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4 Environmental Factors that Affect Mental Health

Environmental factors influence your mental health by shaping the way you feel or perceive a space. Environmental factors like your workplace, social circle, home life, or school have a direct effect on your mood. Spaces that are positive and healthy bolster your well-being, providing you with the support and connections to feel secure and mentally grounded. Conversely, negative environments are a source of stress and emotional distress. They wear on you mentally and contribute to disorders like depression or anxiety.

How your environment impacts the mind
Four major environments impact mental health: work, social, home, and school.

Environmental factors in psychology address the natural, social, built, and emotional aspects of your surroundings. These factors are broad—extending from your culture and community—to immediate, like your family, home, or office. The conditions and people within these spaces affect you because they determine the pressures, obligations, and norms you contend with. This in turn impacts your mental health, with negative or stressful environments influencing mental distress and the development of disorders.

Understanding how your environment affects you is key to effective coping and improving your well-being. The list below summarizes four primary factors and their impact.

  • Work environment: Your work environment includes physical and psychological aspects of your workplace. This stands to impact your mental health significantly as most humans spend most of their time at work. Positive environments boost well-being and productivity, while negative ones lead to stress, depression, and anxiety.
  • Social environment: Your social environment spans your relationships and community. It covers a myriad of factors that influence your mental well-being. Healthy social circles feature supportive relationships and safe spaces, whereas negative ones feature emotionally stressful factors like abuse or discrimination.
  • Home environment: Your home environment covers your living spaces and the people within them. It’s central to your life and relationships, impacting your development and happiness. Healthy homes provide love and support while unhealthy ones contribute to mental health issues and chronic emotional distress.
  • School environment: Your school environment affects your academic life. Positive school environments boost morale and promote your well-being. Meanwhile, negative spaces feature bullying and academic pressure, which leads to stress, anxiety, and decreased engagement.

Creating a positive environment is as crucial as understanding the factors listed above. However, making changes to your surroundings depends on your situation. There may be barriers preventing long-term improvements, so it’s important to seek out support from loved ones and professionals to focus on internal changes instead. Sometimes a shift in your perception or developing coping mechanisms like art or hobbies have a radical effect. Other changes require diligent efforts that address and navigate the complexities of your surroundings.

Below, we examine how environmental factors affect your mental health, including the influence of negative or positive spaces.

1. Work environment

Your work environment spans the physical and psychological conditions of your workplace. This type of environment impacts your mental health through its spatial organization, work culture, ambiance, and obligations. Workplace conditions have a significant effect on you because you likely spend a significant amount at your place of employment. The Gettysburg College article, “One-Third of Your Life is Spent at Work,” affirms this. According to data scientist Andrew Naber’s findings in the article, humans spend an average of 90,000 hours at work. Consequently, examining the conditions of your place of employment is important in assessing your mental well-being.

A well-designed and supportive work environment boosts your mental health and productivity. Such spaces not only streamline day-to-day activities, but they promote communication, resources, and ergonomics to enhance your well-being. For example, a positive workplace implements work-life balance policies so you’re able to take adequate time to rest and avoid burnout. Likewise, the spaces offer natural light and comfortable seating arrangements to reduce physical strain and improve your focus.

Meanwhile, a negative workplace causes stress and job dissatisfaction. Spaces like a factory with poor air quality or highly demanding office jobs are physically and mentally draining. They contribute to mental health issues like depression and anxiety due to their intensity, conditions, and work culture. They provoke anxiety about your position and obligations, exacerbating mental stressors. Mitigating these effects is crucial for your long-term health as they may lead to chronic conditions that impact your overall life satisfaction.

2. Social environment

Your social environment refers to your physical surroundings, culture, and relationships. Everything from your local community to your family and friend groups constitutes your social environment. These dynamics are often fundamental to your life as they define who you interact with and what social pressures you contend with. Consequently, they impact your mental health and well-being in various ways. For instance, the presence of pollution, racism, and crime in your neighborhood contributes to stress, anxiety, and a general lack of safety or support.

A positive social environment demonstrates supportive relationships, community engagement, and safe, clean surroundings. They additionally feature cultural and historical elements that uplift you, such as local traditions and shared values. For example, living in a neighborhood with a low crime rate, green spaces, and a lengthy cultural history provides you with a sense of community and security. These factors in turn help you feel safe and supported, reducing your stress levels and bolstering your mental well-being.

A negative social environment with high crime rates, pollution, or discrimination adversely affects your mental health. For instance, minority communities face a higher degree of pollution and a lack of green space, otherwise known as environmental racism. This promotes chronic stress and feelings of helplessness, exacerbating mental health issues. Alternatively, a lack of interpersonal connections may lead you to feel lonely and isolated, regardless of your physical space. This in turn contributes to disorders like depression or anxiety because you don’t have a support system to lean on. Moving to more secure spaces mitigates these effects, but systemic barriers make change difficult. Therefore, you seek support in and outside your social spaces to better these challenges.

3. Home environment

Your home environment concerns the physical and emotional boundaries of where you live. It extends from your living arrangements to the community and social dynamics you’re intimately a part of, such as your family and romantic relationships. This environment is important to your mental well-being as it is the epicenter of most people’s lives. Where and how you live affects your sense of security, emotional development, daily stress levels, and overall happiness. Factors like abuse, poverty, toxic relationships, and lack of social support influence the home environment, and turn it into a harmful and potentially dangerous space.

A healthy home environment features love, support, and stability. For example, a home with a loving and emotionally supportive family makes you feel safe and respected. These factors are particularly important to a child’s mental well-being as they influence behavioral patterns and self-perception. This continues into adulthood. For instance, an adult in a stable and healthy home environment benefits from a support system, which combats the stressors of daily life and boosts your emotional resilience.

Meanwhile, an unhealthy home environment demonstrates stigmas, discord, abuse, or conflict that harm your mental health. Emotionally or physically unsafe living situations correlate with anxiety, depression, and other forms of mental illness. The effects of an unstable or toxic home environment even extend into other areas of your life, with children and adults both showing signs of social withdrawal, lack of emotional regulation, stress, and chronic tiredness. Children in unhealthy home environments are particularly vulnerable as it influences their development and long-term mental wellness. As a result, seeking out external support and professional help is critical to combating a negative home life and coping with its effects.

4. School environment

Your school environment refers to the physical and social spaces encompassing your education. These spaces extend from classrooms and student-teacher dynamics to the broader academic culture of grade schools, colleges, and universities. School shapes your mental health by providing a supportive and safe space to learn and build connections. Common issues like bullying or academic pressure additionally influence your mental well-being, promoting stress and anxiety.

A positive school environment is respectful, encouraging, and proactive about the enrichment and safety of its students and staff. Faculty benefit from a cohesive workspace where both teachers and students have meaningful relationships. This serves to boost morale by nurturing connections and creating a sense of community. Furthermore, schools with healthy environments promote inclusivity, anti-bullying, and mental health resources. They exist as extensions of social environments by providing you with lifelong learning, social development, and emotional resilience. Such spaces empower you to achieve your potential and prioritize your mental well-being.

Schools are sometimes a source of stress, stigma, pressure, and even violence. The underlying causes are complex, but the effect makes learning both unengaging and stressful. For instance, the CDC reports that 1 in 5 high school students experience bullying. Targeted hostility against minorities like LGBT+ youth is especially prevalent, promoting anxiety, depression, and social withdrawal. Without proper support, you could feel isolated, which harms your mental health and lowers your engagement with your education. Consequently, it’s important to address issues in your school environment and research the appropriate resources for support so you’re able to thrive academically and emotionally.

What are environmental factors in psychology?

Environmental factors in psychology make up the external elements that influence your behavior and mental health. They encompass every facet of your external life, who you interact with, and where you spend most of your time. Your home, workplace, school, and social and cultural norms are all types of environmental factors studied in psychology. Examining these factors helps mental health professionals and researchers understand the impact of the environment and how it affects a community or you as an individual.

External factors are also the central focus of a branch of study called environmental psychology. Environmental psychology examines how physical, social, natural, and built constructs impact your emotions and behaviors. It delves into issues like pollution, crime levels, poverty, and environmental racism. The field additionally addresses nature versus nurture. Researchers focus on the latter, exploring how your surroundings impact your childhood development and the long-term effects into adulthood.

How can environmental factors lead to insomnia?

Environmental factors lead to medical disorders like insomnia by disrupting sleep patterns and restfulness. Environmental factors that weigh on you mentally often create stress and anxiety. This in turn makes sleep difficult because it increases your alertness and contributes to conditions like depression which impacts your quality of sleep. For example, you might have trouble sleeping due to disruptive home life and associate bedtime with familial conflict. Social factors like academic pressure similarly keep you at night because of the stress of obligations and the fear of failure.

Links between environmental factors and insomnia are backed by research. For example, the 2018 research paper “Environmental Determinants of Insufficient Sleep and Sleep Disorders” discusses the social contributors to insomnia. Researchers Dayna A. Johnson, Martha E. Billings, and Lauren Hale highlight a link between disadvantaged neighborhoods and insomnia symptoms. Conditions like lack of safety, overcrowding, and noisiness prevent you from staying or falling asleep. Researchers also examine the effects of family. For instance, they highlight that the home shapes a child’s sleep patterns by reflecting the parents’, and link stable socioeconomic status to healthier, more regular sleep.

What mental disorders can be influenced by environmental factors?

The types of mental disorders influenced by environmental factors are broad. Your physical and social surroundings impact your day-to-day life, which reflects on your mental well-being, emotional resilience, and ability to cope. Volatile or stressful external elements foster stress and strain your sense of wellness and security. This in turn leads to or contributes to mental disorders like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and OCD.

That said, external factors alone do not necessarily cause mental health issues. Specific conditions like environmental depression are the direct result of negative or stressful surroundings and are improved once you leave those circumstances. However, there’s often an interplay between environmental, genetic, and situational effects that contribute to or make you susceptible to a mental disorder.

The list below highlights some symptoms of mental disorders influenced by environmental factors.

  • Persistent sadness or mood changes: Chronic feelings of sadness or frequent mood changes are a common symptom of several disorders, most notably depression. External elements such as stressful workplaces, familial conflict, or bullying contribute to and heighten this symptom, exacerbating disorders like depression.
  • Excessive anxiety: High levels of anxiety link to various conditions, including generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder. Pressures from social expectations, academic challenges, or unsafe living environments are common contributors to this symptom and its associated conditions.
  • Social withdrawal: Social withdrawal is marked by increased isolation. It is a symptom of a range of disorders and is influenced by negative experiences in your environment. For example, toxic or unsafe academic spaces may cause you to withdraw from socializing and are often seen in people with major depressive disorder.
  • Changes in sleep patterns: Unhealthy sleep habits appear in mental illnesses or due to environmental factors. For instance, noise pollution in urban areas or chronic stress from work deadlines disrupts sleep, potentially leading to insomnia or exacerbating conditions like bipolar disorder.
  • Appetite and weight changes: Mental disorders often manifest physically, such as in the case of appetite or weight fluctuations. They stem from various sources, such as stress from home, school, or beauty standards. This in turn influences disorders like anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa and interplays with complex psychological factors.
  • Fatigue and low energy: Like disrupted sleep patterns and mood changes, fatigue and low energy are often signs of mental distress. Environmental influences like a highly demanding job or increased academic pressure often contribute to or cause chronic fatigue, which may leave you more susceptible to conditions like depression or anxiety.
  • Difficulty concentrating: Having trouble concentrating is sometimes a sign of ADHD or depressive disorders. This prevents you from focusing on your day-to-day, which in turn affects your ability to function and meet goals. A myriad of external factors contribute, such as overcrowded classrooms, high-pressure workplaces, or constant social media exposure.

What is a good environment?

A good environment in psychology refers to positive surroundings that bolster your mental well-being. Your mental health and your environment are closely tied together because the latter affects your self-perception, sense of safety, and emotions. This eclipses the entirety of your physical, natural, and social spaces, including your workplace, home life, and social circles.

A positive environment in these spaces is safe, supportive, and conducive to your personal development. The type of space also has different beneficial features. For example, a good home environment provides stability and a nurturing support system to help you manage stress. Meanwhile, a good workplace implements flexible schedules and work-life balance policies to prioritize your and other employees’ well-being. What a positive environment looks like depends on your circumstances, but they should ultimately be healthy, balanced spaces that uplift your mental health.

How do you create a good environment to improve your mental health?

Creating a good environment that improves your mental health depends on your circumstances. It’s important to see a professional if you’re struggling and take action according to their guidance, particularly if your environment is dangerous or unsafe. Expect to implement a combination of physical, social, and emotional changes to bolster your mental well-being. These types of changes interplay with psychological factors, with your surroundings impacting your thinking and vice versa.

The list below provides some general steps to enact such improvements.

  1. Work on open communication: Positive environments support open and honest communication. Work on and seek out spaces where you can open up about your mental health without judgment. Doing so encourages a supportive network at home, at work, and among friends.
  2. Promote education: Educating yourself and others helps minimize the stigma around mental health. Promoting this also empowers you by allowing you to identify symptoms and seek out the right support for you.
  3. Reduce stressors: Reducing stressors involves limiting how much time you spend around or focusing on difficult aspects of your life. It fosters boundaries, allowing you to prioritize yourself without neglecting work, family, or whatever is the source of stress. This in turn creates a more positive environment where you’re able to address your well-being.
  4. Seek out professional help: One of the most important parts of creating a healthier space and improving your mental health is knowing when to seek help. Consulting a mental health professional provides you with the strategies and support you need to create a better environment.
  5. Develop coping mechanisms: In addition to seeking professional help, fostering healthy coping mechanisms is an important part of contending with difficult or stressful spaces you otherwise cannot make immediate changes to. Identify and practice coping strategies that work for you, such as mindfulness meditation or a hobby, to manage mental health effectively.

How can your perception help improve mental health?

Changing your perception can help improve your mental health by modifying how you approach and handle your surroundings. Your perception refers to how you look at and think of the world around you or yourself. How you perceive a situation greatly impacts your mental health because it influences how you treat yourself or the spaces that cause you mental distress. Unhealthy or unhappy environmental factors negatively affect you, but a shift in perception reframes your circumstances.

For example, adopting a positive outlook is often both motivational and practical. It helps you respond more effectively to stress and lessen the strain of your emotions. Additionally, reframing your thoughts from dwelling on a problem to thinking of a solution helps you cope and address your mental health issues. Therapists and counselors often encourage changing your perception by providing coping strategies and resources to rethink a situation from a different, more manageable lens.

Keep in mind that changing your perception doesn’t minimize your mental health issues. Your experiences are unique and shifting your perception doesn’t always change your environment. However, it might provide you with the tools to appreciate the happier aspects of your life, seek support, and implement changes that promote your mental wellness—boosting your quality of life overall.

Can appreciating art improve mental health?

Appreciating art may improve mental health. The 2022 paper, “Role of Art Therapy in the Promotion of Mental Health,” addresses the advantages of art as a therapeutic tool. Investigators conclude that more research is necessary, but found that art therapy improved the mental health of patients alongside other treatments. Art nevertheless supplies a way for you to express yourself, cope with your feelings, and find emotional relief. Art appreciation comes in many forms, including directly doing art or enjoying it as an observer. 

When should you start changing your environment to improve your mental condition?

The time to make environmental changes for your mental health depends on your circumstances. It is sometimes difficult to notice early signs of mental distress if you don’t know what they are. Likewise, if you’ve lived in a negative or unhealthy space for a long time, it may be hard to recognize its effect on you as it’s become routine or normalized. Evaluate your situation and lean on your support system to determine whether you need to start making changes, and how.

Furthermore, keep in mind that enacting changes does not necessarily mean you should do something drastic. Sometimes small acts like speaking with a friend or taking time off from work improve your mental health. Alternatively, you may need to make fundamental changes, like reframing your perception and following professional guidance. This will likely be a process as improving your environment sometimes comes with systemic or situational barriers. Consequently, it’s important that you seek out resources and recognize the difficulties of your situation. Doing so helps you address your environment and take safe, realistic steps to improve it.

What effect does choosing the right entertainment have on your mood?

Choosing the right entertainment can boost your mood by giving you an outlet to relax, connect, or express yourself. The best types of entertainment for your mental health depend on your preferences. For example, attending concerts or comedy clubs is a much-needed boost if you find such activities rejuvenating. Upbeat music uplifts your spirit, while comedy induces laughter and reduces stress. Additionally, engaging in hobbies or activities that you enjoy boosts endorphin levels, the body’s natural mood enhancers. The key is to select entertainment that suits your current needs and preferences. This in turn shifts the focus from negative thoughts to a more positive mindset.