How Creating a Healing Space in Your Home or Hospital Room Can Be Therapy for Your Soul
By Cyndi Myers
I’m an interior designer. Well, sort of. My husband gets angry with me when I qualify my skills like that, but the truth is, I’ve never taken even one class on the ABCs of interior design. I actually have a Master’s of Public Administration. Dichotomous, you say? Yep. That’s me. Multidimensional. Or, as I often say, “jack of all trades, master of none.” Regardless, interior design is a deeply-seeded passion of mine, and I believe I do it well.
So when I was told I was to spend an entire month in a sterile hospital room at the outset of my leukemia journey (as well as subsequent and periodic week-long stays over the course of the 2+ year treatment), I packed my bags, gathered a few items from my home and off I went. I remember those first moments after being escorted to room 421 on floor D4E quite clearly. My husband and I just stood there in the middle of the stark, sterile room with its cold floors, standard-issue hospital bed, rolling tray and pressed wood nightstand. The white walls were simply adorned with one small cork board and the usual emergency exit instruction poster. And the god-awful, migraine-triggering overhead fluorescent light was, in itself, enough to send anyone into a deep depression. The exact opposite of what I needed while trying to fix this cancer thing. But, this was my home, my sanctuary…for the ensuing month anyway.
As the enormity of it all gradually settled in, so did I in my new space. But every cell of my being knew I needed to zhoosh up the place if I was to stay sane and heal my body over the course of this upcoming hellish month. For me - and, really, most people - a well-designed space has a direct impact on my mental wellbeing. Yes, interior design is my deepest passion, and feeding that passion by creating beautiful and meaningful spaces in my home serves to boost my mental wellness alone. It didn’t take long for me to realize I needed to create the same vibe in my hospital room if I was to be successful in surviving cancer. It was a no-brainer. I needed Interior Therapy.
Good Design = Medicine for Your Soul
Interior design is a powerful tool. It has the power to have a profound impact on our quality of life by influencing and taking charge of the way we feel. If you really pay attention to your body’s reaction when you step into a space, you may notice that each space creates an internal shift of some sort. A space that is cluttered, untidy and unorganized can create a feeling of anxiousness and stress. These spaces tend to send me retreating inward to find safety, to find my breath. On the flip side, a space that is inviting, uncluttered and filled with colors you’re drawn to and items that are discernable and pleasing to your eyes tends to create a sense of peace, happiness and calm.
Let’s experiment…take a moment, right now, to look around you without judgment. As your eyes move about your space, how does it make you feel? What kind of emotions do your surroundings elicit? Notice the shift in your mood or mindset. You may be surprised by what you feel, whether it’s calm and happy, or anxious and stuck.
For many people, it not only feels good to take that pause and become aware of our surroundings, but it feels good to check in with our emotions, and to recognize and validate what our bodies are telling us as well. And for me, THAT was the true healing aspect. As soon as I entered that sterile hospital room I immediately felt my entire body fill up with tension and agitation. I knew I needed to acknowledge these feelings and validate them by doing whatever I could to create a more tranquil, comforting space, allowing my body to be as relaxed and unstressed as possible so it could focus on healing and getting back on track.
The first step was to turn off the overhead migraine maker and replace it with a much more soothing table lamp (I eventually learned my electrical accessory was not actually allowed per hospital regulations, but my amazing nurses turned a blind eye to my blatant infraction). The walls gradually filled with artwork my kids made and a beautiful paper flower garland a dear friend and her daughter hand made. A special blanket adorned my bed, lent to me by another dear friend whose son had used it during his long hospital stay when he, too, had leukemia. And I couldn’t forget about soothing sound therapy! A bluetooth speaker and a subscription to Apple Music to drown out the beeping and buzzing noises of the machines to which I was attached to monitor my heart rate and blood pressure and to deliver life-saving chemotherapy…that would do the trick! I relied heavily on all of these small - but significant - alterations during my hospital stays. Not only did all of these little touches turn my sterile hospital room into a beautiful symphony of colors and sounds, it turned it into my own personal healing sanctuary.
I can attest, with utmost certainty, that my interior therapy had a direct and positive impact on both my physical and mental health, and that it played a significant role in my eventual remission from leukemia. So, how do you curate YOUR space? How do you create your own healing cocoon, especially in the midst of an illness?
7 Design Tips for Creating a Healing Sanctuary in Your Home or Hospital Room*:
Create and define your space. Choose a room or even just a corner in your home that you can make into a healing space. If you already have a favorite place that you can use, wonderful. If it has good natural light and a view of the outdoors, even better!
Cultivate a YOU space! What activities do you find most healing? Do you love to read? Move a comfortable chair and good lighting into the space. Do you meditate? Perhaps a water fountain or a small speaker for playing soft music would help you relax and focus. Learn what elements create a positive shift in your mood and add those to your space.
Declutter! Mess=Stress! According to some studies, clutter in your home actually raises your stress hormone cortisol. You will reap far more benefits from your healing space when it’s filled with things that make you feel happy and relaxed. Move those piles of mail, magazines and paperwork out of sight and fill your space - minimally - with things that evoke happiness, peace and calm.
Choose colors to feed your mood, personality and goals. Do you thrive when you’re surrounded by bright, vibrant colors, or rather, subdued, earthy tones? Typically, reds, oranges, and yellows energize and stimulate. Other colors, such as blue, green, and violet, can evoke feelings of peace and restfulness. In fact, color therapy is an entire field of work in which color and light are used to treat certain mental and physical health conditions. Accessible Home Health Care highlights the benefits of color therapy in their blog post “The Advantages of Color Therapy for Seniors”.
Bring the outdoors in! The outdoors has an innate, natural appeal to human beings. While I wasn’t able to have any flowers or plants in my hospital room (because healing leukemia is a long process of suppressing the out-of-control white blood cells that protect our bodies from foreign invaders, and the soil in which the plants and flowers have been growing could potentially carry bacteria), I made sure my family was taking good care of our vegetation back at home so I could come home to thriving plants. Plants not only provide visual comfort, but they boost air quality inside your home as well!
Use sounds that transport your mind to places that feel peaceful. While sound isn’t visual, it undoubtedly has an intrinsic effect on our bodies. Choose sounds that resonate with you and create that soothing sense of calm, whether it’s the sound of flowing water, breaking waves, birds chirping or music such as an acoustic guitar, piano or a flute.
Set the mood with lighting. Many studies have shown that bright, harsh lighting contributes to migraines, as well as general unhappiness and stress. Natural light, on the other hand, tends to boost feelings of happiness and balance. Try to create your healing space near a window. If that’s not possible, experiment with different wattage light bulbs, noticing how each one makes you feel, and use the one that makes you feel the most calm and serene.
Healing and the feeling of personal wholeness only happen when your mind and body are in balance, and that balance is crucial to overall health and wellbeing, especially when recovering from an illness. Taking some simple steps to creating a healing space, whether it’s in your home or within a hospital setting, can make a big difference. You don’t have to be an interior designer to create that space for yourself. Simply take notice of how your mind and body feel in various settings and strive to replicate in your own spaces the things that bring you joy.
*Check with your hospital staff to be sure that you can bring artwork, family photos, sacred objects, plants, lighting, or other objects into the hospital room.