Having stressors in our lives is something that has become practically unavoidable. Unless you happen to live a storybook-like life in a remote mountain meadow where it’s always sunny and work doesn’t exist, you probably have things in your life that cause you stress. But creating a calm home is possible for everyone. Some stressors can be eliminated altogether, but more likely, you’re going to have to be disciplined about finding ways to care for yourself and your loved ones to help ease stress. One of the best ways we can do that is by being intentional about our home environments.
Stress causes all kinds of negatives in our lives that impact us and our relationships. You’re not your best self when your brain is expending a ton of energy in survival mode, which means that you’re not showing your best for your partner, friends, and family. Being mindful about creating calming and peaceful space helps give your brain that much-needed room to unpack your worries, set them aside, and rest.
How to create a more zen home
- Pay attention to every room – This doesn’t mean that you have to tackle every room in your home at once. Pick the rooms you spend the most time in to start. You’ll feel the impact right away in those spaces, and it will motivate you to keep going. Once you’ve created peaceful spaces where you spend most of your time, keep going to areas like your laundry room/space, pantry, storage rooms, etc. If you create serene and organized environments in the fewer glam places of your home, doing chores will be less of a, well, chore.
- Add natural light – This is a huge one that can change the tone of your space immediately. Don’t worry, we’re not suggesting you start knocking out walls! Adding mirrors to your room can capture and reflect natural light and create a more open and airy feeling. Try to hang mirrors on walls opposite to windows to reflect the outside light directly – it’s like a sneaky second window. In corners, think about getting a tall mirror that stands on the floor and set it diagonally in the corner. This takes away shadowy corners and reflects light through your space.
- Stimulate your senses – Have you ever walked into a room and just thought, “Ohhh, I like this, it’s nice in here.”? Chances are, that space incorporated several different sensory elements that create that feeling. Music, scents, textures, and colors are all ways that our environment influences us. Subtle scents from candles or diffusers can trigger our bodies to relax, as can music. Likewise, adding pops of color and different textures to a room creates a feeling of interest and depth. Think area rugs and throw pillows in accenting colors and varying textures.
- Decorating Ideas – Where to start when you’re decorating can feel a bit daunting at times. The principles of Feng Shui and Vastu Shastra can help give you some direction and a place to start. They both involve the ideas of a balanced space that’s uncluttered and incorporates natural elements.
Create a wellness space
A wellness space is a spot that you designate is just for you to unwind and relax. This is unique from having, say, a relaxing living room. A living room is a multi-use space and having it be a welcoming and serene environment is good, whereas your wellness space is singular in its intention, which is to be a place where you can unwind.
Where you put your wellness space might depend on what type of area you have available. A spare room is always a great option but not doable for everyone. If you have an open concept floor plan, think about adjusting the layout to create this space. Wherever it is, it should be somewhere you don’t use to work or watch Netflix.
What you do in this space and how it is decorated are entirely dependent on you. Set an intention for what you’ll use this room or area for. If you like stretching or yoga, your space might include a basket for cork balls, blocks, a yoga strap, and a blanket. Think of an oversized comfy chair, fuzzy reading socks, and a good lamp if you want a place to read.
Whatever the intention of your wellness space, carefully choose items that reflect its purpose and things that make you feel calm. If painting isn’t an option, look for a fabric wall hanging in soothing colors that you can use to create the right vibes. Hang prints and artwork that you like, and incorporate calming lights and scents.
Relaxing activities to do at home
- Listen to a Podcast – There was a time where podcasts were a niche thing that catered to particular interests. No more, friends. There is a podcast for everyone! You don’t have to sit down and listen like you’re in the 40s gathered around a radio, either. Throw one on your home speaker system and listen as you clean the house, fold laundry, or clean out the junk drawer. Whether you’re in it for education or purely to be entertained, there’s a podcast that you’ll love.
- Journal – Journaling is an incredibly personalizable activity. Don’t think you need to begin “Dear Diary” to be journalling. Anything goes – doodles, words you like, quotes you heard, lists of things you’re grateful for, or places you want to go. You might think it’s all in your head anyway, so why bother putting it down on paper? There’s magic in it. Give it a shot.
- Read A Book – Whether your genre of choice is wild fantasy or historical biographies, reading is essential for your brain. It takes you out of your day-to-day and lets your mind escape. If you’re not a reader, crack a book and give it five pages. You might be surprised!
- Meditate – The benefits of meditation are well-documented and thorough. If clearing your mind to a blank nothingness sounds like torture, know that not all meditation requires you to do that. Many are based on a thought or mantra, something to focus on to tether your thoughts. There is a wide variety of meditation videos online, from beginner to advanced and of nearly any length.
- Painting – Maybe you used to paint and haven’t been able to find the time, or maybe you’ve never picked up a paintbrush. Regardless of skill or aptitude, painting is a lovely way to let your mind unwind and wander. Pull out your old painting supplies or hit the dollar store for a canvas, paint, and brushes for under $10, put on some music you love, and find your inner Van Gogh (just keep both of your ears).
- Yoga – Similar to meditating, the benefits of yoga are extolled far and wide. Even better, online platforms are more plentiful than ever. If you’re just starting, all you need is a yoga mat and a quiet space. Practices vary in length, so you don’t have to commit to a more extended session. If you’re a come-and-go yogi or a regular looking to mix it up, try searching for a 30-day challenge. Lots of yoga platforms will offer a free challenge as an incentive to sign up, so you can give it a test run while you’re getting back into your groove.
- Gardening – Gardening is one of those things that can quickly become a healthy obsession. It connects you with nature and teaches you new things (just wait until one of your new babies starts looking a little yellow and see how much you learn about nitrogen and potassium mixtures). Also, like meditation, gardening gives your mind something to focus on in the foreground while the back of your mind quietly sifts through other thoughts.
- Puzzles – If you’ve ever met a dedicated puzzler, you know. Puzzles are a great way to practice mindfulness while also pulling in other sensory experiences. The artwork you can find on puzzles is endless, and not only that, you can have a puzzle printed with your favorite artwork! That way, when you’re done, you can put it in a frame and have a unique piece to hang. Puzzles are also tactile, meaning that part of the experience is the feeling of the pieces. They are also an exciting group activity – start doing a puzzle quietly and see how long it takes for anyone who walks by to join in.
How to teach kids to relax & relax together as a family
- Practice slow breathing techniques – Just like us, kids benefit from mindful breathing, and we can teach them to be aware of their breathing by doing breathing exercises with them.
- Supervise content consumption in children – It can be easy to lose track of kids’ screen time but knowing how much is healthy for their age and being disciplined about enforcing limits is key to helping them relax at home. Keep an eye on the type of content that seems to be connected to unrest, whether that shows up in behavior, sleep patterns, etc. If limiting screen time is a trouble spot, try to find a non-screen-related activity that gets them excited and use that as a way of ending screen time positively.
- Importance of creating a routine – Routines are as crucial for kids as they are for us. Having a routine makes their minds feel more secure, and they focus less on day-to-day tasks as new events require energy, which frees up mental space to put more effort into bigger-picture ideas and growth. It might come more easily for some than others, but being disciplined about a routine is a key way to help your child reduce stress. The routine should involve positive things that they love as well as practicalities, that way you’re teaching them that it’s equally important to make time to do things you love as it is the things you need to do.
- Playing Outdoors – Playing outdoors is a key way kids learn about the world and their capabilities and limits. It lets them be free of the constraints of the indoors and channel effort they might be putting elsewhere into being silly and free. Freeplay is a concept that allows our kids to develop and fine-tune motor skills, learn body awareness, and build strength. Finding time to let them play in the backyard will improve their lives quality. Introducing them regularly to new outdoor spaces will help them be less stressed in the home.
Grow, baby, grow
Having plants in your home can have a surprisingly immediate and positive impact on your stress levels. Not only are they visually appealing, but the connection with nature is also subconsciously relaxing, and they improve your air quality just by being in your home.
In addition to the positive benefits of having plants physically present, many plants help you relax by ingesting them or smelling them. Peppermint, chamomile, lavender, and jasmine are all plants whose properties are beneficial both as teas and diffused into the air. If you’re someone who has a diffuser that you forget to use, plug it into a switch with an automatic timer, so it comes on just before you get home from work.
Another great way to incorporate the outdoors into your daily spaces is with a desktop-size zen garden. You can buy a premade zen garden or put your own together with plants you most enjoy. With many options available, the common elements of zen gardens are that they are compact and intended to provide a means of calming your thoughts. Like a mantra in meditation, the act of tending the tiny garden gives your mind a pleasant means of focusing your immediate thoughts, allowing your brain space to relax in the background.
Aside from plants, another natural element that is incredibly calming is running water. Bring this serene feature into your home by adding a tiered tabletop fountain, a lighted waterfall table, or even a water passageway or indoor pond.
Eat, drink, and be calm
What we put in our bodies is essential, just like what we surround our bodies with. Eating well is a piece of the puzzle when it comes to mindfulness and reducing stress.
- Brain Foods – Certain foods help improve our mental processes by nourishing our bodies with compounds our brains need to function their best. Some common foods in this category are salmon, tuna, eggs, nuts, berries, and leafy greens.
- Relaxing Teas 101 – Drinking tea is a great way to destress at home. Certain teas can have benefits like improving digestion (mint teas), overall calming effects (chamomile), and energizing properties (matcha). In addition to these, the ritual of making tea can be a positive element to add to your self-care routine.
- Foods to Relax – Some foods can even help you unwind by increasing levels of certain hormones or compounds that help with relaxation. If you’re looking to zen out with a snack, try these: dark chocolate, fish, avocado, whole grain bread, nuts, or citrus fruit.
- Foods to Avoid – Just like some food can have positive benefits, and other foods are detrimental to us. When you focus on bringing down your stress levels, avoid foods containing sugar, processed carbohydrates, alcohol, and caffeine.
How to relax while working from home
Working from home might seem like the dream, but once you’ve been doing it for a while, you’ll find it has its pitfalls. Part of reducing your stress at home if you also work from home is knowing how to create a healthy workplace.
- Stretch – Most of us unconsciously tense different muscles when we sit in one position for too long, and repeatedly doing this for days at a time can wreak havoc on our bodies. You don’t have to roll out the yoga mat and change into tights mid-workday to make a difference, though! Find stretches that target your chest, hip flexors, and hamstrings. Hold each for 30 seconds and pick one to do each time you fill up for coffee or use the restroom. Just one minute extra a few times a day, and your body will thank you.
- Breathe – Taking deep breaths releases tension and brings awareness to where we might be clenching muscles without knowing it. On top of that, it increases oxygen to your brain and helps you to focus and be more alert.
- Take Breaks – When you’re working from home, it can be easy to let the day fly right by without taking any breaks. If you find that this happens to you, try setting your phone timer once an hour to remind you to stand up and take a quick break (and maybe a few quick deep breaths and stretch).
- Make A Dedicated Workspace – If you haven’t already done this, do yourself a favor and make it a priority. Your workspace is where you spend so much of your time that if it isn’t esthetically calming, you’re not doing your best work or being as healthy as you can. It doesn’t have to be elaborate – invest in some visually pleasing desktop organizers, add a potted plant, candle, and a decorative piece, and your state of mind will thank you!
Exercise and relaxation
There’s a reason why you’ve heard your whole life that regular exercise is part of healthy living – it’s true! For many of us, though, exercise is the thing that is the easiest to get out of the habit of doing and the hardest to get back into.
Tips for creating your exercise routine:
- Make yourself achievable goals and stretch goals. Whatever that looks like for you set targets that you can achieve and goals you’re working towards. It’s good to challenge yourself, but if you don’t feel a sense of accomplishment because you’re never getting to your target, you’re more likely to give up.
- Know that if you miss your goal for the day or the week, that it’s okay. Don’t let yourself throw in the towel, figuratively or literally, because of a bad day.
- Be understanding towards yourself. You won’t be at your best or most motivated every day, but even half a workout is better than not moving your body at all.
Types of exercise to suit your life:
- Yoga – With varying intensity levels, yoga is the perfect way to stretch your body and calm your mind.
- Tai Chi – Tai Chi is a low-impact Chinese martial art. It helps develop mindfulness and body awareness while being kind to joints and muscles.
- Qigong Walking – Extolled for its benefits to your body and mind, this type of cardio involves intentional breathing while walking. The intensity can be scaled up as you get stronger.
- Dancing – Dance your stress away and increase your overall fitness. Dance is a great workout that you can do at home by throwing on your favorite music and seeing where your inspiration leads you or finding a guided class online for more structure.
- Circuit Training – Get your blood pumping by repeatedly running through a set series of weight and cardio exercises. This is another excellent option for home – there are lots of tutorials and ideas online for ways to set up a circuit that suits your fitness level.
- Pilates – Like yoga, pilates are focused on body strength and flexibility. There are pilates machines and also many body-weight-only pilates moves.
- Tennis – If you’re looking for a high-energy form of exercise, you’ll love tennis (‘love’ pun intended).
Importance of sleeping
Aside from working from home, sleeping is one of the main things we do in our homes. While scientifically, the reason we need to sleep is still a mystery, there are some things we know can improve the quality of our sleep:
- Sleep early – This one can be elusive if you’re not naturally an early sleeper. Still, if you can teach your body to go to sleep earlier, you’ll generally be able to sleep for more time, which is beneficial to your overall stress levels.
- Manage your sleep – Certain things that we do can harm our ability to get a good night’s rest. Trying to eat a few hours before bed will improve your sleep since your body won’t be busy digesting and will be able to rest. Unplugging and avoiding screens and noise is an excellent habit to get into. If you’re a bedtime TV-watcher, try to keep your screen time outside of your bedroom and find something like a book or a crossword puzzle to do in bed.
- Sync with your body’s natural cycle – If you allow your body to catch up and be rested, you’ll find out when it naturally wants to sleep. Of course, it might not be possible to let it dictate your schedule, but knowing what your body naturally prefers when it’s rested can help you balance your sleep cycle if you need to adjust it.
- Exercise for sleeping – Moving your body before going to bed can help you unwind and get better sleep; just make sure it’s the right kind of movement. Try to save high-intensity workouts for earlier in the day; it takes your body a few hours to truly come back to rest. If you want to exercise right before bed, many yoga positions won’t elevate your heart rate enough that it’s counterproductive to sleep.
- Tips for getting back to sleep – We all know that feeling. You woke up, maybe you tried to hold on to that sleepy feeling, but something kept you awake. All is not lost, though; there are a few things you can try to get back to dreamland. If you’re tossing and turning for more than 10 minutes, take yourself out of bed. Try reading in a comfy chair or walking around your house. If you want, a quick outdoor walk and some deep breathing might help ease you back to sleep.
Creating an introspection routine – An introspection routine is a fancy phrase that you check in with yourself for a set time. Often, we are the aspect of our lives that gives way to the pressures of work, friends, and family, and having structure around a self-check helps ensure that your well-being doesn’t get moved to the back burner. Going to therapy is a good way to get to know you better and understand what you need in your introspective routine.
You might notice that you already have a place or time of day that you tend to do this; if so, put more intention around that to ensure you get that routinely. If you don’t, make it a priority to notice how you feel when you do certain activities, what you like, what makes you think, and create time for those things. It’s all about intention.
Create time for yourself – This seems simple but can sometimes be the hardest to put into practice. Our lives can be so fast-paced and the demands on our time so high that creating time for yourself seems like an unreachable luxury. Or, you find that it’s hard to relax when you take that time without thinking about the mountain of things awaiting you. Keep trying. It’s a skill that can be developed and one that will ultimately benefit not just you but those in your life, too.
Get new hobbies – Sometimes, we get stuck in a rut and forget that the world is full of new things to learn, new people, to meet, and new experiences to have. Getting out and doing something new might take you by surprise with how much it revives your mind and spirit. New activities not only help you to relax but also offer you new abilities to overcome self-doubt. Whether it’s an activity you’ve never tried before or something that’s been on your mind for a while, finding a new hobby is like throwing the doors of your mind open to let the fresh air in.
Start by thinking of the place in your home where you spend most of your time. Then choose an area you feel inspired to implement, see how quickly that gets your motivation pumping, and go along from there. It doesn’t have to be perfect after one weekend, just choose a place to start, and soon you’ll be looking back and wondering how you could have lived without your zen garden, wellness space, and overall serene home!