Samantha Dickerson

by Samantha Dickerson

Senior Manager of Strategic Communications

M+A's Respite Room: Creating Space for Change

  • AUGUST 07, 2019
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New research has found that one in four people suffer from a mental health condition each year. One in five will experience a mental health condition during their lifetime.

Mental health is becoming an increasingly common concern, and topic of conversation, with depression predicted to be the leading healthcare concern by 2030.

However, with a stigma still surrounding the topic, imperative conversations are just now being had, to raise awareness and solve for solutions. 57% of young people aged 15-24 say mental health is a concern, but 54% never or rarely speak about it. Due to this associated stigma, many people within this age bracket and in general, never receive proper treatment, which can negatively affect their relationships, job performance, and life satisfaction.

An emphasis on early intervention is key, and a study from the University of Cambridge found that access to mental health services show signs of major improvement and those able to use the available resources are less likely to continue to suffer.

Recognizing these staggering numbers, M+A has dedicated the firm to finding evidence-based design solutions to provide not only help, but hope for mental wellness. We believe it’s imperative to be proactive, as opposed to reactive, in being part of this effort, and are pursuing partnerships to better prepare us to provide spaces for all types of those battling mental health issues, including a partnership with The Ohio State University’s Society of Disability Studies and research partners at The National Institute of Health.

Respite room labeled diagram

Creating Space for Change

M+A is proud to introduce our newest concept, the “Respite Room,” designed by our award-winning interior design team and created in partnership with our internal Research and Innovation team. This space, designed for change, is rooted in evidence-based design and psychological studies, and is designed to support the central nervous system, decreasing hyperarousal. A place for digital decompression, this room offers our employees a chance to disconnect and relax.

This full immersion, multi-sensory room is a place for fast relief. Complete with sensory tools designed to calm the parasympathetic nervous system, decreasing stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, and increasing a sense of calm and mindfulness.

Our wellness engineers are strategically creating spaces that allow users to de-escalate and recharge. Using evidence-based research that centers around the mind and the body, these spaces reduce stimuli that trigger your sympathetic nervous system, activating fight or flight mode, anxiety, or other constant stressors in the various environments we design. Proud to be designing and defining spaces to support mental health, we’re dedicated to starting the conversations that will bring the positive changes our world so desperately seeks.

Respite room, interior

Stress - Back to Basics

If it makes you feel better, even caveman suffered from stress. Our primal predecessors, the hunters and gathers roaming around in the palaeolithic era, would find themselves facing stress although it was typically in the face of inherit danger, standing in front of a lion trying to decide to “fight or flight.” Stress has a deeply-rooted history as a response to a threat, when our bodies went from homeostasis to crisis. This is when the brain releases stress hormones like adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine, which raises your heart rate and blood pressure, increases blood sugar and puts your immune system into higher gear - in essence your body is programmed to respond to stress by engaging its fight or flight.

However, this response was meant to last no more than three minutes, just enough time to decide to stay and fight, or run. Instead today, we’re finding ourselves facing chronic stress, living in what was meant to be a temporary state and exacerbating the effects that have damaging repercussions. While we’re not staring in the face of a lion necessarily, a basic evident danger, the variables of modern life have demonstrated the complexity of challenges that seem to supply an overwhelming amount of stressors and perceived threats.

Studies are proving the link of chronic stress to diagnosed depression and anxiety. Clinical Counselor, and M+A partner, Kate Pedro, notes “Chronic stress also shunts the body into producing more excitatory glutamate and reduces GABA production.” Working closely with the M+A team, Pedro has provided her expertise to influence the functionality of the space and recommending ways to optimize utilization and effectiveness.

GABA (Gamma-AminoButyric Acid) is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that has a calming and relaxing effect in the brain. It acts like the brakes in a car, to where it slows down and/or stops brain activity on an as-needed basis to help us function better. Chronic stress essentially increases “gas” (stress hormones) and eliminates “the brakes” (GABA).

It’s important to recognize symptoms of low GABA, which lead to burnout, and eventually, mental health conditions.

Symptoms of Low Gaba info graphic

So what do we do? We “refuel” to operate at 100% for the remainder of our time rather than running on 50% just for the sake of pride. We acknowledge that recognizing we need to recharge is not a sign of weakness, but instead, a sign of intelligence. We do our part to break the stigma of mental health by being willing to identify when we need to rest, and communicate openly that the recognition is not a sign of weakness, but instead strength.

The complimentary to “fight or flight” is “rest and digest,” easing your sympathetic nervous system and filling your stores that raise your capacity to deal when coping with stress.

We seek respite.

Employee meditating in respite room


Science-Based Intentionality: Tools + Resources

Mark Bryan, leader of M+A’s Research and Innovation Team, and Associate, Senior Interior Designer, led the design based in intentionality for mental wellness. “To create an anxiety reducing space you have to create spaces people want to go, making it feel more like a home with flowing natural light and acoustic privacy,” Bryan noted.

Color + Light Theory
Our reptilian brain thinks of dappled light as shaded safety on the plains, and the open sky as free from predators or a place of calm by the sea. By creating a play of shadow with light in the room, the lighting allows the brain to feel a sense of safety.

Curvilinear Forms
Neuroscientists have shown that affection for curves isn’t just a matter of personal taste, it’s hard-wired into the brain. Sharp forms activate the amygdala, which induces stress, whereas curved forms are shown to soothe and comfort, like our settee bench included in the space.

Calming Monotone Materials
Visual anxiety and clutter can be calmed by taking out the stress of having too many materials, textures or other visual stimuli. Our respite room was designed with intentionality to include only necessary tools and pieces that would assist in the support of the sympathetic nervous system, calming the brain and body.

Colorful essential oils on shelf

Sensory Tools
Sensory tools available in the room are designed to ease the sympathetic nervous system, decreasing stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, and increasing a sense of calm and mindfulness.

A weighted blanket aids those with sensory processing disorders, like autism or anxiety, using the stimulation of deep touch pressure to boost oxytocin, a feel-good hormone.

Essentials oils in the room calm the amygdala, instantly easing stress, with smells like lavender studied to show their calming effects.

Coloring books serve as a mechanism for art therapy, a mental health exercise that can facilitate the ability to explore feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety and increase self-esteem. The texture and physical touching of the color utensils stimulates mindfulness through positive distraction.

The sound machine helps slow heart rates down, calming the autonomic nervous system - the system of organs involved in involuntary processes, such as breathing, blood pressure, temperature, metabolism and digestion.

The tools within the room encourage sensory modulation practices to help people regulate physiological and emotional arousal in ways that are self-directed and empowering. Effective use of sensory modulation helps users become more aware of their sensory preferences and sensitivities, and more in tune with their own responses.

Kelly Eyink with eyes closed

Together, We Are Stronger.
Thank you to all of our partners that generously donated to make the respite room a resource of success. Our featured settee was graciously donated by Knoll, with a custom made desk by local woodworkers at Edgework Creative, VCO-Free, eco-Friendly paint donated by ECOS and beautifully textured carpeting donated by Shaw.

Samantha Dickerson

by Samantha Dickerson

Senior Manager of Strategic Communications