Working from home: how making small, easy changes to your workspace could help your mental health

Posted by for Mental Health

Is working from home taking its toll on your mental health? Here’s how making small, easy changes to your working environment could make a big difference.

If you’re struggling to stay positive right now when it comes to working from home, you’re not alone.

On top of the fact that the second lockdown has left many of us grappling with the idea of working from home until the end of the year (at least), we’re also dealing with the arrival of autumn – and with it, the return of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Sometimes known as “winter depression,” it’s not uncommon to experience symptoms of SAD at this time of year, as the amount of sunlight we’re exposed to decreases due to the changing clocks and shorter days. But as our WFH days become increasingly characterised by dark evenings and cold, gloomy weather – factors which make getting outside even harder than usual – even those of us who don’t usually experience SAD may find ourselves at risk. 

Combine this with the fact that many of us have been finding working from home to be pretty tough on our mental health, and it’s more important than ever that we continue to take care of ourselves over the next couple of months. 

On top of ensuring we take regular breaks, get outside as much as possible and exercise regularly, the environment we work in can actually make a big difference to our mental health and overall wellbeing.

With this in mind, we spoke to a collection of experts to find out more about the simple changes you can make to your working from home space to look after your mental health over the next couple of months. Here’s what they had to say. 

1. Let the light in

A woman working from home
Working from home and mental health: working in front of a window or in a room with lots of natural light can help to boost mood and improve concentration.

As the nights draw in and we’re exposed to less natural light, making the most of the light we do get is the best way to combat SAD and boost mood. There’s a reason why bright, airy spaces make us feel good – research has shown that natural light exposure can reduce stress and drowsiness and increase productivity.

As Lee Chambers, an environmental psychologist and wellbeing consultant, explains: “Natural light has numerous benefits on our health and wellbeing. Exposure to natural light heightens our production of serotonin, a mood-enhancing hormone, which positively impacts our mood, concentration, productivity and sleep quality. Additionally, it affects our circadian rhythmicity, and honouring this with natural light also positively impacts our sleep, focus and many other biological, processes, even including blood pressure.”

He continues: “Natural light exposure is also responsible for our vitamin D production, which is even more important to focus on during the winter months.”

Although we’re not all blessed with big windows and large, brightly lit rooms, try to make the most of what you’ve got. Is there a room or spot in your house which tends to get the most light throughout the day? If so, why not move your desk to make the most of it? Alternatively, if no one spot gets lots of light, consider moving about the house throughout the day to try and get the most light while working.

If you’re struggling to get enough light into your workspace, using a SAD light could also help to increase your light exposure while you work. 

2. Keep your colour scheme soothing

Although we’re not all lucky enough to have a home office waiting for us to redecorate, being mindful of the colours we’re surrounding ourselves with while working (and making a few small changes if necessary) can make all the difference.

As Lucy Ackroyd, head of design at Christy England, explains: “Choosing light, natural colours is the perfect way to add a soothing finishing touch to your interiors and encourage a serene mood.”

She continues: “Restful colours such as dusky pink, light greens and neutrals such as beige and grey can create a calming atmosphere while still keeping a cosy feel. Incorporating deeper shades of green, blue and yellow can also help to promote feelings of optimism, growth and positivity, as they provoke images of the natural world.” 

3. Prioritise plants

Adding some houseplants to your working from home space isn’t just a great way to spruce up your home – it can help your mental health, too.

As Sophie Lewis, interior designer and owner of Husoe Home, explains: “There have been a number of studies which have proven that indoor plants improve concentration and productivity, reduce stress levels and boost mood – all of which makes them a perfect addition for those working from home. 

“It’s also proven that seeing greenery and nature helps us to clear and head and feel calmer.”

She adds: “Choose plants with lots of greenery and broad leaves for the home office area, as they will help to regulate humidity.”

If you’re interested in buying a plant for your WFH space but aren’t sure where to start, make sure to check out our guide to the best desk plants for your home. 

4. Play with scent

A reed diffuser
Working from home and mental health: use scent to create a relaxing working environment.

Many of us are familiar with the idea of lighting a candle or burning incense to create a sense of calm – so why not carry this approach over into our working environment?

According to Nicola Elliot, founder of Neom Organics, the way our working from home space smells not only has the power to make the environment more inviting – it can actually boost our mood and help with productivity.

“With our homes becoming so much more than the place we live right now, it’s important to think about how we can make it the loveliest possible environment to be in,” she explains.

“Small changes, such as using essential oils to create the right moods around your home, can have a surprisingly big impact.”

She continues: “With our homes now becoming our offices too, sometimes we need a little help to get us in the zone and crack on. Packed with the purest essential oils including pine, cedarwood and eucalyptus, Focus The Mind essential oil gives mental clarity to help you smash through that to-do list while helping your mental wellbeing too.”

If you find yourself getting stressed frequently throughout the day, consider an essential oil or candle with orange blossom – research has shown that the scent has the power to reduce cortisol levels in highly-stressed individuals.

For more information on using scent in your home, you can check out our guide.

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