The idea of home as a haven is especially powerful for people living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed traumatic events or circumstances. While the nature and duration of symptoms can vary widely by person, people with PTSD commonly experience:
- Recurrent and intrusive memories
- Negative thoughts
- Negative mood
- Changes in physical and emotional reactions
- Lack of interest in activities
- Angry outbursts
- Trouble sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory issues
- Overwhelming shame or guilt
- Emotional numbness
- Feelings of detachment
Environment can play a big role in helping a person with PTSD feel safe. With 38% of people now doing all of their work at home, the need for a house to feel like a lifeline has never been more important. Trauma-informed design that incorporates the care principles of empathy and understanding is at the forefront of creating homes that promote safety, well-being, and healing. This guide to home design for PTSD can help you make changes that make a big difference.
Understanding PTSD and How It Impacts Home Design
Many people with PTSD struggle to feel at ease even when at home surrounded by loved ones. While redecorating should not be seen as an easy fix for this complicated issue, the impact that environment can have on mood and well-being should not be overlooked. A home environment that overtaxes the senses has the potential to exacerbate PTSD symptoms. An environment designed for a calming effect can promote healing.
PTSD-conscious home design focuses on removing adverse stimuli and environmental stress. This can look like removing clutter, increasing access to the outdoors or creating predictable, structured systems within each room of the home. However, it also needs to address feelings of vulnerability that could be exacerbated by a home’s layout. When done correctly, PTSD-conscious home design supports self-reliance and positivity by removing stressors from the immediate environment.
Home Design Tips for People With PTSD
What does a space that’s designed for mental health look like? It doesn’t necessarily take a big construction effort. Below we’ll explore four tips for interior design for PTSD.
Add Greenery Around the Home
Some houseplants from the local nursery can help unlock the healing power of nature within the walls of a home. According to a study published in 2014, interaction with indoor plants may reduce psychological and physiological stress by suppressing autonomic nervous system activity. There’s one tip to really boost the mental health benefits of plants — go taller. According to one study, participants actually felt more peaceful and positive after spending 15 minutes in a room with a tall plant.
There’s a big benefit to putting everything in its place when it comes to mental well-being. Excess clutter around the house can lead to a cluttered-feeling mind linked with stress and disorientation. Clutter actually makes home feel less like home by interfering with the pleasure people experience being in that environment. What’s more, clutter can cause a person with PTSD to feel trapped away from important exit paths.
Take Advantage of Color Theory
According to color psychology, color plays a powerful role in influencing mood and physiological reactions. There’s even some science to back up this theory. According to a 2020 study on universal patterns in color-emotion associations, white and blue helped to foster feelings of relief. Green and orange created feelings of joy in respondents. However, black and brown sparked feelings of sadness and disgust in many respondents.
Let the Light Inside
Increasing natural lighting is one of the best ways to trigger the inner light that helps to boost mood. Lighting plays an important role in regulating human physiological functions. A large study involving 400,000 participants found that natural light is associated with mood, sleep and circadian rhythm-related outcomes. While increasing exposure to natural light may be as simple as removing curtains or getting older windows back in working order, it’s also worth considering adding a sunroom or enclosing a porch to increase access to natural light.
Designing Rooms in Your Home With PTSD in Mind
Here’s a room-by-room look at updates for some key spots in the home that can be challenging for people with PTSD.
Create a Calming Bedroom Design for PTSD
With nightmares and sleep disturbances being high on the list of PTSD symptoms, the bedroom is often the most important room when cultivating a space conducive to mental well-being. A bedroom should be free of any jarring colors. Choosing soothing neutrals for the color palette can help to prevent overstimulation. Soft bedding with a bed large enough to accommodate some tossing and turning without creating feelings of restriction is also important.
While natural light is great during the day, light from street lamps, neighbors or passing cars can be distracting at night. Consider blackout curtains to insulate the bedroom. Keeping a calming kit by the bed that consists of an aroma diffuser, white noise machine, an eye mask and some comfort items is great for creating a peaceful environment. Finally, take the television out of the bedroom to promote better sleep.
Design a Healing Room
For people with PTSD, having a designated space in the house strictly used for therapeutic purposes can provide a much-needed oasis. This doesn’t require anything fancy. A clutter-free, distraction-free space with some yoga mats can provide a meditation oasis. Similarly, someone who derives solace from art therapy can consider setting up easels and a crafting station in a spare bedroom or basement.
Create a Designated Home Office
For someone who does any portion of their work from home, having a designated office space is crucial for balancing mental health. This can be even more important for someone with PTSD because it’s easy to become overstimulated by household noises and visual clutter while attempting to work. What’s more, associating work time with the kitchen table, bed or sofa can diminish a person’s ability to unwind in these spots.
Make the Living Room More Communal
In a world of constant on-demand streaming, it’s easy for the living room or family room to turn into a place of isolation and zoning out instead of serving as a social room of the home. While it’s tempting to put the focus on the television when arranging a living room, arranging seating to facilitate conversation can help a person with PTSD feel more connected to other household members or guests. Arrange sofas and chairs to face each other. Next, add plenty of blankets and pillows that allow people to feel comfortable and relaxed.
Key Interior Design Elements to Consider to Promote Comfort
For a person with PTSD, a home’s appearance is about much more than simply following the latest design trends. Home truly needs to feel like a protective sanctuary. It’s also important for a space to provide functionality and predictability.
A doorway or foyer is never just a doorway or foyer to a person with PTSD. For many with PTSD, having clear entrances and exits is vital for avoiding the feeling of being trapped. Keeping all hallways and walkways within the home clear of debris or clutter is important.
Maintaining visibility is also critical. Tall, bulky pieces of furniture that cut up a room or obscure visibility can be jarring for someone with PTSD. In addition to making it difficult to see the space around them, obtrusive objects can easily be mistaken for intruders during a moment of panic or disorientation.
While some design trends for PTSD are based on how a home is set up, others come down to actual architectural considerations. Windows play an important role in helping many people feel in control of their environment. Large windows located close to the ground can provide relief from fears of being trapped. They can also satisfy the need for natural light to boost mood and sleep quality, as we discussed above. Additionally, many people with PTSD find that homes with open layouts allow them to feel more at ease. An open layout’s visibility is reassuring and empowering compared to the shadowy feeling of homes with lots of corners and nooks.
For a person living with PTSD, even a home they’ve known their whole life can feel like strange territory. Of course, home design for PTSD always needs to be tailored to meet a person’s individual needs. The goal to keep in mind is creating an environment where a person with PTSD can feel insulated from dangers without becoming isolated from the world.