When did you last think about helping the environment? June 5 is World Environment Day (WED). This awareness day encourages people around the world to participate in activities that benefit the environment. The theme this year is to focus on reducing food waste: “Think.Eat.Save.”
Although at first glance helping the environment appears to just be a step toward keeping our big home functional, there is more at stake. Being connected with the environment, and living in a healthy environment can impact general health and specifically mental health.
Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist, said in an email that although one day of involvement with the environment won’t necessarily have a great impact on mental health, it can introduce people to the importance of nature.
“We are a world that is largely becoming disconnected from the world we live in,” Durvasula said.
“Automation, disposability and technology have made the environment something we ‘use’ rather than ‘partner with,’ and that is a real parallel for the isolation many struggling with mental health and mental illness also struggle with.”
Taking care of your environment might also demonstrate how you take care of yourself.
“Respect for environment often emanates from a respect for self,” she said.
“When we are more connected with our world, spend more time outdoors or attending to our environments, and connect with others (we are after all a social species and social support can very much help with mental health), then this can only have good benefits.”
“In addition, there is evidence that being outdoors can have implications for overall better health,” she added.
Even just participating in a cause like “saving the environment” can lead to positive mental health effects.
“It can infuse someone with a sense of meaning and purpose,” Durvasula said.
“When we can get out of our heads and connect with something larger than us, feel a sense of belonging, connection and investment and see our actions result in something good, it can do wonders for our sense of well-being.”
You can start by saving the environment in your home by recycling consistently, buying items with more environment-friendly packaging, minimizing waste and composting.
Outside of your own backyard, you can help with cleanups on the road, and parks. You can get involved with legislators, and volunteer to educate children and the elderly on how to help the environment.
“All of these can result in more activity, contact with others, a sense of efficacy (I can do it), a sense of meaning and purpose, [and] modeling healthy behaviors for children,” Durvasula said.
Cyndi Crockett, a life coach, said in an email that she believes the more time people spend in nature, the better their mental health generally is.
“The more we are in nature, the more in tune we are with the natural flow of life force energy,” Crockett said. “We heal. We feel nurtured, safe, and more joy. We become aware of the beauty and wonder of nature.”
“It amplifies our sensory perceptions and enhances our lives,” she added.
“We have a deeper sense of peace and well-being when we are in nature. We realize the interconnectedness and interdependence of all life. Our creativity and joy expands. We learn to appreciate our lives and others more deeply.”
She said one way to participate in WED is to “buy locally grown, organic ... produce in season.”
“This supports your local farmer, reduces fuel impact (the distance that food travels to get to you) and the food is fresher and more nutritionally dense,” Crockett said. “This is a simple win/win/win. You win, your local farmer wins, the environment wins.”
If you do become environmentally conscious, just remember to not take it too far. Registered nurse and psychiatric epidemiologist J. Lucy Boyd said in an email that sometimes people with obsessive-compulsive disorder can worry about “causes to the detriment of their health.”
“Someone obsessed about the environment may strictly limit the types of food they eat, until they become nutritionally depleted (which may worsen their symptoms),” Boyd said.
“They may spend inordinate amounts of time recycling or doing things that they feel lower their carbon footprint. They may harm their relationships by nagging those close to them to follow their ideas.”
In extreme situations, people who suffer from OCD and latch onto the environmental cause could actually hurt their mental health in the process if they become too obsessed. They might focus too much on the negative environmental situations surrounding them.
Do you have any activities that you like to participate in on WED? How do they make you feel?
United Nations Environment Programme. About World Environment Day. Web. June 3, 2013.
Durvasula, Ramani. Email interview. June 3, 2013.
Crockett, Cyndi. Email interview. June 3, 2013.
Boyd, J. Lucy. Email interview. June 3, 2013.
Reviewed June 4, 2013
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith