Did you know that your environment can affect your mental health? Lots of studies have shown that negative environments and/or environments that lack positive stimuli can have a strong negative effect on your health. One of the most observed cases of this are the effects of living in urban or inner city areas. Studies generally show increased stress, anxiety, hopelessness, and other mental health problems among people who live in such areas. Many researchers suggest that a primary cause of this is a form of what’s known as sensory deprivation.
Sensory deprivation occurs when one or more of a person’s senses are blocked or disabled in some way. In experimental psychology a case of sensory deprivation might be a study where people are blindfolded to simulate blindness. Environmental psychologists who make the case for sensory deprivation argue that living in urban areas presents a form of sensory deprivation through depriving people of positive stimuli. Imagine an inner city scene. What do you picture? Are there trees? Children playing? What do the billboards depict? Where can you find positivity? Environmental psychologists suggest that this lack of positivity results in people essentially becoming to an extent “blind” to positivity, simply because they aren’t used to being exposed to it. This isn’t to say that people in these situations can’t experience positivity, only that they are used to and expect a lack of it. This results in hopelessness, pessimism, stress, and depression.
“But Joe! Why would you tell me all of this!? this is depressing!” The important thing to take out of this is the fact that, just as it can have a negative effect on you, your environment can have a positive effect as well. And you have some control over that.
Find some green space! Many studies have shown that “green spaces” in cities can have very positive effects on mental health.
On a smaller scale, houseplants clean the air inside your home or office and can have many positive effects on your mental health.
for more on this and some tips for starting out with houseplants, check out this article.
Numerous studies have also demonstrated several benefits to pet ownership.
If you can’t have a pet like a dog or a cat in your space, try something like a fish tank. Studies have shown that watching fish in an aquarium can reduce stress, anxiety, and blood pressure. click here to read an article about the benefits of a fish tank.
My office tank
Decorate your environment. Put pictures and paintings on walls, add some color to your environment. Plain, nondescript areas can feel boring and depressing. keep things in your environment that bring up happy, positive emotions.
Some of my office origami
Sunlight. Let some light into your home or office. This small thing can make a big difference and help you feel more positive and alert.
There are several other things you can do to make your environment more positive and healthful. Be creative! think about what makes you feel good and surround yourself with those things. For more on this topic check out this segment of Science Friday on NPR/