According to new research from the Mental Health Foundation more than eight in ten (82 per cent) of UK adults have experienced stress because of the pandemic, so we’ll take any advice for things to make us feel a little bit calmer, from soothing supplements to calming bath bombs .
Today we’re turning our focus to our surroundings; we’re spending pretty much all of our time at home now so it pays to be in a soothing space so we can not only work from home efficiently, but feel relaxed in our environment too.
“A calm space is one where sensory stimulation is maximised for focus, attention and the ability to regulate emotions that can lead to distraction, irritability, daydreaming or even stress and anxiety,” explains neuroscientist Dr Tara Swart . “Every time we are distracted it takes more brainpower to return to the task at hand and at the end of the day that is mentally draining.”
“We want a balance of the space being engaging but not distracting, especially as it’s been hard for people to maintain physical, mental, emotional and energetic boundaries between home life and work life.”
We spoke to interiors experts about their advice for creating a soothing sanctuary.
Opt for pastel colours (with bright accents)
“There’s a book called Drunk Tank Pink which shows that men who were placed in cells overnight for being drunk and disorderly showed less aggression if the walls were painted pastel pink,” explains Dr Tara Swart. “In nature, red alerts us to danger and pale or ‘natural’ colours like green, blue, pink and yellow offer safety, growth, blue-sky thinking and hope.”
“Warm pastel colours can have a calming effect, but bright and bold colours can also make you feel happy, so don't necessarily avoid brighter colours altogether, simply incorporate them into your home in a way that positively affects your mood,” says Olivia Thorpe, founder of skincare brand Vanderohe whose interiors brand Curio launches on November 16. “A vibrant painting in an otherwise plain white room can have an amazing effect on your mood and can even help concentrate your thoughts. The same goes with a beautifully coloured rug, pillows etc.”
Choose different scents for different times of the day
It’s tempting to light your favourite candle first thing and have it flickering away desk-side all day long, but switching up your scents for different times is key.
“Scent has a huge effect on our nervous system as the olfactory nerve is the most quickly connected to the emotion centres of the brain,” says Dr Tara. “Citrus scents energise so are great for the morning. Lavender is the strongest neuro-modulator so it calms or lifts as needed (light when stressed) while certain scents such as peppermint help with focus.”
“Keep a bowl of citrus fruits somewhere in the kitchen,” adds stress expert Anne De Mamiel . “Studies have shown the smell of citrus is really uplifting and can help boost mood. I try to have a big display of oranges, lemons, grapefruits and limes out when I can; as well as the wonderful zesty smell from the peel, the bright colours go a long way to perking me up.”
“Light your candle half an hour or so before you enter a room, that way you allow the fragrance to fill the space and you'll have more of an instant soothing hit,” advises natural candle brand Eym .
Easier said than done, especially if you have housemates also working from home, or children banging about.
“Noise is the biggest distractor - in itself as background noise, or by way of verbal interruptions,” says Dr Tara. “Personally I wear over-ear noise-cancelling headphones to drown out the washing machine etc but also to signal to others in the house that I’m concentrating and don’t want to be distracted.”
Buy items that make you feel happy
“Whichever room you’re working in, make sure there are objects in it that make you feel happy,” says Olivia. “It can be a beautiful vase, a painting or even a rug. Just something that lifts you when you walk in. For an at-home office space, consider what is on your desk: does it make you feel stressed when you're trying to work? Declutter it, arrange pens in a beautiful pot, add a small vase of flowers, organise your paper stack. It can have an amazing calming effect on your mood and will help you think more clearly.”
Light it up
“Light plays an important role in our mood, especially during the darker, winter months.” says Olivia. “If a room feels too dark, think about purchasing a desk or floor lamp. It can transform a room. Failing that, light candles - I prefer unscented and soy wax candles so as not to disturb.”
Become a plant-lady
Not just great for Instagram likes, plants provide a soothing quality to the soul.
“Go green by filling your house with plants. In addition to bringing you joy and helping you connect with nature they have a natural ability to clean the air in your house and filter out toxic compounds. Spider plants, rubber plants and peace lilies are just three of my favourite air purifying plants,” says Anne De Mamiel.
Urban Outfitters Chinese Money Plant, £17
Embrace jade crystals
Chinese medicine practitioner Katie Brindle recommends adding some jade crystals to your home. “Traditionally prized in China as more precious than gold, in Chinese medicine jade is said to clear toxins and balance your yin and yang. You could carry a small stone with you, hold it during meditation or wear it as a pendant.”
Hayo'u Beauty Restorer Face Massage Tool, £30