Effects of Our Physical Environment

Effects of Our Physical Environment

Imagine you are a student who has to travel by bus for 30 minutes to get to school in the morning. Bus A is crowded, dirty, without air conditioning, and has a pungent smell. Bus B is clean, has working air conditioning, and plenty of clean seats. How would you feel after riding for an hour on bus A compared to bus B? Many people would feel irritated and glum after riding Bus A while those on Bus B would feel energetic and maybe express a pleasant demeanor. There is a strong connection between our mental health and the environmental factors that surround us. Aside from the positive effects our environment can bring, there can also be negative factors that might affect us physically and psychologically, thus affecting our academic or work performance.¹ Recognizing them can help us make the necessary changes to feel better mentally and emotionally.

The Environment and Mental Health

Mental health disorders are among the most burdensome health concerns in the United States.¹ According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 42% of students felt persistently sad or hopeless and nearly one-third (29%) experienced poor mental health in 2021.² Similarly, in 2021, more than 1 in 5 students considered attempting suicide and 1 in 10 attempted suicide.² Exposure to certain environmental factors can impact the risk of mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and stress.³ It is clear, from the previous data points, that students are at an increased risk for developing mental health disorders and their environment can help combat or contribute to these issues.

Temperature, the color of an environment, and lighting are all aspects that are crucial to feeling comfortable and relaxed. In many cases, excessive lighting and noise can make us anxious, while spaces that are too dark and cold can make us feel lazy or indifferent. Neuroscientists at the University of Pennsylvania found that rats who were kept in the dark for six weeks exhibited depressive behavior.⁴ In addition, the researchers observed damage in the areas of the rats’ brains that produced norepi­nephrine, dopamine, and serotonin – the neurotransmitters responsible for emotions.⁴ It’s essential to expose yourself to natural lighting to regulate your mood. In other cases, cognitive impairment, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, and depression are produced by excessive noise.⁵ Additionally, extreme temperatures can also have an impact on one’s mental health. For example, excessive heat can cause fatigue, irritability, and difficulty concentrating, while extreme cold can lead to depression and lethargy.⁶

Changing Your Environment

It’s evident your productivity in your workspace or in your school is greatly influenced by the environment in which you operate and the degree of harmony that exists around you. Having good lighting, adequate colors, beautiful views, and air conditioning are factors that can determine the productivity of a student and professional. It is not only a matter of trying to achieve peace of mind through order and aesthetic details, but also a way to streamline and optimize work dynamics. An orderly, clean, well-ventilated, and well-distributed school environment constitutes additional productivity in students and staff.

No matter what environment you find yourself in, it’s important that you start with the things that you have control over and can change relatively easily. Here are some strategies to improve the environment where you work or study:

  • You can get rid of what is not necessary; whether it be accessories, furniture, appliances, or electronic devices, among other elements, that are no longer fulfilling any function. If this is your case, applying the minimalist style to your classroom or workspace can be a good solution to open up the space. This will allow students and staff to have a clear mind when entering your classroom.
  • Nature and interaction with it can have a very positive impact on mental health. Try including plants or decorations that feature nature in the decor of your classroom or workspace to encourage a peaceful environment. If your classroom has windows, try to keep them open, when possible, to allow fresh air and sunlight to enter the room.
  • If your classroom or workspace has no windows, try changing the lighting in your space to imitate natural light. Having adjustable lighting would be beneficial for different activities like silent reading or displaying media.
  • The appropriate use of colors in the spaces where staff or students spend most of their time is necessary. The use of pastel colors tends to promote peace and harmony in work and school environments and, therefore, increase rates of positive performance for employees and students.

In a school environment, it is important to have spaces for relaxation and reflection. It is necessary to have moments of recreation that help clear the mind and release all the accumulated stress. Being able to have game rooms, pleasant restrooms, places to meditate and gyms constitutes a mental improvement for any employee and student. Certainly, the ideal is to create curated environments, it is not necessary to paint all the walls of your school or workspace, but by adding decorative elements with certain colors and appropriate illumination, you can give a lot of life to the space that students and staff will surely be grateful for.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, April 10). Mental Health in the Workplace. https://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/tools-resources/workplace-health/mental-health/index.html.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, June 1). Mental Health. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/mental-health/.
  3. Lindberg, S. (2023, March 23). How Does Your Environment Affect Your Mental Health? Verywellmind. https://www.verywellmind.com/how-your-environment-affects-your-mental-health-5093687#:~:text=Factors%20such%20as%20crime%2C%20racism,your%20physical%20and%20mental%20health.
  4. Newport Institute. (2021, February 24). How Does Your Physical Environment Affect You and Your Mental Health? https://www.newportinstitute.com/resources/mental-health/physical-environment-affect-you/.
  5. Jafari, M. J., Khosrowabadi, R., Khodakarim, S., & Mohammadian, F. (2019). The effect of noise exposure on cognitive performance and brain activity patterns. Open access Macedonian Journal of Medical Sciences, 7(17), 2924.
  6. American Psychiatric Association. (2023, July 20). Extreme Heat Can Take a Toll on Mental Health. https://www.psychiatry.org/news-room/apa-blogs/extreme-heat-can-take-a-toll-on-mental-health#:~:text=Extreme%20heat%20is%20associated%20with,violence%20and%20increased%20substance%20use.


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