The absolute rudeness of daylight savings time might be the one thing we can all agree on these days. And for good reason: with the shorter days of winter comes a spike in rates of seasonal depression — the lethargic slump that accompanies that time of year when the sun sets at 4 p.m.
While Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is often dismissed as the “winter blues,” it’s worth mentioning. SAD not only impacts your mood, but your productivity and general sense of well-being. While you may not be able to do anything about daylight savings time, there is one easy way you can boost your mental health this season: updating your home.
Meet the Experts
Jonathan Rachman is a San Francisco-based international interior designer and owner of Jonathan Rachman Designs.
How Your Home Environment Impacts Your Mood
For years, researchers have been studying how our surroundings — things like color, light, even the type of furniture you have — affect mood and the findings are surprisingly powerful. Making small tweaks to your space, in other words, can have a huge impact on your mental health. It makes sense when you think about it: the very idea of sitting in a dark, cluttered room is likely to make you feel more anxious than if you were to picture yourself in a bright, open, airy space.
To help you give your home a mood-boosting update, we’ve rounded up the best designer-approved, cozy home refreshes for your space this winter.
Bringing natural elements into your home is one of the most powerful ways you can positively impact your mental health.
We’re being literal here: a vast body of research shows that being around plants has a powerful calming and productivity-boosting effect on the brain. When compared to urban elements, exposure to nature — whether that’s a houseplant, some fresh flowers, or even a picture of a natural scene — has been shown to induce a more “positively-toned emotional state,” helping you destress faster. Having a few office plants has even been shown to help you perform better at work.
Update Your Lighting
“Lighting is everything,” says Jonathan Rachman, a San Francisco-based international interior designer and owner of Jonathan Rachman Designs. Exposure to natural light through windows is key for health and well-being, according to research. One study of office workers found that those who had plenty of natural light exposure (vs. those who worked in windowless environments) were more likely to be physically active and get better sleep. A win-win.
Increasing your natural light at home during the winter is tricky — you probably can’t knock out a few new windows in your home, after all. But you can maximize the natural light exposure you have. Swap heavy drapes for sheer options that let in more light and make sure blinds and window shades are raised fully during the day to let in as many rays as possible. If your space allows, rearrange your desk or favorite reading chair so that it sits close to a window.
You have more control over your home’s artificial light, which also matters for your mental health. “Everyone responds to lighting differently,” Rachman explains. “Some feel better in warm lighting temperature others prefer cooler lighting temperature.” Perhaps you’re the type of person who prefers basking in the soft glow of a desk lamp, or maybe you feel more energized with a bright overhead light that simulates natural daylight. Experiment with different bulb temperatures to figure out which type of light makes you feel happiest.
Try a New Color
The color scheme of your home also has a major effect on your mood, says Rachman. And a huge body of research on color therapy backs him up.
Blue hues, for example, have a well-studied and powerful calming effect. Research shows that seeing the color blue activates the parasympathetic nervous system in the brain, causing a drop in stress and lowering your heart rate. (Lavender has a similarly calming effect.) If cool hues aren’t your thing, try adding orange accents to your space, which research shows has a stimulating, mood-boosting effect on the brain.
Marie Kondo was on to something — you might be surprised how much disorganization impacts your mental health. Studies show that a visually cluttered space impacts focus and anxiety, heightens stress particularly among women.
Consider the house-bound winter months the perfect time to declutter, starting with the areas you see most often: your desk, your closet, that corner of the kitchen table where everything you don’t know what to do with is placed.
Create a Scentscape
Smell has a “profound” impact on our emotional state, according to research on scent and the brain. Hospitals and doctors’ offices even use scent to make procedures less stressful for patients.
You can use the same practice at home. Natural “green” scents have a calming effect much like natural visuals, according to one review of research. Lavender scents, meanwhile, have a notable effect on sleep. Stock up on candles to create your own calming scentscape.
When it comes to mood-boosting design, even shapes matter. Research shows that curved shapes (vs. angular shapes with sharp corners) elicit positive feelings. So if you’ve been meaning to replace your couch or get a new accent chair, options with curves and rounded edges may give your space a less anxious vibe. For a lower-commitment update, add a few round poufs or rounded rugs to your living space.
Honor Your Taste
Finally, remember that creating the optimal space for your mental health starts with creating a space that’s designed for you, says Rachman. “I always recommend to decorate and design your living spaces as you live your life — be true to yourself, including your personal style,” he says. In other words, research may show that nature-inspired neutrals have a calming effect, but if you feel most energized and vibrant in a room that’s filled with bright colors and visual stimuli, don’t feel like you have to live according to a minimalist designer’s dream in order to take care of your mental health. “That’s a good foundation in interior design as it is in life,” Rachman says.
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