Many self-help books focus on how your emotions can affect your environment and your body, and we all know that emotions can affect your perception and your mental health.
Very few, however, describe how your environment affects your mental health. We all have had personal experience with this effect. For some people, waiting in the dentist’s waiting room can cause such anxiety that they develop a headache or nausea. Anyone who has had a hospital stay has experienced feeling ill from the noise, glare of lights, and constant visits.
Stress is the main culprit in negating your mental health.
- Pain caused by muscular problems—tension headaches, back pain, jaw pain, and repetitive stress syndrome
- Gastrointestinal problems—heartburn, stomach pain, and diarrhea
- Insomnia and sleep disorders
- Substance abuse—smoking, drug addiction, and alcohol abuse. Substance abuse can lead to heart disease, cancer and other illnesses.
- Asthma attacks
- Post-traumatic stress disorder and acute stress disorder
- Mental disorders—eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and possibly schizophrenia
- Cardiovascular problems—irregular heartbeat, hardening of the arteries, and heart attack
And stress worsens every other physical and mental illness. It plays a factor in immune suppression, Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, accelerated aging, and premature death.
How Do Your Surroundings Negatively Affect Your Mental Health?
Research conducted in hospitals describes how your environment can cause or alleviate strain on your emotional wellbeing:
- Environmental factors, such as heat, glare, and noise, that you can’t control are stressors.
- Exposure to bright light, whether natural or artificial, improves depression, agitation, and sleep.
- Design can facilitate social interaction, which studies indicate, reduces stress and leads to fewer colds, lower blood pressure and lower heart rates. One study indicated that the health benefits of socializing are equal to physical exercise.
- Nature reduces stress. Even three to five minutes of contact with nature can significantly reduce anxiety, anger and fear, whether you experience outside views, interior gardens, or nature-themed art.
- Room color can affect your mood. For example, research indicates that blues, greens, and turquoises encourage tranquility, and green increases concentration. The color red can actually agitate some people and cause anxiety.
- Scent can affect stress and your mood because the limbic system, the seat of emotion, is directly connected to the olfactory bulb. Aromatherapy is based on how scent affects us. Pine relaxes us, and the smell of fresh-cut grass can make us more joyful.
- The effects of texture on stress are often discounted. If you’ve ever worn an itchy wool sweater, you realize how physical discomfort can make you irritable.
Reduce stress from your environment that may affect your mental health
To ensure your environment encourages a positive mood, try these ideas:
Surround yourself with colors, fabrics, and scents that create an atmosphere of safety, comfort and relaxation.
Learn meditation techniques so you can relax when you’re in a stressful location.
Take control. If something is causing you distress, take control: Turn down (or up) the thermostat, turn off the TV, or walk away from the woman who has splashed herself too liberally with perfume. Your comfort is important.
Walk in nature or a garden if you possibly can. If you can’t, look outside windows or at nature-themed art. Live in a residence with windows that face nature or place bird-feeders outside your window.
Interact with an animal. Research has proven that pets, including cats, dogs, fish, horses, and reptiles, can benefit health. The very action of petting an animal lowers your heart rate. Even if you don’t have a pet, many senior living communities and senior centers bring in therapy dogs to pet.
Additional stress-reduction tips that help you cope with anxiety caused by physical, medical, mental, and other factors can help you deal with environmental stressors, too.