Stuck at Home: Trauma-Inform your Spaces

Stuck at Home: Trauma-Inform your Spaces

Stuck at Home?


Prior to Covid, I would assist business owners with creating spaces, offices, and procedures that are trauma-informed. Being trauma-informed means operating under the assumption that everyone has seen or been through hard experiences and we should tailor our approaches with that assumption rather than being reactive to any one person. This means also taking the responsibility off the traumatized person to disclose their history- i.e., doctors making it a rule to ask if the patient would like an additional support person in the room versus expecting the patient to request it. Creating a trauma-informed environment simply means that we do the best we can to avoid triggering potential trauma in our folks as well as create a welcoming, calm atmosphere.

Covid itself is an ongoing traumatic experience for many. This is an unprecedented situation, in which the stressful situation sending us into fight or flight isn’t necessarily going away. This can mean feeling triggered and out of control on the daily. It’s important to regain a sense of power. Things that are within our control are very much about our own environment and behaviors during the pandemic. Our environment very much includes our physical spaces.

I’ve adapted the below list for all of you with the suggestion of exploring your homes with this lens. Given that many of us are staying at home to save lives, let’s decorate or modify our spaces in a way that doesn’t add to our stress or trauma.

Tips for a Trauma-Informed Environment

Reduce clutter and chaos

If your environment looks out of control, it’s not going to help your brain feel in control. Step one is reducing mess/clutter/chaos. If you need an assist with this, contact our partner, Big Rocks Organizing.  They help with downsizing, organizing, and repurposing spaces to make them better for telecommuting and/or distance learning. Organizers can help you to create systems so that you don’t have an overwhelming to-do pile left of your desk at all times. Give them a call, and tell them Kara sent you.

If you’re more of a DIYer, there’s a couple of tips. Start small. One corner. One pile. One drawer. If you want to knock it all out, give yourself enough time, grab a buddy, and maybe a bottle of wine if you’d like. Make it fun.

Manipulatives such as squishy brains, art supplies, play dough, etc.

It’s nice to have things to fidget with. This is something I usually have in a little basket on my therapy couch at the office. For telehealth, I usually encourage my clients to keep this, a notepad, and a box of tissues handy. One aspect of homeschooling that I’ve rather enjoyed is doing art and play dough with my kiddos. Puzzles have become very popular in my house and something we work on while debriefing about our days. Brains seem to be able to process better with stimulation.

Opportunity to have pet interaction

When I was meeting in-person, Baxter would often join me for counseling appointments. With telehealth, many have met Mr. Pickles, the office cat. Now, I am not encouraging everyone to get a puppy or a cat during quarantine. It’s a lot of responsibility, training, and a several year investment (emotional and financial) that will last well beyond Covid. The amount of animal adoptions have, however, soared during this time. Bonus, if you find it hard to get out an exercise, a dog can be a commitment to get out and walk a few times a day. Good for body, mind, and soul.

(Plus, animals are snuggly and adorable.)

Waterfall/fountains

Is an inside water feature something you could add to your home?  Does the sound of trickling water soothe you?  I personally associate water sounds with sleep and employ a white noise machine to encourage restful zzz’s. Sounds like water that are fairly mundane and repetitive signal “Hey, this in a non-threat. Relax.”

Plants

Many people are testing out their green thumbs at this time. Green things make us happy, they remind us of life and growth. This past spring and summer, many put their first-ever gardens in the ground, pulled the trigger on raised garden beds, and celebrated their very own tomatoes. Indoor plants also became increasingly popular. It feels good to nurture these green babies and keep them alive (so I hear, I just killed another succulent. RIP.)

Fish tanks

Very similar to a water feature, fish can be soothing and very rewarding pets. Plus, no shedding.

Comforting music

When was the last time you danced in the kitchen?  Consider if you’re someone who can work while music is playing. (Some people need silence or classical music.) Check your playlist, though. Nirvana is comforting to some, triggering to others. It doesn’t have to be on all the time, either. Lunchtime is music time at my house, asking Alexa to play music from Carole King, the Hamilton Soundtrack, and, of course “Let it go”.

Soothing paint colors

Anyone redecorating?  Try to avoid lots of beige or white. Blues, greens, and soft, warm colors are perfect and very trauma informed. Notice how you feel with the colors. Paint large swatches on the wall and sit with them for a day or two before pulling the trigger.

Fun (and helpful) carpeting

Bare floors can feel institutional. An area rug can transform a room, making a boring office space really pop and feel like a room you want to be in. Cushy rugs can also keep toes warm. Try an attractive rug in front of your sink to take some pressure off your body during your 4th load of dishes for the day. (Anyone else amazed at how many dishes there are during quarantine?)

Natural lighting or soft lighting

Especially if you are “Zooming” a lot, lighting is key. Lamps can make things nice and cozy and are definitely less harsh.

Artwork is empowering, soothing, culturally sensitive

One of the first “upgrades” I made to my space after quarantine was the wall behind where I do my telehealth appointments. Added some art, a plant, and hung up my diplomas. If you are also Zooming quite a bit, what does the area behind you express?

But, I was also mindful that I was going to be looking at other walls in my office as well. After my home office was done, I set my sights to my bare living room wall and (you guessed it) added some plants. Make your space a place that you would want to spend time. It’s a fun opportunity to add some of your identity.

Having water and snacks available

This is something I recommend for trainings, meetings, and practice actively with my in-person therapy sessions. Taking a sip of water can help to ground people if they are feeling triggered. This can transition to our homes by getting ourselves set up for success with our telecommuting. You will be much more productive if you’re not walking to the kitchen for food or drinks every five minutes. I usually bring a big thing of water with me into my office and have a secret chocolate stash on the shelf next to me. Obviously, there are some healthy choices you could bring to your desk as well, but for me, chocolate gives me a boost in a couple of different ways.

Safe at Home

Does this list feel overwhelming? Start with a wall. Or a corner. Not sure where to start? Give us a call. Maybe clarifying some of the issues, setting intentions, and identifying important values could be helpful.

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