The factors that play a part in the status of our wellbeing are more vast and complex than many of us realize. So often, when we think about what it means to take care of our health or to be healthy, we think of behaviors like physical activity. While it’s true that these factors matter, and while movement and other standard health practices can promote mental health as well as physical health, they don’t always tell the full story or do the whole job when it comes to taking care of ourselves. How might the environment, stress, and loneliness impact our wellbeing, and what’s the intersection between the three?
Environment, Stress, and Loneliness
The commonality between these seemingly unrelated topics is that they can all have a significant influence on our health. Based on research, here’s what we know:
- Poor quality environment, ongoing stress, and loneliness all predict a higher risk of early mortality.
- Poor quality environment, ongoing stress, and loneliness all predict a higher risk of heart disease.
- Poor quality environment, ongoing stress, and loneliness all predict a higher stroke risk.
- When factors like loneliness and stress pair with low socioeconomic status, which often ties with a lower-quality environment and higher pollution, health risks may increase more.
- Stress, loneliness, and poor quality environment may all affect focus.
- Like stress and loneliness, poor quality environment may heighten the risk of depression symptoms.
What determines a poor quality environment in research? In many of these studies, poor environmental quality references or refers to air quality specifically. This means that air quality, as well as subjects like food deserts and access to clean drinking water, both of which also link to aforementioned health determinants such as an increased mortality risk, are vital topics for public health officials to address. Stress can also magnify or increase the impacts of air pollution.
Manage Stress And Beat Loneliness
Although there are many health-impacting factors we cannot control, there are some factors that we can control or mitigate. Here are some known ways to help oneself manage stress and beat feelings of loneliness:
1. Spend time in green spaces
Research indicates that time outdoors but particularly time in green spaces can aid stress reduction. This is also a way to access safe, healthy social activities in many cases. Taking hikes, gardening, walking outdoors, and other outdoor activities can all be supportive of mental and physical health.
Volunteering shows great potential for supporting the health of individuals. Those who engage in volunteer work opportunities may experience an increase in happiness, reduction in depression symptoms, decreased loneliness, and lower stress levels.
An added benefit is that you can help the world in a way that you’re passionate about; as an example, you can engage in volunteer activities that support the environment, like a local campaign or cleaning your neighborhood. This way, you get to take care of yourself and those around you while creating a better and healthier world. It can feel proactive, promote social skills, and may even boost self-esteem.
3. Socialize with other people
It may be predictable to say that socializing can help mitigate loneliness, but there are other positives as well that could be less expected. Socializing is actually known to help individuals manage stress, so social ties, particularly those positive in nature, are vital for health. Taking courses to integrate a new skill or acquire information about something you are interested in, involvement in community activities, and joining a support group are three examples of possible avenues for social connection.
4. Get mental health care
Mental health in the form of therapy is proven by research to support stress management and can also help those who face concerns like loneliness. A therapist can help you find solutions, give you a safe space to talk about stress or anything else that’s on your mind, and support you as you work to meet goals.
Some therapists offer low or sliding scale rates or work at clinics that provide access to free or low-cost services. You may be able to find someone to work with who offers low rates by searching the internet for options in your area, by asking your community, or through a referral from a medical professional.
Many factors can promote health or provide health risks. It’s crucial to examine full picture, to care for both physical and mental health, and to support communities who face environmental concerns such as high air pollution. Mental health care, like physical health care, should be made accessible and can promote overall wellbeing.