the windows from time to time is also helpful, but not always ideal in winter. Spending time outside to get fresh air is also important, even in the cold. In fact, the cold crisp air can make you feel invigorated and energised. 

If you’re looking to create a more relaxing environment, try using a candle or incense that you like, or even a perfume! And make sure that the temperature in your home isn’t too warm or too cold.  

Every person has a different ideal temperature, but overheating or underheating can have a negative effect on mental wellbeing and mood. Make sure everyone in the home is comfortable with the temperature inside, but if there’s a conflict in interest, wearing layers and using throw blankets can help (and can keep the electricity or gas bills down too). 

Lighting 

Light affects us similarly to how colour does, in the way that darkness can make us feel down, and bright light can make it difficult for us to relax. But this depends on the time of day, too. 

Opening the blinds and curtains around the home during the day can boost our mood and have a positive impact on our mental wellbeing. On dark, gloomy days, turning on the lights can also be helpful. 

The colour of the light you use can also be impactful. For me personally, warm lighting improves my mood, so if I’m feeling down I either turn on the lights or get out into the sun.  

White light can help increase productivity, but everyone will have their own preference on the colour of light they like best. 

Accessing sunlight is also important because we get mood-boosting nutrients from the sun, like vitamin D. Read more about this in our Dealing with the winter blues article. 

Noise 

Living in a persistently noisy environment can negatively impact mental wellbeing. 

Unfortunately we can’t always do much to reduce noise from traffic or from neighbours, but listening to music or wearing earmuffs can help. 

Putting up a windchime outside is a nice way of offsetting unwanted outdoor noise, as long as the sound of the windchime itself isn’t annoying others! 

Some people feel more comfortable or relaxed when there isn’t complete silence, and others will prefer no noise at all. Be mindful of others in your home (and neighbours) and their preference of noise levels. 

Architecture and design 

Redesigning the architecture or floorplan of your home may be a bit overboard, but you can move around furniture to create spaces that positively impact mental wellbeing. 

If your home feels too cramped up with little space, this can make six weeks of lockdown indoors feel unbearable. Try moving your furniture to the edges of the room to create more space for walking and living, or consider getting rid of some furniture that is rarely used. 

If you have desks that face the wall, turn them around so that you’re facing the centre of the room, making it feel like you’re in a bigger space and not so cramped in. 

On the other hand, if the house feels too empty try hanging things up on the walls or moving furniture to different rooms to occupy more space in particular areas. Or if you have a large, unused floor space, make an indoor “picnic area” with blankets and pillows which can be used as a cosy reading place or an indoor cinema. 

 

Being in lockdown for six weeks is going to be tough. But if we can focus on making our home an enjoyable place to reside in, it can make it a little easier. 

 

Liz Gellel | Communications Coordinator 

Sources: 
- *Making Healthy Places, William C. Sullivan & Chun-Yen Chang 
- Ten questions concerning the built environment and mental health  

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