Design And It's Affect On Our Senses

Written By Lacy O'Brien 07/22/2013
One way to get in to touch with what’s going on around you as well as what’s going on inside, is to check in with your senses.  External queues can be great indicators of sources of stress.  Once I started checking in with my senses, I began to develop an awareness of the way my body responds to a space, or elements within a space.  And after I got good at that, I began to understand how my emotions were tied to my body’s physiological state.  Since, most of the time, I take an action based on how I’m feeling, I can see the importance of gaining some manageability over my body’s responses to external factors.

Anxiety is the body’s fight or flight response to a perceived threat of danger.  This series of messages along the neuro-pathway that govern our body, and gears us up for survival, is an evolutionary leftover.  It used to be useful, but now it is all jumbled up in an emotional thunderstorm that seems to fold over on itself, perpetuating a habituary reaction that makes us feel “crazy”.

The good news is, all of our bodies are wired to react this way to stress, so if it’s “crazy”…we are all crazy.  It’s just a matter of evaluating how deep this habit runs.  That’s a personal journey that takes time and effort, and too much space to elaborate on here.  However, one only needs a willingness to make a start, to reap the benefits of this kind of work.
Many people, places, and things elicit an uncomfortable emotional response, its not always “anxiety”, but for the sake of generalities we will keep using that as a reference point.  As I followed that journey I spoke of earlier, of identifying the sources of anxiety, I came to realize that there were several “small” factors that would create that physical response for me.  Not just the big stuff, as I had imagined.  That was a relief because it meant I could gain some manageability immediately, without needing to hire a therapist to sort out all the ways my crazy family had screwed me up.  Nope, I could start by paying attention to what was going on around me and make some simple, physical changes to my surroundings.

The first thing I noticed was that I had a strong reaction to daylight (or the lack thereof), and then all kinds of lighting.  Adjusting my environment to allow for more daylight has been crucial ever since.  Another thing I noticed was that clutter has a phenomenal impact on how settled I feel.  Getting rid of anything that did not have a function or a purpose served me well (FYI, one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard was to take a picture of an object that holds sentimental value, and then toss it!).  Quarantining electronics to a certain area of my home also had an outstanding positive effect on my serenity (after the withdrawal subsided, of course).  Colors is an obvious element, however I had no idea how much it affected my mood until I started to take notice.  Desaturated colors have a very calming effect.  Some colors vibrate enough all on there own that its enough to induce a full fledged panic attack.  Tall ceilings and open spaces are some other elements that I favor for a stable emotional playing field.  Certain textures were more calming than others, and have since banned polyester from my bedroom.

I have talked here about our sense of touch, and sight, but what about smell?  I know for me, a certain familiar scent has the ability to send me reeling back to an uncomfortable point in time as much as it has the power to soothe.  But besides just lighting a candle, I think there is some very important information that we can pick up through becoming aware of what we smell.  After all, it is telling us about the air that we are breathing into our bodies.  And poor indoor air quality can be a cause all by itself for physical symptoms and illnesses.  At a later date I will go into further discussion about Sick Building Syndrome.  Once I tuned into this, I was never able to relegate the smell of toxic chemicals to a clean house again.  Now, that “clean” smell represents inflamed lung tissue and poor ventilation.  I have switched to organic cleaning supplies, which are easy to make yourself.  Also, candles smell like a putrid mix of chemicals and smoke, and now I can only justify using clean burning candles that are scented naturally.

Hiring a licensed Interior Designer or architect to evaluate the condition of the air quality in your home and taking steps to address it, along with all of the other ways your home or office creates a sense calm or directly contributes to a sense of anxiety in your next renovation can have a direct impact on your health and therefor your overall sense of well-being.