May is Mental Health Awareness Month and the theme this year is “Look around, Look Within: Your surroundings say a lot about your mental health.” The goal of this theme is to challenge you to look at your surroundings and notice how your environment is impacting your mental health – from your neighborhood to your genetics. Often, we consider our mental health to be only inward-facing but the truth is that so much of our daily lives are impacted by our environments. This can have a positive and negative effect on each of us and of course changes often. For example, do you have access to a grocery store with fresh produce? Do you get both physical and mental support from your home and family?
Many facets of our environments are out of our control but there are some ways we can work toward building a safe, happy, and supportive environment around us. Here are a few ideas:
Create bonds with your community and neighborhood:
Join a neighborhood group and work towards achieving goals together.
Simply spend time together and get to know the people around you.
Work towards secure and safe housing:
Having a safe place to live is high on the list of ways to improve mental health. If you find yourself in a living situation that doesn’t feel right for you, it is important to work towards an improvement.
Reaching out to state and local agencies to find affordable and safe housing or removing safety hazards is a great place to start.
Focus on your home:
Consider keeping your space tidy, sleep-friendly, and well-ventilated.
Surround yourself with items that help you feel calm and positive.
Create comfort by personalizing your space with photos of loved ones.
Rearrange furniture and décor for a zero-cost way to refresh your space.
Connect with nature:
Go for a hike. Visit a city park. Bring a plant inside. Simply open a window and enjoy the sunshine.
Try light therapy for overcast or rainy days.
Spending time in nature is linked to many positive mental health outcomes, including improved focus, lower stress, better mood, reduced risk of developing mental health conditions, and a sense of connection to yourself, community, and purpose.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of ways to improve or maintain mental health but more of a starting point for anyone. Some of the things I do consistently include exercise that I consider enjoyable (spin classes, dance), creative outlets (painting, baking), creating a home space that is comforting (rearranging furniture every few months, aromatherapy with incense and candles), and connecting with nature as much as possible (hiking Cameron Park, walking my dog down to the neighborhood park 3-4x/week). Providing yourself at least 10-15 minutes daily of solo time to reflect on your mental health is another great tool to add to your self-care routine. For more resources, please visit Mental Health America’s website at mhnational.org. A free mental health screening is available at mhascreening.org.
Alysse Traverso is working on her Masters of Social Work at the University of Texas at Arlington, and currently serves as an intern at Prosper Waco.