A Therapist Explains How Interior Design Can Influence Your Mood

By: Sarah Beaumont

April 19, 2017

Have you ever walked into a dark, dingy room and immediately felt your mood drop? Or maybe you’ve stayed in a hotel that put you totally at ease the moment you set your suitcase down. Our environment has a big impact on the way we feel. Whether the scent of a space triggers a memory or the lighting sets a certain vibe, there are a lot of factors play into our moods.

Dr. Traci Bank, a therapist and adjunct professor at Pepperdine University, is a firm believer that creating a space you feel comfortable in is important for your emotional health. So we talked to her about the psychological points of interior design and how to put them into action to create a space that helps you feel happy and healthy.

Embrace nature

Though it depends on a person’s preferences, bringing natural elements into the home tends to have a comforting effect and helps one feel more connected to the world. Bank recommends using earthy colors, plants, soft textures, and natural materials like reclaimed wood.

“There’s also something to be said about being in your home and experiencing a light breeze as you take a deep breath,” she says. “I think moments like this, even in the midst of a chaotic week, can bring so much ease and peace.”

A Therapist Explains How Interior Design Can Influence Your Mood, Laurel & Wolf,

Let the light in

When you’re moving into a new place, natural light is a big plus, right? Well, there’s a reason people get so giddy over lighting. “Light–both artificial and natural, but preferably the latter–can help mitigate depressive symptoms by stimulating cells in the retina which are connected to the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that helps regulate circadian rhythms,” Bank says. So living in a dark space can negatively impact sleep. So draw open the curtains, crack a window and let the sun shine in.

Declutter, but don’t worry about your place being perfect all the time

“I think there’s this notion that your external environment is a reflection of your internal experience which absolutely can be true, but isn’t always,” Bank says. “For example, I have worked with clients who are highly anxious and have immaculate, clean, and clutter-free homes. But what we learn is that their type-A personality is actually more of a coping strategy to avoid dealing with difficult or painful feelings. I also know many emotionally healthy people who live in a messier space. This could be indicative of them just living their life and not needing everything to be perfect.”

The key is to find a level of cleanliness you feel comfortable with that works for your lifestyle. “I do think having a generally tidy home is something we should all strive for,” Bank says. “But focus on the big picture — if your living space is pretty organized and there’s room to roam around without tripping on something, then I would say you’re doing just fine.”

Recognize what makes you feel good

Obviously material items don’t create happiness, but there’s something to be said for surrounding yourself with things you love. “It can be incredibly uncomfortable to live somewhere that doesn’t feel like your own, so it’s important to create a space that’s authentic to you. Sights, sounds, smells, touches — our environment is constantly triggering memories of past experiences — positive or negative. Even having a good experience when purchasing something can elicit positive memories when you look at it,” Bank says. So get rid of your ex’s furniture and anything you don’t like, and try to decorate in a way that feels authentic to you.

A Therapist Explains How Interior Design Can Influence Your Mood, Laurel & Wolf,

Bring self-care into your routine

“Taking the time to create a clean, comfortable living space can provide us with a sense of accomplishment and pride. When we engage in healthy, proactive behaviors that involve self-care, we tend to have healthier thoughts, which in turn makes us feel better and leads to an increase in positive behaviors,” Bank says. One way to do so? Aromatherapy. Bank suggests rose, vetiver and jasmine, which has been shown to reduce anxiety and improve your mood.

Create your safe space through mindfulness

“When you go into new a space — whether it’s someone’s home, a restaurant, or store — try and be mindful of your experience and ask yourself some questions: What do you like about the space (or not)? What does it make you feel? What color are the walls? Are there a lot of natural elements like wood and indoor foliage? Is it quiet or is there ambient music? What does the space smell like and where do your senses take you? When you’re able to acknowledge how you feel and what is causing you to feel that way, you can bring those things that give you a sense of peace into your own home,” Bank says.

A Therapist Explains How Interior Design Can Influence Your Mood, Laurel & Wolf,

Don’t stress about your small space

Small spaces get a bad rap — and it’s true, they often feel suffocating. But if you use tools to maximize the space and make it feel safe and homey, it can be a truly enjoyable place to live no matter how small. “At the end of the day, if you live in a huge house but you lack work-life balance or are in the midst of a break-up, no amount of open space will change those things or make you feel better. Work with what you got and focus on what’s important in your life — relationships, purpose, and health.”

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