How Do Environmental Exposures Play a Role in Mental Health?

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Your environment can drastically impact your mental health. Understanding various environmental exposures and the places you spend the most time can help you determine whether they affect your emotional well-being.

Use this information to recognize where to make changes to start feeling happier and healthier.  

The 4 Types of Environments and Their Impact

The places you spend the most time at can impact you psychologically. For example, environmental factors can raise or lower your stress levels. This can lead to other health issues and make you more susceptible to illnesses. Here are the four different types of environments and how they can impact you:

1. Work Environment

The average person will spend over 90,000 hours at work, which is about one-third of a lifetime. This environment can significantly impact mental health. Several factors can create a hostile atmosphere, such as high demands, bullying, lack of control, low support, effort and reward imbalances, and more. 

2. Home Environment

Several elements impact the home environment. Crime levels, climate, racial discrimination, poverty and toxins can create a place that’s far from ideal. Studies show that stigmas associated with poverty, climate-related risks and trauma from racism can all cause stress and negatively impact mental well-being.

Additionally, toxins can harm mental health, including effects on emotional, cognitive, social and neural functions. Swimming pool chemicals, weed killers and pest control products are common toxins in homes that can lead to physical and mental health concerns. 

3. Social Environment 

Your social environment refers to elements like support, ethnicity and race. Friendships, partners, familial relationships and spouses all fall within this category. Having a strong sense of connectedness can create a sense of belonging, enhance feelings of love and reduce risks of violent or suicidal behaviors. 

4. School Environment 

Children, teens and college students spend a lot of time learning, completing assignments or studying. The environment in which they complete these activities can affect mental health. Factors like misguided policies, bullying, loneliness, stress and a lack of support can lead to poor mental health. 

What Factors Impact Mental Health the Most?

More people are opening up about their challenges with mental health disorders, including celebrities like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Michael Phelps and more. Part of these efforts involves understanding what can trigger adverse reactions and what can bring positive ones. 

Everything you experience can impact your mental health. However, several significant factors play crucial roles, including people, culture and values, familiarity, aesthetics and sensory details. 

Communication, conflicts and reliability all impact your environment. For example, you would likely feel more comfortable in a space with a trusted friend or spouse than in a room of strangers or someone you barely know. 

Communication can also impact culture, which is another critical component for crafting a healthy and happy environment. People usually connect with those who share similar values since they better understand each other. Without these relationships, individuals can begin feeling isolated and lonely. However, some aspects of a shared culture can also negatively impact you. For instance, if your friends or family abuse alcohol or drugs, you could experience depression, anxiety, motivation loss, mood changes and more. 

Familiarity encompasses multiple elements. Naturally, places you know well will often make you feel more comfortable than those you’ve never been to. However, familiarity also involves tying a location to memory. For example, if something in the area reminds you of a difficult time, you may feel anxiety or other negative feelings when there. Meanwhile, positive associations through objects like photos, keepsakes and personal items can boost your mental health. 

Creating a positive environment is possible even if you have adverse reactions or thoughts. For example, you can add photos and items you enjoy to your workspace to make it more comfortable. 

Aesthetics refers to organization, colors and similar elements. Clutter can bring feelings of stress or anxiety, while organization makes you feel calmer. Additionally, some colors can have an impact on your mood. For example, bright shades typically make people feel happier and energized. A simple change like painting your walls can improve your environment and make you feel more at ease. 

Lastly, the things you experience with your senses can impact your environment and mental health. Temperature, colors, smells, sounds, lighting and similar elements can affect your well-being.

For example, constant noise pollution can lead to memory impairment, stress, cognitive problems and learning delays.  

Should You Make an Environmental Change?

Understanding how your environments affect you is the first step toward taking charge of your mental health. You can then determine whether you should make a change.

Perhaps you need to spend more time outside with friends and family, transfer schools or look for a more rewarding career. If you notice that certain environmental changes improve or harm your well-being, you can determine what long-term efforts to make. 

Although making big changes may be challenging, small adjustments can significantly impact your well-being.

For example, you may not be able to move to a new home immediately, but you can take several steps to improve your at-home experience. You could organize your space, paint the walls your favorite color, increase natural light or start a new hobby. 

You can also find small ways to improve your spatial associations. For instance, you could create a welcoming spot like a reading nook, craft table, or another hobby-related spot that you can associate with positive habits and thoughts. 

If you have a supportive group that can give you advice, consider opening up about your challenges with them. They may be able to provide useful tips or offer the support you need to remind you that you are not alone. 

Alternatively, if you are in a toxic relationship, create physical and emotional distance wherever possible. Call an abuse hotline for advice and aid to remove yourself from the situation quickly.

Understand Your Mental Health

Everything in your environment can impact your mental health. Although there are several ways to address these challenges on your own, don’t forget that it’s OK to ask for help, especially when you’re battling multiple challenges at once. Change can be good, but you must recognize what makes you feel better or worse. Personalized treatment, professional care and ongoing support can provide the necessary resources to improve your well-being.

  • Beth Rush

    Beth Rush is the green wellness editor at Body+Mind, a health and wellness brand. She covers topics like sustainable agriculture and plant-based recipes. You can find Beth on Twitter @bodymindmag. Subscribe to Body+Mind for more posts by Beth!

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