Small Home Interior Alterations with Big Health Benefits
"In these trying times, it is important to stay healthy, and take good care of yourself and your family." "Keeping Your Home Healthy During the COVID-19 Crisis," Cara Carmichael, Laurie Stone, Rocky Mountain Institute
The COVID-19 pandemic has made us keenly aware of three major elements of our lives. We are now acutely tuned to our bodily health, our mental health and our home health. Furthermore, our recent mass-migration into remote work has highlighted the importance of a healthy home. It has forced us to consider everything from our work-life balance to the materials surrounding us as. In particular, Americans have placed renewed focus on the health of indoor air and on emotional health. We have noted ways in which we can improve the health of our homes and ease the stress on our minds and hearts. Since April 2020, Google Trends has noted spikes in searches for “healthy home” and “how to test if your lungs are healthy at home." The latter was recently up 2,700%. As the pandemic picked up steam, more and more Americans searched online for ways to improve indoor air quality at home. In doing so, they discovered connections between home health and physical and mental health. Follow below to learn how to create a healthier home for improved mental and physical health. We will discuss everything from adding more houseplants to switching up your living room layout.
Create a Healthier Home for Improved Mental and Physical Health with These Five Small Steps
#1 Improve Indoor Air Quality
"Higher levels of pollution are associated with a decrease in people’s happiness levels.” "A Link Between Happiness and Air Quality”' Helen Knight, MIT Urban Planning
Outdoor air and water pollution significantly impact the environment, the economy and the health of our population. However, indoor air quality can be just as damaging over long periods of time. This is particularly true when inhabitants of a home are young children. The elderly and those in ill health or suffering from decreased lung capacity, asthma or suppressed immune systems are also at risk. Poor indoor air quality can cause a number of physical issues -- from acute injury to chronic illness. According to the EPA’s brief “Indoor Air Quality,” poor IAQ can result in short-term “irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat." It can also cause "headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.” In the long-term, dangerous IAQ can contribute to “some respiratory diseases, heart disease and cancer.” Sadly, all “can be severely debilitating or fatal.” Thankfully, there are a number of ways one can effectively and immediately improve indoor air quality by removing harmful particulate matter, VOCs and allergens.
Tips for Improving IAQ
Acceptable methods of reducing indoor air pollutants differ from person to person depending on their needs and sensitivities. For instance, indoor plants can occasionally contribute to poor IAQ, as -- when not cared for properly -- they can develop mold and attract pests. However, there are a few fairly universal ways of reducing indoor air pollutants. Harvard Women’s Health Watch outlines several in their article “Easy ways you can improve indoor air quality.” First and foremost, the article recommends keeping a clean home whenever possible. This can be achieved through vacuuming with a HEPA filter-equipped machine, regularly washing bedding and curtains and “using mite-proof covers on pillows.”
Filters and bedding should be replaced regularly as they can slowly release allergens back into the home’s atmosphere. Clearing clutter can also help reduce allergens and other pollutants, as clutter “traps and holds dust that can trigger a reaction.” Visible clutter can also clutter one’s mind, making it difficult to focus, prioritize properly and feel at ease. As the winter months continue, those concerned about indoor air quality should consider purchasing a meter and an air purifier. One might also consider a dehumidifier to reduce mold and mildew during wet days and nights.
#2 Take Up Indoor Gardening
"79 percent of patients said they felt more relaxed and calm, 19 percent felt more positive, and 25 percent felt refreshed and stronger after spending time in a garden." "Parks and Other Green Environments: Essential Components of a Healthy Human Habitat," Frances E Kuo, National Recreation and Park Association
Indoor gardening can affect those with allergies to certain plants. However, if well-taken care of, most houseplants will not cause adverse health effects in humans. However, all new plant parents should check each species of plant before placing it in an area exposed to pets. Plants -- particularly those littering Instagram in recent months -- are a beautiful way to upgrade one’s home decor. They add vitality, texture and color to any space, but also offer boosts to emotional and mental health. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology -- undertaken by researchers Min-sun Lee, Juyoung Lee, Bum-Jin Park and Yoshifumi Miyazak -- discovered a link between mental health and exposure to indoor plants. The researchers concluded that “interaction with indoor plants may reduce psychological and physiological stress by suppressing autonomic nervous system activity in young adults.”
In plain terms, the researchers found that when young adults gardened indoors, they “felt more comfortable, soothed, and natural.” These results were compared to those achieved after working at computers, which were much less favorable. Shawna Davis echoes this in her recent Healthline article “5 Easy Houseplants to Love, Based on Your Mental Health Needs.” Davis writes that exposure to houseplants “helps improve memory and attention span by 20 percent and can increase concentration.” Exposure to houseplants can also increase productivity, boost mood and spark creativity. Having a green thumb is by no means a prerequisite to reaping benefits from indoor gardening. However, engaging in a productivity activity you are good at can improve mental health too. The Mental Health Foundation UK article “How to look after your mental health” recommends working at something you enjoy because it “boosts your self-esteem.”
#3 Rearrange Your Space for Better Mental Health
"Your home is an external expression of your internal self -- making your decor reflect that is a comforting and creative experience.” "Why Rearranging My Furniture Is My Self-Care,” Sarah Jacoby, SELF
Many are familiar with the feeling of accomplishment one gets after deep-cleaning their kitchen or color-coding clothes in a closet. Just as these activities can make us feel restored and proud, rearranging furniture in one’s space can lift the fog of a difficult day. Nashia Baker explains this in her article “Rearranging Your Furniture Could Actually Help Alleviate Anxiety” for MarthaStewart.com. To add credence to this claim, Baker interviewed interior designer Kerrie Kelly and environmental psychologist Stephani Robson, Ph.D. According to Dr. Robson, rearranging furniture and home decor objects can offer a sense of “psychological control over what's happening” -- even during a global pandemic. Sarah Jacoby provides a personal example in her SELF article “Why Rearranging My Furniture Is My Self-Care.”
Jacoby -- who suffers from clinical depression and anxiety -- writes that “your home is an external expression of your internal self." She continues to note that "making your decor reflect that is a comforting and creative experience.” Her positive experience with rearranging furniture is backed by science, explains Dell Medical School assistant professor Dr. Carrie Barron, M.D. Dr. Barron notes that “when you walk into the space and the space is how you want it...then there’s something comforting.” Having a space that is uniquely you -- whatever that means at the time -- “allows you to really remove yourself" and just be.
#4 Hide Your Work at the End of the Day
As remote workers, many of us have recently been thrust into an uncomfortable collision between worlds: our home life and our work life. Countless remote workers -- possibly the majority -- struggle to separate their work space from their bedrooms, living rooms and/or kitchens. This is physically frustrating given that our space to eat, sleep and decompress has been overtaken by our work materials. It can also be incredibly psychologically harmful. Delineating work space from sleep and relaxation space is necessary for achieving quality sleep and for reducing the anxieties born by the work day.
Elyse Hauser outlines the benefits of hiding your work in her article “How (and Why) to Make Your Home Office Disappear” for Life Savvy. Hauser notes that the relief one feels when stepping through the front door after driving home from work is possible when working remotely. She writes “if you can hide your home office when work’s over, it helps you keep those boundaries clear and healthy.” It also leads you away from “the path to burnout.” To hide your work after the day is over, Hauser recommends purchasing an attractive folding screen for double-duty rooms. She also suggests hiding papers and work laptops in drawers -- but not those of your nightstand-- whenever possible.
#5 Increase Natural Materials in the Home
"Humans need a connection to nature to thrive,” “Love Plants? You Might Be a Biophiliac," Maria C. Hunt, Architectural Digest
This tip was partially covered in the “Indoor Gardening” and “Indoor Air Quality” segments of this article. However, the need for prevalence of natural materials in the home far extends past houseplants and air purifiers. Exposure to natural materials like untreated metals, woods and other organic elements has been proven to reduce anxiety. It also offers cleaner, healthier air in residential and commercial settings. Certainly, natural building materials and organic home decor elements are more attractive and calming to many of us. Additionally, they release fewer harmful chemicals and pollutants like VOCs. Today’s architects and interior designers hope biophilia will continue to capture the attention of a growing segment of the American populace. Maria C. Hunt explains the origins and impacts of biophilia on design and human health in her AD article “Love Plants? You Might Be a Biophiliac.”
She explains that biophilia expresses the belief that “humans need a connection to nature to thrive.” The theory was first named by philosopher Erich Fromm in the mid-1960s. However, the theory grew more popular in the ‘80s as Americans became more health conscious. Hunt notes that scientific research has shown exposure to elements from nature reduces anxiety and encourages meaningful connections with other humans. She writes that natural light, images of nature and the inclusion of organic finishings and furnishings are all key to home health. To increase productivity and encourage quality sleep, she recommends “working in a room with natural light.” To boost your focus, Hunt suggests “just looking at a photo or painting of a natural scene for 40 seconds.”
Committing to Natural Building and Home Decor Materials Allows Humans to Thrive at Home
Altering the materials, layout and emotional ties we have with our homes all work together to create harmony. They knit together an atmosphere in which to thrive -- both at work and in our personal lives. Infusing our homes with nature -- however -- might be the most significant alteration we can make for a healthier space. In Volume 2 Issue 1 of Love + Regeneration -- by McLennan Design -- CEO Jason F. McLennan (who also happens to be a Living Deep Cofounder) emphasizes the importance of biophilic design and nature immersion. He writes that “if we only allow ourselves adequate time in nature, we can reap bountiful biophilia associated wellness benefits.” Altering our homes to represent a more natural habitat might not replicate the exact benefits of immersion in nature. However, it will certainly help to some degree!