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How a Personal Sanctuary Alleviates Stress

Updated: Mar 19

Not too many years ago, our homes were our sanctuary. One left the rigors of work, the stress of dealing with clients, customers, or traffic, and came home to (hopefully) family, peace, and good food. Our evenings were filled with the family meal table, reading, games, and building relationships with those we love.

The first intruders into our peace were the radio and television. While they provided some entertainment, they also brought the horrors of war, a falling stock market, and bad news from the street. Today, radio and television can’t compare to the intruder we carry around in our pocket. Everywhere we go, cell phones or tablets carry work, war, and weariness with us.

A few years ago, during a much-needed shopping trip with my daughter, we lost each other in a department store. She eventually found me sitting under a rack of skirts answering a work email.

“Mom,” she said, “it could’ve waited until you got home.” She was right. That evening, thinking about the scene and how I let it rob me of precious time with her, I cancelled all notifications to my phone.

We think there’s no escaping it, this cacophony of bells and tones that ring of more to be done, more to know, more to weigh heavy on our minds. But is there really no place to hide?

Our culture is just beginning to feel the weight of not coins in its pocket but the weight of the world. This negative energy in our personal space is having detrimental effects to our peace of mind and our physical health.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Stress that’s left unchecked can contribute to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.” Stress can materialize in our bodies as headache, fatigue, sleep and digestive disturbances, irritability, and many other symptoms for which we generally pop a pill. Yet, there are better ways to handle it.

The most effective way to relieve stress in our lives is to remove ourselves from the situation. While we can’t always quit our jobs, detach from needy loved ones, or escape our own medical challenges, we can temporarily take a break from them and the rest of the world by creating a personal or backyard sanctuary.

“Finding personal space to center self is so important for self-care,” said LaDawn Knicely, pastoral counselor with Hometown Pastoral Counseling Group in Dayton, Virginia. “Slowing down is important and not only has mental, emotional, and physical benefits, but also benefits interpersonal relationships.”

What is a personal sanctuary?

A personal sanctuary is a place to refuel, recharge, rest, and relax. It is where you have peace without disturbances from the outside world. It is a place that, after you’ve been there, you have the fortitude to face the world again. Since, with computers and televisions in many rooms, our homes are no longer sanctuaries, we need to be proactive in creating them. A wood or vinyl pergola or gazebo makes the perfect place for a backyard sanctuary.

“A personal sanctuary,” said Knicely, “is any place you can find silence and solitude. And, give yourself permission to spend time there without feeling guilty.”

Where should I create my personal sanctuary?

I told my husband that if I could have any material thing in the world, I would choose a piece of wooded property with a pavilion for family gatherings. I dream of having that place, someday, to use as a retreat for myself and our family. But for daily periods of refueling, leaving home is inconvenient. That is why finding a place in your home or backyard serves best as your sanctuary.

Laura, a college professor and mom to three small children, remodeled her bathroom to use as her “Zen place.” She included large windows so she could view the birds and squirrels in the treetop outside from her large soaking tub. She hung a crystal chandelier over the tub which catches the sun’s rays, casting rainbows and cheer across the room.

But you don’t have to remodel to create your personal space. A spare room, large closet, back deck, gazebo or pergola, or even the hayloft in the barn can be appropriated for this use. Even a different furniture arrangement can lend itself to having a private corner.

A wood gazebo, or a vinyl gazebo, makes a great backyard sanctuary in mild weather. “A gazebo is an excellent idea,” said Knicely, “because, it not only offers space for personal reflection, but it is also outside near nature.”

What should I have in my personal sanctuary?

Studies show that connecting with nature relieves stress symptoms. So, if your personal sanctuary is indoors, windows allow you to see trees, flowers, and birds. Also, house plants bring that connection with nature inside.

“Bring in things you find while walking,” said Knicely. Feathers, rocks, moss, or other natural elements help to bring the outdoors inside. Of course, if your haven is the back deck or wood pergola by the pond, the natural element is provided.

Music is another soul-soothing ingredient. You could play soft tunes on an offline device or include a fountain. The soothing sound of water tripping over rocks is music to the human heart.

Knicely suggests lighting a candle, even a flameless one, while spending time in meditation or prayer. Including other things you love—favorite artwork, comfy furniture, a journal, family photos—make this space personal.

“The time you spend in your sanctuary is a great time to record thoughts and feelings in a journal,” she said.

What do I do in my personal sanctuary?

Your personal sanctuary is a place for you to rest and recharge.

“The purpose is to calm yourself,” Knicely said. “Let go of your thoughts, your to-do list, to be still with no thought of what needs to be done. Just be.”

She said she knows that is hard for someone who has never practiced stillness or meditation before. So, she said to start with five minutes.

“It will seem like an eternity,” she said. Then the next time spend seven minutes, and so on until you work up to an hour.

“Before you know it, you’ll be spending an hour and wonder where the time has gone,” she said.

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