Controlling Your Sensory Environment
Attention is at the basis of managing focus essential for daily functioning. Attention is related to the ability to process sensory stimuli. For example, filtering out background noises when you’re working on something in a classroom, office, or at home. Since the resources required for attention by our minds are influenced by emotional states, in stressful situations and psychological distress, more effort is required in filtering out irrelevant stimuli to focus. We may not be able to be as productive as were with the same surroundings, before experiencing elevated stress. This can compound as the result of working unproductively can cause additional stress.
We recommend finding a space to focus where you can control the noise, light, temperature, textures and smells as much as possible. Wear headphones (even without music playing) to quiet background noises, or try using a blanket or desk fan if you’re working in an open space setting to control your temperature. Lighting can also be adapted to suit your needs with the use of a table lamp that has different light color settings. Note that often spaces that may seem inviting and cheerful actually increase the ‘noise’ that can be distracting.
Biophilic design encompasses the idea of integrating natural systems and patterns into space design to improve focus and reduce stress. Terrapin defined 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design which can be read here, we’d like to highlight a few below which have relevant insights for times of stress.
Thermal & Airflow Variability, Presence of Water:
The feeling of a breeze, dynamic thermal sensations, and the presence of water (think: the radiant sun warming your back, a soft breeze on your arms while you listen to the sounds of the ocean’s waves) lend to feelings of calm and reduces blood pressure. Our bodies systems are attuned to appreciate these sensations. Try opening a window if you live in a quiet area, take some time to sit in in the sunshine.
A space which is closed from behind and above can create a sense of refuge and safety. Think about where your desk and chair are positioned; with your back to a door? Could it be turned so that instead the corner of the room is behind you? Perhaps try bringing your task to a couch with a high back.
We hope these tips helped you! If you want to hear more about how they can be professionally applied to your office design don’t hesitate to be in touch. Wishing you peaceful days ahead.
This post was written in partnership with The Sensory Integration Lab at Tel-Aviv University: עיצוב סביבות במצבי דחק 2.11.23