From anxiety and depression to stress and mood disorders, the spectrum of mental health challenges is complex, to say the least. While genetics and life experiences each play their own roles in shaping our mental health, an often underestimated factor that influences our psychological state is our environment. When we use the term environment, we’re referring to a person’s surroundings. This can include their home, neighborhood, friend group, and even their career. In this blog, we explore the relationship between our surroundings and our mental health and explain how various aspects of our environment can either nourish or erode our mental well-being.
The Environment’s Role in Mental Health
Our environment is a summary of everything that surrounds us: our homes, workplaces, communities, and natural surroundings. Our daily experiences are largely shaped by our environment, whether we are acutely aware of it or not. Consequently, our mental health is shaped by it as well. The way our surroundings affect our mental health is a complex topic. It includes things like how exposure to harmful substances like pesticides and heavy metals can lead to mental health problems. It also involves understanding how stress from natural disasters caused by climate change or past unfair treatment in the environment can impact our mental well-being. On the flip side, we’re also learning how being in green spaces and having nice things in our neighborhoods can make us feel better mentally. Until now, most research on the health effects of environmental issues has mainly looked at physical health problems, not mental ones. However, that’s starting to change. Experts from various fields, including environmental science, psychiatry, genetics, and psychology, are now working together to study how our environment can either harm or help our mental health. They’re looking at different pieces of evidence to understand this relationship better.
- Home: Our living space is where we spend a large chunk of our time, making it one of the most powerful aspects that either hurt or help our mental health. A cluttered or chaotic home can quickly lead to stress and anxiety. On the other hand, a clean and organized home allows for a sense of relaxation. Especially for those who do not have much control over their other environments, making sure that the home is in order can be hugely beneficial.
- Natural Spaces: The term “touch grass” has quite a bit of validity to it, it turns out. Access to nature has been repeatedly linked to improved mental health, regardless of the scenario. Studies have shown that spending time in green spaces, like parks or forests, can reduce stress and increase feelings of happiness and calm. Next time you feel like your mental health is on a downward trend, try taking a trip that immerses you in nature.
- Noise Pollution: Excessive noise pollution, whether that be from traffic, construction, or noisy neighbors, is usually linked to sleep disturbances, which can increase stress and anxiety. A quiet environment, on the other hand, is ideal for relaxation and increased concentration. Living in a noisy environment is inevitable for some, so if you find yourself unable to escape this, try investing in a noise machine or earplugs.
- Social Support: Our relationships and social connections are integral to our mental health. A supportive and nurturing social environment can provide a buffer against stress and improve our overall emotional well-being.
- Social Isolation: On the other side of the coin, social isolation and loneliness are known to have detrimental effects on a person’s mental state. Prolonged isolation leads to depression and anxiety for many. Community and Neighborhood: The sense of community and belonging in one’s neighborhood can be immensely helpful when it comes to fighting off poor mental health. A strong, interconnected community offers a sense of safety and support, while a disconnected or unsafe neighborhood contributes to higher levels of stress and anxiety.
- Job Satisfaction: Because most of us spend a large chunk of our waking hours at work, our work environment matters. Job satisfaction, workload, and the culture of our workplace can all impact how we feel mentally on any given day.
- Work-Life Balance: A healthy work-life balance is essential, whether you have a spouse and children or are a single professional. An environment that promotes flexibility and allows employees to balance their professional and personal lives will reduce stress and burnout.
Cultural and Societal Factors
- Cultural Norms: Cultural expectations and norms can impact how mental health is perceived and addressed. In some cases, seeking help for mental health issues is stigmatized, making it that much harder to come forward.
- Societal Pressures: Societal pressures related to success, appearance, and achievement can contribute to stress, anxiety, and depression. These pressures are magnified by the media and advertising, especially in the United States.
- Natural Disasters: Experiencing natural disasters like hurricanes or wildfires can have profound effects on mental health. Survivors are known to experience post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental illnesses.
- Pollution: Exposure to environmental pollutants, including air and water pollution, has been linked to cognitive decline and mood disorders. This is an area of research that is continuing to be explored, especially given our current climate.
Our surroundings can either support or undermine our psychological health, and it is up to us to moderate our environment in order to support our mental health. As individuals, we can take steps to improve our mental health by creating a positive and nurturing environment within our four walls. This could be as simple as decluttering our living spaces or seeking out and spending time in natural settings more often. On a larger scale, advocating for environmental policies that reduce pollution and promote access to green spaces can have a positive impact on the world as we know it. In order to properly address mental health, we each need to recognize the impact of environmental factors and work towards creating environments that are better suited for positive mental health.
New Dimensions Can Help!
New Dimensions provides Intensive Outpatient Treatment Programs (IOP) and Partial Hospitalization (PHP) for adolescents and adults who are struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues. If you are faced with environmental challenges, we can help you get back on track. We have both in-person and virtual online treatment options. To learn more, contact us at 800-685-9796 or visit our website at www.nddtreatment.com. You can also visit www.mhthrive.com to learn more about individual, couples, and family therapy treatment options.