Home as sanctuary

LOOKING AT NATUREBoosts contentment  

Make these small changes to nourish your senses and turn your home into a healing haven

Your living space should serve as a relaxing retreat from the stress of everyday life. A growing body of research called “sensory science” supports the notion of home as a sanctuary. Experts have found that the environment you create has a big impact on your outlook and sense of well-being.

“Everything from the pictures on the wall to the slipcover on your couch can have a positive influence on your mood and attitude,” says environmental psychologist Sally Augustin. Make these small changes to nourish your senses and turn your home into a healing haven.


Cosy fabrics

Textile researchers have found that holding certain types of cloth can evoke powerful emotions. When female students evaluated 10 different fabrics in one British study, both corduroy and fleece elicited feelings of contentment.

Try: Buying a corduroy slipcover for your couch, or draping a fleece throw over the back of a sofa or chair.


Clean surfaces

Clutter isn't just unpleasant to look at, it can also be distressing — especially when you don't have control over it. In one study at Washington State University, volunteers looked at photographs of offices in various states of disarray. The bigger the mess, the more anxious people felt, even though their own offices were just as disorganised.

Try: Aiming your sights on the kitchen counter — a prime dumping spot. Place a basket for mail next to your phone. And every day, spend a little time tidying up. Because cleaning is a physical activity, which further provides a mood lift: researchers say people who do 20 minutes of housework suffer from less anxiety and depression.


Floral and food scents

In a Rutgers University study, women who received bouquets reported positive feelings a few days later. Researchers speculate that flowers contain certain compounds that improve well-being.

Try: Scattering jasmine and hyacinth around the house — these blossoms boosted mood and lowered anxiety levels in studies. Cinnamon and peppermint are two other perk-up aromas. To naturally scent your home, use an essential-oil diffuser, or place cinnamon sticks in table centrepieces.


Pleasant sounds

Cornell University researchers found that even low-level noise — like the sound of someone typing — may ramp up levels of the stress hormone epinephrine by 30 per cent.

Try: Adding more pleasing sounds to your environment, with your favourite CDs or a set of wind chimes. It may seem like you're just turning up the volume, but there's a difference between noise and sound.


Green scenes

A view of Nature — whether it's a panoramic vista or a simple houseplant — can lower blood pressure by 11 per cent and boost feelings of contentment, studies show.

Try: Opening your shades if you have a garden view; if not, forest and beach pictures have a similar effect. Or, scatter potted plants throughout your home. Pick plants with rounded leaves — research suggests gentle, organic shapes may be the most soothing.


Ample space

Humans are hardwired to seek out spaciousness.

Try: Taking doors off closed bookcases and filling shelves only halfway. Placing a big mirror on one wall is another time-honoured trick for making a room seem larger, as is a coat of paint in a cool shade such as pale blue, green or icy white.

To mimic airy, outdoor open space, paint ceilings a lighter colour than the walls, and position lamps so they throw light on the ceiling.