Decorate “WELL!”

Wellness is a hot topic these days – environmental wellness, in particular. Still, we seem to have a reasonable understanding of the ways that we impact our environment, but much less is usually said about how our environments impact us. Could something as simple as the way that we decorate, affect our mood, change our habits, improve our health? Is there a way to decorate “WELL?”

There has been a surge in research exploring exactly this. Particularly in the fields of corporate architecture and hospital design, experts are looking into what structural configurations and decorative strategies help people to do well and feel well. How do spatial design and décor affect our stress levels, biochemistry, sense of comfort and overall wellness? Questions vary, from what colors are best for recovery to what items improve performance, but one major agreement among researchers is that individuals feel better and do better, when they are in some way, connected to nature.[1]

In fact, the Biophylia Hypothesis, (BET) suggests that we have an innate affiliation with nature, that we seek it out and that there are countless psychological benefits to being exposed to natural elements.[2]  Even watching nature-filled scenes on canvas or video, without real-life interaction, proved to improve mood, attention and stress recovery.[3]

Of course, getting out and into nature is ideal, but you can also experience some level of healing by bringing nature in to you. As we know, interior design is a great vehicle for carrying wellness into the nooks and crannies of our spaces. Why not also use it to help us commune with natural elements, such as air, water, earth and fire?

Here are some quick tips to help you bring the revitalizing power of nature’s four elements into your immediate environment:

1. Air

Sage – Studies show that burning sage can kill 94% of bacteria found in the air [4], not to mention that sage is thought to release negative ions which neutralize positive ions associated with increased stress and depression.

Oil Diffusers – The field of aromatherapy has long told us of the curative properties of essential oil inhalation. This stimulates smell receptors in the nose which send calming, soothing messages to our limbic system (emotion center of our brain) through the nervous system.[5]  Using diffusers to carry those oils through the air of any space, is a great way to maximize its effects.

2. Earth

Terrariums – Plants not only clear toxins and appropriately increase air humidity, but touching soft and smooth plants may even reduce our levels of anxiety, and horticulture in general has been shown to protect against illnesses such as depression and dementia.[6]

Wood Furniture – Believe it or not, studies show that wooden interiors actually improve a person’s emotional state and level of self-expression. Multiple psychological and physiological studies found that exposure to wooden interiors reduces heart rate, blood pressure and stress levels and wooden interiors help to improve air quality.[7]

3. Fire

Candles – Candles can help to create an ambiance of calm and relaxation. They can help your mind to get centered and focused. In fact, research indicates that some scented candles can improve our concentration.[8]  Candles are also commonly used for trataka, a yogic method of meditation (focusing on the flame) that is proven to improve performance, selective attention and cognitive flexibility.[9]

Sunlight – Exposure to sunlight can help the brain to release serotonin which boosts our mood and helps us to feel calmer and more focused.[10]  Light boxes and uncovered windows are good ways to enjoy the benefits of light without the worries of overexposure.

4. Water

Aquariums – Studies show that even watching the water in an empty tank can help you to relax. There is, however, an increased health benefit to watching a fuller aquarium with more biodiversity. People have been known to feel significantly happier as a result, experiencing drops in heart rate and blood pressure.[11]

Water Bowls – A water bowl is a great way to tie all the elements together. Fill a bowl with rain (water). Copper bowls are nice, but glass, ceramic and even plastic, work just fine. Add some floating candles (fire) and add some flower petals (earth). You can even include a few drops of an essential oil, like eucalyptus and let the scent emanate (air). It’s a quick and easy way to pull nature’s elements into your personal space.

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[1] U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 2018. Urban nature for human health and well-being: a research summary for communicating the health benefits of urban trees and green space. FS-1096. Washington, DC. 24 p.

[2] Gullone, E. (2000). The Biophilia Hypothesis and Life in the 21st Century: Increasing Mental Health or Increasing Pathology? Journal of Happiness Studies,1(3), 293-322. doi:10.1023/a:1010043827986

[3] Winch, G. (2016, July 20). 5 Good and Bad Ways Nature Impacts Your Emotional Health. Retrieved June 20, 2018, from

[4] Joseph, B., Sujatha, S., & Anusha, J. (2011). Bioactivity of Hemidesmus indicus (L.) on Human Pathogenic Bacteria and Culex qinquifasciatus (Diptera: Culicidae). Research Journal of Medicinal Plant,5(5), 613-620. doi:10.3923/rjmp.2011.613.620

[5] Bauer, M. B. (2017, May 24). Aromatherapy: Is it worthwhile? Retrieved June 20, 2018, from

[6] Importance of Plants in the Home. (n.d.). Retrieved June 20, 2018, from

[7] Planet Ark’s Make It Wood. (2015). Wood, Housing, Health, Humanity(Rep.). Retrieved June 27, 2018, from–housing–health–humanity-report-2015-04-00-final.pdf

[8] Andrew, P. (2016, December 8). Research Shows that Scented Candles Improve Our Concentration. Retrieved June 27, 2018, from

[9] Raghavendra, B., & Singh, P. (2016). Immediate effect of yogic visual concentration on cognitive performance. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine,6(1), 34-36. doi:10.1016/j.jtcme.2014.11.030

[10] Nall, R. (2018). What Are the Benefits of Sunlight? Retrieved June 27, 2018, from

[11] Kinver, M. (2015, July 30). Aquariums ‘deliver significant health benefits’. Retrieved June 28, 2018, from


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Dinorah Nieves, PhD

Dr. Dinorah Nieves (aka Dr. D) is a personal/professional development coach and behavioral scientist, who helps others to become healthier,…

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