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Design: Color for Stress Reduction

Updated: Nov 8, 2019



Whether we know it or not, colors affect our mood and attitude. The significance of color is especially important in the design of our spaces. Reds have a stimulating effect and cause humans and food to look better. Blues are calming and cause a serene effect, slowing down a person to be able to reflect.

Stress happens for a lot of reasons: cataclysmic events, conflict, frustration, hassles, life changes, occupation burnout, or chronic stressors (2). “When stressed, the body undergoes physiological changes. The sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system is activated, increasing heart rate and blood pressure […] The hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal cortex (HPA) also increase the stress hormone, cortisol” (2).

People have different reactions to stress in different environments but certain environments can raise stress levels where as others reduce them. People who are stressed out and working in a dominantly red rooms or environments will most likely lose their tempers quicker, they feel hot and even hungry, whereas people who are stressed will find they calm down and can focus in a blue room, they may even feel more confident in their abilities, or in the abilities of those around them.

Blues, as noted above, have a calming effect on people. It is perceived as a color of dependability and commitment. This may be because it is such a stable color in our environment, from the oceans to the sky, it has the effect to lower blood pressure, respiration and heart rate, with special effect on the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system (4).

Greens are perceived as natural and tranquil. It is the second favorite color of most people, and occupies more space in the human eye’s visible spectrum. It is the natural backdrop in our environmental world (1).

“Brown says stability, reliability, and approachability. It is the color of our earth and is associated with all things natural or organic” (1).

“Shades of golden yellow carry the promise of a positive future. Yellow will advance from surrounding colors and instill optimism and energy as well as spark creative thoughts” (1). What many do not realize, however, that in its purest, most vibrant form, is the hardest color for the eye to take in and therefore will cause babies to cry more, the elderly to shake more. This color is a love it or hate it color, with almost no in between, and therefore must be used purposefully and sparingly.

As mentioned before, reds are a stimulating color. This color subtly encourages rage, can cause a person to feel warmer even if the temperature is constant, and can cause blood pressure, respiration and heart rate to increase slightly (4). This color also stimulates appetite; some people will swear food tastes better if they are in a red room or environment which is why it is often seen in restaurants. Orange based reds are more favored by men, while blue based reds are more favored by women.

Black is associated as a heavy or weighty color, it draws the eye especially next to lighter colors. It is often associated with evil or villains, but the color is also representative of authority and power. In fashion it appears to make figures slimmer, but in excess can be overwhelming, for some (3).

By choosing blues, greens, browns and accents of golden-orange, the student lounge (pictured above) becomes a place that has a calming, relaxing and neutralizing effect without becoming too relaxing as to put everybody to sleep. The hombre wall is created by an application technique called lazure, whereby a thin layer of water color-like paint is applied to the wall and makes the colors appear to radiate from the walls and into the space. Choosing colors that are favorable to both men and women subtly helps reduce blood pressure, heart rate and respiration, which is especially useful in a college where students are often over loaded with stressors.

Next time you think about color, think in terms of walls, ceilings, flooring, upholstery, art and accessory colors to create the desired mood and attitude you want for your space.

Works Cited

(1) “Color: Meaning, Symbolism & Psychology.” Squidoo Arts & Literature <http://www.squidoo.com/colorexpert/>


(2) Huffman, Karen. Psychology in action. United States of America, 2007.


(3) Johnson, David. “Color Psychology.” Fact Monster <http://www.factmonster.com/spot/colors1.html>


(4) Meola, Kalyan V. “They Psychology of Color.” Hohonu. 2005. vol. 3. n 3.

#color #stress #design #colortheory #stressreduction #colorpsychology #colortherapy

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