It encompasses where we live, where we work, and everything around us, including nature and the outdoor life, our care for the planet and conscious living. The environment is a major contributory factor to our wellbeing and the reason we include it as one of the nine science-backed drivers in our WellBeing Wheel.
We all know the beneficial effect of green (when we are connected in nature) and blue exercise (when we are in or on the water), and the way it can improve our mental, physical and social wellbeing. It is also one of the many reasons that the theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week was Nature.
Whether alone or in a group, spending time in the great outdoors is proven to reduce feelings of isolation, stress and anxiety, promote calm, lift our mood, enhance concentration and self-esteem.
So, if you have some freshly-picked flowers in your home or workplace, when you are enjoying a relaxing stroll on the beach or through the park, when you are exercising on foot, playing for your local team or cycling outdoors, or when you take the dog for his/her daily constitutional walk, BREATHE in that wonderful therapeutic feeling of nature. It will make you feel so good!
Take some time to enjoy the moment and the environment around you. If you can’t be in nature all day, here are a few ideas to capture the benefits:
• Get a plant for your workspace.
• Have a ‘clear the clutter’ day.
• Take notice of how your colleagues are feeling or acting when in different settings.
• Take a different route on your journey to or from work to enjoy unexplored scenery.
• Visit a new place for lunch. Sit outside if you can.
• Join or start an outdoor exercise class. Or jump in the sea, I am told it is exhilarating!
If you really want to grow, change your life and feel more joyful and healthy then it’s important you take into account how your environment affects you. Over 600 million people in the world do not have access to clean water. Hard to imagine, but true. This matters because illnesses caused by viruses, bacteria and parasites in dirty water kill more children than AIDS, malaria and measles combined.
According to the World Health Organisation, more than three million children under the age of five die each year from environment-related causes, such as polluted indoor and outdoor air, contaminated water and lack of adequate sanitation. That is more than 800 children who die due to diseases caused by their environment every single day.
Many of us are fortunate not to be in this position, although from the food we eat, to how it’s grown and handled, to the air around us, environmental factors impact our health in multiple ways and play an important role in our overall wellbeing.
Our environment can contribute to poor mental health. Genetics, personal history, diet, lifestyle, all can play a part, although one of most impacting and often overlooked factors is the environment in which we live our day to day lives. It forms part of the wider context of our lives and is vital to consider when thinking about our mental health. It might include, for example, physical factors such as temperature, or noise, in particular sleep deprivation caused by noisy neighbours, road traffic, air conditioning, and extreme weather conditions.
Environmental air pollution and passive and active smoking can be detrimental to one’s physical and mental health; as can hazardous and inaccessible working conditions which can put significant strain on us physically or mentally. If our work environment is stressful, we certainly don’t work productively, it’s as simple as that.
Social factors also can have an impact upon mental health. These may include poverty, lack of social support, toxic relationships, or feeling unsafe in your environment, all will bring with it a great deal of stress and anxiety.
Lack of access to green spaces can be detrimental. Access to green or naturally beautiful spaces has a tremendously positive impact upon mental and physical health, whilst a lack of visual stimulation is potentially negative. Extreme untidiness can also make us anxious on an instinctive level due to health hazard we may feel it presents. The good news is that getting help to make the positive changes needed can improve both your mental health and break you out of a toxic environment.
Studies have shown that green space in your immediate environment boost emotional health. Our connection with nature is the best solution for all kinds of problems. It has a direct positive impact on wellbeing, happiness, and emotional and psychological health. People are happier when they are in contact with nature, especially when they are accompanied by family or friends. We live in a society where people spend more time indoors and online, especially children. This means we may be missing social experiences and our connection with nature, which is affecting our mental wellbeing.
We can learn a lot from Finland. According to the World Happiness Report, Finland has always been at the forefront of technological innovation. At the same time, their suicide rates are going down, the numbers of prison in-mates are reducing, and they are at the forefront in the happiness stakes. They know that happiness isn’t found on a computer screen. They claim their secret is in nature, quite literally.
‘Deviation from nature is a deviation from happiness.’ ~ Samuel Johnson
What will you be doing today to make sure your environment is conducive to your good health and wellbeing?