Posted in depression management, mental health, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: The Wheel Of Wellness – Environmental

Today as part of my Wheel Of Wellness series, I’ll be looking at the environmental segment. Environmental wellness encompasses your immediate physical environments, such as your home, your workspace and social spaces, and the wider environment including nature and how well we look after The World around us.

Dictionary definitions

The online Oxford dictionary defines ‘environment’ in several ways:

  1. the surroundings or conditions in which a person, animal, or plant lives or operates.
  2. the natural world, as a whole or in a particular geographical area, especially as affected by human activity.

Today, I’ll be focusing on both of these including creating an atmosphere conducive to a particular activity, such as working, studying, playing or winding down, or a particular mood e.g. productive, restful, cosy, energising, calming etc and enjoying and looking after our natural world.

Built environments

Built environments are spaces created by humans where we live, work and socialise. This can include our home, our office or workspace, cafes, shops, restaurants, workout places such as the gym, fitness rooms and swimming baths, medical settings such as the doctors, hospital or therapy room, and spaces where we get pampered such as the hairdressers and beauty salons.

Our workspace

If like me, you work from home, you can set your workspace up in a way that makes you as efficient and productive as possible, so that everything you need is at hand and you know exactly where to find it. Some essentials for the perfect home working environment include:

  • somewhere quiet where you can focus
  • a sturdy desk and a comfortable and supportive chair – the desk should feel solid and unmoving and your chair should encourage good posture
  • plenty of storage which is appropriate for your needs – e.g. filing cabinet, magazine files, drawers, labelled boxes, small storage containers etc
  • plenty of natural light and task lighting for dull days

I also like to have some art on the walls and a number of my cross stitch pieces framed in my craft room too. This makes the space visually appealing and celebrates my artistic achievements as well. Motivational bits and pieces adorn my personal vision board along with messages such as ‘make everyday count’, ‘you are someone’s reason to smile’ etc. I also have a business vision board on the wall above my Ikea unit which is full of pictures and text related to what matters to me and my goals.

Creating a tidy, well organised space is also something I’m working really hard on but I’m finding this quite difficult due to the volume of craft supplies and the fact that my craft room is very multipurpose (any tips in the comments will be gratefully received on this one!!!).

If you don’t work at home, your workspace is generally dictated by your employer but most places allow you to customise things, e.g. by adding photos of family or friends. You can also ask for resources which make your desk set up as comfortable as possible including an ergonomic keyboard, gel wrist supports, a foot rest or a more supportive chair if you have issues with back pain etc.

With regard to social spaces, you will know yourself which cafes you feel comfortable in and which are suitable for your needs whether you are studying, working, relaxing or catching up with friends or family. The same goes for other public spaces, you evaluate them and make decisions based on the environment and how suitable it is for you personally.

A welcoming and restful home environment

Most, if not all of us, want our home to be a haven where we feel safe, comfortable and able to relax and unwind. Beyond that, the place we live should ideally suit our individual needs and those of our family. Here’s some ideas for making your home personal to you:

  • minimise clutter to create a restful environment (more on this later)
  • choose your favourite colours and patterns you like for decor
  • think about your lighting needs – soft lighting for evenings, task lighting for day time use
  • add plants to cleanse the air and provide other health benefits
  • choose supportive cushions to make your sofa more comfortable (again you can select those which spark the most joy)
  • invest in a mattress for your bed which provides comfort and support and choose pillows which suit how you sleep
  • add cosy throws and/or blankets in your living room and bedroom for chillier times of year
  • depending on summer weather and temperatures, think about fans or air conditioning to make your space more comfortable
  • use curtains and blinds to control the light and the temperature and allow privacy
  • choose pictures and art work which makes you smile or fills you with joy
  • think about how you want your home to smell – add scented candles, incense sticks, diffusers etc in your favourite scents (be careful that these don’t set off any allergies you may have though – I found wax melts to be too potent and they were irritating my throat and my nose!)

Sources of stress in your home environment

It’s important to take steps to minimise the effects of the following stress inducing factors even if you can’t completely control them.

Messy home, messy mind A disorganised and cluttered home is a huge source of stress and can have a really bad impact on your mental health (see below)

Noise pollution e.g. traffic, noisy neighbours, dogs barking, noisy commercial premises etc. can have a dramatic effect on your health and wellbeing. Tips to deal with unavoidable noise pollution include placing a bookcase along a wall which is adjacent to a neighbour to reduce sound from next door, soundproofing windows to block out traffic noise, cover up unwelcome noises by putting on the radio or playing some peaceful sounds e.g. ocean waves, crackling fire, gentle rain etc. During the Summer hanging windchimes next to your window use ear plugs in bed. You should also make sure you are considerate towards your neighbours so they offer the same in return e.g. apologising in advance for disturbance caused by DIY, keeping the volume of the TV, radio and music as low as possible, if you’re having a party or some other form of get together, let your neighbours know in advance and keep the noise to a minimum, if you are a dog owner, talk to your neighbour to fins out how he/she behaves when you are out. Finally, check out your local council website if you want to make a complaint about nuisance noise.

Work stress If you work from home, it’s important to have a dedicated space for work which is not the same place you use for relaxation. This creates not only a physical separation, but also and mental separation too. You should also make sure you start and finish work at a reasonable time and schedule in breaks.

The negative impact of a cluttered home

The word clutter refers to items or collections of things which are strewn about the home in an untidy state. Clutter is generally made up of stuff we haven’t sorted out which has got in a mess, things which don’t have a home so are left lying about and anything you’re keeping which doesn’t bring value to your life. As well as not being great to look at, clutter can have a negative effect on your mental and physical health, and your relationships with others. Here’s some of the key problems:

  1. Clutter promotes confusion – in other words, you feel like you can’t think clearly, focus or make decisions
  2. Clutter causes stress – it diverts your attention away from what you want to be focusing on, it clouds your thought processes, makes you feel anxious and full of guilt about the situation/mess you find yourself in
  3. Clutter can cause accidents – if you have items all over your house there are lots of trip hazards, surfaces covered in stuff can also mean that things get knocked off and broken, you could also end up standing on things and breaking them too!
  4. Clutter makes you eat more – a study found that people who live in a cluttered environment tend to overeat or binge eat more than those who have a well organised home
  5. Clutter affects your mood – a house in chaos can make you feel drained and unhappy, it can even make you feel like a failure. A well ordered home, however, makes you feel full of pride and creates feelings of ease and happiness.
  6. Clutter steals your time – if your house in full of stuff which is left lying about you’ll spend time thinking about things every time you look at them. you’re also likely to lose things and spend time each day searching through the mess e.g. for lost car keys, important papers that need your attention and anything that wasn’t put away when you’d finished with it.
  7. Clutter affects your relationships – Clutter can make communication with family members more difficult as it constantly distracts you, leading to poor concentration and an inability to interpret facial expressions and emotions of those around you. It can also make you feel more isolated as feeling ashamed of the state of your home can stop you from invited friends and family round.

Keeping your home clean and tidy during periods of low mood or depression

During periods of low mood or depression, you may lack the energy or motivation to keep up with day-to-day chores. However, having a messy and unclean home will only make you feel worse. At these times, pushing yourself to do a few small tasks each day can really help to boost your mood and give you a sense of achievement. You might find my post on behavioural activation useful to help you set some very small goals each day. Here’s a few tips:

  • keep up with small tasks so they don’t become big ones e.g. wash the breakfast dishes and wipe out the sink rather than letting things pile up and feel unmanageable, wipe the bathroom sink and shower out after each use, vacuum a room each day rather than trying to do the whole house at once and not being able to face it
  • use the Behavioural Activation method to set small goals each day – you might want to do this with a family member or friend so they can offer you support and encouragement
  • when planning your behavioural activation tasks, think about the best time of day to do each one, evaluate how you feel after completing each chore and use this to set future goals e.g. if you became overwhelmed with dusting the furniture in your bedroom, just focus on cleaning one item
  • remember you are unwell right now so you should lower your standards a lot and celebrate every tiny achievement, if something doesn’t get done, it will keep for another day
  • ask for help – if you’re really struggling, don’t be ashamed if you need to ask for help from a family member or friends – two sets of hands are usually better than one

Time in nature

Time spent in green spaces interacting with natural elements such as air, water and sunlight as well as getting up close to plants and wildlife helps nurture our minds and bodies. Here’s some ideas for enjoying nature:

  • Use Google maps to locate nearby nature reserves or parks – enjoy a stroll and maybe do some bird spotting too
  • have a brisk woodland walk and watch the sun as it peeps through the trees
  • feel the sand between your toes at the beach and listen to the sound of the waves
  • spend some time in the sunshine to elevate your energy levels and boost your mood (wear sunscreen as appropriate)
  • go for a wildflower walk (we like using the Seek app to identify our finds)
  • feel the cool breeze on your face in the back garden as you relax and read your favourite magazine
  • spend an hour or two gardening – try creating a multisensory space using grasses, herbs and other scented plants
  • try foraging – check out The Woodland Trust’s guide

Not only does being out in nature allow for a slower pace, it also helps you to feel connected to something larger than yourself.

Caring for the environment (being green or eco friendly)

Green symbolises our natural environment and planet Earth and the terms ‘being green’ or ‘eco friendly’ mean living your life in a sustainable way, ensuring our activities recognise that nature needs to be looked after and that it is important to conserve our resources. Here’s some ideas:

  • reduce waste – e.g. avoid plastic single use bags, use a reuseable bottle or cup for beverages on the go, check out love food hate waste for some great tips
  • recycle – make good use of your recycling bin for glass, plastic, paper and cardboard and also, try to choose products which come in less packaging, avoiding none recyclable plastic if possible
  • conserve water – if possible shower rather than a bath and limit the time you spend in there, wait until your laundry bin is full before doing a wash, turn off the tap whilst brushing your teeth, water your plants early morning or late in the evening to give your garden a good drink and prevent evaporation, install a water butt to collect rainwater, run the dishwasher when full or wash small amounts of dishes by hand, only boil what you need for your hot drinks, saucepan or stock jug, try steaming your veggies (it retains more of the nutrients as well as saving water) check your plumbing regularly for leaks
  • save energy – turn off lights when not needed, draught proof windows and doors, wash at 30 degrees, take a 4 minute shower (not so easy if like me you have long hair and need to shave your legs but at least try to cut down), avoid using your tumble dryer, swap your bath for a shower, seek out advice about insulating your home and make some changes
  • repurpose things you no longer want or need – search ‘creative recycling’ on Pinterest (a few years ago my husband turned an old wooden CD storage crate into a really great bug hotel by filling the different sections with pine cones, dried leaves, chopped up bits of bamboo, collections of twigs from the garden and pieces of wood offcuts with holes drilled in)
  • upcycle – this is where you reuse objects or material in a way that adds value or makes something higher quality. Check out these tips for beginners
  • shop in charity shops – find one off pieces or nearly new things at a fraction of the price, give money to a good cause and help the environment all at the same time

Final thoughts…

I hope you have enjoyed reading today’s post and it’s helped you consider your environmental wellness. Personally, I would like to focus on dealing with clutter in my home as I know it is having a detrimental effect on my mental health. I’m also aware that I need to start small so that I don’t become overwhelmed and make myself feel worse. Let me know in the comments if anything has struck a cord with you and it has given you some ideas going forward.