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Can Our Surroundings Really Affect Our Mental Health?

Our surroundings — whether indoors or outdoors — directly influence our health. This is true for both physical and mental well-being. According to a study from the Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP), E. Fuller Torrey, president of the Treatment Advocacy Center, states that “mental illnesses increasingly fall into the realm of environmental health.” The article goes on to explain that “any number of circumstances can produce psychosocial stress” (altering an individual’s mental well-being) but when environmental risk factors for mental health are identified, they point to treatment solutions and preventative measures that can lower the effects, risks, and morbidity of mental illness. How individuals react to surroundings can vary from person to person, but it is important to be aware of the different factors that can affect health within our surroundings. The information below is meant to provide insight into just that. 

Lighting 

According to “The Experience of Nature: A Psychological Perspective” by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan, light and color have psychological impacts. Three primary qualities of light/color have psychological impacts that should be considered:

  • Brightness: Brightness is the level of light/lumens that is given off by a source. Brighter lights can intensify different emotions and low light help keep emotions stable;
  • Hue: Hue refers to the color/shade of light. Different lighting and colors can evoke different emotions and have varying effects on an individual. According to an NCBI study on light exposure and health, “natural and artificial bright light, particularly in the morning, can improve significantly health outcomes such as depression, agitation, sleep, circadian rest-activity, and seasonal affective disorder”;
  • Saturation: Saturation is the intensity of a specific color. Within art, saturation is placed on a scale — 100% being fully saturated, and 0% being grey. Lighting saturation can use a similar scale. Saturated hues may intensify emotions while muffled or faint colors can tone down emotions.  

It is also important to consider that different colored lighting can impact moods, feelings, and behaviors due to color psychology. Although color perception can vary depending on the individual, certain colors have universal meaning and effects — for example:

  • Colors in the red spectrum (red, orange, yellow) are warm colors that evoke emotions such as warmth, comfort, anger, and hostility;
  • Colors in the blue spectrum (blue, green, purple) are cool colors that evoke emotions such as calmness, serenity, sadness, and indifference.

Changing/updating your lighting can help you improve certain aspects of your mental well-being. Add color changing led lighting to certain areas, install light dimming switches, or add windows/skylights to bring in additional natural light.

Temperature

As reported by Medical News Today, there is a connection between temperature and mental health. They have concluded that “cooler temperatures decrease the level of adverse mental health outcomes and that warmer temperatures increase negative health outcomes.” This can vary depending on the type of climate you are accustomed to. For example, individuals that live in higher temperatures year-round may be adversely affected by cold weather, while individuals acclimated to cooler temperatures year-round may be affected more negatively by cold weather. 

If the temperature inside of your home runs too cold, or too hot, your mental well-being may be deterred. While you cannot change the weather outdoors, you can take control of the temperature inside your home or office, though maintaining precise interior temperatures requires an efficient, well-maintained HVAC system. If your house is running cold, solicit local heating services to get your furnace up and running; likewise, be sure to get help from air conditioning services to keep your house comfortable during warm seasons. You can also purchase space heaters, or window A/C units to help maintain a comfortable temperature in specific rooms.

Indoor Air Quality

There are direct health impacts related to indoor air quality (IAQ), and according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air pollution is ranked as one of the top five environmental risks to public health. A few of the most common indoor air pollutants that threaten health include mold, radon, pests, carbon monoxide, pet dander, dust, lead, and second-hand smoke. Indoor air pollutants can cause some varying effects including irritation of the nose, eyes, and throat, headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and worsened asthma symptoms. Some long-term effects include respiratory disease, heart disease, and even cancer. It is important to note that although these effects are not directly related to mental health, there is a strong relationship between physical health and mental health

There are several easy ways to improve air quality:

  • Clean: Cleaning can reduce the amount of dust, mold, bacteria, and pet dander within your home. Be sure to clean every part of a home, especially regularly changing your bedding;
  • Keep greenery outdoors: Indoor plants help improve oxygen flow, but they can also collect dust and increase the growth of mold;
  • Change your filters: Those with forced-air need to change filters regularly. Filters can collect dust and other airborne bacteria/irritants. Take advantage of local HVAC services to help you determine the state of your IAQ, and make changes like filter replacement, repairs, and duct cleaning accordingly;
  • Purchase air purifiers: Place air purifiers in common areas throughout your home. These devices can help reduce airborne irritants;
  • Take advantage of fresh air: One of the best ways to improve IAQ is to open your windows and let some fresh air in. You can also use fans to move air contaminants — found in stagnant indoor air — outside.

Tidiness

According to HealthMed at Indiana University’s School of Public Health, there is a correlation between home hygiene and residents’ health. The article goes on to explain that a clean home is critical for the physical health and mental well-being of all types of occupants. Cleanliness, tidiness, and decluttering can help calm the mind, defend against illnesses/germs, boost concentration, improve focus, and optimize personal output. Additionally, some studies highlight the therapeutic benefits of cleaning.

Carve out a cleaning schedule for your home. Set aside time each day, or week, to take care of different household chores so that they don’t become overwhelming or get pushed aside. Purchase a variety of cleaning supplies and do your research on the different ingredients; some cleaning supplies — like aerosol sprays — may do more harm than good. Clutter can also negatively affect health. Avoid leaving items strewn throughout the floors, tables, and countertops. Designate spaces for items and keep your house clutter-free.

Noise Pollution

Exposure to environmental noise pollution can cause several health-related issues such as reduced concentration, increased stress, diminished productivity, communication barriers, excessive fatigue, lack of sleep, hearing loss, cognitive impairment, tinnitus, and cardiovascular disease. Noise pollution can stem from a variety of sources such as businesses, planes, vehicles, helicopters, trains, construction, gatherings, loud music, and many other contributors. 

Noise pollution can be difficult to completely silence, but there are easy and practical steps to reduce noise pollution at your home or office — these include:

  • Closing windows/doors;
  • Taking advantage of earplugs;
  • Improving insulation;
  • Installing fencing;
  • Reduce electronics volume;
  • Taking advantage of soundproofing or acoustic wall panels;
  • Create a dedicated quiet space;
  • Planting trees.

Social Enrichment

Surrounding yourself with friends or animals can help improve your social enrichment. According to an eLIFESciences study, social enrichment produces health benefits. The study goes on to explain that when humans and animals isolate themselves, their mental and physical health decreases. It also suggests that social enrichment and its relationship to death-risk are comparable to common death risk-factors like smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and obesity.

Social enrichment can look different depending on the preferences of the individual. While some prefer social gatherings with a large community of people, others prefer the company of pets. Take part in whatever makes you feel involved — this could include things like:

  • Joining a Facebook group;
  • Having a game night with friends;
  • Hosting/planning a potluck;
  • Buying/adopting a dog;
  • Going to church;
  • Attending a community event.