Why Your Environment
(And What You Do About It)
We’ve all heard the jokes about going to our “happy place” in our minds in order to ground ourselves, relieve stress, or to simply boost our mood. Though it may be fun to playfully tell a frustrated friend to go to their “happy place” during their moment of angst, there is some truth underlying the message.
The truth is: the environment you function within has a profound influence on your wellbeing and you CAN do something about it if you’re struggling. You can take steps to optimize your wellbeing that maybe you haven’t before, whether that includes taking a brain break to go some place else or not.
Visual imagery, like going to your “happy place,” which might be a beach, a forest, some other special place, or even your room, can be a helpful tool for bringing yourself back to neutral after having a stressful moment. It’s a great practice to have and work to master. However, you can also work to create a “happy place” around you in the “real” physical world so that maybe you won’t feel as though you need to escape inside of your mind, because your in a comfortable space already. This blog will provide some tips on how to create harmony between yourself and your environment.
How Exactly Does The Environment Affect Me?
When we say your environment, we mean it in all senses of the word. The physical setting in which you spend your time, the social atmosphere you find yourself in, and all other aspects of what you might encounter. The formal term ‘environmental psychology’ essentially means ‘your surroundings have an effect on you’.
Take for example the following environment(s) that a 16 year old girl may function within:
Her parents are loud and fight a lot
She doesn’t have her own space and shares her room with a sibling
At school, she feels isolated because of bullying
At work, her boss is hyper-critical of her every move
How do you think these environments might affect her wellbeing? Just reading that short bulleted list, you might be able to feel the tension she is surrounded with. This young woman doesn’t appear to be able to feel safe or at peace anywhere! There are activating agents, or stressors, in all environments she functions within, and it may seem as though there isn’t much that she can do about it.
However, there is always something, no matter how small, that we can do to help improve our current situation and environment.
Think for a moment about your own environments and what seems difficult to change.
But … I Can’t Control That!
Yes, you can’t control other people, but you can influence your environment by making yourself known. It may seem like the settings you live within and the situations you find yourself dealing with are unchangeable. Recall the above example of the young woman, she might not be able to choose to move out quite yet or choose not to go to school, but there are some things she can do.
- Maybe she can set a boundary with her sibling that they are no longer going to be sharing everything, and she gets to decorate her half of the room however she wants.
- Maybe she confronts her boss and respectfully tells her that she feels attacked when spoken to in a certain way, and it’s impairing her ability to do her job.
- Maybe she talks to her guidance counselor at school about the bullying.
- Maybe she finally starts painting again and hangs her work on her walls.
- Maybe she finds a special place she likes to walk to and sit where she can have a few moments to herself outside of her home, school or work.
- Or maybe she just gets a new pair of headphones and blocks out the yelling with her favorite music to find her quiet happy place.
Here are some things you can do to influence your environment and take care of yourself in the midst of what might seem like chaos.
- Put your mark on your physical space.
- Making things your own can help ease stress. Take time to decorate your walls, folders/binders, or whatever you regularly come into contact with.
- Put out plants, candles or items that make you smile.
- Set boundaries.
- Be vocal if you don’t appreciate how someone is treating you.
- Remove yourself from situations (and people) if needed, temporarily or permanently.
- Organize your space!
- It’s often hard to work and think clearly when there is clutter around. Declutter your space and your mind will declutter as well!
Those are just some basic tips to get yourself started reclaiming your space and creating some harmony between your inner self and your outer world. That harmony is related to ecopsychology.
What Is Ecopsychology?
Ecopsychology is a subcategory of environmental psychology and has a more narrow focus. Ecopsychology recognizes the links between mental health, culture/environments, and nature (or the health of the planet). This field views relationships between humans and their environment as essential and important.
So does this mean that you have to put plants in your office to start to destress? Not necessarily, but it might be a start to reclaiming your physical space! Maybe making a point to wear the bracelet your child made for you every day can bring a smile to your face in the midst of chaos. Little shifts like that can make noticeable differences in your well-being over time.
Think, for example, of how you may dislike your job so you never took the time to decorate your office space. This (unconsciously) may make you dislike going there even more when you look at the barren walls! Taking the time to creatively place your mark on your surroundings and environment can really influence your overall mood and stress levels. You might even find some joy from tinkering in a garden, growing your own food, or doing something helpful for nature like reducing your use of plastic containers. Those are all things to feel good about, and spread positivity from you, outward.
Blog Credit: Natalie Drozda, MA, LPC is a PH.D student in Counseling Education and Supervision at Duquesne University & therapist at Angelus Therapeutic Services