It can be easy to trick yourself into believing that mental health issues are purely the result of inner struggles. After all, it’s your body and mind that are being affected. That must be where the problems lie, right? While your own internal activity is definitely a crucial part of mental illness and stress, there are some environmental factors that can be harmful to your mental health. Here are some of the most common elements within your surroundings that may have an effect on your mental health.
Social Interaction and Community
As humans, we need social interaction and a sense of community to thrive. Thus, companionship (or a lack thereof) stands to have a huge impact on your overall mental health. Having someone you can regularly talk with about personal issues that affect you can help to relieve the stress of day-to-day happenings as well as major conflicts in your life. Friends, family, and other relationships can also greatly increase the chance you’ll make and maintain positive changes in your life related to things like diet, exercise, as well as avoiding bad habits.
The quality of the relationships you keep is one of the most important factors. You need to have the right people around you. Even if you’re interacting with people who know you well and seem close to you, it’s possible for some relationships to become toxic. Some friends may enable you to keep bad habits, or they may place high expectations on your friendship that can stress you out and harm your mental state without your realizing it.
Beyond mental health, social interactions can also affect your physical health, which may lead to added stress and depression. A lack of companionship can have an especially powerful impact on senior citizens who may be at a greater risk for social isolation. Seniors who don’t participate in regular social interactions typically have higher rates of infection, cognitive decline, and depression. However, senior living communities have been shown to help reduce social isolation in seniors, allowing them to live happier, more fulfilling lives as they age.
Whatever your age, it’s important to seek out opportunities for quality social interactions. This doesn’t mean you have to rely on your family, a spouse, or even close friends. Without even sharing your deepest struggles, you might confide in a co-worker or have momentary exchanges with people at the gym, a coffee shop, or some other public space. Volunteer opportunities are also a great opportunity to take part in your community and create meaningful social relationships.
Rural vs Urban Area
Looking at a bigger picture, the area you live in can also have an effect on your mental health. Some research has shown that people who live in urban areas are worse at handling stress than those from rural areas. Furthermore, researchers have found that living in a city nearly doubles a person’s risk of developing schizophrenia. High social density paired with social isolation as well as the constant stress related to noise pollution and traffic, it’s no mystery why urban environments are harsh on our minds.
However, rural areas aren’t necessarily a better choice for improving one’s mental health. Though living outside the city may reduce the stress you experience from densely populated areas, people in rural areas are often underserved, facing shortages in healthcare as well as issues related to food insecurity. Because of the shortage of healthcare professionals, mental health issues often go untreated. Over time, this may allow mental conditions to worsen, which may exacerbate economic hardships and add to the stress a person feels.
Should you move to the country if you’re stressed out by the city? That’s not really the point, as there are advantages and drawbacks to both. Instead, pay attention to the way each of these could trigger stress. By being aware of how the area you live in affects your mental state, you stand a better chance of resisting vicious cycles of stress and mental illness that may arise.
Aside from whether you live in a big city or a rural area, housing insecurity and the physical state of your home can also affect your mental health. People with existing mental health issues are often more likely to live in rented housing, at times in poor living conditions. These places may have issues with mold and other health hazards, and the accommodations might not be reliable month-to-month, causing people to move frequently.
It’s possible these circumstances are out of your hands, and you may feel that you can get along fine with some difficulty at home. However, living in poor conditions can create stress and intensify mental illness over time. If you are renting a house or apartment, you may not have a great amount of power to make physical changes to your home. What you can impact is the cleanliness and organizational strategies you practice.
Some would say that your home is a reflection of your mind. Following that sentiment, it makes sense that you should take the time to clean your home on a regular basis and don’t let organizational issues get too far out of hand. Cluttered papers, clothing, and a general lack of designated spaces for your belongings can cause you to lose track of things that are important. This can cause a lot of immediate stress, and it establishes a combative relationship between you and your home. By putting in time now to maintain your home, you’ll save time and avoid emotional pain later.
Someone who works full time for fifty years might spend more than 100,000 hours at work. Obviously, it’s worth looking into the ways your workplace environment contributes to the state of your mental health. Many factors could affect your stress levels, including difficulties with co-workers or management, challenging or unrealistic workloads, a lack of adequate technology, or simply an uninspiring physical space.
In a perfect world, you’d be able to communicate with supervisors in order to work toward changing aspects of your workplace that stress you out. Or you’d be able to easily take your talents and experience to another company that will be a better fit for you. However, often this is not the case. If finding new employment isn’t an option in your immediate future and things don’t seem to be changing at your job, it’s important to deal with workplace stress in a healthy way. Taking deep breaths, avoiding distractions, and exercising outside of work can all help to you to cope with work related stress.
Again, many people take for granted that mental health issues are solely internal matters. However, there are many things surrounding you that could be contributing to stress, depression, anxiety, and other issues. The people around you, your location, the condition of your home, and your workplace are just a few factors that can have a major impact on your mental health. You can’t always change your circumstances, but by acknowledging the emotional effects they may be having, you can better prepare yourself to respond in healthy ways.