Keep emotional air space clear

Sensory clutter can be stressful, so try to make your surroundings as peaceful as possible

Special to The TribuneJuly 23, 2013 


Emotional air space is the immediate environment we create for ourselves. For example, we may play relaxing music as we drive home from the office or use a favorite photo as the wallpaper on our iPad.

Emotional air space comprises many factors, the most obvious being visual. That’s what our eyes pick up as they look around our space. Obvious elements such as the color of the walls or the placement of an easy chair say yea or nay to our senses. But simple details speak volumes too. A vase of flowers by the kitchen sink makes us feel calmer. A tot’s picture on the bathroom mirror elicits a flood of warm fuzzies whenever we see it.

Sounds are equally crucial. According to a Cornell University study, people who work in noisy offices are less motivated and have higher levels of stress than employees in quieter settings. They’re also less likely to move around or adjust their position, contributing to musculoskeletal problems.

On the other hand, research by the University of Illinois Medical Center found that people with epilepsy who listened to Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major showed a decrease in their epileptic activity. Music has also been shown to reduce pain levels in hospitalized patients.

Even odors impact how we feel. While our noses aren’t as sensitive as Fido’s, they work closely with our brains. Researchers at Toronto University reported that memories triggered by smells tend to be clearer, more intense and more emotional than memories involving other senses. And clinical trials at Maryland University link the smell of lavender to decreased insomnia, stress and post-operative pain.

Sometimes ambience trumps the input from our five senses. For instance, clutter is inherently disturbing and makes us feel scattered and overwhelmed. On the other hand, clearing trash-covered countertops and organizing remaining items immediately boosts our spirits and puts us back in control of our lives.

We all benefit from managing our emotional environments. But for some it’s a matter of survival. People with mood disorders, such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder, do better when their lives are devoid of unnecessary stress. Those who are easily agitated, have trouble controlling anger or battle substance abuse also experience a decrease in symptoms when they make wise life-enhancing decisions.

Of course, we can’t control every aspect of our emotional air space. Kids will still be noisy. Roommates leave their breakfast dishes in the sink. Our cubicles are too tiny at work. But we can do our best to make our surroundings as pleasant and nurturing as they can be.


Conduct a personal survey. Decide which parts of your life make you smile and which tie your stomach in knots. Then lay out a plan to get more of what’s good. You’re ultimately in charge.

Limit exposure to negative media. Talk radio is often meant to be combative. The hosts’ purpose is to ignite wrath. Recognize the toll it takes on your blood pressure and mood. Change the channel to something more soothing. Or better yet, turn your radio off.

Be selective about your news. It’s important to be informed. But network news programs want you to feel anxious. They thrive on disasters and personal tragedy. They show overly graphic images that heighten worry and concern. Watch televised news sparingly. Consider listening to NPR news programming or reading print versions of the news.

Avoid toxic people. They contaminate your air space with poor behavior and bad vibes. You may not be able to excise them completely (they could be your boss or mother-in-law). But you can reduce their impact by limiting time spent in their presence and finding safe topics to discuss.

Beautify your home and work space. Use photos, plants, lighting, mementos and music to create a place that feels just right.

Free yourself from clutter. Clutter is like emotional plaque. It clogs psychological pathways and keeps building up over time. Make a commitment to the de-cluttering process. Tackle one small area at a time. Learn to give or throw things away. Develop a clutter-free lifestyle that prevents accumulating new stuff.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit

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