We are living in unprecedented times, and you'd be forgiven for feeling uncertain in the face of COVID-19. It's not every day you're tasked with tackling a pandemic, after all.
And while social distancing policies and lockdowns are critical to slowing the spread of COVID-19, extended isolation puts humans, naturally social creatures, at risk of depression, loneliness and anxiety.
But in this time of uncertainty, our homes have become our sanctuary, our safe place. They have been transformed into offices, gyms, schools, and art studios - yet still they must remain a place of rest, and of peaceful cohabitation, making it so important to create a positive environment.
With all that in mind, here are a few tips for fostering an environment that will promote physical and mental health, during and beyond COVID-19.
Transforming the space itself
- De-clutter and re-organise common living and working areas
The first step to creating a positive home is de-cluttering and creating clean open spaces. Make sure to set aside an hour or two to clear out the common living areas within your home, such as the dining table, living room and home office space. This will reduce friction and frustration in your day and will create a more pleasant living and working space with peaceful minimalism.
- Bring nature inside
After cleaning out the essential living and work space, enhance your home with as much natural light as possible and a selection of plants. Humans are instinctively drawn to appreciate natural beauty and nurturing indoor plants calms the body, reduces stress, and also re-oxygenates the air in your home.
- Enhance your happy space by stimulating the five senses Stimulate your five senses with the sounds of relaxing music, aromatherapy or scented candles. Fresh flowers, plants and colours (in addition to the above) are also visually pleasing. There are plenty of interior design blogs and websites to help inspire you and provide guidance on how to use colours, textures, and decor to enhance your space.
Learning to connect with yourself
Working from home is a new reality for many. Even for those who are not working from home, but are in lockdown, being in your home for extended periods of time will impact the connection you have with yourself. Your home environment is also greatly influenced by your mental health and mindset, and vice versa.
- Create a space in your home for exercise
Find an open, clean area where you can put a yoga mat, weights and your exercise gear. Then, join an online exercise app or programme for a physical workout like pilates, yoga or stretching. There are plenty out there â€“ like AIA Vitality Ambassador Laura Henshaw's Keep It Cleaner Workouts.
It is important to schedule at least 30 mins a day of exercise either in your home, or outside in nature if your local COVID-19 restrictions permit it. Having a designated area in your home for exercise will also be a visual cue for this healthy habit.
- Separate your work space from your living space
Creating a physical gap between your work and living space allows for healthy separation, especially when working from home. If you have limited space, it may be that you make the dining table into the work space, and the kitchen bench into the dining space. Alternatively, you could use a bookshelf or plant to act as an area separator.
- Inhale fresh air
Indoor pollution is as real as outdoor pollution. Open up the windows daily to bring in fresh, clean air and sunlight. You should also spend at least 15 minutes a day breathing in fresh air.
Use whatever outdoor space you have within your own home like your backyard, the front yard, the balcony or perhaps just the open windows. This will improve your overall mental health and calm your nervous system.
- Choose a space for relaxation
Where is that favourite spot in your home that makes you feel completely relaxed and rested? Is it the chaise lounge chair? Or that corner of the room where the sunlight is perfect? Find a special place in your home where you can sit quietly and allocate at least 10 minutes a day to be in that place to read, meditate or listen to music.
Interacting and connection with others
If you live with others and/or have children, your home could feel quite crowded whilst everyone is at home all the time during the lockdown. This can be stressful for parents and children, and can take a toll on relationships too. Finding ways to foster a positive at-home environment together will reduce tension between family members.
- Create supportive systems
A positive home environment is one that supports your lifestyle, and also that of everyone else who is living under the same roof. Consider what useful tools or systems will help communication between you and your family members. Think a kitchen chalkboard for reminders, lists and messages to help reduce friction, or an inspirational pegboard with intentions, quotes, photos, and goals to contribute to a positive home environment for everyone.
- Share meal time together
Set aside time every day to share breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner with your family members - it's important to maintain a strong connection with your family during these uncertain times. This will also give you time away from work to allow your body to relax and replenish.
If you don't live with anyone else, it is just as important to have meaningful connection with trusted friends and family. At least once a day phone or video call someone you care about and have a meaningful conversation. This will reduce the risk of mental health issues and loneliness.
- Communicate a family routine and set boundaries
In times of COVID-19, your work schedule and routine has changed. It is not the same as working from the office. If you have a house full of children and both parents working from home, communication and transparency are vital. Create a daily plan for the entire family that includes both work and school schedules and place it on a highly visible pegboard or chalkboard.
Create blocks of productivity with clear boundaries. For example, if your partner is also working from home, arrange set times when one parent can have time away from the children and have dedicated work time.