Psychology and Space: Is Your House Affecting Your Mental Health?

I love houses. I love talking about them, thinking about them, working on them, decorating them…they provide endless amounts of entertainment and challenge.  Usually I indulge my loves of houses in my free time.  But recently I have found myself doing more talking and thinking about houses and space in my work hours as well.  Specifically, can our homes affect our mental health?  Yes.  There are many, many ways your home can affect your mental health.  Think of these situations:

People who are home-less

People who live in un-safe areas

People who live in un-clean, cluttered, and/or un-sanitary homes (think: Hoarders)

People who live in homes they cannot afford

Today I am going to talk about another group of people whose mental health is being affected by their homes: People whose homes are too darn big.  How can this be a problem?  Aren’t all of us pining to get into a house with more square footage, more rooms, more SPACE!?!?  Maybe, but I am beginning to see that too much space can be a problem as well.

Think of a how a “typical” suburban family might spend their evening: Dad in the basement watching basketball, teenager in his/her room playing video games, tween in the living room watching the Disney Channel, and mom in her bedroom reading stories on-line about Robert Pattinson.  Am I the only one who sees a problem here?

I’m afraid our homes have gotten so big (and so wired) that we often miss out on time that could be spent as a family.  Remember the old days when there was only one TV in the house and we had to take turns choosing what we wanted to watch?  Remember when we actually watched shows as a family (think: Cosby Show) and then talked about the funny parts all week?  While having our own spaces is neat and cool, I wonder if it is the best thing for our mental health, and for the health of our families?  Will we one day wake up and realize we barely know the other people living under our roof?  I hope not.

So before you buy a bigger home, or spread out to all corners of your existing house, think about what you are doing.  Share a TV, a couch, a bowl of popcorn.  Play Monopoly, or spend time just talking.  Enjoy your large spaces, but remember to spend time in close quarters with the ones you love, too.

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Kill Your Television?

I have a love/hate relationship with TV.  If you’ve read much of my blog, you know that I love pop culture – of which TV is a big part. I even think that TV can be used as an informative and unique parenting tool.  But when I saw the reports of the study released from the University of Bristol’s School for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences finding children who watched TV television or used computers for more than two hours had higher “psychological difficulty” scores, regardless of how much time the children participated in physical activity, I was not at all surprised.
So here comes the hate side of my relationship with TV.  While I have done no formal research on the issue, I can say with certainty that in both my clinical and personal life, I see the effects of too much TV everyday.  I’m not even objecting to the risqué story lines or the gratuitous violence – it’s more basic than that.  I find TV, computers, and other electronic gadgets to be too stimulating.  They wind me up and they can wind kids up too.

We might look like vegetables cuddled up on the couch when we are watching, but it has been my experience that they can over-stimulate us so that even once the TV is turned off, we have trouble turning ourselves off.  Find yourself overly anxious, worrying too much, totally stressed, or your kids spinning like a top? It might be worth unplugging for a week or two and see if it makes a difference.

Want some ideas about what to do with all your newly-discovered, unplugged time? Read the diary of my TV Free Week last spring.