Colors aren’t just pretty to look at—they can have serious effects on your mood and ’tude.

By Kelsey Mulvey
Updated August 13, 2019

It doesn’t matter how often you meditate, journal, or sleep with a weighted blanket: Stress (and the accompanying stress symptoms) is inevitable. Though the root of your stress might be a packed schedule or looming deadlines at work, some less obvious factors in your day-to-day might be adding fuel to the fire. Case in point: The colors in your space (including certain paint colors) might be upping your stress levels.

“Colors themselves don’t necessarily lead to stress, although some are more generally accepted by society than others,” says Amber Dunford, the lead stylist at Overstock and a design psychology expert. “More so, it’s the combinations and saturation of colors being used together that lead to stressful responses.”

Want to keep your home as stress-free as can be? Here are three colors—with some color psychology explaining why they inspire certain reactions—that might be stressing you out, plus a calming color you should use to create a more soothing space.

1. Red

The effects of red go way beyond a statement-making pop of color. Often associated with spicy peppers, jarring stop signs, and fiery flames, red isn’t exactly the most calming color on the color wheel.

“Red is a stimulating color that increases our heart rates, signals rapid breathing, and activates our pituitary gland,” Dunford says. “Our pituitary gland controls our general well-being, so being overly activated can lead to stress.” Dunford also says that people generally perform worse on cognitive tests when surrounded by the hue.

A bouquet of red roses or a stunning kilim rug, complete with rich, warm hues, are nearly irresistible, but you might want to think twice about painting that accent wall fire engine red. Instead, opt for pink, which has been shown to decrease feelings of agitation or anxiety.

2. White

Convinced white paint colors offer the most soothing color on the spectrum? Think again!

“Contrary to popular belief, white can make us feel anxious if too much is used at once,” Dunford says. “While most people report feeling calm and relaxed in spaces with more of a natural and uniform palette, spaces with no variation in hue can elicit the opposite response.”

It makes a lot of sense. Anyone who has ever worn a crisp, white shirt, pants, or pair of shoes is all too familiar with the paralyzing fear that they’ll spill a glass of red wine or ketchup on their pristine clothes. Could you imagine if you had that concern with your entire room?

Of course, that doesn’t mean you should ditch white altogether. To create a relaxing room, Dunford recommends pairing white walls with beige accents. Or fill a space with different shades of white, using variations on the color to create a monochromatic color scheme. If you want to shake things up with a different neutral, try gray.

“Gray can be a great palate cleanser as a backdrop,” Dunford says. “It also has no after image, making it easier to look at over extended periods of time.”

3. Bright hues

We hate to break it to you, maximalists, but your penchant for bright, bold color may be causing some unnecessary stress.

“Highly saturated hues and multiple contrasting colors can be great for creating an energizing effect in humans,” Dunford says. “However, this combination is difficult to be around for extended periods of time and will lead to anxiety and stress.”

The panic-inducing plot only thickens when you use multiple bright colors in the same space. Not only can this combination promote stress, but several bright shades in a teeny, tiny space can be a complete headache.

Not ready to part ways with brights? As Dunford says, it’s all about striking a balance.

“It might be helpful to subdue one by selecting a color just a few squares in the lighter direction [on] the paint deck,” she says.

Calming colors

When it comes to decorating your space, Dunford says it’s important to keep calm and carry on.

“Creating a uniform color scheme allows the mind to relax,” Dunford says. “It requires less mental energy to take in the surroundings [than] contrasting colors, which create more excitement and energy and require a bit more focus to take in.”

As for the color you should paint your room? Well, that lies in the eye of the beholder. While blue paint colors often signify feelings of calm and relaxation, Dunford points out that some people associate blue with sadness.

If you don’t want to be tangled up in blues, Dunford recommends giving green a try.

“Green is also a good choice to evoke a feeling of calmness,” she says. “As a color we find in nature, it can often symbolize growth, harmony, and stability. It also has the ability to slow our metabolism, so it inherently has a calming effect.”

Not sure if you want to paint your entire space green? Test out the hue with plants. Not only will they give you a small, temporary taste of calming colors, but plants are also known to soften a space and decrease anxiety. And who knows—just a few house plants could be enough to de-stress your space.