This winter, experts are bracing for a double whammy of pandemic-related mental health struggles.
According to studies, depression symptoms are about three times more prevalent than they were before the pandemic, and mental health experts fear that pandemic depression will be amplfied by seasonal depression. With colder weather driving people indoors, even those who don’t normally live with seasonal affective disorder are struggling with their mental health. This is partly due to financial stressors, but it’s exacerbated by shorter days, social isolation, and the monotony of remote-work life.
Unfortunately, this pandemic is becoming endemic, meaning COVID-19 will become another virus that we live with for the immediate future. Even with vaccines, many workers may have to also live with remote work, perhaps indefinitely. With that in mind, it’s important to begin thinking of more permanen work-from-home solutions that support our physical and mental health.
Instead of living with your uncomfortable home office, consider transforming it into an environment tailored to wellness. This is a term that comes from “wellness architecture,” an emerging practice that seeks to promote well-being through design. There are even certifications that set above-code building standards to promote better health for employees. What’s especially brilliant about this concept is that you can take certain aspects of wellness architecture and apply them to your own workspace. Here are a few ways to begin your design process.
Create healthy landscapes
One area of wellness that’s garnering attention is how lighting affects health. For instance, fluorescent lights have long been shown to elevate stress markers, and the quality of light, color temperature, and flickering can all impact your well-being.
Optimizing indoor lighting is especially critical in the winter, when the shorter photoperiod wreaks havoc on your natural circadian rhythm (this can affect hormonal balance, energy levels, and even weight). So just as you care about the quality of your water, you should care about the quality of your light.
The simplest and most effective way to generate healthier lighting is to position your desk near windows. Working in a room with natural light has been shown to improve well-being and work performance. If that’s not possible, look for smart lightbulbs that mimic natural lighting by changing color temperature throughout the day.
If you know you’re affected by seasonal depression, you can buy a SAD lamp that mimics the dawn. According to Norman Rosenthal, who led a team of early SAD researchers, adding in this type of light can increase energy levels, improve mood, and give you a better outlook.
Design your space to spur self-care moments
Most conversations about the work-from-home space seem to revolve around productivity. Instead, we should focus on how this environment can support self-care. Self-care means different things to different people, from getting your nails done to training for a marathon. But you can (and should) design your workspace to support moments of self-care throughout your workday.
For many people, remote-work orders meant losing some of their favorite parts of the day, such as hitting the gym, grabbing a latté, or listening to audiobooks during commutes. No one knows when everything will return to normal, but you can design your space in a way that allows you to replicate those special parts of your day.
Set up a station in your kitchen with some special beverages and snacks, or turn on an aromatherapy diffuser each day to encourage mental clarity. If you struggle with unplugging, you can also program your smart speaker to give you reminders to stretch, turn on a certain playlist when it’s time to work out, or play NPR when you want to log off.
Whatever your ritual is, ensure it’s personal to you: I have a goldfish on my desk that keeps me company through long days, for instance. And occasionally, I bring work outside with me to switch things up.
Upgrade your textiles
One often-neglected area of design is how textiles can impact health. Research has shown that cold environments are better for sleep, for instance, which led to the advent of cooling mattress toppers. Similarly, we’re learning that everything from how your office furniture feels against your skin to the way it traps and transforms body heat can impact your energy levels.
Reevaluate your furniture and accessory choices such as the texture of your drapes, the weight of your blankets, and the materials of your seating: Instead of heavy curtains that block out natural light, opt for sheer window coverings or blinds that can be pulled up during the day. Items such as weighted blankets might also be a good choice for those who could benefit from this type of sensory input.
Overall, think of the qualities of the materials around you as an extension of ergonomics. Just as an ergonomic chair supports your body and promotes better posture, the qualities of your furniture’s upholstery can also impact your physical and emotional health. For instance, my materials science company, we’re producing textiles that use infrared technology to improve local circulation, boost energy, and enable thermoregulation.
The concept of wellness doesn’t end at diet and exercise. It’s much more holistic, including everything from the lighting you use down to the fabric on your office chair. Because we could be working remotely for the foreseeable future, take the time to design your own wellness environment to improve how you live and work.
Seth Casden is the CEO and co-founder of Hologenix, a materials science company dedicated to developing products that amplify human potential. Celliant, its flagship product, is a responsive textile using infrared technology.