If your living and working environments are badly organized then they can be a major source of stress. If you have made them well-organised and pleasant, then they can help to reduce stress and increase productivity. Remember though that while it may be important for people under stress to have a calm environment, others may enjoy the raised levels of arousal associated with the 'buzz' of a busy office.
Individually the points listed below may contribute only in a small way to creating a more pleasant environment. Taken together, however, they can have a significant effect in reducing stress:
Poor air quality can make life unpleasant. The following factors can contribute to the problem:
You can do a number of things to improve air quality and reduce the stress caused by it:
Bad lighting can cause eye strain and increase fatigue, as can light that is too bright, or light that shines directly into your eyes. Fluorescent lighting can also be tiring.
What you may not appreciate is that the quality of light may also be important. Most people are happiest in bright sunshine - this may cause release of chemicals in the body that bring a feeling of emotional well-being. Artificial light, which typically comprises only a few wavelengths of light, does not seem to have the same effect on mood that sunlight has.
Try experimenting with working by a window or using full spectrum bulbs in your desk lamp. You will probably find that this improves the quality of your working environment.
If your environment at work or home is dirty, uncomfortable or neglected, then this can cause stress. Similarly if your living or working area is untidy and chaotic, then this can be distracting.
It is important, however, not to be dogmatic about tidiness: while it is very difficult to successfully coordinate many tasks in an untidy work area, it is perfectly possible to work on one task very effectively. The recent trend of 'clear desk' thinking ignores one of the most important lessons about human beings: that different people work most effectively in different ways.
Noise can cause intense stress.
In a working environment a high level of background noise can severely impair your ability to concentrate. In an open plan office, the sound of people talking casually, of office machinery, or of meetings going on can undermine the quality of work done. Ringing telephones disturb not only the person to whom the call is directed, but also other people in the same area.
Large amounts of background noise during the day can cause irritability, tension and headaches in addition to loss of concentration.
Solutions to noise at work can involve:
In a home environment, unwanted noise can be even more stressful and irritating as it intrudes on private space.
Where noise comes from neighbors or someone sharing the house, it may be effective to try a pleasantly assertive approach. Ask that music is turned down or that a different room be used as a child's nursery.
Where noise comes from outside the home, double glazing may be effective in reducing it.
Another source of stress is muscular tension and pain caused by bad furniture, or by bad use of good furniture.
This normally shows itself in backache caused by badly designed chairs or by bad seating positions in properly designed chairs, although it can come about in other ways. It is important to take the time to arrange your working environment so that it is comfortable. For example, when you consider that you may spend a large proportion of each day sitting in a particular seat, it is worth ensuring that it is not causing you pain or damaging your body.
If you work at a computer, then make sure that the monitor and keyboard are comfortably placed, and that you are well-positioned relative to them. If you find that tendons in your hands get sore when you type for sustained periods, then it may be worth experimenting with a 'natural' or ergonomic keyboard. If you find that your eyes get sore when looking at a monitor, or that you start to get headaches, then try taking breaks periodically.
If you feel that you are experiencing pain from your environment, it may be worth looking into ergonomics in more detail.
It is also important for people to feel that they have sufficient personal space at work and at home. You may have experienced the dissatisfaction, stress and irritation of working at a different desk each day, or of sleeping in a different hotel room each night. This unpleasant situation is largely caused by the lack of power or time to organize and control the space in which you operate.
Other people can also cause you stress when they impose themselves on your personal space, perhaps entering it uninvited.
The ideal way of establishing personal space is to have a room or office of your own, into which you control access. If this is not possible, you can block off areas with furniture, screens or blinds.
You may be in the unpleasant situation where no personal space is available. In this case you can establish some feeling of ownership by bringing objects such as small plants or photographs of loved-ones into the workspace.
You can often significantly reduce stress by improving the quality of your environment. The following actions can significantly reduce environmental stress:
You can do most of these things at relatively little cost. Taken together, they can have a major effect on your stress levels.