The environment can influence either positively or negatively a person’s mental well-being. A recent study showed how the idea of living in the midst of the climate crisis was affecting Greenlanders’ anxiety and depression levels. The effects of our changing climate—economic uncertainty, job insecurity, extreme and volatile weather patterns, and displacement—also influence mental health.
Air pollution, among other environmental threats, is particularly harmful, both physically—through damage to our lungs, heart, etc.—and mentally. There is now growing evidence of a link between certain air pollutants and mental illnesses such as depression, dementia, anxiety, and suicide. The risk is especially high among young people living in urban areas: according to a recent study published in Psychiatry Research, children become three to four times more likely to have depression at 18 if they had been exposed to dirtier air at age 12. In this article, we shall discuss how caring for the environment can make you feel better.
Climate change is a threat significantly impacting each of us, with the perils of our declining environment becoming more and more unsettling by the day. If you’re feeling guilt, anxiety, sadness, and anger about earth changes, you certainly aren’t alone. The answer isn’t to avoid the natural world. Rather, it is to go towards it.
Connecting to the environment can help decrease stress and increase your mental health. This article will explore why helping the environment is important, the benefits of caring for our shared land, and ways you can get involved.
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Why Helping the Environment Is Important
Climate change has reached an unprecedented point of peril. We are globally experiencing rising temperatures, widespread droughts, and intense natural disasters, all signs of our overburdened environment.
Climate change isn’t an individual issue—it is a collective issue that impacts each of us. When we all do our part in helping the environment, we shift our earth’s health for the better.
Additionally, helping the environment can help us feel a sense of control and agency in the midst of a phenomenon that feels very scary and unmanageable.
Benefits of Helping the Environment
Helping the environment isn’t only beneficial to our earth—it is also very helpful for our mental and physical well-being. When we care for the environment, we are often engaged in the natural world, whether that is getting outside for a beach cleanup or growing our own food.
Through being outside and becoming active in nature, we can begin to experience both mental and physical health benefits.
Mental Health Benefits
When it comes to navigating the feelings that accompany climate change, engaging in pro-environmental behavior can be powerful in managing painful emotions.
Spending time nurturing the environment can be seen as a form of hope, which is extremely important for maintaining our mental health. Hope doesn’t suggest that we simply wish for change. Instead, hope is an active process where we maintain faith in the ability for change through engaging in pro-environmental behavior.
While it is expected to have complex and challenging feelings regarding climate change, beginning to engage in the solution can be immensely helpful.
Physical Health Benefits
Climate change is especially dismal for our physical health. Air pollution decreased quality of food and water, and stress are all threats to our physical well-being.
Taking positive action to offset climate change can, in turn, decrease the threats environmental changes pose to our physical health.
Furthermore, exploring ways to help the environment can result in healthy behaviors. Gardening is a great physical activity and growing your own food increases your intake of fruits and veggies.
What Are the Benefits of Getting Outside?
Getting outside is incredibly important for our mental and physical health. Spending time in nature can result in less cognitive fatigue, decreased risk of mental illness, enhanced mood, and higher self-esteem.
Even simply getting some sunshine can have huge mental health benefits—sun exposure can decrease exhaustion and depressive symptoms.
When it comes to physical health, outdoor activity can lead to decreased blood pressure, heart rate, and adrenaline.1
Consider how you can get outside and help the environment. For example, volunteering at a nature reserve or helping plant trees with a local organization are two ways you can get outside and engage in pro-environmental behavior.
Ways You Can Help the Environment
As previously mentioned, hope requires action. In the spirit of moving toward the healing of our globe and the well-being of our communities, finding ways to get involved in helping the environment is essential.
Below are some ideas:
- Join a community garden. Community gardens help create healthy food and decrease the stress transporting food places on the environment.
- Use your bike as much as possible, especially for short trips. Studies show that 25% of volatile organic compounds are emitted in the first few miles of travel. Hopping on your bike for your next coffee trip can help keep air pollution down.
- Get into vintage shopping. The fashion industry is a major source of pollution—it produces 92 million tons of waste every single year. Buying used clothes can help the environment and give your wardrobe a boost of originality.10
- Decrease your consumption. If you’re wasting a lot of food or tend to buy knick-knacks that never get used, see where you can shift your habits to consume less. This can ultimately help you cut down on expenses as well, making it a win-win situation.
- Consider donating your time or money to environmentally-focused organizations. Earthjustice, The Nature Conservancy, and Natural Resources Defense Fund are just a few great options.
In summary, it is hard to not feel scared and hopeless when considering our rapidly changing climate. However, there are steps you can take that aren’t only good for the environment, but also for your own wellness. You’re not in this alone and we are stronger together. If you’re finding that concerns about the environment are significantly impacting your daily life, reach out to a therapist for some support.
I hope you find this article helpful as well as interesting.