Understanding How Your Environment Affects Your Mental Health
The environment affects your mental health in diverse and sometimes unexpected ways. Broadly defined, your environment includes the surroundings and conditions you live in, and it can impact you through both physical and psychological means. These are some of the many environmental factors that can affect your mental functioning.
An article on light, sleep and depression looked at the results of exposure to natural light in the workplace by comparing workers with and without windows. They discovered that lack of exposure to natural light was associated with high cortisol and low melatonin. Which contributed to feelings of depression and difficulty with sleep.
Conversely, research reported by Harvard Health notes that bright light therapy isn’t just for people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) who feel depressed in the winter when days get shorter. Research shows that it’s beneficial for major depressive disorder, too.
Can Your Environment Affect Your Mental Health? A Psychology Today article says yes and notes that clutter can be part of the picture. One study found that people with cluttered homes felt less attached to and got less psychological comfort from them. Another study found that people in a disorganized and messy kitchen ate more cookies and snacks than people in a “non-chaotic” kitchen, presumably because they felt more stressed and less control.
Buildings, especially those that have had some sort of leak or water intrusion, can be colonized by bacteria and mold. In a study of how environment affects your mental health, the American Journal of Public Health concluded that exposure to dampness and mold was associated with higher rates of depression. They note that it may be caused by the over-activation of the frontal cortex of the brain.
The list of chemical exposures that can cause mental health effects is long. And so is the number of possible symptoms. The Collaborative on Health and the Environment lists more than 100 psychiatric symptoms associated with environmental triggers, including those related to mood, cognition, behavior and perception. Implicated chemicals include those found in personal care products, bug repellants, cleaners and disinfectants, furniture, paint and more.
Air pollution, both indoors and out, is a combination of gases and solid particles. The smaller the particles are, the more easily they can evade the body’s defense system and enter the brain. In an article on pollution and mental health, Science Daily reports that people exposed to higher levels of traffic-related pollution have higher rates of mental illness.
Mental health treatment programs understand the power of a positive social environment. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion lists many factors associated with good mental health, including family, interpersonal and community relationship conditions. They note that shared places for interaction, such as churches and parks, can promote positive mental health.
A therapist quoted in an article entitled How Does Your Environment Affect Your Mental Health? makes a similar point, noting that it’s important for people to connect with those who share their values and culture. Otherwise, they can begin to feel isolated and depressed.
Working Through How Your Environment Affects Your Mental Health
Some environmental changes are fairly easy to make, such as adding lighting, de-cluttering or changing cleaning products. Others, such as remediating mold, escaping outdoor air pollution, or dealing with difficult relationships, are more challenging but can produce significant change.
Addressing mental health issues can feel overwhelming, but you’re not on the journey alone. We can help you identify and sort through your symptoms. Identify possible causes, and address them in a systemic and professional manner. We can help you change what you can and learn to cope in a healthy way with what can’t be changed, at least right now. Call us at 1.844.675.1022.