To what extent is our mental health related to our environmental conditions?
Is there a causal relationship between environment and mental health?
To realised spiritual masters the environment is not a factor in their well-being or mental state. In fact, for these people it is said that if your heart is calm and pure everywhere is the Pureland. We could even go further and say that people who have truly realised inner peace can themselves affect the environment, people report feeling tranquil and peaceful in the presence of certain people.
By contrast for people trapped in a psychotic episode or deepest depression the environment may not be a major influence. Whilst it is possible that environmental conditions may have contributed to ending up in this state, at the time when people are in the depths of mental health problems, it seems that even pleasant environmental conditions can become twisted or overshadowed by negative thinking and feeling.
So what about the rest of us, who exist on the in between these two extremes?
Research supports the view that our environment, in particular exposure to the ‘natural’ environment does have a significant effect on how we feel. Exposure to the colour green and the colour blue in the form of plant life, forests and meadows, sea and skyscapes has a positive, calming and expansive impact on our viewpoint and general mental state. Forest bathing and therapeutic horticulture understand this well.
‘Sick’ buildings, computers, over-exposure to technology and social media, reduced natural light all drain us of our vital energy and literally suck the life out of us. Plants, contact with living beings, open skies, seascapes have the power to energise us and put us back in touch again with ourselves – as part of a bigger ecosystem and this connection to our ‘net’ or ‘wider-web’ recharges us. If we know how to recharge ourselves then we can really benefit from this universal system and began to heal ourselves deeply. When we realise the benefit of the ‘natural’ world we will begin to value it and in valuing it naturally we will want to protect and preserve it.
Instead of being told how important the environment is, we need to find out for ourselves. Step out and explore your local area, find different routes to places you visit. Routes that take you through parks, along cycle paths, past overgrown hedgerows, brooks and allotments. Start to take interest in any patches of green. We can sow seeds on window sills, have a pot plant or hanging basket by the front door, help out on a community allotment or help someone else to take care of their garden. Get up early to appreciate the miracle of the dawn chorus or take a walk through a woodland in the dusk and just listen… When the weather improves plan a picnic –either with friends or take some reading material or a sketchbook.
When you spend time in gardens, parks, meadows and fields notice how you feel. What has changed? This is a question that we always ask people on our workshops and explorations. When we realise how different we feel we are empowered to be agents of change in our own mental health and well-being.
At the same time we begin to appreciate how important the environment is and we begin to care about it, when we care about things we naturally want to protect them.