When we construct wellness plans for ourselves, two components -- diet and exercise -- are almost always at the top of the list. Moreover, while eating healthy foods and keeping active are both vital to our overall well being, there's something else to consider: our environments.
It's challenging to reach our potential if we're stuck in an inhibitive environment. After all, it's difficult for a plant to thrive in the dark. Both our psychological and physiological health is in part tied to our environments, and it's up to each of us to cultivate our surroundings into something positive. Often our environments become normalized, and we fail to ask pertinent questions. Before you accept your current environment, ask yourself a few questions.
1. Do uplifting people surround me?
In some ways, negative and positive feelings are like a virus, spreading quickly through social groups and relationships. The correlation is simple: when you surround yourself with negative people, your mental health suffers. Whom we associate with is never 100 percent within our control; for example, we have little control over our coworkers, supervisors, family or neighbors. We can take some steps to attract, nurture and keep positive relationships in our lives.
Seek out positive relationships by getting involved in activities that matter to you. Meeting like-minded people is the first step towards cultivating a peer group that supports you.
2. Are my personal spaces truly my own?
Feeling comfortable is an essential quality in your life. Even a subtle sensation of discomfort in your environment can cause unneeded stress and anxiety. People living in cluttered homes are shown in studies to show higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone¹. It's not a coincidence; people feel more at home when their environment is free from clutter.
Of course, going too far in the other direction can also cause some anxiety. Trying to maintain a level of clinical cleanliness and organization in your home or office can prove to be untenable and ultimately upsetting. For most people, there is a comfort zone where things are free from clutter but still look "lived in." Find your perfect level of cleanliness and try to maintain it. If your home seems overwhelmingly cluttered, try taking it one step at a time.
Don't overextend yourself
Don't try to do too much at once. Sometimes when you first get started cleaning, you'll feel hugely motivated and may be tempted to start multiple cleaning tasks at once. This kind of overextension can easily lead to burnout, and soon you'll find your home more cluttered than before.
Pick completable tasks
To keep yourself motivated, try focusing on simple decluttering or cleaning tasks that have a recognizable endpoint. Stepping back to see that you've completed clearing the table or reorganizing a drawer can keep you motivated to get through your whole home.
Get rid of some things
Ultimately you may have too much stuff. Reorganizing only gets you so far if there's not enough room for everything. The anxiety caused by surrounding clutter is much stronger than the temporary discomfort of letting some objects go.
3. Am I living in the dark?
We've all heard that joke about humans being emotionally unstable houseplants, and there's a bit of truth in that. Our bodies need sunlight for the vitamins and the health benefits it has on our brains. Too much time in the dark can leave us with feelings of depression, including fatigue, weight gain, and sadness².
So open up the curtains and clean your windows. Get outside when you can. The seasonal affective disorder affects many people, but the symptoms can creep up even in the summertime if you spend too much time indoors and away from the sun.
Also, don't be fooled into thinking your lamps can pick up the slack. Humans need natural light; a few bright bulbs aren't going to cut it.
4. Is my environment polluted?
There are more forms of pollution than just smog. Noise pollution is a real problem in the modern world. Many of us live surrounded continuously by vehicle noises and blaring electronics. It can be so all-consuming that many of us have grown accustomed to it. However, giving your ears and your mind some quiet time can be invaluable in fashioning your healthy, happy environment. You likely don't have much control over where you live or work, but you can do a few things to replace noise pollution with either silence or more positive sounds.
Turn it off
The simplest thing to do is turn off your television and silence your phone ringer. Many people leave electronics on for "background noise," but a raucous TV show or loud radio can subtly irritate your mind and lower your mood. Give yourself some time each day where everything is turned off, especially right before bed.
If total silence makes you uncomfortable, or if you can still hear distant distracting noises from outside, consider populating your home or office with more natural sounds. A babbling brook or the wind shuffling through leaves calms most people down. You can play these sounds through your laptop or cell phone, or you can go one step further and buy a small fountain for your desk or counter.
5. Am I doing all I can?
We have two environments: our immediate surroundings and our planet as a whole. You can help better your community environment by making green decisions and volunteering. Small tasks like picking up litter or planting trees can not only improve the world around you; they can lift your mood. If you value caring for the planet, then knowing you're living your life in the most sustainable way possible can have a significant impact on your psychological wellness.
6. Am I paying into my happiness?
We want many things in life: that new TV, fancier furniture, or maybe a complete kitchen remodel. Try to make your big purchases investments in your happiness. Think about what you're going to use that new item for. Buying a new grill, for example, may lead to more parties and get-togethers at your home. Maybe that new streaming subscription will be used for family movie nights. The important thing is to pause, step back and think about what you're bringing into your environment and what you're going to get back from it.
We're only as happy and healthy as our living environment. Take a moment to step back and think about your surroundings and whether you can get more out of them. True wellness comes to those who take charge of each aspect of their lives. Environmental wellness is one of Eight Dimensions of Wellness. Continue to read our blog about how you can take steps to improve the other seven dimensions.
(1) Saxbe, D. E; Repetti, R (January 2010) No place like home: home tours correlate with daily patterns of mood and cortisol
(2) Conti, L. (August 2008) How Light Deprivation Causes Depression