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For many of us, our whole lives have been happening in the same one or two rooms since the pandemic forced us indoors. We’re working in the same space that we’re supposed to relax in, and leaving the house a lot less than we’re used to.
And now that cold weather’s around the corner we’re bracing for even more time seeing these four walls. It’s not the most uplifting prospect, especially if you live with a mental health condition.
Which got us thinking. How can we optimize our living spaces — in an achievable and affordable way — to help us feel less dread about inhabiting our claustrophobic abodes?
To find inspiration, we looked to our friends on the internet. Here are eight creative space changes folks have made that improved their mental health.
Who: Lauren, 1 bedroom apartment
The hack: A brass and acrylic folding table to use as a work desk, facing toward the window
How long it took: 15 minutes to set up, 5 minutes each day to put away
What they were feeling before they made the changes: “Before I got the table, I was working on the couch and my productivity was seriously declining about 1 month into quarantine. Some days I hardly got anything done, and couldn’t figure out what was wrong.”
Why it helped: “It’s helped so much! It’s made a huge difference in my productivity, and I fold it up at the end of the workday. I feel like it helps me separate work time from lounging on the couch time.”
Who: Lindsey, 1 bedroom apartment
What they did: Moved furniture around to create a yoga and meditation space
Cost: Free (rearranged items she already had from pre-pandemic)
What they were feeling before they made the changes: “ANXIETY. I was anxious that I no longer had access to a yoga studio to keep up my practice. I needed to create my own Zen space to continue my practice and relieve stress.”
Why it helped: “I now have my very own Zen space to practice, meditate, stretch, and focus on my mental health!”
Who: Charlie, 1 bedroom apartment
What they did: Invested in quality cooling bedding to combat sleep troubles
What they were feeling before they made the changes: “Chaos. Life is chaotic and work is chaotic, so I wanted my bedroom to be a space with very little extra things, and it needed to be peaceful so I could sleep well.”
Why it helped: “My bedroom is now a place where I can go calm down and shut off. It’s always nice and dark in there because I have blackout curtains. I run warm, so the cooling sheets and duvet cover help me sleep better. No matter what I’m going through, I walk in there and I’m passed out in 5 minutes.”
Who: Claire, studio apartment
What they did: Bought a bunch of plants
Cost: $8 to $20 per plant
What they were feeling before they made the changes: “Before we had the plants the apartment didn’t feel as calming and relaxing. It felt like home, but there was something sort of stale and rigid about it.”
Why it helped: “After we got the plants, the whole room just felt so much more alive and I’ve felt a lot more calm and relaxed with their presence. They make the space feel less depressing. I didn’t think having plants would positively impact my mood, but it definitely has!”
Who: Justin, 1 bedroom apartment
What they did: Painted the walls in the apartment a crisp white
Cost/how long it took: $100 for the paint, 2 to -3 days for painting and drying
What they were feeling before they made the changes: “I had a color palette from a few years back of earthy tones. The intention was to make it feel warm and intimate. A few months into quarantine, it started to feel more like being buried underground.”
Why it helped: “I started with my dining area and saw how much brighter and more joyful the space seemed, so I just kept going. Subconsciously, I think I’m wanting a clean canvas to start anew on the other side of this — whatever that may be.”
Who: Ashley, 1 bedroom apartment
What they did: Purchased a diffuser and essential oils
Why it helped: “I love blending different oils for energy, relaxation or rejuvenation. My energy is lifted with beautiful scents. It helps to change the energy when going from work mode to switching off!”
Who: Jamie, 1 bedroom apartment
What they did: Created a standing desk setup by purchasing an adjustable standing desk and a standing mat that promotes movement.
What they were feeling before they made the changes: “I was feeling anxious about not moving much through the day. I was finding that I’d just get up and wander around my apartment, maybe do dishes or throw laundry in, just to get up out of my chair.”
Why it helped: “I dance around a little or do squats during meetings when I am not on video. Really anything to let some energy out. It helps me to stay focused at work. I am just more comfortable and physically feel better and that has some impact on my anxiety.”
Who: Jessica, 1 bedroom apartment
What they did: Painted a mural
Cost: $175 for paint and supplies
What they were feeling before they made the changes: “As a DJ and musician who isn’t used to spending time at home, quarantine depression has hit extra hard. Feeling trapped inside tiny rooms with no room to socialization has made me feel really alone. I was filled with anxiety and so unfocused.”
Why it helped: “By the end of the wall project I felt recentered, focused, and lighter. Now, this room and wall bring me joy and remind me that any hurdle or bout of depression can be overcome with patience and going at my own speed. I did an actual tangible thing that I can see daily and it reminds me that the hardest thing about life is always starting.”
Now, go forth and make your own positive changes to your home. As you can see, small changes can make a big difference.
Ashley Laderer is a New York-based writer who specializes in wellness. She aims to break stigmas and help people who struggle with mental health conditions. Follow her on IG @ashley_unicorn and Twitter @ashley_unicorn.