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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

12 Science-Backed Secrets to a Stress-Free Home

Psychologists use well, psychology, to design offices that invoke a feeling of calm and facilitate healing for patients. The rest of us can adapt these decor tricks to make our homes a stress-free space.

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Stick with light colors

Aim for dusty blue, sage green, or other light-colored walls. These hues and tones promote a sense of relaxation and calm, according to a recent article in The Monitor On Psychology, a publication of the American Psychological Association.

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Go for the grain

Though it’s unclear why, research has shown that people gravitate toward natural, light-colored wood that shows its grain, rather than non-grain surfaces like formica or even dark wood that’s all one color. And people are more comfortable with wood than with more modern materials, such as chrome and glass. Just don’t take the wood-grain look too far: Research also shows that it loses its stress-busting impact when it covers more than 45 percent of a room’s surface. Use these stress management tips to find the serenity in your life.

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Science-Backed-Secrets-to-a-Stress-Free-HomeBrian Goodman/shutterstock

Let in natural light

Take advantage of skylights or windows when you can, as natural light is a big mood booster (it’s even used to treat seasonal affective disorder, a form of mild depression that can hit in the winter months). For eye-level windows, the ideal view is of natural, calming scenery. If possible, avoid overlooking busy sidewalks or roads full of sounds and sights. No windows? Get some table and floor lamps with soft lighting—avoiding overhead fluorescent lighting—to help create the effect of bright natural light. Some lightbulbs can even simulate natural light, which can help increase the ambiance of windowless offices. You may also want to try this innovative way of journaling to make your hectic life more manageable.

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Bring nature inside

Bring the outdoors indoors, whether by displaying decorative natural objects, views of landscapes, or other representations of nature, and/or potted plants. Research has found that even just looking at nature can lower blood pressure. For art, go for simple images, like of a bench in the middle of a landscaped garden or a path of a serene landscape. You want a scene that invites relaxation or enables you to make mental associations. Avoid nature images that are complex, chaotic, or confusing. “Artwork that shows nature or landscape should work best,” said urban planning researcher Jack L. Nasar, PhD, of The Ohio State University, who conducted research on the topic along with Ann S. Devlin, PhD, of Connecticut College. In their study, published in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, they found that well-designed therapy offices conveyed themes of orderliness, softness, and personalization. For their investigation, they examined people’s reactions to 30 photographs of actual therapy offices and found that the more a space exhibited those characteristics—cozy elements like comfortable chairs and soft pillows, attractive touches like artwork and neatness—the better people felt about the offices and the therapists who worked there. Read the 15 five-second strategies for shutting down stress ASAP.

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Distract positively

Ever notice that doctors’ offices often have fish tanks? Looking into fish tanks, pastoral landscapes, or other inviting natural sights can give your mind a rest, distracting you just enough to step out of the thinking realm and tune into the feeling realm. Aim for views that draw you in, to give a break to the part of your brain that needs to focus. “As fish tanks have water, animals, and natural qualities, they should be relaxing,” says Dr. Nasar.

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Brag about your credentials

People want to know that you’re successful—and trustworthy. So, go ahead display your degrees and awards. In a study published in Journal of Environmental Psychology, Dr. Devlin and her students found that participants briefly looked at photos of therapy offices with zero, two, four, or nine diplomas hanging on the wall. But, they rated therapists’ offices with four and nine credentials most favorably (with little difference between the two). It all comes down to trust. People feel more relaxed when they’re with people they trust. (These are the subtle habits that inspire trust.)

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Choose the right chairs

Get chairs that are roomy enough (or that can be moved) so that you and your guests can shift to one side or the other, and adjust the distance between you. To promote a safe feeling, look for chairs with shoulder-height backs, positioning the chairs so you can see the door—that idea comes from the practice of feng shui, and it’s said to allow you to feel safe. You might place a plant behind chairs, will also help personalize the space, says Dr. Nasar. Consider positioning small tables next to chairs as a spot for personal items and drinks, promoting convenience and comfort.

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Encourage communication

Consider getting a round dinner table. Why? Research shows that round tables promote a heightened sense of control and communication than rectangular or square ones. And you might want to stash your laptops and desktops out of eyesight. The presence of computers has been shown to hinder communication, especially when people feel like you’re paying more attention to your screen than them. These are the cell phone etiquette tips everyone needs to know.

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Go with the flow

You want your home to promote a sense of efficiency and flow. To help you feel in charge of your space and maintain a clear head, keep your home clean and uncluttered. Put items you need and use most near you and out in the open. “Order has to do with the number and organization of the items in a space,” says Dr. Nasar. “Having items thrown around at random would be the most disorderly and chaotic. Having them positioned at points along a grid would be extremely orderly. Somewhere toward the latter end would convey order. That and a focal point, such as a fireplace, possibly with some of the personal items, would add to order.” These storage hacks can help banish clutter.

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Keep decor middle of the road

People typically feel most comfortable with furnishings that aren’t overly expensive or fancy but that aren’t shabby or cheap. Poorly made furnishings can send the message that you’re not doing well. And if you decorate with furnishings that are too expensive, you might make yourself and guests feel alienated.

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Be inclusive

Include some personal elements in your home, like family photos and kids’ artwork. But make sure these elements aren’t so overpowering that they override a sense of calmness and neatness. You also want furniture to meet your needs. Have kids? Use age- and size-appropriate chairs and toys. And get a few chairs that are comfortable for you and your adult guests, too. Consider adding some soft pillows as a cozy element, says Dr. Nasar. Artwork should highlight your openness to different cultures. In Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, Devlin and colleagues discussed how they compared reactions of white college students and mainly ethnic minority adult community members to photos of therapists’ offices. The community group rated the therapist better when the art was more ethnic than Western in flavor. That’s because if the artwork people see differs from their own traditions, they may feel unwelcome.

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Bring in the big guns

Consider hiring a qualified and certified architect, interior designer, stager, or another decorating professional to give your space a zen makeover. He or she can help you decide how you want to live and how you do live, and then plan your home space accordingly. The expert will know what’s available in finishes and furniture and the current interior design trends, which you can combine with these research-backed strategies for keeping your space cool and calm.

Stacey Feintuch
Stacey Feintuch contributes to's Health and Relationship sections. Her articles have appeared in Woman's World, Boca Raton Observer and, among other sites and publications. She earned her MA in magazine writing from S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and her BA in journalism from The George Washington University.