It's cold and dreary outside, the sun sets at 4pm, you're working from home and Mercury is in retrograde *again*. This January may have felt like the hardest one yet, but I may have the key to making sure that February, and the rest of the year, doesn’t feel the same way.
Research shows that our five senses play an extremely big role in our day to day mental wellness. Imbalances in our senses, in combination with seasonal blues (check out the Seasonal Affective Disorder here on Spiela) can lead to significant decreases in our mental wellbeing. As you know, a decrease in mental wellbeing not only affects our emotions but also our performance at work/school, our relationships and our overall health.
So how can we enhance our living space to appeal to each one of our senses in order to better our mental wellbeing? Whether it is your bedroom, living room or WFH/office area there are subtle things we can add and change to our space that can improve our mental state. This in turn improves our relationships, performance and quality of life. In this article, I’ll just touch on our sight and taste.
My fellow WFH community members, we can all identify with the 8:59am scramble for our laptop’s after prying our eyes open 20 seconds prior. I can no longer count on my hands the number of times I have taken meetings from the comfort of my bed since WFH was introduced.
Overlapping our work and relaxation environments removes the important distinction between the two, which we need in order to feel that well-earned relaxation at the end of the work day. Overtime this can lead to feeling that you are always at work, causing a constant feeling of stress, dread and even anxiety.
How can we firmly separate our office/WFH area from our relaxation area whilst working from home. This can be more challenging for others due to limited space, below are tips and tricks I use:
- Removing yourself from whatever space you are working in during breaks and outside of working hours
- If possible, having a separate room (or area in a room) dedicated to working from home, again if possible, try to avoid this space being in the bedroom
- Avoid answering work emails and messages when not required outside of working ours/during breaks
- Avoid mixing social media/television whilst working - watching Netflix after work starts to not feel the same if you’ve been watching it all day anyway
Having a comforting living space can boost mental wellness. Well lit areas during the day, preferably with natural lighting, boosts productivity, positivity and makes one feel more energetic. A dimmer space coupled with blue lighting during the night helps us to decompress and activates the vagus nerve, responsible for calming us down and preparing us for sleep.
This section may be the most influential. We’ve all heard the term ‘brain food’ but many are unaware about how important nutrition really is when it comes to our mental wellbeing. Enjoying our favourite snacks or meals activates our brain’s dopamine system, creating the joyous feeling we experience after comfort food or a nice cup of tea.
Additionally, research shows that nutrient deficiencies can put us at a higher risk of experiencing minor depressive episodes and dips in mood.
B vitamins are essential for making our body’s proteins which play a key role in our cognition. Vitamins B6 (or folate), B9 and B12 are important in this process and deficiencies in these can cause feelings of depression and anxiety and exasperate pre-existing feelings. Introducing vitamin B supplements into our diet and/or adding foods high in vitamins B6, B9 and B12 can curb this. These foods include: leafy greens (e.g., spinach and lettuce), salmon and legumes (e.g., chickpeas and lentils).
Vitamin D is essential for dopamine release. Dopamine imbalance is characteristic of both minor and major mood disorders, resulting in feelings of sadness, anxiety and panic. Fish such as cod, sardines and herring are excellent sources of vitamin D.
Research shows that vegetarians and vegans are at a higher risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency due to most vitamin D being found in animal products. For vegetarians, egg yolks are a wonderful source of vitamin D. For my vegans, mushrooms are the best non-fortified food source of vitamin D. Plant milks such as soy, oat and almond milk are often fortified with vitamin D, so is worth looking in the small nutrients box at the back of the carton!
Vitamin B and D supplements are easy to find in supermarkets and health-food shops.
If you love science and want some more information, check out my medical article on nutritional psychiatry here: https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Nutritional-Psychiatry.aspx
In summary, a good living space is imperative for good mental wellbeing. How good our living space is is determined by our senses. Improving our sensory experience whilst as home can brighten our mood and alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. A second part exploring how our hearing, smell and feeling senses come into play will be available soon.