- Whether you get sick from a virus and how sick you get depends on dose, duration of exposure, and resilience.
- Resilience is quickly bouncing back from illness, or “stressedness”, to your healthiest self.
- You can design your work environment to enhance all 7 domains of integrative health to keep you resilient.
- Domains of integrative health include sleep, resilience, environment, movement, relationships, and more.
Can the spaces where you work and play and live and learn help keep you resilient?
Whether you get sick from a virus and how sick you get depends on the dose to which you are exposed, how long you are exposed to it, and how resilient you are. What is resilience anyway? To be well, your goal is not to never get sick, or never get stressed. That’s impossible. Your goal should be to bounce back from a place of illness, from a place of “stressedness”, to your healthiest most energetic and productive self.
Think of yourself like a rubber band: when you stretch a brand-new rubber band and then let go, it quickly snaps back to its original size. But think of an old, played rubber band – when you stretch it and let go, it hangs limp and doesn’t bounce back to its original tightness. From a health point of view, quickly bouncing back to your baseline is called resilience.
There are many things you can do to help enhance your resilience and be your healthiest you. In the field of integrative health, we call these core areas or domains of lifestyle, and the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine has identified seven of them: resilience, movement, sleep, relationships, the environment, nutrition, and spirituality.
We all know that we should exercise every day, eat healthy food, be surrounded by loving relationships, get a good night’s sleep, take time out to relax and de-stress, maybe even meditate, and take time to be in nature. But how many of us have resolved on New Year’s Day to do all that, and then by February or March fall back into our old ways – sitting most of the day, eating sugary, fatty foods, maybe being isolated from friends and family, sleeping poorly, spending hours at the computer indoors?
It can be hard to force yourself to engage in a healthy lifestyle. But surprisingly, there are ways to design your environments to help you naturally engage in these behaviors, and by doing so, keep you resilient so that the next time you are faced with a stressful event or you encounter a virus, you bounce back quickly and stay well.
Excerpts from my new book Well at Work: Creating Wellbeing in Any Workspace (Little, Brown Spark) show how you can create working spaces to enhance each of these seven domains of integrative health. There is a wealth of research showing that, if designed right, the environments in which you spend your time can help you stay active and move more, reduce your stress, enhance your resilience, improve your mood, and improve your sleep. Our work with the U.S. General Services Administration, using wearable devices to measure the impact of built office environments on federal workers’ health and wellbeing, showed all that.
We found that people working in open office spaces, with lots of choices of where to work, moved more during the day, were less stressed and slept better at night after they went home. People in noisy spaces were more stressed but so were those in very quiet spaces. Stress was also higher in very dry or very humid conditions – less than 30% and greater than 60% relative humidity.
Bringing nature in or allowing easy access to nature are other ways to reduce stress and anxiety, improve your mood, help you exercise, and even reduce burnout. The quality and color of natural light and the time of day when you are exposed to bright morning sunlight can also improve your sleep, reduce pain, and boost your mood. Spaces designed to encourage social interactions – for groups of different sizes to gather, can help build relationships that in turn can reduce stress and by doing so, enhance your resistance to viral infections.
Spaces too can be designed to help you go offline, take mini-meditative breaks, and by being in the moment, can reduce stress, restore your energy, help you focus, and get you in the zone of flow at work.
It’s not only the physical aspects of a space that keep you resilient and well, but also the food you eat, which can keep you alert, focused and in the zone. Workplaces should provide access to healthy food and snacks. Some far-seeing employers, like Google, even include vegetable gardens on their campuses, that offer both fresh, healthy greens, and also places to sit quietly and meditate.
The important thing is that we each have our individual preferences and needs, which vary with our personality, our age, our health, the time of day, and the kinds of work we are doing at any given moment. So, workspaces – whether at home or in the office, need to include many different kinds of spaces to accommodate many different needs – some quiet, some bright, some where people can gather and some where people can be alone.
Because on average Americans spend 90% of their time indoors, it is important to design all our spaces to include elements that help us engage in all seven domains of integrative health, to keep us resilient and keep us well.
7 Takeaways: Design your workspaces to enhance the 7 domains of integrative health
- Resilience: De-stress your workspace by reducing noise and clutter and keeping humidity and noise in the middle range.
- Movement: Create spaces that encourage exercise or take movement breaks throughout the day to reduce stress, keep you alert and help you sleep at night.
- Sleep: Make sure your workspace has plenty of bright morning light to help you sleep well at night.
- Relationships: Workspaces with places to gather encourage social interactions that reduce stress and help enhance resistance to infection.
- Environment: Bring nature indoors or have access to nature outdoors to reduce stress. Be sure the air you breathe is clean and fresh.
- Nutrition: What you eat can help you stay alert and focused.
- Spirituality: Spaces where you can take mini-meditation breaks help reduce stress, help you recharge and stay focused and in the zone.
Sternberg, E.M. (2023) Well at Work: Creating Wellbeing in Any Workspace. New York, NY: Little, Brown Spark
Sternberg, E.M. (2009) Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-being. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
Sternberg, E.M. (2000) The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health and Emotions. Macmillan
Weil, A. (2004) Health and Healing: The philosophy of integrative medicine and optimum health. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Rakel, D.P. & Weil, A. (2007) Philosophy of Integrative Medicine. In D.P. Rakel (Ed.) Integrative Medicine (2nd ed., pp.1-13). W.B. Saunders
Engineer, A., Gualano, R.J., Crocker, R.L., Smith, J.L., Maizes, V., Weil, A., & Sternberg, E.M.. (2021) An Integrative Framework for Wellbeing in the Built Environment. Building and Environment, 205, 108253.