There’s no place like home, especially when you’re looking to unwind in a calm space. Which is why we’ve sought out the best approaches to making your home a total oasis. From decorating and colours to the furnishings, aromas and foods you fill your place with, we’ve got you covered.
Research has shown that our mental wellbeing is closely linked to what we see, smell, hear, touch and taste - our senses are not just processed neurobiologically, but emotionally as well. So it comes as no surprise that our senses can be ‘hacked’ to enhance our quality of mind and self-care at home.
From the colours on our wall colours and bedding, right through to the candles we choose to burn, there’s a stack of small things that can make or break just how calming your home can be.
Find out how you can bring more soothing serenity to your home…
From your sense of sight…
Sight is typically the first sense we use to understand our environments. Whether that’s the type of light in our rooms, the colours splashed across the walls or furniture, or the way our belongings spark joyous - or not so joyous - emotions, our sense of sight is hugely powerful in creating a calm space.
For instance, when all we can see in our space is mess or clutter, it can affect our anxiety levels, sleep, and ability to focus. It can also make us less productive, instead triggering unhelpful coping mechanisms or habits.
Another way our sense of sight can affect our mental health is through the connections with memories, as created in our brain. Belongings of an ex, or items that remind you of a person, place or time that affected you negatively can prevent you from turning your home into a peaceful oasis.
There are other ways we can influence our mood through sight too…
Ever noticed how most people have white or neutral coloured walls? It might be convenient, but it’s also related to how colour impacts our mood. Research shows that white spaces help you experience calm, restfulness, and ease, bringing a positive effect to your mood and energy.
Other colours - like light blue and earthy green - have a rejuvenating and peaceful effect on our moods, making features walls, furnishings, and even art in these colours particularly calming. These colours are so effective that many hospital rooms are painted light blue to ease anxious patients.
But not everyone equates these colours with a relaxed mental state. For more bright, optimistic vibes, yellow is the perfect shade, while purple inspires creativity, and red - despite its connotations with rage or passion - is actually used in colour therapy to release negative emotions and anger.
Lighting is another important factor in designing a mental health haven at home. Natural light is the most effective way to positively improve your mood, so big windows that let the sun in are perfect. Knowing that blue light triggers alertness, it’s worth considering warmer lighting, lamps instead of ceiling lights, and less screens if you’re going for a more relaxed vibe in your home.
Finally, with a focus on colours and objects that spark joy, consider adding a few houseplants to your home. A study showed that having plants in your home can leave you feeling more comfortable, soothed, and natural. In particular, the study participants who were tasked with caring for a house plant - rather than completing a short computer task - showed a lower stress response and overall heart rate.
Stroll through a nursery or nearby Bunnings, or check out our dreamy house plant guide, to find the plants that appeal to your personality. One favourite is the peace lily, which grows gorgeous flowers and literally ‘perks up’ when watered - a real dopamine hit if you find taking care of plants difficult.
From your sense of smell…
Scent has a powerful effect on our memories, emotions, and even cognition thanks to the unique way it interacts with our brains. Unlike other senses, smell travels straight to the olfactory bulb in our brain, which directly links to the limbic system - the parts of our brain that deal with memory and emotion.
Both the amygdala, where the brain connects stimuli, such as smells, to emotion, and the hippocampus, where short-term memories are developed into long-term ones, sit inside the limbic system, which explains why even a whiff of a certain scent can transport us to a strong memory or visual - good or bad.
While designing your ideal mental health haven, consider the smells that you most associate with positive, fond memories from your life - and steer clear of any that trigger unpleasant ones.
When choosing candles for your home, we’ve got an easy guide to the best ethical candles, free from paraffins, parabens, and artificial chemicals. From a DIY perspective, this low tox guide has a few more tricks for freshening up your home - from adding cinnamon sticks to a jar of bicarb to simmering citrus on the stove.
Getting more specific on mood-boosting scents, it’s helpful to pick the essential oils that you not only enjoy but that will spark your desired energy as well.
Citrus oils like lemon, orange and bergamot can promote focus, but are also great antidotes to feelings of anger, agitation, and exhaustion. Naturally, lavender is a favourite for relaxation, thanks to its properties that help control emotional stress. Lavender has a comforting effect on our nervous system, and can even relieve tension, symptoms of depression, and headaches.
Jasmine, much like lavender, helps combat depressive moods with uplifting capabilities that invoke optimism and fresh energy. Meanwhile, rosemary is an ideal pick-me-up, with properties that improve memory retention, while fighting physical exhaustion, headaches and mental fatigue.
Many experts describe vanilla as giving the feeling of a “warm hug” due to its sweet, round properties, while sandalwood is a woody, milky and comforting scent that's been used for centuries across Asia to bring balance and harmony to the mind.
Pop these scents in your home diffuser when you first wake up or arrive home from work to create a nourishing energy in your home.
From your sense of touch…
Especially post-pandemic, we’re aware of how much positive impact touch can have on our mental wellbeing. From helping to alleviate distress or improve feelings of love, our sense of touch is absolutely linked to our mental wellbeing.
Research from recent years suggests touch is the first sense to develop in the womb and is our first social interaction at birth. Our skin receptors are basically coded to recognise both positive and negative effects. Beyond things like affective touch, which can help with lowering stress levels, increasing dopamine, and aiding in pain management and depression, there’s other ways to shape your sense of touch on your own.
Natural materials are our go-to for bringing more ease to our space, bodies and minds, thanks to their soft, textural feel and overall benefit to your physical health.
Natural bedding accessories make your bedroom feel like a holiday for your senses, creating the environment for a more restful sleep and a softer, cosy vibe in your room. Things like linen sheets, and wool doonas and blankets are breathable and absorbent, designed to wick away moisture and keep you comfortable year round. And because we all know the difference a good night’s sleep can make on mental health, these benefits are just too good to dismiss.
Weighted blankets have also become somewhat of a wellness trend - and for good reason. The pressure of a weighted blanket helps put your autonomic nervous system into “rest” mode, which reduces symptoms of anxiety, such as a quickened heart rate or breathing, and creates a more calm state of mind.
From your sense of sound…
Another mood gamechanger, our sense of sound is similar to smell with the way it links to memory and emotion. The sound of someone’s voice, a particular song from a major life moment - all of these things can affect your mood. On the flip side, some sounds can be jarring or upsetting, particularly if you’re someone who gets stirred up by loud noise.
Across the board from various studies, music has been shown to have a huge impact on your mood and long term mental health. Working with what you personally find relaxing, have a few playlists on hand to switch on whenever you need to set the mood at home. Similarly, it can be useful to have some go-to meditations saved, especially for strong emotional responses. Insight Timer is a free app that lets you browse thousands of tracks, and save your favourites to play on a moment’s notice.
Sound machines might seem like a cheesy trend from the 90s, but thanks to social media and added research, we’ve experienced a resurgence in white - and brown - noise to calm the mind.
Across the spectrum of sounds, there are several ‘colours’ that represent the various types of frequencies we can hear. These are ‘constant’ noises with minimal variation of things like pitch or speed, meaning they’re great for tuning out the less constant noises like talking or traffic. From apps to YouTube, you can find and play these sounds for sleep or just when you need some mental soothing - then enjoy a calmer, more consistent environment for your ears.
Lastly, if you live in an urban environment where the noise never seems to stop, we also love a thick, heavy set of curtains to help drown out the sound. They might not block out everything, but they’ll at least quieten the intensity of noise, so you can focus on your other senses to ease your state of mind.
From your sense of taste…
It may not seem like it carries the same weight as the other senses, but your taste can still be influenced for the sake of your mental wellbeing. Food has long been shown to have the power to improve your mood, so when you’re craving a more peaceful vibe at home, it certainly can’t hurt to have a few of these foods on standby.
If you’re a fan of seafood, you’re in luck! Research has shown that a diet high in Omega 3 fatty acids can help boost feelings of mental wellness and reduce levels of anxiety. Specifically, the experts rate salmon, trout and prawns as a top choice.
Other foods on the mental health menu include antioxidant-rich berries - think strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries - along with probiotic-filled yoghurts, thanks to their ability to help improve symptoms associated with anxiety, depression, and stress.
Another great source of antioxidants are walnuts, so add these treats to your shopping list. The properties in walnuts can actually lead to the growth of new neurons, which basically means walnuts can help us grow new brain cells. And if there’s one thing our mental health can benefit from, it’s the development of new neural pathways!
With winter on its way, porridge lovers can rejoice, because wholegrains are another science-back mood booster. Things like oats, rye bread, quinoa, and wholewheat pasta are jam-packed with tryptophan, an amino acid that helps to produce serotonin, AKA the ‘feel good hormone’. Serotonin, of course, is what helps calm the mind, improve your mood and maintain a steady sleep cycle. What could be better!?
A holistic mental health haven
Managing your mental health comes with plenty of challenges, so at the end of the day, you want your home to be the place you can feel safe and relaxed in. With the countless ways our senses can influence our mental wellbeing, these changes offer tangible, mindful steps to designing your own personalised haven at home - one that suits your unique self to a tee.