You ever walk into a room, and suddenly your whole mood changes? It’s a strange and mysterious thing, the way a physical environment can affect you. Why are humans like this? And what does this all mean for your physical and psychological well-being? So glad you asked. Let’s explore how your physical environment affects your well-being and what you can do to use your surroundings to influence your physical and mental health.
Why Does Your Physical Environment Matter?
Let’s take it back to the good old days. No, not the free-spirited 60s – more like the B.C. era. Humans have always had innate perceptions of their surroundings. For survival purposes, we needed to recognize signs that might indicate looming danger or threats. In this case, when the body perceives the physical environment as a threat, it starts to go into fight-or-flight mode.
Image caption: A productive home office setup via Cult Design
Think about this example. It’s Saturday morning. You’re at home, and you just finished up a long week of work. You wake up feeling refreshed after a good night’s sleep, and you don’t have much on your to-do list today. Feeling pretty relaxed, right? Your blood pressure’s probably at a normal rate, and your cortisol levels are normal because your body (and your mind) don’t feel threatened by your physical environment.
Let’s switch your surroundings. Now, imagine you’re at the hospital waiting for the doctor in an exam room. The lighting is kind of harsh – you know, the intense, blue-ish exam room lighting that isn’t flattering on anyone. While you’re only there for a routine exam, you can’t help but feel anxious. The sterile surroundings and lack of comfortable furniture aren’t really things that bring a sense of relaxation. Oh, and don’t forget about those awkward, crunchy paper exam gowns.
Feeling stressed and anxious now? Yeah, same here.
How Your Physical Environment Affects Your Well-Being
How this plays out is partially due to something called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Humans have different levels of needs. Some are physiological (i.e., physical), and some are psychological needs. And these needs are prioritized. In this case, think of the priority as a pyramid. At the very base of our needs are our physiological needs – think food, safety, and shelter. When any one of these is out of balance, your well-being and mood reflects it.
In the hospital example, your environment lacks the safe and secure feeling that you might get from home. Sometimes, it’s the kind of environment that breeds uncertainty. If you’ve ever picked up on the “vibes” of a room, then you understand exactly how your physical environment can impact your mood and well-being. The longer you’re exposed to environments that negatively impact you, the more it’s going to affect how you’re feeling and your overall well-being.
How You Can Manipulate Your Physical Environment to Max Out Your Well-Being
Do you find it stressful to come home to a pile of unfolded laundry? How does that messy desk make you feel when you’re trying to get work done? Ever had trouble sleeping in a brightly colored (or lit) room? Maybe what you need is a change to your surroundings. And no, that doesn’t mean moving homes or changing jobs. It can be as simple as reorganizing or redesigning the spaces you spend the most time in.
Color, lighting, and organizational layout can all be manipulated to maximize your mood and your well-being. If you’re having a hard time concentrating while living that work from home life, maybe an office reorganization might be just what you need. Being surrounded by visual chaos isn’t conducive to organizing your thoughts and getting things done.
But the same principle goes for any part of your physical environment. Maybe don’t paint your bedroom red or neon green. Colors like that can stimulate your brain and make it difficult to relax and fall asleep. Opt for more muted or darker hues that get you in the mood to hunker down and go into hibernation mode. If you’re still working in an office, try to bring a little bit of comfort in, if you can. Personalize your surroundings to help your office feel like the home away from home that it actually is. Creating an environment that you look forward to spending time in is key to making sure you max out your well-being and stay on top of your game.
The color and organization of your physical environment plays a major role in your mood and well-being. If there’s anything that quarantine has made apparent, it’s that your physical environment affects your well-being – and in major ways. But changing your environment doesn’t have to take a whole lot of time, effort, or money. From changing paint to reorganizing a space, you can manipulate your physical environment to reduce stress, improve your focus, and max out your well-being.