Is your living space a relaxing retreat? Creating a home that's a peaceful respite from everyday stress doesn't just feel good, it's good for you. Indeed, 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, PhD, president of the design firm PlaceCoach in Los Angeles. Make these small changes to turn your home into a healing haven.
1) Add tactile 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. If you're in the market for new furniture, look for stain repellent and water resistant on the label. Newer fabrics with this designation likely have a microscopic "peach fuzz" that makes them feel plush even as it wards off stains, says Maureen S. MacGillivray, PhD, a professor of apparel and textiles at Central Michigan University.
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2) Keep surfaces clean
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 disorganized. Aim your sights on the kitchen counter--a prime dumping spot. Place a basket for mail next to your phone; banish hats, gloves, and sunglasses to a bin underneath the counter so they're out of sight but still within reach.
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3) Fill the air with 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. Scatter jasmine and hyacinth around the house--these blossoms boosted mood and lowered anxiety levels in studies. Cinnamon and peppermint are two other aromas proven to perk you up. To naturally scent your home, use an essential-oil diffuser or place cinnamon sticks in table centerpieces.
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4) Add aural ambiance
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%, compared with quieter situations. Add more pleasing sounds to your environment with your favorite CDs or a set of wind chimes.
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5) Bring the outdoors in
A view of nature--whether it's a panoramic vista or a simple houseplant--can lower blood pressure by 11% and boost feelings of contentment, stress-management studies show. Open 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, preferably with rounded leaves, which research suggests may be the most soothing.
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6) Carve out space
Some experts suggest that humans are hardwired to seek out spaciousness, harking back to our ancestors' need to flee predators. Studies show that mice in cramped conditions exhibit more signs of stress than ones with room to roam. A few ways to create a sense of openness in even small spaces: Take doors off closed bookcases and fill shelves only halfway (a big mirror on one wall is another time-honored trick). To mimic airy, outdoor open space, paint ceilings a lighter color than the walls, and position lamps so they throw light on the ceiling.
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