Anxiety Triggers: Physical Spaces

To start this post, we’ve got Hilarious Highly Sensitive Child Story Time!

My mom told me once that when her and my dad were searching for a new house when I was 2 years old, they knew exactly which one was perfect based on my reaction to it. I marched into every new room, got down on my hands and knees, and touched my face to the floor. I had a big, comforted smile on my face, almost as though I was affectionately rubbing it like a dog, or listening to some sort of hidden vibe only I could hear. Don’t worry, most of the rooms had carpet and they were certainly clean, as the sellers were showing it.

My point is that from earlier than I can remember, the environment around me, and the spaces I live and work in, affect me deeply. On an internal, subconscious level that displays itself in my mood and anxiety levels. Spaces all have a hidden vibe for me that resonates with me much deeper than it does for other people.

Like when my clarinet vibrated at a slightly higher or lower wavelength than the sounds ushering from the collective band and I knew I needed to tune it, I need to adjust the spaces I work and exist in so that our wavelengths match and my anxiety can turn to stillness. Otherwise it vibrates around, crashing into walls and itself, a never-ending tumble-dryer that can’t seem to run its course. It becomes a problem when I’m forced to function in a space that doesn’t work for me, but that’s another story.

Here’s a list of things a space needs in order for it to be a grade-A happy Bee anxiety-free place:

Live plants and flowers.

Fake ones are okay substitutes, and often have to substitute in my case because I have a thumb as black as night (I killed bamboo. It is almost impossible to kill bamboo.). Fake flowers can be super gorgeous. I’ve found some awesome ones at dollar stores, believe it or not. I have one live plant in my living room that somehow thrives despite me, perhaps to spite me. It needs to be re-potted, like, yesterday, which has my anxiety through the roof. I constantly worry I’m going to kill it.

(I started this post a long time ago. Since then, I successfully re-potted the plant, and although it was admittedly too large a pot, it was the only one I had. Consequently, some of the lower shoots of the plant have shriveled and died, but the positive outcomes are much greater: it has grown four new, much larger shoots that are reaching toward the sky like octopus’ tendrils and whose green is so much brighter than all those that came before it. It brings me joy.).

The bedroom and bathroom have fake plants, for now. Baby steps. Maybe I’ll get a second real plant if plant #1 survives the transplant. (That is now the plan! My friend just told me she is building a terrarium in her apartment. I decided to try a very small, easy version – low maintenance, creative art project plants? Sign me up! My terrarium had three plants in it to start with and one almost immediately died off, but the remaining two seem happy!)

Plenty of natural light, two live (still alive!) plants, a cozy chair with several pillows and blankets, and lots of art.

Lots of natural light.

It is much nicer to read in natural light than anything else, and I read a LOT. As an added plus, it helps my plants grow! Also, I grew up in places with huge windows, and it was always my favourite place to be. In the big, aforementioned face-to-carpet house that I chose when I was two, the living room had a giant bay window. It was where I played with my toys, read on the couch, drew, made forts, and designed friendship bracelets. I wrote stories, watched lightning crash into the forest, and lay on the floor after hosting a Spice World birthday party sleepover.

When we downsized after my dad moved to Calgary, our living room still had a giant, if no longer bay, window. I almost always relinquished (rejected, really) the spacious dining room table for the floor, on my hands and knees, to do my homework. Something about that carpet + window combination, I don’t know. It’s a soul space. We don’t have carpet in our apartment. Thank goodness we don’t, because it’s much easier to clean wood floors. However, I still have two cozy spots by our huge windows. They are wall-to-wall on the North side of our apartment, which means one entire wall of the bedroom, where our headboard is, and one entire wall of the living room, where the couch is. Natural light is just so calming for me.

Too bad I live in Vancouver and have to take vitamin D six months of the year in order not to get SAD.

Blankets and pillows.

I love being cozy. It is impossible for my anxiety to stay at panic level if I have a blanket wrapped around me. If it’s warm in my apartment, I would prefer to open a window and wrap myself in a blanket than to not wrap myself in a blanket and leave the window closed. We own upwards of 20 pillows between the two of us and Andrew literally only uses 4 of them. I love having them in all different colours – my favourite way to decorate a space is to have white/beige walls and neutral furniture, and decorate with bright blankets, pillows, artwork, books, vases, trinkets, and plants. And again, alllll the natural light.

How can one not feel comforted?!

Photographs.

I have always loved taking and displaying photos, and all my photos and those taken of myself and my loved ones have special places in my heart. I COVERED my apartment in all kinds of different photo frames of all shapes, sizes, and styles, filled with pictures of all the people who have ever been (and usually stay) important to me. If I’m feeling not so good, I have the faces of everyone I care about me smiling down on me. And sigh of relief.

Shelves and books.

I love to read. It’s one of the best anxiety busters that I’ve discovered for myself. I also love to have books displayed everywhere. Shelves are great for displaying trinkets and things too, which I love as well. Willow Tree figurines, vases, and other such items. A life goal of both mine and my husband’s is to have home library. We essentially already do, now that I have three IKEA Billy shelves worth of books. However, it would be nice to have them all in an office-like space or in the living room, and not have to keep them in the bedroom. Although I will always want a bookshelf in my sleeping space; I often drink in the sight of my bookshelves to instead of counting sheep or singing myself to sleep (bedtime brain on the hamster wheel, anyone?).

After switching to a rainbow layout, I don’t think I’m ever going back.

Art.

My own, and that of others. Blank walls open up a space, but I find I need colour and creativity to surround me or I start to feel cooped up and stifled. I am always anxious to decorate a new space if its walls are empty. In my new classroom this year, the first thing I did was put up posters and colourful paper. It was so… empty and devoid of life with just white walls.

Tree painting by Casile Hayward, pink heart by me, peacock cross-stitch by my mom.

Artful clutter.

This is difficult for me. I LOVE to collect things and find it hard to let go of memorabilia and other such items. I also live in a very small apartment (450 ft^2) with another human being in it. Plus, we don’t have a storage compartment. So our entire lives are in here, and I’m CONSTANTLY trying to come up with more creative ways to store our things. This helps my anxiety stay relatively calm when I’m at home. I find the more space I have around me, the calmer I am, and we live in a very small space, so it’s a constant work-in-progress.

Recently I’ve really been strongly considering renting a storage unit. I can almost feel the weight lifting off my shoulders. But I’m concerned that because we live so organized and with such minimal extra stuff, that it would get annoying having to go back and forth between the storage unit and the apartment due to needing things we’d put there. Might be more anxiety than it’s worth. Still thinking about it.

(Update: Came up with a better idea. Most of the non-useful clutter in our apartment is all my funko-pop boxes (which I keep to make it easier to move when we eventually do), and all our extra (disassembled) IKEA furniture. These things are both eye-sores and not needed at least until we move to a bigger place. The furniture is mostly things we upgraded, but would still be great pieces of furniture if we lived in a bigger place and had more space for them. We have a desk, a few side-tables, and a couple of shelving units (and probably more that I’m currently forgetting about. It’s all just flat pieces of wood now.).

My better idea: Dad and Sharon are already storing some furniture for Andrew and I in their house’s basement in Calgary. We plan to bring it over here when we buy a bigger place. So, this summer, I am going to take all our extra IKEA furniture and all my funko-pop boxes to Calgary. I’ll add them to the stuff that Dad and Sharon are storing for us. We don’t need them until we move, so we’re just adding a little to the stuff we were already going to have to get when we move, anyway. Yes, the parental units approved this. They’re the best.)

Surfaces with nothing on them? Never.

CLEAN.

This is a hurdle for me that I am constantly tripping over. My workspace must be neat, organized, and clean if I want to be productive and anxiety-free. However, I’m pretty sure I spend more of my life making messes than cleaning them up. I need to clean my desk, and pretty much the entire living room, before I can work on anything. My desk needs to be clear before I can work at it.

I think living in a very tiny dorm room at UBC during first year was the beginning of this neurosis (I definitely didn’t have it when I lived at home with my mom, ask her!) – I never could get any homework done until EVERYTHING was in its place – and everything had its place, to be sure. There was no other way to live. My single-room was about the size of two XL twin beds side by side. It had a dresser, a shelving unit, a desk, a mini-fridge, a laundry hamper, and my bed. Thank goodness I could put my bed on the highest frame setting. It provided great fun when I (literally) vaulted myself into bed every night, and my fridge, skis, dresser, hamper, and other stored items all fit underneath it.

Regardless of origin, my anxiety doesn’t settle into focused work until the space around me is neat.  And because I spend my day making messes, I almost always do a quick tidy as soon as I get home. This gets me ready to settle into whatever work I need to get done. It’s a tiny ritual that helps keep my head clear.

That fresh desk, though. (Plus, ART, ART, AND MORE ART!)

 And that’s my list! What do your spaces need to have to give you the right vibe?

Coming at you from a very neat workspace with a fake plant and my new nanoleaf aurora,

The single greatest apartment decor addition I have made in years, the nanoleaf aurora.


Bee

(Much love.)

 

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Becca

A Vancouverite that grew up in the Maritimes, I'm a married, millennial, rugby-playing, PNW-exploring high school teacher who loves reading, art, and nature. And I have generalized anxiety disorder.

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