Designing for mental well-being: Finding calm in a busy world

You’re okay until you’re not…the thing about mental wellness is that it can sometimes be difficult to recognize the signs that tell us when we’ve reached our saturation point for stress.

It’s important to watch for the signs that tell us when we’re approaching capacity. Sometimes these signs present themselves in a subtle manner – sometimes not so much. And self recognition isn’t always so easy. Sometimes it takes a friend or colleague to help us see when this is happening.  You may be fortunate enough to have a culture at work where your supervisor/manager does regular check ins to ensure that you are taking the necessary actions to maintain a healthy mental state.

Remember each one of us has a very individual tipping point when it comes to stress. Once you have been able to develop an awareness of when you should take a mental break then you can explore how to take that break. Once you have been able to identify how to take that break it’s important make it a habit. If we liken mental wellness to physical wellness; when we exercise our physical body on a regular basis we can increase our physical stamina – when we exercise and strengthen our mental capacity it is possible to strengthen our tolerance and capacity for stress.

So how do we exercise and strengthen our capacity for increased mental wellness in support of mental health?

During the pandemic, when at one point or another each of us reached our maximum capacity for stress, the prescribing of “walks in nature” by medical practitioners increased in frequency. Although the idea that interaction with nature is of great benefit to our mental health was not a new concept the idea of prescribing it as a cure or remedy was a new delivery method.

Jillian Mock published this article on April 27, 2022  about walks in nature;

“When it comes to how nature exposure helps our stressed-out brains, researchers have two main theories, says Gregory Bratman, Director of the Environment and Well-being lab at the University of Washington. The first, known in scientific circles as the Stress Reduction Theory, is that exposure to many forms of nature engages the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest and digestion and encourages stress recovery. (It’s nicknamed the “rest and digest” system.) The other, the Attention Restoration Theory, suggests that nature engages people’s “soft fascination,” says Bratman. This gives our directed attention, which we use to focus, time to replenish, he says.”

Other than “forest bathing” how can we engage the parasympathetic nervous system to encourage our body to rest and digest; how can we disengage ourselves from directed attention to allow our brains to rest in support of psychological and cognitive wellbeing? What can we do with the everyday space around us to create an environment that will allow our minds and bodies the white space needed to rest and rejuvenate between tasks and meetings? Similar to when we place focus on our physical health – how do we work to make these activities a habit and part of our everyday life?

Hospitals, long term care facilities, office buildings and residential communities are ensuring that a green space is part of their overall plan. In hospitals and health care facilities we are seeing the installation of courtyards as they are being considered an integral part of the healing process. In the construction and selecting of spaces for offices if there is not the capacity to build a courtyard there is consideration given to the possibility of a green roof or proximity to a local park. When a developer begins the planning of a residential subdivision it’s now commonplace that there is a provision for a neighbourhood park as mandated by the governing body releasing the building permits.

So there is a recognition of the importance of green space and how it impacts our mental health. Although it may not be consistent, there is a plan in place to ensure that nature is available to support physical healing and mental health. How do we take these learnings and create concepts that can be applied to the interior spaces of our built environment?

Again, as each of us has our own specific tolerance to stress – each job description within each industry may have some predefined stress factors to be considered when planning the built environment to promote mental wellness. Front line workers, as an example, may have the need for a quiet space to de-escalate their thoughts and emotions after dealing with a traumatic event. An office worker whose day to day role may include data entry may have different requirements fro quiet spaces. As the “hybrid workspace” is defined on an individual case by case basis as identified by the specific needs of each organization, so the issue of mental wellness needs to be addressed by each organization based on their specific and individual requirements. There are however a few basic concepts that can be generally applied as a starting point.

  • Consider the needs at an individual level – at each individual workstation or office. The installation of sit to stand workstations not only support physical wellness by requiring the occupant to move – this also necessitates a need to shift mental focus to another activity. Think of other ways, such as the strategic placement of non-corporate graphics and/or pictures, to create some visual white space.
  • Consider the needs at a departmental level – specific to each area. What does your collaborative space, cafeteria or break room look like? Ensure that the space is pleasing to the eye so it creates a relaxing environment. Curate this space so that it allows the occupants to effectively brainstorm or take a true mental break. Ensure this space is reflective of the white space needed by considering various noise reduction components to allow for group or private conversations and/or solitary reflection. Take time to plan the furnishings in this area to ensure that they are comfortable to support relaxation and shift of mental focus.
  • Consider how your building or neighbourhood supports mental wellness. Consider a dedicated space for regular meditation or yoga classes – both being exercises to shift the focus of our mind to alternate activities. Support the leadership team in their personal engagement of these activities so that the importance of taking breaks is clearly communicated throughout the organization. If there is not access to daylight, outdoor spaces, break areas – consider alternate ways to bring these concepts in to the environment.

Some of these might feel like big things but there are also many little things that can be implemented to support mental wellness in your organization. Think of things that you can do on an individual level to support your own mental wellness.

Think of ways you can engage your parasympathetic nervous system to encourage your body to rest and digest; what can you do to disengage from directed attention to allow your brain to rest in support of psychological and cognitive wellbeing?



Linda Bischoff; PMP, ARIDO Intern, Well AP, IFSG Red Ribbon

Over the past 35 years, Linda has worked with Design Firms, Office Furniture Dealerships and Facilities Departments in both public and private sectors. Her involvement redesigning office workplaces during Covid19 has given her a broader perspective of what is needed. As we emerge from the pandemic, we are beginning to see much change in the social fabric and culture of workplaces. The post pandemic office will demand unique solutions to create a successful workplace lifestyle redesign.

Her business focus is on creating meaningful connection with the built environment. Linda combines her knowledge of interior design, biophilia and feng shui to help create balance and harmony in homes and workspaces.

She lives in Halton Hills, Ontario. Learn more about Linda at and join her on IG @avalonlanestudio.