Lack of nature and natural light
Spending too much time indoors, away from natural light, can have a negative impact on our mental health. So can spending too much time in polluted cities, away from nature and fresh air.
Both can contribute to symptoms such as:
- Sleep issues
- Poor concentration and attention
- Poor memory
- Mood swings
How natural light can affect mental health
While we know intuitively that a sunny day can improve our mood, most of us don’t realise how important natural sunlight can be for our mental wellbeing.
Sunlight is essential for our brain functions and our emotions:Servan-Schreiber, D. (2005). Healing Without Freud or Prozac. London: Rodale, p.110.
- Exposure to sunlight increases the brain’s levels of serotonin, whereas a lack of sunlight causes an increase of melatonin
- A healthy balance of serotonin and melatonin is vital to our bodies’ health, because they regulate our stress levels and moods
- They also control our circadian rhythms (our ‘body-clock’), which dictate our sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, body temperature, and other important bodily functions
Possible effects of a lack of nature or natural light
There are many benefits associated with being in a natural setting, or gaining access to regular natural light.
Without this access, however, we may be at greater risk of several mental health issues. Some possible effects of being away from nature or sunlight include:
If our circadian rhythms become disrupted, we may start to sleep poorly, or for irregular periods of time.
This can contribute to a range of mental health issues, including:
- Mood swings
- Bipolar disorder
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
Access to fresh air keeps our circulatory systems healthy, which is important for both our mental and physical health. Urban air is increasingly full of pollutants, and the situation is getting worse.Vidal, J. (2016). ‘Air pollution rising at an “alarming” rate in world’s cities’. [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/12/air-pollution-rising-at-an-alarming-rate-in-worlds-cities [accessed 7 Nov. 2017].
Living in a polluted environment may contribute to toxicity-related mental health issues. New research shows that this may trigger symptoms of anxiety.Power, M.C., Kioumourtzoglou, M.A., Hart, J.E., Okereke, O.I., Laden, F., Weisskopf, M.G. (2015). ‘The relation between past exposure to fine particulate air pollution and prevalent anxiety: observational cohort study’. British Medical Journal, 24(350), p.1111.
Our circadian rhythms not only keep our sleep cycles regular, but they help to balance our hormones too.
Without exposure to natural light, our hormones may become imbalanced. Hormonal imbalances can contribute to a range of symptoms, including: