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Using colour for health and wellbeing

From the Resene decorating blog

If you're seeing red because you're green with envy, then you might wish to think pink instead. Or blue or soft green. Certain colours are known to influence our wellbeing and stimulate positive emotional responses. Even chronic illnesses can in some way be influenced by colour, most specifically mood, emotion and some aspects of mental performance.

Stress may be subdued with soft blues and greens

Resene Kakapo (green), Resene Optimist (turquoise blue), Resene Transmission (grey) and Resene Coast (charcoal blue) on a wall of Resene Half Tea. The floor and skirting are Resene Sea Fog, and the bedside table is in Resene Mantle.

"Colour doesn't claim to be a cure for illness, but what you're able to do is create a well-balanced environment that not only has a positive effect on patients' wellbeing, it can aid in improving patients' health, putting family and visitors at ease and improving staff morale," says applied colour psychology expert Karen Haller. "The promotion of a greater sense of wellbeing, particularly in long-term care environments, is possible when colour schemes and design are carefully considered and planned."

Certain colours may have a positive psychological impact on mental illnesses like depression, triggering a therapeutic reaction. Orange, for example, is perceived as a 'happy' colour and may be useful in improving mood and alertness. However, too much orange or the wrong tone is likely to have adverse effects.

Stress may be subdued with soft blues and greens, these colours reminding us of soothing rivers, the calming influence of nature, and blue skies on a summer's day. Consequently, we commonly see soft blues and greens in many hospitals around the world. Likewise, these colours can be used in animal healthcare facilities, to support both the animals and their owners.

"I worked with a vet who wanted the colours in his hospital to help create a calm, supportive environment, knowing by calming the distressed pet owner it helped calm their pet too," says Karen. "The colours I used were primarily soft warm green with ivory white on the walls, with small accents of warm orange to lift the mind, to bring hope and a sense that everything was going to be OK."

In both office and retail situations, too, paint colours can have a dramatic effect on clients, customers and employees.

"One client of mine - a florist - wanted colours in his boutique that gave his customers an amazing, uplifting feeling as soon as they walked in the door - ultimately putting them into a buying behavior - whilst the colours in the back office enabled the staff to relax and decompress," says Karen.

The colours used in the client facing areas (in store) were ones that would appeal to the florist's upmarket, exclusive clientele.

"We went for a colour scheme that had a sense of drama that worked well with the brand's flamboyant design style - black, white with touches of magenta. In the staff area, the primary wall colour was warm teal blue used with ivory white and dark brown furniture. The staff found working continuously in the store environment, whilst perfect for the clients, was quite tiring from the focused concentration, so the staff area enabled them to relax and decompress their mind before going out to engage with their clients."

While colour affects us on a daily basis, the specific use of colour to influence emotions is not always clear-cut, particularly as we may respond culturally to colours or harbour other conscious associations that we have been conditioned to make.

"Colour is very personal," says Resene colour consultant Rebecca Long. "While some colours are certainly more soothing than others, they don't necessarily appeal to everyone. Our reaction to colour can differ between cultures and our upbringing as well as our personalities."

A burst of yellow (Resene Galliano) will promote a happy vibe as you enter your home

A bold entry in Resene Galliano to welcome you in and lift your mood.

For example, green, like all colours, can mean one thing to one person and something else to another. It is the sacred colour throughout Islam; in Mexico it is a national colour that stands for independence; in Ireland it is considered lucky; in England some consider it unlucky. Individually, some people may see it as a symbol for growth and vitality, while others regard it as symbolising something else entirely.

"Many people see green as eco-friendly, soothing and natural, but when my colleague thinks of green, all she thinks of is her ghastly school uniform and bad times at school," says Rebecca. "She certainly doesn't feel 'soothed' in a green space.

Certain colours should also be used with caution. Red, for example, is an exciting, invigorating colour, but it is best restrained to certain rooms, or used as an accent.

"Reds such as Resene Red Berry can bring excitement and conversation into a family dining room," says Rebecca, "but red would not be good in a study space where you are trying to concentrate, as it can be a distraction and also fuel anger."

While yellow is perceived to be a happy colour, bright yellows are best avoided in spaces where you spend a lot of time, such as your living room.

"Yellow is an uplifting colour, but it can strain your eyes over time," says Rebecca. "Instead, add a bright yellow to your front entrance door to create a positive entrance for yourself and guests. This burst of yellow will promote a happy vibe as you enter your home. Resene Spotlight is the perfect yellow for a front door. Smoother, calmer yellows, such as Resene Melting Moment, would be better suited for a living space."

Resene Rice Cake is a fresh, crispy white with a subtle warmth. It, too, is perfect to add a positive lift to a living room, paired with a lot of natural light.

In bedrooms, soft blues can create a calming, restful feeling, which is conducive to sleep. Likewise, muted aqua shades, which are on the bluer side of the green spectrum, can be stress-reducing.

"Resene Duck Egg Blue is perfect to create a soothing getaway in your home," says Rebecca. "Try Resene Duck Egg Blue in your master bedroom to wake up refreshed and calm."

While colour is extremely beneficial is many situations, a 'one-size fits all' does not suit all situations.

"I'm a strong advocate of using colour with purpose," says Karen. "This might sometimes actually mean limiting the number of colours used. Sometimes using a lot of differing colours can lead to an environment which is too visually busy, leading to confusion and unease."

Each situation should be treated individually, and in so doing an improved emotional wellbeing can be achieved.

Karen Haller is an applied colour psychology expert working in branding and taking that into business interiors. She teaches interior designers and design professionals globally on how to use applied colour psychology methodology in their daily design projects.;

June 19, 2016

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