The new year provides a welcome invitation to examine your mental health and decide what changes are needed to reduce your stress and anxiety. That includes taking a look at your home environment. The spaces where you live and work can impact your mood, motivate or discourage your productivity, and affect your stress levels. 

And since we’re spending more time at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s important to pay attention to that environment. Does it facilitate an optimal work/life balance, or does it create unnecessary anxiety? 

If you feel that your home and work environment aren’t conducive to maintaining healthy stress levels, it may be time to make some updates. Here are seven changes you can make to your space to support your mental health. 

Declutter your home

Research from Princeton University shows that too much clutter is distracting. When objects like dog toys and dirty laundry fill up your visual field, your brain needs to put more effort into filtering them out so you can focus. Keeping your workspace tidy can lead to better productivity throughout the day, so even if it takes ten minutes to tidy your desk, it’ll be worth the gains. One thing that can help you declutter is having adequate storage. Give everything a place and be sure to put items back when you are done using them. If you tidy up as you go, you’ll never have a huge mess to worry about. 

Create a separate workspace

One of the challenges of working from home is keeping your work and home life separate. To keep work from bleeding into your personal time, keep your laptop in a separate room or space and set time limits for that space. For example, you might choose to always close the door to your home office by 8 p.m., giving yourself enough time to unwind from work before bed. And don’t forget that if you have a separate space for business use, you can usually deduct a portion of your rent or mortgage when filing your taxes. 

Invest in a desk 

Now that you have your work space established, consider what kind of furniture will serve you best. Do you want a standing or convertible desk? Would an exercise ball or a chair that encourages movement be helpful for you? 

If you don’t have the cash on hand, consider a small personal loan. You’re not alone in considering this option, as more than 30% of borrowers use personal loans to cover home improvement expenses, and another 13.6% use them for a major purchase. It can be a low-cost way for you to finance some improvements to your home office. 

Brighten up your space 

If you can position your desk near a window, you’ll reap the benefits. Research from Cornell University found that people who work in natural light experience an 84% reduction in headaches and symptoms of eyestrain and blurred vision. Furthermore, workers who sit near a window are 2% more productive. 

If you don’t have access to enough natural light to brighten your space, opt for higher color temperatures, or a light that appears blue-white. This type of lighting has been shown to promote alertness, reduce fatigue, improve mood and increase productivity. Setting up a floor lamp or desk lamp with a cool light bulb will help you focus. 

Paint with calming colors

When deciding on a paint color for your home office, consider how different colors impact your emotions. For example, blue is a calming color that lowers your blood pressure while promoting concentration. If you tend to get anxious, you might find shades of green to be calming. And if you tend to be lethargic or get depressed, you might paint with shades of yellow to make you feel happy and creative. 

Bring live plants indoors

Research shows that in offices with plenty of live plants decorating the space, workers are up to 15% more productive. And even just looking at a small plant on your desk for a few minutes can significantly reduce your stress levels. If you’re new to being a plant parent, start with something easy to care for, like a succulent or pothos. Then, add new plants one at a time until you feel you have the optimal amount; not enough to be distracting, but just enough to lift your spirits. 

Eliminate distracting sounds

Eliminating distracting sounds is vital to getting work done. If you try to read or write while you can hear someone else talking, your productivity will be reduced up to 66%. If you work in a space where you can hear others, consider investing in a white noise machine. There’s also evidence that natural sounds, such as a babbling fountain, can boost your mood and your brain function while masking more distracting noises. There are many white noise devices available that also provide soothing sound options.

Since your home may become your permanent office, you should do your best to create a comfortable environment for yourself that encourages productivity and reduces stress. A few simple, research-based changes can go a long way in improving your mental health. If your office space is a complete mess, start by getting organized. Then, invest a little time and money into updates that will help you remove distractions and improve your focus.