Like most of you, I spent a lot of time at home these past months. Socially distancing has forced us to find fun activities within our four walls, and one of mine was watching documentaries to learn more about the world. Streaming services like Netflix, give us a wide range of different documentaries, but I became interested in ones that focused on nature. The latest one I watched was Seaspiracy on Netflix and it really made me think about my living habits and effects on the environment.
One thing I have noticed while watching these environmental documentaries is that I could feel my mood and overall mental wellness changing. As I saw and learned more of the harsher realities of the world we live in, I felt anxiety and overall stress, but I mainly felt overwhelmed. Learning the facts about how we destroy our planet overwhelmed me. We live so unsustainably that it makes me worry about my future and the future of our next generations. I know most documentaries magnify these issues, but knowing that we are living unsustainably still affects me and my mental wellness badly.
With Earth Day around the corner, this is the best time to talk about nature and how the environment affects our mental wellness. I also hope to share some ideas and tips we can do to contribute our small part to living a more environmentally friendly life.
How the environment affects our mental wellness
Our physical environment affects us. Studies show that if you work in a clean room, you are more productive than working in a messy environment. But how does the outside natural environment affect us? We hear how poor humans are for the planet almost every day in the news — our actions, unfortunately, penetrate the air, water, land. Personally, when I see these documentaries or even trash on the side of the road or at the beach, I feel sad and even mad. I don’t understand why people would throw trash on the ground and not care about the environmental implications of their actions. It brings me down because I feel so frustrated not knowing what I can do and I start to worry. I also feel helpless. If you ever watch a controversial documentary about the environment, you probably know what I mean. These are problems that a single person can’t conquer and that can be so frustrating.
When you hear about the environment or global environment, mental wellness is probably not the first thing that comes to mind, but these two topics have an important relationship. Through media and other outlets, climate change has become more familiar to us. Now we know how damaging it is not only for the planet but also for our own health and wellbeing, and because of that, we worry... Doesn’t that sound so selfish? But it is what it is. The environment is crucial for our physical and mental wellness; there’s a reason doctors prescribe nature walks. Nature helps us cope with our busy lives. Think about it, what do you usually do when you are stressed? Go outside to breathe some fresh air? Even relaxation techniques encourage you to become one with your environment.
4 Small tips on achieving both environmental and mental wellness
Before sharing my tips on balancing both the environment and our mental wellness, I would like to say that this is about the little steps we can take. These tips won’t take too many changes in our life but still can make a meaningful difference. I know that this is a huge topic and there are probably a million different ways to be more environmentally friendly or to reduce our global footprint. However, I’m hoping to share simple practical ways and habits we can do so we can have small wins for our mental wellness and the environment each day.
1. Changing your diet (Don’t worry, it’s not that bad)
Let’s start with something we do multiple times a day, eating. The first tip is to eat a vegan meal once or twice a week. I’m not asking you to change your diet completely, just shifting a meal or two to something that’s plant-based. This will not only help our environment and animals but also have significant benefits for your overall well-being. Vegan or vegetarian diets are full of ‘superfoods’ like berries and nuts that are beneficial for your physical and mental state. Like I said, small wins for us and the environment.
If you’re a total meat or fish lover and can’t live without it (but I believe you can survive at least one meal without it), you can also be a conscious consumer and choose your products with a low carbon footprint. For example, choosing fresh produce from local farmers over imported goods would be an impressive start. It will surprise you when you see where some of these products are coming from.
2. Shopping-clothes? Try Thrift shopping
Let’s be honest, we all have too many clothes in our closets. There’s a lot to say about shopping and the environment, but let’s start with fast fashion. Fast fashion is cheap, trendy clothes that give you the newest styles on the market as fast as possible. And just as fast as it comes, it also goes, and this complete cycle generates a lot of trash. Fast Fashion is not only awful for the environment but it is also humanly cruel. Since they sell it for such cheap prices, workers are often underpaid and work in really poor conditions.
So what can you do when going shopping? While many big brands already have an eco-friendly clothing line, the simplest thing to do is to not buy so many clothes. Try having a capsule wardrobe. And if you really need something new, check out thrift shops or online sites like Poshmark. Personally, I stopped buying cheaper fast fashion clothes, which meant fewer clothes for me, but as a result, I became more intentional and careful with selecting the stuff I bought and loved it even more. And the best part about it is that I feel so much better knowing that I’m doing my small part for the environment and workers.
3. Help out in your community
If you are asking yourself ‘what can I do to save the planet’, start with something small. You can attend local events that focus on being environmentally friendly or next time you see trash at your local park just pick it up. To take it a step further, next time you are at a beach, pack a trash bag and some gloves and clean the beach. You’ll be surprised how good it feels to clean up and ultimately help animals and the surrounding nature.
4. Reduce personal plastic use
The invasion of plastic on our planet is a harsh reality — we produce 500 million tons of plastic each year worldwide. So it’s definitely time to reduce our plastic waste. The first step you can take is to avoid single-use plastic, like straws or plastic bags. There are already great steel or glass straw options on the market that are way better for the environment. When you go shopping, make sure you bring your own bags. This is not only better for the environment but also more sanitary.
And for the ladies, try to stop using Q-Tips and cotton balls/ rounds. You can easily cut a couple of rounds out of an old towel and reuse them every time. (And if you are too lazy, here’s an option to buy eco-friendly cotton rounds). There are so many great ideas on the internet to reduce personal plastic use, so make sure you check them out and start saving the planet.
If you care about the environment, you have probably felt guilt when you use a lot of plastic. Single-use plastics are so convenient, but it doesn’t feel right to use them. I know it is bad for the environment and I know there are other options out there that won’t cost us too much to switch to. However, once you live more environmentally friendly and focus on using fewer plastics, these feelings will gradually fade away and you will feel less anxious and guilty.
Maintaining a healthy relationship with yourself while being environmentally friendly
Unfortunately, once you’ve invested more time into learning about human effects on the environment, you will probably feel helpless at some point. Seeing all the problems we have to conquer to save the planet can be overwhelming. But the focus is on “we”. You are not alone and can’t do it all, even if you wanted to. While this can be even more frustrating, maintaining a healthy relationship with yourself while being environmentally friendly is so important. So next time you watch a documentary that brings you down or makes you worry, tell yourself that it is okay to worry and be overwhelmed. After that, you can commit to doing your personal best to help our environment by starting with these 4 tips that I just shared. You will see how these small wins will change your well-being. And with each step, we can strive towards a healthier planet and a stronger mental wellness.
By: Jil Johannpeter