6 Easy Steps to Create a Respite Space in Your Home

May 19, 2020
Mark Bryan Director - Innovation + Research, Senior Interior Designer

*Googles how to be less stressed*

Prior to the pandemic, we were researching ways to combat stress in the workplace through the creation of Respite Rooms. These rooms were designed using evidence based design psychology and principles rooted in behavioral science to help calm the central nervous system. Our post occupancy research from people that used the Respite Room found that after only 15 minutes in the room, stress levels decreased by 33% percent, and in just 20 minutes, even the highest state of hyperarousal – a panic attack – deescalated, leaving people feeling calm, recharged and more resilient.

Our research was moving us toward helping people build more resiliency, fight decision fatigue, and create a habit of mindfulness in their daily work lives.

Fast forward to now, where stress is even more real, mental health is something people are having brave conversations about, and a sense of calm is more needed than ever.

While we’re not in the workplace, our team of designer experts have brought solutions and strategies for how you can create your very own Respite Room space at home, using only what you have to help give you what you need most – a chance to support your own mental health, and find calm.

While it may not be possible to implement each and every principle of a Respite Room into your space at home, we thought these 5 easy ones could start to help you create a place that allows you to take a break and build resiliency.

1. Select a Private Space

Select a space that can be separated off from others when possible. When entering into a Respite Space, one that allows you time to be alone is prime to help support your new mindfulness practice. If you don’t have a complete space, choose a designated area that can serve as a destination for you to intentionally go to when you need respite. Another option is using a simple curtain or moving a piece of furniture to create a partition to do the trick to provide you a method to communicate to others that you are not to be disturbed. Hopefully it can also be a space that allows you to sit, stand, or even lie down depending on what your need and body posture preference is.

2. Harness the Power of Color

Color is a powerful tool. Choosing calming colors, or colors that are more nature-based, like greens and blues, can help instantly calm the central nervous system. This can be done through painting your space or perhaps adding a light into the space that allows you to choose the color you want broadcasted into the space. Lighter tints can feel more peaceful, while darker hues induce feelings of grounding. Use quarantine as a chance for creative play and create art for your space that highlights the colors associated with the feelings you’re most looking to tap into as an added bonus.

3. Find the Light

Change the light. Adding dappled lighting, or lighting that casts shadows as it is filtered through gaps in a patterned filter, can actually provide a sense of safety. This principle derives from some of the inherited neurological wiring from the time when our ancestors were under trees for shelter. By adding in a table lamp with a new lamp shade with a cutout pattern, which can be the primary means of light in your Respite Space, can be a simple way to introduce this design principle into your space. Candles are another great tool, psychologically promoting feelings of comfort and security, and doubling as a sensory tool. Check out our favorites from our community partners at Candle Lab to select your own signature scent for calm.

4. Empty Your Space to Empty Your Mind

Reduce visual clutter. Seeing clutter can actually cause stress and anxiety. How many of us have seen dishes in the sink and become stressed out because of it? In your new Respite Space, try to remove the excess of things not needed. Can you take down some pictures to allow you to focus on a singular object? Can you remove the multi-colored books so that the room has a more monochromatic feel?

5. Engage the Senses

Sensory tools are simple and effective. Sleep masks, essential oils, ear plugs, and even weighted blankets are simple tools that all have psychological and physiological effects on us that can help us as we focus on our mindfulness practice. By engaging your senses, like smelling an essential oil, you bring your mind back to the present, reengaging in the moment and decreasing feelings of anxiety. Consider sitting with a weighted blanket (our favorite is under $50!) as you practice your new breathing exercise to release more oxytocin into your body to provide you an even calmer experience. Check out some of our favorites, including this acupressure ring – a set of ten is less than $7. Our hands have the most concentrated amount of nerves, and by gently pushing this ring up and down your finger you are able to quickly calm the central nervous system, decreasing feelings of hyperarousal and increasing feelings of calm.

6. Bring the Outdoors, Indoors

We as humans have an innate connection to nature. Biophilia is the principle of bringing nature into the built environment, and one that we have been utilizing in all of our projects for the past decade in show form or another. Studies show that interacting with nature can have a lasting positive effect on the brain even hours after the experience. So bring a few plants into your space, not enough to add clutter, but just enough to have them nearby so you can see them. And if you do not have a “green thumb,” consider incorporating wood or another natural material like stones or pebbles. Seeing trees alone or the bark of the tree can help provide calming effects on the mind.

Knowledge is power. If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, remember these truths:

  • Resiliency is what we all need right now. Resiliency is developing the capacity to recover from difficult or tough situations quickly. By being more resilient we are more optimistic, supportive, able to work better with others, and deal with stress.
  • Mindfulness is about being more cognitively aware of what what we are feeling without reactivating to it or being overwhelmed by it. It has actually been proven to help with memory, stress, and create more empathy.
  • Respite spaces are based on places that allow for mindfulness and building resiliency. Studies have shown that these practices have a long history of helping fight anxiety, depression, help provide more focus, and help boost productivity. The easiest way to introduce a mindfulness ritual into your life to start building resiliency is to add a simple 5 minute breathing exercise into your normal routine that gives you a break and allows you to step away from whatever stressor is affecting you at that time.
  • A Respite Space is not just a quiet room or a mother’s room, so you can have one in your home even with family or roommates around. These spaces are a place to practice your mindfulness, not work, and can be a powerful tool of self-care now and in the future.
  • Taking a break isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength. It mean you’re intelligent enough to recognize that you need to step away to recharge and refuel, coming back stronger than before. Many people follow the “power through” mentality to try to get as much done in the time they have. Many of us learn this practice during school when we were trying to cram for a test or get a project completed. Research actually shows that taking a break can actually increase your productivity rather than just “powering through.” Especially during this time of trauma as we deal with the pandemic in our own way, taking a break is OK and necessary.

Building resiliency and a mindfulness practice can take time, so allow yourself to step into this new practice when and where you can. It’s about progress, not perfection, accomplished by allowing small moments in your day to provide more positive outcomes for the future.