To say that we’re all feeling anxious while living through a global pandemic is quite the understatement. And our homes should be a place of respite during these challenging times—not somewhere the walls feel like they’re closing in.
But what if your home is actually making your anxiety worse?
“When our external world feels threatening or uncertain, our internal sense of control gets out of balance,” says Karen Whitehead of Karen Whitehead Counseling in Alpharetta, GA. “We start to see everything in a different light because our system is on high alert. Our mind starts to see more and more ‘threats’ in our environment.”
But the “threats”—aka anxiety triggers—aren’t always obvious. Here are some things in your home that could be triggering anxiety—and how to cope.
Have you ever felt your chest or back tighten up, or your mind race when you walk into a cluttered room? You’re not alone.
“If you’re the type of person who gets stressed when your home is cluttered, then you have something in common with the majority of the human race,” says Teri Schroeder, a counselor at Just Mind Counseling, in Austin, TX.
How to cope: Create order in your physical surroundings to boost your sense of calm. Decluttering can be a daunting task, which can lead to procrastination and even more stress. But remember: You don’t have to tackle all the clutter at once.
“Begin by creating a structure to help make and keep things orderly,” Schroeder says. “You might try setting aside 15 minutes a day to clean, or schedule a longer weekly cleaning session.”
2. Unfinished home projects
All the projects from your pre-pandemic to-do list are now staring you in the face all day, every day. Maybe it’s the hideous wallpaper in the dining room, which is now your makeshift office. Or the squeaky door you hear multiple times a day as the kids come and go.
These seemingly harmless things can create anxiety, so it’s likely not a coincidence that there are long lines for curbside pickup at home improvement stores.
How to cope: “Action is often an antidote to anxiety,” Whitehead says, so make a list of everything you would like to tackle.
“Simple things such as a new coat of paint, a quieter dishwasher or washing machine, an upscale shower head, new plants, or even rearranging furniture can go a long way in making us feel more comfortable while we’re spending more time at home,” says William Schroeder of Just Mind Counseling.
3. Your sad office space
If your home office isn’t serving you well, it’s time to ask yourself why, Teri Schroeder says. “How do I feel about what I’m using as my home office? Does it support me, both mentally and physically? Does it feel good, or is it adding to my daily discomfort?”
How to cope: If you don’t have a designated office, carve out a corner just for you. Buy a room divider and order some work-from-home essentials.
“Put time and care into creating a comfortable workspace for yourself,” she says. “If you have a backyard or other outdoor private area, you might even try splitting your days between working indoors and outdoors to get more variety—and a bit of sunlight.”
4. The 24/7 kitchen
The kitchen has replaced the break room at work—and it’s all too easy to grab a cookie or nosh on a bag of chips, knowing your co-workers aren’t around to see.
“Not only is our anxiety up from staying home, we now have hoards of unhealthy food options at our fingertips,” Whitehead says. “That builds to anxiety about overeating, weight gain, lack of exercise—and the spiral continues.”
How to cope: “Start with your intention: Who do you want to be when you return to work, normal life, and the world?” Whitehead says. “Then figure out the obstacle. You might need to purge the pantry of junk food or buy a few essentials for a home gym.”
5. Your pets
We love our fur babies, but you might have noticed some anxiety creeping up since you’re spending the whole day at home. A pet’s boredom might lead to mischief, just when you have an important Zoom meeting. Or perhaps you’re staying up later, which might affect your pet’s sleep.
If you’re snuggling in the same bed, a restless pet might disturb your own sleep, making you more prone to stress, anxiety, and depression, William Schroeder says.
How to cope: “You and your pets would likely benefit from some activity each day, whether it be a couple of 30-minute walks or indoor playtime,” he continues. “For a peaceful night’s rest, you might try crating your dog in a separate room at night or during video meetings.”
And if you can’t bear to be without your dog or cat at night, try a white noise machine to mask any noises.
6. Your housemates
One of the benefits of quarantine is having more quality time with the ones you love. But we all know how easily this can become too much time together.
“Then anxiety hits when we choose to do something else or realize we need space,” says Whitehead, who adds that the pressure to spend time together can also lead to resentment.
How to cope: “Start by giving yourself permission and freedom to have your own time to say no to playing another game and bow out from another three episodes of the latest binge watch,” Whitehead says. “If you need a break, others in your home may, too.”
Next, encourage everyone to create a small space that can serve as their sanctuary.
“It could mean simply setting a rule with the rest of your household that a closed-door equals alone time. Or a little nook with your favorite picture on the wall and a cozy blanket where you could escape when you need it,” Whitehead says. “Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, we all need space now and then.”