Did you know that your environment plays a huge role in your mental and physical wellbeing? Most of us have experienced environmental stress at one time or another in our lives.
For some, just the idea of visiting a dentist can cause such anxiety that they develop a headache or nausea. Many have also had negative experiences during hospital stays, in which the noise, glare, and constant new staff coming in and out of their rooms causes negative feelings.
How Stress Can Impact Your Health
Environmental stress impacts our health in numerous ways. Stress can cause:
- Tension headaches, back pain, jaw pain, and repetitive stress syndrome
- 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 such as eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and possibly schizophrenia
- Cardiovascular problems, including irregular heartbeat, hardening of the arteries, and heart attack
And stress can worsen every other physical and mental illness. It plays a factor in immune suppression, Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, accelerated aging, and premature death.
Common Environmental Stressors
Several studies have shown that there are seven common types of environmental stressors:
- Environmental factors that you cannot control, including heat, glare, and noise can cause anxiety and irritation.
- Reduced exposure to light - such as that caused by the shortening of days in the winter or spending time inside with windows covered all day - can interfere with sleep and cause depression.
- Well-designed spaces can facilitate social interaction, which can reduce stress, lower blood pressure and lower heart rates. Narrow, labyrinthine spaces that deter interaction can do the opposite.
- Being cut off from the natural world can increase stress. Even three to five minutes outside enjoying nature can significantly reduce anxiety, anger, and fear.
- 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.
How to Reduce Environmental Stress and Improve 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 for you personally.
- Learn meditation techniques so you can relax when you’re in a stressful situation or location.
- Take control. If something is causing you distress, take control of your environment. Turn down (or up) the thermostat, turn off the TV, or put on sunglasses to reduce glare.
- Walk in nature or a garden if you possibly can. If you can’t, look outside windows or at nature-themed art. If you’re moving, make sure to choose a residence with windows that face nature or place bird feeders outside your window to draw nature to you.
- Interact with an animal. Research has proven that pets, including cats, dogs, fish, horses, and reptiles, can benefit health. The very act of petting an animal lowers your heart rate.
Check out these additional stress-reduction tips that can help you cope with anxiety caused by environmental stressors.
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