The Role of Environmental Stress in Your Mood

When you think of the typical causes of stress, what do you tend to think of? For many of us the answers will be easy and forthcoming: things like ‘our boss’, ‘work’ and ‘debt’ will all spring to mind.

In fact though, stress can also have a number of environmental causes which is what we call ‘environmental stress’. These include things that might seem innocuous like noise, crowds and more. Here we will look at some of the most common causes of environmental stress and at how you can go about using this knowledge to enjoy a calmer and less anxious lifestyle.

The Main Causes of Environmental Stress

While all sorts of things can contribute to and cause environmental stress, there are certainly some main culprits. These include:

Heat

When it’s very hot we become much more likely to get stressed and irritable. This has even been put forward as one of the reasons that some people in sunny countries are often described as being ‘passionate’.

Simply put though, the term ‘hot and bothered’ is a very apt description of the way we can end up feeling when things don’t go our way and we’re in the blazing heat. If you want to reduce stress, crack open a window!

Weather

It goes to follow that if heat can cause environmental stress, so too can hot weather. At the same time though, the weather can also cause stress in other ways. Being constantly rained down on and getting soaking wet can make us stressed and irritable for instance and so too can the weather changing very rapidly or being extremely cold.

While it’s not environmental stress as such, low light in the mornings can also cause depression – this is what’s known as seasonal affective disorder or ‘SAD’.

Lighting

Continuing on the theme of lighting, light itself can also cause you to become more or less stressed. Specifically, artificial light that is closer to fluorescent lighting can cause us to produce more cortisol. This is actually a good thing in the morning as cortisol helps us to wake up but if we’re sitting in a fluorescently lit office all day then it will only contribute to existing workplace stress.

At the same time, the light from our computer screens and phones can also have a similar effect and this can be especially bad when we are trying to get to sleep. At night, low lighting is supposed to stimulate the production of melatonin and other sleep hormones. But if you look at your bright phone screen it will cause stress and thus wake you right back up.

Noise

Noise is one of the most common and serious causes of environmental stress. Particularly bad is very loud noise that is above 85 decibels – examples including motorcycles, lawn mowers, loud music and jet engines. Traffic is pretty bad too so if you’re living by a main road then all that noise can very likely increase your blood pressure and make you that much more likely to snap at your partner.

Noise that’s much quieter though can also increase environmental stress. For instance, a high pitched ringing that is too high pitched to even be heard by humans can actually still increase levels of stress hormones and increase your chances of aggression.

Pain

While it’s not necessarily ‘environmental’ being in pain is another external factor that can increase stress, as can a general lack of comfort. This is worth bearing in mind because if your office chair is uncomfortable at work – or even if you just have a sharp bunch of keys digging into your pocket – then this could very realistically be making you anxious and stressed.

Crowds

Finally, crowds have also been shown to increase environmental stress – raising cholesterol and making us much more likely to lash out and hit someone who is getting on our nerves.

In fact, if someone walks towards you then this can trigger a fear response. If you live in a busy city then you will have countless people walking directly towards you every single day on your way in to work. On top of this you will be constantly queueing at the traffic lights and constantly having people step on your toes. This is where the term ‘pavement rage’ comes form and it’s a very real and serious phenomenon.

What to Do About Environmental Stress

So what do you do about environmental stress?

The first thing to do is to acknowledge what a big serious role this can play in your mood, especially if you are currently experiencing stress.

Remember that a very high pitched noise, too high to hear, can cause you to produce more cortisol and that so too can keys digging into your pocket.

For most of us there are constantly tons of noises all around us and tons of different ways in which we aren’t quite comfortable. Right now you can probably identify a ton of these environmental stressors – maybe the room you’re in is crowded, maybe you can hear the road, maybe you can hear the ringing of the TV, maybe you’re too hot, maybe your chair is uncomfortable…

All these things might not have a huge impact on your overall stress levels on their own but cumulatively they can have a very big impact – and especially when they’re piled on top of other things that are already making you feel very stressed.

Furthermore, you might also be experiencing stress in other forms too. Maybe you have a headache and you’re in debt, or maybe there’s a deadline. Without those sources of environmental stress you could deal with those things but add them on and suddenly it can all seem a lot worse.

Fortunately there are a number of things you can do to address each of these various different types of stress. Here is a checklist of things you might want to implement:

  • Go into work a little later or earlier in order to avoid the crowds
  • Choose a different route into work
  • Make sure the temperature in your home is the way you like it
  • Wear layers to work so that you can easily add or remove them to deal with the temperature of the room
  • Speak to your boss about getting a more comfortable chair
  • Make sure all of your clothes are well fitting
  • Turn off TVs and other appliances at the mains when you aren’t using them
  • Add more insulation to your rooms
  • Use a ‘daylight lamp’ to wake you up in the morning
  • And avoid screens at night
  • Wear blue blocking shades to block out fluorescent and ultraviolet light
  • Sleep with earplugs
  • Move away from busy city areas
  • Move somewhere with better weather
  • Take your keys out your pocket
  • Make sure your clothes are comfortable
  • Listen to headphones at work
  • Ask to be moved somewhere less noisy/bright/crowded at work

At the same time, think about making changes to your environment in other ways that will make it more relaxing and calming. Adding a plant to your desk for instance has been shown to instantly lower heart rate and blood pressure and to decrease workplace stress.

Most of all though, just recognize the role of environmental stress and do whatever you can to reduce it. You’ll find that if you can make your environment calmer and more soothing, you’ll feel tons better as a result.

Keith Hillman

Keith Hillman is a full time writer specializing in psychology as well as the broader health niche. He has a BSc degree in psychology from Surrey University, where he particularly focused on neuroscience and biological psychology. Since then, he has written countless articles on a range of topics within psychology for numerous of magazines and websites. He continues to be an avid reader of the latest studies and books on the subject, as well as self-development literature.

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