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Interior Design Relieves Stress

I was describing the body's reaction to a room in a panel discussion on neuroaesthetics at High Point Market. And when I said the word stress, the moderator of our panel made a comment that she's in a constant state of stress. Then she asked the audience, and they said they felt stress as well.

Since we're still in Stress Awareness Month - there's now a month for this now - I'm shifting gears in my neuroaesthetics series to address how thoughtful interior design relieves stress. We can craft our homes to not only reduce stress, but create an environment where we feel pleasure and a sense of wellness.

Your home needs to relieve stress, not cause it. -Eryn Oruncak

What's happening in our bodies?

Thankfully, one of the audience members on this panel asked me to talk more about the nervous system. It is basically command central for our bodies. It interprets all of the sensory data in an environment, and communicates through hormones to different parts of the body what we feel, think, and potentially do in that space. 95% of this data is processed subconsciously. Meaning, we already have a game-plan before we actually register a conscious thought.

There are two parts of our autonomic nervous system that in a perfect world, are in balance with each other: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic.

The sympathetic part is in charge of survival. Our primary instinct is survival, so it's no surprise that this part of the nervous system says, "I sympathize with this problem we're dealing with and I'm going to make sure we survive."

The parasympathetic part is in charge of pleasure. The prefix para means "along side of" or "beside". So in this respect, the parasympathetic part is the soother, the part that says "I'm here beside you to comfort."

When we're stressed or anxious, we're in the fight, flight, or freeze mode. Our nervous system sends adrenalin to activate our muscle groups that enable survival; and cortisol to slow down "non-essential" survival systems, such as reproduction, immunity, and cell repair. If those "non-essential" systems are shut down for extended periods of time, it affects our DNA and is harmful to longevity.

We need the parasympathetic side to come in and calm us down. When this happens, the nervous system releases the feel good hormones, like endorphins, dopamine and oxytocin to create a sense of pleasure and relaxation. These hormones lower heart rate and blood pressure, optimize immunity, and activate the mind to think clearly. All-in-all giving us a general sense of well-being.

So what causes the nervous system to release those feel good hormones? (This is my favorite part.)


I just recorded a podcast with Dr. Rebecca Tapia, a Neurologist in Texas. She has first hand-knowledge on how the home affects the person. Throughout our conversation, she mentioned the power of interior designers in shaping the way our clients experience their lives. It goes beyond the aesthetics of the room. I like to think it even goes beyond the function of the space as well. A room elicits feelings, physical and emotional.

Our body senses the environment and translates that into what is good or not-good for us at that moment. "The mind is powerful, but lazy" as Dr. Tapia explains. It doesn't want to have to think about too much, so if there's a barrage of stimuli, our brain will essentially "pass". Confusion and chaos, no thank you. There's also this room is quiet and restful and I have things to do. I'll come back later.

So I think about the moderator and audience at the neuroaesthetics panel who said they were stressed. The whole point of this panel was to educate the designers in the audience about the real ways interior design relieves stress to affect change for their clients. If we pay attention to the surroundings, we can adjust the way our clients experience that space. Even small details make a difference in improving physical, mental and emotional health. There are also financial benefits of having composed spaces, which I'll talk about in Part 3 of neuroaesthetics.

Dr. Rebecca and I ran through basic things everyone can do to take inventory of their space. I talk about trays, and lighting (this is a big one), and even having a table next to your chair.

Now that Elan Design is SIDC certified in neuroaesthetics, we have no doubt that we have the ability to help our clients shape their lives. If you feel stress, create the ease and comfort in your home that your body needs.

Try this to get started: set a timer for 20 minutes and walk through that typical 20 minutes in your day-to-day with a notebook. Write down any thought that comes to mind. Examples might be, "I don't want to see (blank) as soon as I wake up." Or "I wish I had a place to sit to put my shoes on." Or "this room is so dark", or even "the paint color in here is so boring."

Our homes can serve us.

In the power of beauty and composition, our minds register a feeling of pleasure which will regulate our nervous system and combat stress. A room can make us feel strong, supported, and inspired. They can bring our families closer, and make having friends over easy and fun. Our homes have great power in setting the stage for the life we want.

Finished Rooms

The last bit of advice I'll give here is to come to a place of finished. When we can stop looking around and saying, "I have to do this" or "I want to get that" or "we have to change x" is when you will feel the shift from you serving the house to the house serving you. And THAT is a total game changer.

If you don't know what to look for in your rooms or this exercise seems overwhelming, call me. We can meet with you virtually or in-person for a good once-over. And of course if you have a full plate, pass it off to us, and we can take care of the whole thing.

Whatever your level of investment, know that you hold the power to be stress-free.

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