Lockdown living has meant lots and lots of time spent at home. The monotony of conducting every single task from the confines of the same four walls can start to take its toll, leaving us with the feeling that we need more physical space and that we desperately need some headspace so we can relax.
But it can be hard to do that especially if we live in a small space? Here are some ideas to help you find ways to carve out some space to relax and unwind regardless of how much space you have to spare.
And this Saturday I’ll be exploring some of these ideas further During my Live Q&A with Neuroscientist, Michael Keane. We’ll be discussing how to adapt your home to minimise stress and enhance your wellbeing.
Even though technology can be a cause of stress for many of us, in these unprecedented times it is actually technology that is enabling us to maintain some sort of normality. So much so that our attitude towards technology and its role in our homes may well change once normality is restored. Google Hangouts, Zoom, Teams and are just some of the virtual meeting platforms that have seen a surge in users in recent weeks. These resources are enabling connection and collaboration with work colleagues to continue despite all being apart.
Sometimes the best way to unwind is to let off steam. Zoom and Hangouts are also being used for family entertaining with virtual happy hours and dinner parties taking place all over the country.
Xbox and other gaming devices that allow users to interact with each other are now the only way that many teens and kids can connect with friends. Once a cause for concern for many parents, these tools have become the only way of interacting with friends and are providing critical social interaction for the younger members of many households.
Many of the exercise and relaxation classes that only a few weeks ago we needed to travel to are finding ways to make themselves available to us virtually, meaning we can enjoy our favourite Yoga, Pilates or Gym class from the comfort of our own home.
For culture buffs, everything from opera to art is available online. MetOpera.org streams performances from around the globe daily and many of the art galleries, both at home and abroad are offering virtual tours of their exhibitions.
With a smart TV, smartphone or laptop, what used to require us to travel is now readily available from the comfort of our own home. We are having to adapt our lives and our homes to make space for these activities, which is in fact a very positive thing.
”Active relaxation is the concept of ‘switching on to switch off’. This involves actively engaging in a pastime or hobby (or conversation with a friend, or interest like reading a book) rather than passive relaxation like TV watching, or taking a bath.Neuroscientist, Michael Keane
When it comes to creating the ideal environment to relax and unwind, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. Different personalities need different things to help them relax. So you might find what works best for your family is a number of different spaces throughout the home for each member of the family to retreat to.
I chatted with Neuroscientist Dr. Michael Keane about why different people unwind in different ways. ‘It is useful to distinguish between passive relaxation and ‘active relaxation’. Active relaxation is the concept of ‘switching on to switch off’. This involves actively engaging in a pastime or hobby (or conversation with a friend, or interest like reading a book) rather than passive relaxation like TV watching, or taking a bath.”
Depending on your personality, how you choose to relax in your home will vary from other family members. For those who prefer a passive form of relaxation, your bathroom could be the ideal place to escape to. Transform your evening routine into a spa-like experience, light some candles, pour yourself a bath, and switch off. Another idea is to try to get to bed an hour earlier than you normally would and curl up with your favourite book.
For those who prefer a more active way to relax, why not make cooking your time to switch off, put on your favorite music and unwind while you prepare your favourite meal. Another nice idea suggests Dr Keane, is to make a ritual out of the ordinary. “This may be why vinyls [records] are becoming more popular, the act of having to browse an album collection, remove the record from the sleeve and play it means you are more likely to ‘actively’ listen rather than simply playing background music. This ultimately comes back to mindful use of time, and mindful engagement in what you are doing.”
It’s vital that everyone finds a way to spend at least some of the day outside. Spending time in nature makes you happy and there’s a scientific reason why. Studies suggest that inhaling M. vaccae, a healthy bacteria that live in soil, can increase levels of serotonin and reduce anxiety.
The benefits of living near green spaces have been well documented. A study carried out by psychologist Frances Kuo finds that in poorer neighbourhoods of Chicago people who live near green spaces display greater calm, as well as a stronger sense of connection to neighbours.
If you are lucky enough to have a garden or balcony think about ways to incorporate some outdoor time into your routine. Whether it’s a small gardening project or time playing with the kids or simply sitting quietly outside listening to the birds or reading a book, spending time in nature can lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety.
Where entire families are trying to carry out all of their daily functions under one roof, it’s likely that there will be at least one family member feeling like they need to relax. Agreeing with your family when you get to use a particular space is important, especially when you need time to focus on something like work or to simply switch off and unwind.
‘Having a physical space to yourself at a regular time (e.g. I have the kitchen to myself in the evenings), it confers some sense of control over one’s environment. It also confers predictability and therefore a sense of safety,’ says Dr. Keane
The area of the brain involved here is the amygdala or the gatekeeper of emotion. This part of the brain is always on the alert for danger or threats. This might sound a bit dramatic and while you may not be afraid of your 6-year-old son there is always the possibility that he will burst in as you are relaxing, reading, working or whatever.
It’s unpredictable, and therefore a part of your brain will not be able to switch off like it might have done when you were sure you had your own space or your time in space. You lose that certainty and safety – psychological states which can foster creativity, flow state, focus, concentration, organisation, etc.
You might want to agree on a timetable for when certain rooms are to be used by certain members of the family. The simple act of closing the door should be sufficient to remind others to respect your space.
While there are currently many demands on our home, it’s important to take the pressure off, focus less on creating physical space, and help each other find some headspace.
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