Environment and Mental Health
CI has already advanced my previous post, “Healthy Environment”, the environment influences much more than we believe in us. What surrounds us nourishes us or, on the contrary, harms us, affecting our mood and defining a part of our personality. The buildings, the architecture, interior and exterior of our city, and the number of green spaces there are influences.
To make the most of this. Many experts from various fields are already conducting studies on the influence of the environment on our well-being. A new concept emerges from the mix of architecture and psychology: “cities of well-being”, which becomes both the reason why urban design and mental health should go hand in hand.
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The architect Luca
The architect Luca Brunelli is one of the professionals in this sector who advocates creating this new concept. In Brunelli’s words, “it would be ideal for specialists from the world of architecture and health to work together to defend a primary right, healthy living.” Well-being and health involve objective well-being (rent, education, leisure, transport) and subjective well-being. That is each other’s inner experience of how they feel and their degree of satisfaction with life.
For the architect Ignasi Bardera “there is no doubt the impact of urban design on people’s health. The cities where we live have a lot to do with our health. Air pollution, light pollution and the lack of green areas near the house affect us physically and psychologically.”
So, doing a quick review of our nearest environment, from the stop where we take the subway to our workplace, exert (albeit unconsciously) a remarkable influence on our brains and, therefore, our mental health.
It is why it becomes vitally important to identify the characteristics that a healthy environment would have and thus be able to apply them in our daily life. From the field of psychologists. This work would fall within positive psychology, continually to improve the quality of life of people. To prevent the onset of mental disorders and improve the lives of those who already suffer from some pathology. Considering that the environment would be taking a health-promoting and facilitating action environment and mental health.
According to Francisca Savall, PhD in psychology from the Department of Psychobiology of the Faculty of Psychology of Valencia, some of the essential features to achieve a healthy environment are as follows:
Light positively influences our mood, especially when it comes to natural sunlight. However, it should be famous that it is essential to respect the circadian rhythm of 24 hours so that the brain does not alter the secretion of hormones that ensures a good rest (melatonin and cortisol). “Biological clocking, or circadian rhythm, influences fluctuations in attention and behaviour, hormone production, body temperature, metabolism and, most clearly, the sleep/wake cycle.” Says the assistant researcher of the Research Institute in light, environment and vision, Graciela Tonello. Research data in this area help to alleviate, for example. Symptomatologies associated with jet lag, night work or to identify the most appropriate times of entry to school and work.
That is why it is essential to have bright environments but at the same time avoid too much light when it is not necessary, which would become considered light pollution. As stated in the report “The Dark Side of Light”, “light is the main synchronizer of the circadian system and. Therefore, the day must be a day, and night is night, which involves exposing yourself to bright light (not sunbathing) during the day and making proper lighting inside buildings. Outdoors, lamps in whose spectrum the blue band (low-pressure sodium lamps) stands reduced should remain recommended” environment and mental health.
Moreover, the influence of light on mood could remain explained by the presence of Serotonin in the brain. This neurotransmitter induces states of happiness and satisfaction and appears to increase its levels after exposure to intense sunlight rapidly.
Another critical factor in our environment that influences our mood is colour. There are already numerous studies on emotions evoked by each colour gamut. they is considered a field within psychology, the psychology of colour. The forerunner of the poet and scientist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. It differed from Newton’s original (purely physical) vision. It claimed that paint comprises a process that involves both the mechanisms of the sense of sight and others related to perception, giving it a more subjective nuance.
In this way, if we know what emotion transmits each colour, we can use it to our advantage. According to this emotion-colour criterion, we can group these into two groups:
Warm colours. They would be red, orange, yellow, some green and violet. These produce an excitatory effect, such as activation of breathing and rising tension. These animate psychologically.
Cold colours. They would be blues, greens, greys and some yellows and violets. These are relaxing. They convey peace of mind.
Knowing this can be very useful to adapt the spaces to our needs. For example, warm colours can stand used in entertainment venues such as restaurants, bars, etc. Where people are looking to cheer them up. On the other hand, cold colours will be a good choice for places where the person needs to relax such as hospitals, schools or the room where you sleep. These measures are already being implemented as complementary tools in hospital waiting rooms, oncology plants, etc.
The sound, like light, has a double side. It can be very good or very harmful to the well-being of the person.
Melody, rhythm, and harmony produce the same desires like food, sex and drugs; as music can create a state of excitement, the brain lights up auditorily. Moreover. “Larger tones could further stimulate the euphoric movement while minors relate to sadness (…) their reactions in the brain help us find an emotional balance” (González, 2015).
On the other hand, excess noise can also lead to stress. Especially irritability and even cardiovascular problems or sleep disorders. So living in an environment with excessive and continuous ambient noise can seriously harm both physical and mental health as it does not allow the body to rest what is necessary. Some studies suggest it silence itself produces more relaxation than relaxing music. Kirste investigators and cabbage. (2015) state that “even though all sounds have short-term effects on the brain, none have an effect as lasting as silence”.
In this case, unlike light and sound, you could say that living near green spaces can only bring good things.
At the Meeting of the Menéndez Pelayo University held in Mahón in 2011. The speakers gathered under the motto “Urbanism and public health. Healthy urban planning” highlighted the need for areas with nature to be available to citizens: access to green spaces. Which are within walking distance, reduces levels of mental fatigue.
But not only abroad, but the benefits of having plants inside the houses are also known. These increase the concentration of oxygen-haemoglobin in the prefrontal cortex, a response that is related to decreased anxiety and stress.
The benefits of consuming plants at home are very numerous. Some of the main ones are: they cleanse the environment by absorbing fumes and gases through photosynthesis. Reduce radiation, the leafiest ones can absorb noises, have beneficial effects on the skin and even there is some study that claims to stimulate concentration at work.
From the sense of smell, we can profit since this connects more directly with emotions. It results in really powerful and virtually immediate responses. A slight essence can cause the brain to bring back memories, images, and feelings associated with them and evoke new ones.
Certain olfactory stimuli cause increased secretion of certain substances in the brain. The perception of pleasant odours is associated with the activation of the medial region of the orbitofrontal cortex, related to positive feelings.
For example, the smell of lavender or camomile is known to release relaxing actives. Citrus fruits, on the other hand, activate the body. Eucalyptus, mint and rosemary are also activators. The most helpful thing is to use essential oil burners. Highly concentrated and volatile molecules that pass through the nasal mucous membranes and can quickly reach the central nervous system as they pass through the blood-brain barrier through the bloodstream.
Knowing this, it would be beneficial to have them in our homes to disperse these essences to relax or activate, depending on the need of each one at all times. It’s a simple and inexpensive way.
One of the latest developments studied about this topic of healthy spaces is the influence of architecture on our mood. Professionals in the architecture and health sector work together to determine aspects of the built environment (not just the natural one) that influence well-being.
Although we are talking now about the built environment, what stands intended with this new trend is that the built space is the closest thing to the natural. Which has remained discovered to bring the most significant benefit.
Those in the field of environmental psychology recognize that people. Despite living in urbanized spaces, in most cases harbour a desire to be in contact with nature. It seems to be explained by the adaptive function of being close to natural environments as it brings numerous health benefits.
That is why these measures begin to remain implemented in many companies, cafes and hospitals, adapting the environment to these needs and introducing natural elements such as plants, panels with natural landscapes. Large windows overlooking the outside, luminosity, wooden furniture, etc. All to make the interior the closest thing to the outside, using architecture to humanize.
Examples include the offices of the National Australia Bank. The Niño Jesús Hospital in Madrid, the Royal Children’s Hospital by Bates Smart in Melbourne, the Daily Break Cafeteria at St. John’s Hospital in Alicante or the Cancer and Health Centre in Copenhagen.
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