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You know how you’re trying to cut down on sugar but suddenly find yourself reaching for the cookie jar on the coffee table? That’s because your living environment plays a bigger role in the choices you make every day than you probably realize.
If you live in a neighborhood with side walks, bike lanes and greenery, for example, you’re more likely to be physically active than people who don’t have easy access to these recreational facilities. And it’s no coincidence that supermarkets place big brands at grab-level and impulse buys at the counter – that’s all to seduce you to buy more.
It’s not just your ZIP code that affects your behaviour, mood, stress levels and overall health, but your home environment too. When you have a bowl of candy on your desk, chances are you’ll mindlessly eat much more than you’d planned. Thankfully the reverse is also true: putting a fruit bowl in the kitchen encourages you to get your vitamins in. That’s exactly why James Clear, best-selling author of Atomic Habits, advocates to design your environment to work for you, not against you.
By making a few changes at home, you can make it easier to create and stick to healthy habits, and break bad ones. Think of environment design like a subtle nudge in the right direction. Especially if chronic illness forces you to spend a lot of time at home, you might want to make some easy changes to your interior so you can effortlessly make better choices.
Here are 27 subtle ways you can optimize your surroundings to best support your health and happiness.
How to Optimize Your Home for Healing
Sticking to Healthy Habits
No matter if you’d like to eat healthier, move your body more or break bad habits like binge-watching TV, optimizing your living quarters can definitely help you achieve your goals.
- You know that saying “we eat with our eyes first”? Science shows that the size of your dinnerware influences how much food we consume. People tend to overeat from larger plates, while underserving on small plates. So using smaller plates can be an easy way to control your portion sizes – unless you’re having salads and other vegetables!
- Sitting down at the table for meals is another way to effortlessly consume less calories. That’s because eating on the go tricks your brain into eating more, whereas having lunch behind your screens encourages mindless (over)eating.
- Make it easier to exercise by rolling out your yoga mat the night before, laying out your workout clothes or putting your running shoes by the door.
- Leave your phone on your dresser or in another room instead of on your nightstand to prevent scrolling in bed.
- Want to get more outdoor time in? Organize your entrance so you can easily grab your shoes and coat, plus umbrella, winter gear or sunscreen depending on the weather. If you’re chronically ill, keeping a small bag with your (emergency) meds and helpful items like a water bottle or snack ready to go can help you confidently head outdoors too.
- Use supermarket psychology in your own home to automatically make healthier food choices. Put a fruit bowl on the table, place raw veggies for snacking where you see them as your open the fridge, and keep your not-so-healthy foods on the highest shelves of the pantry.
- Watching too much TV? James Clear advises you to hide the remote control, to break the habit of mindlessly turning it on. You could even change the layout of your living room so the TV is no longer the automatic focal point of your seating area.
- Grow a tiny herb garden in your kitchen to inspire fresh mint tea, homemade pestos and aromatic meals packed with disease-fighting nutrients!
- Get into the habit of meditation by downloading a meditation app, using mindfulness reminders like Meaning To Pause or keeping a meditation guide on your night stand.
Getting Real Rest
You aren’t always aware of it, but the amount of light, noise and arousal all affect the release of hormones necessary for a good night’s sleep. That’s why you should make sure your bedroom basics are covered.
- Keep your bedroom dark and cool to promote deep sleep. If the street lights peak in, you could hang beautiful blackout curtains or use a sleep mask. Also invest in a comfortable mattress, bedding and pillow if you can – especially if you’re no stranger to ‘painsomnia’.
- Program your electronic devices to go on nighttime or airplane mode at least one hour before heading to bed. Otherwise, the blue light coming from your screens can disturb the production of melatonin. Not to mention that late-night messages and endless scrolling will keep you alert way past your bedtime.
- Infuse your baths with calming essential oils like chamomile and jasmine, or spray DIY lavender mist on your pillow for relaxation.
- Noisy neighborhood? Consider wearing ear plugs to bed or falling asleep to white noise.
- Have a ‘no screens in the bedroom’ policy. Ok, keeping the TV and laptop out of the bedroom may be a deal breaker for many of you, and I get it’s not always possible when you’re bed bound, working from home or in need of alone time. But if you struggle to fall asleep easily or lie awake at night ruminating, experts strongly advise you to reserve your bedroom for sleeping and sex only.
- Create a place in your home you can retreat to for some solitude, quiet and relaxation. You don’t need a lot of space, a comfy chair in your bedroom or a small altar in your living room will work fine.
- Catch the early morning sunlight to set your biological clock up for an energetic day. Open your curtains and have breakfast by the window if possible. According to the late dr. David Servan-Schreiber, waking up with a wake up light alarm clock with sunrise simulation can be as invigorating as your morning cup of coffee!
Easing Chronic Illness Life
When you’re in pain and fatigued, the last thing you feel like is spending the little energy you have on cleaning, organizing and other chores. But unless you hire a butler, cook, cleaner and handyman, I’m afraid we’ll have to do with some energy-saving household hacks (as well as some other tips to optimize our homes for healing).
- Invest in tools that make housekeeping easier, like Roomba for vacuuming, a slow cooker and blender for healthy cooking, and organizing baskets by the stairs to prevent walking up and down so often.
- Manage your medications, with a pill organizer, using a medication app and/or setting reminders on your phone. Therapy adherence is crucial for your health. Also keep your medicine cabinet and first aid kit stocked and up to date, so you’re not out of painkillers, bandages and creams when you need them the most (which somehow often is in the middle of the night).
- Keep a water bottle by your bedside to stay hydrated without having to get up when you’re really sick. Over 60% of your body consists of water, so getting enough fluids in is a must.
- Place a (non-slippery!) stool in the bathroom to save energy when showering, getting dry or brushing your teeth.
- Are unplanned hospital visits part of your chronic illness life? Keeping an emergency hospital bag ready can save you and your family additional stress. Here are some ideas for which essentials to pack in your hospital bag for a more comfortable stay.
To paraphrase Marie Kondo, does your living space spark joy? Have a look at how you can optimize your home for happiness.
- Think of your home as your canvas. What kind of art, photographs and words would inspire you, motivate you and lift your spirit on a daily basis? Decorate your walls with inspiring art or create a vision board to go above your desk to keep going after your dreams. You can also put motivational stickers on your laptop or cherish your happiest moments with a digital photo frame. Whatever makes you happy!
- Did you know that clutter has a negative impact on your mental health? Those dishes in the sink and piles of laundry are visual reminders of your never-ending to-do list, draining your energy and ability to think clearly. As hard as it is, especially when you’re chronically ill, try to find ways to reduce the amount of clutter. Embracing a more minimalistic approach to decorating could help to stay clean and organized with less energy.
- Get colorful. Color affects your mood and energy levels more than you may realize, so choose the color scheme of your home wisely. Red, for example, does not just represent love and passion, but also signals danger and aggression, and elevates your blood pressure and heart rate. That might not make it the best color for a calming bed room. Green and blue, on the other hand, are known to be soothing colors, simulating relaxing natural scenes.
- Let music put your in the mood you want to be in! Studies show that listening to upbeat songs can improve your happiness levels in just two weeks, while classical music can help your brain memorize new information more easily. Motivational music can also help you to push yourself during workouts. So why not make different playlists to make the most of each situation?
- Light plays a vital role in regulating countless of bodily functions, from your sleep-wake cycle and appetite to your mood and mental alertness. You want to catch as much natural light during the day, and slowly reduce the amount of artificial night before bedtime. That’s why moving your furniture around so you can sit by the window more often can have a small but significant impact on your wellbeing.
- Bring the outdoors indoors. Numerous studies have shown that simply looking at natural scenes – from the window or even on paintings and TV – relaxes the nervous system and speeds up recovery. What easier way to support your physical and mental health than to have beautiful images of forests, grasslands or the ocean on your walls or screens? Of course you can also adorn your home with plants and flowers. But if you don’t have green fingers, natural decorations like sea shells, chest nuts or sturdy branches also work as nature therapy.
Optimizing your home will not make you feel better overnight, but an environment that encourages healthy habits, saves you previous energy and boosts your mood can have a significant impact on your health, happiness and quality of life.
Have you designed your living space to work for you? I’d love to hear your experiences below!
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