Recovery and Well-being

Creating Serenity-Promoting Spaces

Creating serenity-promoting spaces - image of flowers and butterfly

I got thinking about this a while back when reading a post by MJ about being put in a seclusion room while on a psych ward as a teenager. While seclusion is sometimes necessary for safety, I think serenity-promoting spaces could be more useful, at least in some cases.

In my last nursing job, which was at a concurrent disorders transitional facility, they had “serenity rooms” that were sometimes used if someone was particularly unwell and needed to be closer to staff. Mostly, though, they were used as a form of punishment, especially after instances of substance use, although the management and staff would adamantly deny that there was any punitive element. They weren’t seclusion rooms, and people weren’t locked into them, but they were pretty bare, with just a bed, a table, and a sink. They were low-stimulation, but there was nothing serene about them.

Low stimulation can be a good thing, but no stimulation is not. That’s why solitary confinement in prisons is so damaging to people with mental illness (source). There is some research to show that having sensory modulation rooms on psych units can reduce reduce the use of seclusion and restraint and promote decreased agitation and better emotional regulation (sources: CHEOS, OT-Innovations).

Snoezelen environments

I first heard of Snoezelen sensory rooms from Astrid of A Multitude of Musings. They include soothing or engaging stimuli targeting all of the senses, providing an immersive environment that supports sensory regulation. Snoezelen environments are used for people with autism, cognitive impairments, and a variety of other conditions to reduce agitation and anxiety and provide interesting stimuli for the senses.

Components used in Snoezelen environments include bubble tubes, fibre optics, screens with infinite depth lighted tunnels, tactile stimuli like textured, vibrating, or heated objects, essential oils, aroma dough, and auditory stimuli.

Other possibilities

So, what might be useful to promote serenity for mental health purposes, either on psych wards or at home? Here are a few thoughts.

Touch/pressure

I’m a fan of weighted blankets. I got mine a year or two ago. It’s too heavy to use for sleep, but I like having it on top of my legs when I’m sitting in bed. I particularly like it if I’m feeling feeling stressed out or agitated.

I’m also a fan of soft snuggly blankets. In the fall and winter, I like to keep my home cool and pile on the blankets to stay warm.

In my opinion, pets are the best things going in terms of tactile stimuli. My two baby guinea pigs are really silky soft and smooth.

Sound

I think this is the bare minimum that hospitals should be able to provide. Who doesn’t love nature sounds? Fountains or other water noises re also really soothing.

I’m glad I live somewhere quiet and there’s lots of bird activity to listen to. I know music works well for a lot of people, but I find it hard to concentrate on other things when there’s music on.

Sight

Another basic minimum that hospitals should be providing is spaces with soft lighting rather than godawful fluorescent lights. Even better, throw in some lamps that change colour or Himalayan salt lamps. Lava lamps could also be a cool addition.

Plants are also good. I would have more plants if I didn’t have such a knack for killing them. My brother has lots of plants in his home, and it’s very soothing.

Posters of nature scenes would be a cheap way for hospitals to add visual appeal. Paint colour could also make a difference. At the massage therapy clinic I go to, the therapy rooms have fairly dark grey point, and while it isn’t what I’d want at home, it does help to create a calm space.

Smell

Bring on the essential oils!

Over to you

Those are some of my ideas for serenity-promoting spaces, and many of them I’ve got going on in my bedroom, which is quite a soothing place to be.

What do you have to keep your own space serene, or what would you include in a serenity space?

34 thoughts on “Creating Serenity-Promoting Spaces”

  1. I almost always have weight on my shoulders. I wear a jacket or a heavy robe inside most of the time. “No thanks” when people ask for my jacket always: thank God those who know me no longer query. It helps me stay calm. I tell people, should they be curious, that it’s the “squeeze the cow” thing that Temple Grandin discovered. Pressure helps with calm.

  2. What would I need to create a serene space? _ Everything opposite to what you have have outlined. No NOISE – none, zero, nada. Quiet, please. Aroma therapy? No artificial smells and that includes essential oils. Plants? Why? flowers maybe, plants? Green things in pots of dirt, eh. Art? Only if I get to choose it, otherwise WINDOWS, please. I think everything in the world should be painted very soft yellow, but that’s just me. And weighted blankets? My NIGHTMARE – (along with sounds of water and Asian music with gongs – drive me right out of my tiny little mind!)

      1. Why would you need to change the windows? The views changes from hour to hour with the passing of the day and the change in light or the wind acting on whatever is outside the window…Unless the view is a brick wall it changes constantly and is endlessly interesting..

  3. I can be quite sensitive about how space is organised; rooms that are too big or too small (regardless of the fact if they crowded or not) or areas where I feel I could be easily boxed into a corner are not very nice.
    Weston-super-Mare hospital was very good in this respect, Swindon was a bit worse, still, I managed to recover within 28 days.

    I’m not too much into sensory seeking, even though I’m autistic but I really liked gentle yoga class that was provided in Weston-super-Mare hospital. The lady who run it helped me with adjusting my pose a few times and her touch was very gentle. I felt I could do that the entire day with her.

  4. When I saw the title of your post I assumed feng shui, light colours, flowers and candles, I hadn’t expected low stimulation in terms of psych wards. I can see how they could be used with a punitive twist, even more so if it was for someone who wouldn’t find the lack of stimulation or lack of social elements to be beneficial.

    I know of heightened stimulation for use with those with a cognitive issue, but I’d never heard of the term Snoezelen environments before. I always learn something new from your blog, so thank you!

    I love your suggestions for a more calming, serenity-promoting space. Having got my own weighted blankie on my legs as I type this I can attest to their calming nature. I still use it in conjunction with my regular light-weight microfibre blankie, because I love snuggling with blankets. I can’t get comfortable or feel safe without something over me. I should make clear that the ‘something’ needs to be a blanket.

    Lighting is an important point, and I could definitely go for a lava lamp. Lower lighting and a good way to distract yourself by watching the blobs of lava move around so silkily.

    It’s not really a way to induce serenity but I do find that having the things I need and regularly use to hand is important. Having to root around for things and get frustrated with them not being easily accessible just ramps up the anxiety and rage factors, doing nothing to install a sense of calm.

    I quite like some more childish things, like actual things from childhood or items that can create a youthful, care-free, fun-loving vibe in some way. I like to see Tinkerbell and Hello Kitty, whether that’s decor or stationery, and I’ve kept one or two things from when I was a kid like a little plastic container and a jewellery box for the nostalgia. That may just be me though.

    1. I love nostalgia! I wish I had kept more things from childhood for the nostalgia value. My keenness to get rid of things is mostly a good thing, but not always.

      I wonder why lava lamps sort of fell off the face of the planet. More blobs, please!

      I also dislike having to get up and fish thinks out. I have a table/drawer/shelf setup going on that keeps my most-used things right by my side.

  5. The residential and in-patient hospitals we have been to sucked at this. At residential, we could turn out the lights. Staff still checked on us every 20 minutes or so, but in locked trauma ward, those fucking lights are on 24/7, even if dimmer. In the locked ward, no windows😭 due to a shared courtyard with the military ptsd ward. Only a few outdoor breaks per day. The residential allowed wandering around outside and had birds and mountain views.

    The php hospital had two crying rooms, as we call them. They had the quintessential old-time soft needles thingy you could put your hands or face on to make a temporary imprint; cds of nature sounds, little zen gardens, plants, lamps with different colored bulbs, and lots of pillows and fidgets.

    In our home we have scented candles and oil, weighted blanket, photo canvases of nature scenes, a great window to our backyard bird feeders, art supplies.

    1. There was one time I went into hospital voluntarily, and they decided to throw me in seclusion. I told the nurse if she was going to lock me in there with nothing, she needed to sedate me. She said there was no order for anything. I asked her if me telling her I’d throw my little tube of hand cream at her would be enough for her to get me an order. Apparently it was, plus calling a code white and security to give me what I’d asked for in the first place…

      Locking people in a room with nothing but their head and a bright fluorescent light is cruel.

  6. I thought I was the kind of person who was relatively room-decor-agnostic. Like I didn’t think the aesthetics of the space I was in really affected my mood or wellbeing. I’ve never been into decorating my living space or my office space. Even when picking out a venue for my wedding, I really only cared about the practical aspects (capacity, dance floor area, location, permitted caterers) vs. anything aesthetic about the space (eg. windows, photo ops, decor, etc.) I didn’t even identify with the need for a space to feel serene.

    Then the pandemic hit and I was stuck in the same living space 24/7, a space that pre-pandemic, I had basically treated as a storage unit. And that was when I came to understand the need for a serenity-promoting space.

  7. A sunny window, a snuggly blanket, on MY bed, sounds like heaven.. As an epileptic, the idea of a hideous fluorescent light in a sterile windowless room is the stuff of NIGHTMARES. Weighted blankets sound nice but whenever I use one, they give me pains that feel like period cramps even though it’s not my time, and I figure that can’t be good.. So I’ll stick with a warm robe and blanket.

  8. You touched upon the various senses. Sound. That’s one that I was careless with for much of my life.

    I learned through making music, that you should actually always keep the music at a low volume.

    Again, something we all kind of new, but didn’t adhere to.

  9. Nice post! For me, recently I am addicted to eye masks. I like the soothing warmth for my tired eyes after a long screen time. Yet, I am creating more rubbish. But I really need it.

  10. Soft lighting, soft music.
    Sad to say, but I often found it hard not to fall asleep at the ballet. The lights go down, the orchestra starts, and no one talks. Bliss 🙂

    BTW, I’ve got to try one of those weighted blankets 🙂

  11. Actually, I need total silence for serenity. And whitewashed walls. A wicker recliner with a wicker footrest, a kindle with a Wodehouse. Sweet milky tea with salt biscuits. Soft, old, faded, worn cotton clothes (India is HOT). A mild smell of sandalwood/eucalyptus/benzoin.
    Just writing this is calming me down.

  12. I really appreciate your article. I see patients everyday and am always looking for new ways to help soothe my kiddos on the spectrum. As you suggested I just purchased fiber optic tails for special serene spaces as well as bubble walls. My husband is an orthodontist and I manage both of our practices, it is so important that staff understand that we need to meet the needs of our patients. They are not acting out of defiance, they are anxious or hypersensitive because they are wired differently. I always enjoy reading your blog. Happy Thanksgiving!

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