April 23, 2024
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Does Our Physical Environment Really Affect Our Health?

There is lots of evidence that our physical environment can have a tremendous impact on our well-being. Dark, cramped or cluttered rooms can make us feel anxious or sad, while well-lit rooms with tidy surfaces can have a calming effect that makes one feel composed. Those of us who get overwhelmed at the sight of a messy room or desk know what a difference it can make once the space is neat and tidy. An appealing kitchen, a bedroom that fosters a good night’s sleep and a work space that motivates us are all essential components of any healthy home. When these spaces are optimized, we can begin to focus on important life goals that we have set for ourselves, and our space becomes a supporting environment.

During an earlier time in my social work career, I returned to school in the evenings to study Health Care Interior Design at the New York School of Interior Design. There, I had the chance to learn first-hand from some of the experts in this field. Now, in my clinical work, I make a habit of always considering the lessons I learned in NYSID as a way to enhance my patients’ health and well-being from yet another perspective. It is quite clear that we are all deeply affected by the space in which we spend our time, and, as it turns out, there are practical things that we can each do to enhance our environments for healthier living. I frequently recommend these changes to the people with whom I work in therapy. It can be as simple as adding a floor lamp, a brightly colored piece of art or a fresh coat of paint to the walls. Of course, we must each continue to design our homes with our own personal style and each individual has different tastes and needs, but it is useful to recognize the principle of designing spaces with your health in mind.

There is research that demonstrated that hospitalized patients who were exposed to images of nature had better overall health outcomes than patients who were not. We also know that when we’re exposed to blue light close to bedtime, we tend to experience poor quality, interrupted sleep, resulting in difficulty waking up the next morning. In addition, exposure to certain colors can affect our appetite and mood. This sort of knowledge emphasizes the significance of healing environments, and while this field of inquiry is still emerging in the medical, psychological and design fields, there is little doubt of the impact of design and architecture on our physical and emotional health. It is a fascinating topic, and something important to consider when moving into a new home or office.

For adults and children with significant medical or physical challenges, ranging from autism to post-traumatic stress disorder, dementia, visual impairments or physical paralysis requiring a device such as a cane, walker or wheelchair, the implications of the design on their living space are even more concrete. However, it may not be limited to placing assistance devices, bars and handles; the overall “spirit” of the environment can have an important effect on their lives, and this is reflected in the choice of colors and lighting, amongst other features.

The bottom line is that our homes should be safe spaces where we return after a long day to relax and enjoy leisure time. The environment exerts significant power on our mental, and even physical, health that can change the way we experience time spent at home if we don’t take good care of it. Treat your home the same way you treat your body, by filling it with things that make you happy and healthy and by avoiding things that don’t. It’s yet another way in which we can help ourselves to improve our health.

Kira Wigod is a licensed clinical social worker practicing in New York City. She also holds a Masters in Healthcare Interior Design from the New York School of Interior Design. Kira works at Montefiore Medical Group where she does clinical therapy with clients from all walks of life. Kira is currently building her private practice, where she hopes to make an impact on even more lives. Email Kira at [email protected].

 

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