Bryan E. Robinson Ph.D.

The Right Mindset


Are Hidden Low-Grade Stressors Adding to Pandemic Strain?

Six conditions to help you detect and eliminate lurking environmental pressures.

Posted Aug 11, 2020

 Joshua Ness/Unsplash
Hidden low-grade stressors lurking in your home can magnify your pandemic anxiety.
Source: Joshua Ness/Unsplash

Everyday surroundings can keep us in a state of low-grade stress that we ordinarily might not recognize. Chances are you’ve become so used to clutter, noise, harsh lights, and other environmental stressors that you don’t notice they add to your pandemic strain.

Studies show that under environmental pressure, your stress hormone levels can escalate even when you’re not aware of it. Over time these hormone levels take a toll on your mental and physical health. Here are six major sources of low-grade stress that could be lurking in your personal space.

1. Environmental Pollutants

Scientists say that steady exposure to loud noises such as traffic, aircraft, and railway engines raise stress levels that can lead to high blood pressure even heart attacks. Plus lawnmowers, car engines, and loud music increase stress levels and interfere with your concentration. If you’re surrounded by noise pollution, consider muting jarring news events or hard rock music from a blaring TV, radio, or computer. Soundproof outside racket with insulation, window treatments, pleasant background music, and nature sound machines, headphones or earplugs. Air pollutants such as cigarette smoke, chemical smells, mildew, and toxic odors—all can raise your stress level and lead to illness. Use humidifiers in dry areas and dehumidifiers in humid places. Ban tobacco smoke from your workspace. Rapid temperature changes also can trigger stress. Room temperature that is too hot or too cold can interfere with your concentration and escalate tension. Maintain a well-ventilated space with as much fresh air as possible.

2. Clutter And Disorganization

A disorganized, cluttered workspace can make your life chaotic and stressful. Clutter becomes a roadblock to finding things you need, cutting into valuable time and adding another level of frustration when you’re in a hurry. As things pile up, your stress level can go sky-high. Chances are, your productivity wanes as you bounce from one task to another, paralyzed by where to begin. After a long day when you’re trying to relax, the last thing you want is stressful visual reminders of what needs doing staring you in the face. If you’re like most people, you’re seeking visual rest. There’s something freeing and peaceful when your space is uncluttered, visually appealing, and functioning smoothly. Order conveys a feeling of calm and stability—a feeling that things are under control.

3. Lack Of Stress-Free Zones

It’s important to consider the environmental stress thresholds of other household members. Your family member or roommate might think blasting Lady Gaga’s latest hit is the coolest way to relax. But you might find it to be the most stressful activity on the planet. Separate work areas such as bedrooms or office spaces can be individually maintained based on unique work schedules and children’s homeschooling activities. Having a special place to relax makes you more likely to hit your pause button. This stress-free zone is a place of solitude where you have quiet and serenity. Your zone contains no electronic devices, no work tools, no hassles, and no scheduling boards. Getting carried into a thought stream of worry, rumination and pressure is off-limits in this special place. If you don’t have a room, find an area with minimum traffic flow. A corner of your den or bedroom where you wear earphones and listen to relaxing music can also work as a getaway.

4. Absence of Mother Nature

Another way to create a calm stress-free work environment is to breathe as much natural life into your personal space as possible. Studies show that a view of nature from your window reduces stress. You can capitalize on scenes of wooded areas, water, sunsets, landscapes, or wildlife. Bring as much outside indoors as possible by arranging your living areas facing the views. If you don’t have a view, nature photos or paintings will do. An opened window with a soft breeze and nature sounds add a natural touch. A tabletop waterfall that makes babbling sounds, an aquarium or fishbowl, or potted plants, fresh flowers, or a terrarium have stress-relieving, restorative properties.

5. No Sensory Comfort

It’s important to create a personalized environment that attracts your five senses in a totally different way from the sensory experience you associate with daily pressures. Consider neutralizing your personal surroundings from harsh sights, rough textures, offensive odors, and strong tastes of your stressful world. You can actually use color as a stress management tool when you choose room colors that calm and relax you. Studies show that colors affect your emotional state and raise or lower your stress levels. Red excites and stimulates you and makes your heart beat faster, whereas more natural tones of green (think trees and grass) and blue (think sky and ocean) have calming effects that relax you. The use of soothing textures such as cushioned slippers, cozy blankets, or a comfy velvety throw creates sensory comfort. Scented candles or a simmering pot of potpourri with whiffs of clove, and cinnamon, vacation memorabilia, photos of children and spouses dogs and friends—can warm a weary heart and lift your spirits.

6. Artificial Lighting

Artificial lighting is a subtle form of environmental stress, and limited sunlight can trigger depression and elevate stress. Artificial lighting such as fluorescent lights increases cortisol stress hormone levels. But you can turn an area into a stress-free zone with natural lighting, which is more restful and lowers stress levels. Create a well-lit space while avoiding harsh lights, and use indirect lighting or capture as much natural sunlight as you can. Keep blinds and shutters open to create a sunny atmosphere. Remove window treatments, furniture, or objects that block daylight. Wash the inside and outside of windows on a regular basis. Full-spectrum lights give you the benefits of natural lighting and elevate your mood.

Scientists report a link between mental and physical health and a safe, soothing, stress-free environment. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Each of us has to determine what type of surroundings work best then personalize a workspace that fosters comfort, calm, and ease. After considering the six conditions, see if your personal space needs a touch up then give it one and watch your mood and productivity soar.


Hahad, O., et al. ( 2019). Environmental Noise-Induced Effects on Stress Hormones, Oxidative Stress, and Vascular Dysfunction: Key Factors in the Relationship between Cerebrocardiovascular and Psychological Disorders. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity.