People, Places, and Things

The psychology of design: How to create an environment in which you will thrive

Winter Wellbeing

Use design to avoid the winter doldrums.

In the Northern Hemisphere, it’s becoming clear that winter will soon be upon us. The days are getting shorter while the temperatures fall. You can keep yourself from slipping into the winter doldrums, however.

What can you do to keep your spirits up as the days get colder and darker?

  • Open your blinds and curtains to let in as much daylight as you can and make sure your furniture is positioned so that you can bask in sunlight as you work and relax. Sunlight is good for your mental health and performance.
  • Keep your home clean and tidy. That will keep away musty smells and stress inducing clutter. Being active also boosts the level of mood enhancing endorphins in your system.
  • Add scents that will enhance your wellbeing. Lavender’s odor calms – scientific research has confirmed what aromatherapists have been saying for years. The same sort of research that has shown that smelling lavender relaxes indicates that the scent of lemon improves mental performance. While we’re talking about how scents can enrich your life: Raudenbush at Wheeling Jesuit University has shown that smelling peppermint enhances the experience of doing physical work – so start to chew some peppermint flavored gum before you go out to shovel that inevitable winter snow.
  • Apply the same design principles in your home that Nature does in outdoor spaces where we feel good and positive feelings are almost inevitable. Things move gently outdoors on pleasant days. Open the windows when the temperature allows. A mellow breeze moving through your home will make you feel comfortable and serene. Can’t open the windows? Turn a fan on low and hang a mobile so it moves peacefully in the current of air. Nature isn’t static. You’ll get a lift from changing the way your home is lit at different times; cycle your lights so those with the cooler white bulbs are on during the “business” part of your day and those with warmer colored bulbs are turned on to encourage conversation and socializing when work is done.
  • If you’ve saved a project for the winter months, make sure your home is can support whatever you have planned – from writing your novel to learning to dance. Nothing destroys a positive mood as fast as a space that confounds our efforts to work on something that matters to us.

Winter may be dark and cold – but your mood doesn’t have to match. Designing with the season’s challenges in mind will improve your winter wellbeing.

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Sally Augustin, Ph.D., is a practicing environmental psychologist who studies person-centered design and sensory science.

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