our environment and mental health
our environment influences our physical and mental wellbeing in more ways than we might realise
You might not think about it, but our environment has a huge impact on your wellbeing. Several studies have shown a strong link between mental health and environmental issues such as climate change, pollution and water accessibility. These all play significant roles in our psychological and emotional states.
However, it can be quite difficult to figure out what’s fact from what’s fiction, given all the talk surrounding global warming and climate change. In this resource, we will explore the factors that can affect your mental health and what little things you can do to address it.
How does our environment affect my mental health?
From the trees around us to the air we breathe, our environment plays a big role in our wellbeing. Some things are good for us and some not so much. Regardless, it’s crucial to recognise these effects to make the most of our surroundings for a positive impact on our mental health. Here are some factors that can affect you:
One of the most well-documented aspects of the environment’s impact on mental health is the therapeutic influence of green spaces (i.e., areas with plants and trees). Spending time in natural settings has been linked to reduced stress, anxiety and depression.
Nature not only provides you with a break from the demands of modern life but also allows a sense of connection with the world that can be profoundly therapeutic.
While we’ve known for a while that spending time in parks and nature is good for our mental health, the therapeutic effects of ‘blue spaces’ are also gaining attention. Coastal beaches, lakes and rivers have been linked to improved wellbeing.
A Scottish study, led by the University of Stirling, found that individuals who suffer from depression and anxiety can benefit from being near water. Whether it’s the rhythmic sounds of waves or the visual appeal of water, blue spaces offer a natural way to reduce stress and create a positive and uplifting atmosphere.
On the flip side, rapid urbanisation and the increasing distance from nature have been linked to several mental health challenges. The concrete jungles that dominate many urban landscapes can often lead to increased stress levels.
Urban scenery also increases feelings of sadness and anger and heightens aggression. This could be because we associate the urban environment with work, a main stress source for many people. The lack of panoramic views caused by high urbanisation is narrowing the field of our vision, which is connected with increased anxiety.
The air quality we breathe is a crucial factor affecting our mental health. The air pollutant in the air we breathe in has harmful particles that enter our bodies, affect how our brain works and make our lungs breathe in less oxygen. As a result, we feel more stressed, our sleep quality drops and our mood worsens.
Also, there is existing evidence that exposure to air pollution is associated with a higher risk of poor mental health. Those include higher rates of depression, schizophrenia and other mental health conditions.
Climate change anxiety
As the impacts of climate change become more noticeable, it’s natural to feel anxious about the future of our planet. Environmental degradation, extreme weather events and an uncertain future can make us feel helpless and scared. It’s even been found that temperature increases of just 1°C can lead to a significant rise in suicide rates.
That said, it’s crucial to look after our mental wellbeing, especially in the face of news and current affairs. Here are some tips for maintaining good mental health in these unpredictable times.
What can I do to improve my mental health through nature?
So, you know the factors that can affect your mental health, but what can you do to take advantage of the environment on your mental health? Here are some things you can do:
Engaging in outdoor activities is a fantastic way to not only boost your physical health but also significantly improve your mental wellbeing. Activities like hiking, biking, or even a simple stroll in a natural setting can provide a refreshing change from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
When you engage yourself in an activity in nature, you benefit from increased oxygen levels and exposure to natural light – both of which allow you to boost your mood. Also, physical activity releases endorphins, which are the body’s natural mood improver.
Taking regular nature walks is a simple way to connect with the environment and promote mental clarity. Whether you live near a forest or a small city park, the act of walking amidst nature can be meditative.
The Japanese art of Shinrin-Yoku – forest bathing – has been used for many decades across the world to improve mental health and reduce loneliness rates. Nature walks also provide an opportunity for mindful reflection. Take this time to be fully present, leaving behind worries and distractions. As you incorporate nature walks into your routine, you’ll likely find that they become a time for self-reflection and relaxation.
Cold water immersion
Taking a plunge into cold water may seem refreshing and its effects extend beyond the physical realm, influencing mental wellbeing in various ways. The shock triggers the release of the feel-good hormone: endorphins, reducing stress and improving mood. Regular exposure may improve resilience, contribute to better sleep, increase mental clarity, reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety and promote mood stability.
Practice mindfulness by engaging yourself in the details of nature. Sit quietly and observe the leaves, shadows and water movement. Mindful observation in nature can serve as a form of meditation, helping to calm the mind and reduce stress.
This practice encourages a shift in focus from the demands of daily life to the beauty and simplicity of the natural world. Over time, the skills of mindfulness cultivated in nature extend to other aspects of your life – contributing to a more balanced state of mind.
Starting a small garden can be a great way to connect with nature. You can do it in your backyard or with potted plants on a balcony. Planting, nurturing and watching plants grow can be rewarding and therapeutic. Interestingly, some soil bacteria release serotonin – a happy hormone that can help reduce stress and build our resilience.
Cultivating a few indoor plants, even if you have limited space, can bring the benefits of gardening into your daily routine and offer a sense of accomplishment as you witness the fruits of your labour.
Sunlight helps the body make vitamin D, which plays a role in mood regulation. Natural sunlight helps regulate sleep patterns, reduces symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and enhances the production of endorphins, contributing to a positive mood.
Consider taking a morning walk to soak in the early sunlight or finding a peaceful spot to read or meditate outdoors.
Our Advice and Support Service is open Monday to Friday, 10am to 4pm, where advisers can signpost you to local support that most fits your needs, including our Change Mental Health services. We offer initial advice on money worries and help to deal with emergencies.
Contact 0808 8010 515, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out the enquiry form on the Advice and Support Service page.