For a long time, health experts were split into two camps. One that separates the mind from the body from a health perspective, and then the other that sees the mind and body as one – seeing mental health issues like depression and prolonged stress as part of, and sometimes the cause of many illnesses and diseases. This is largely no longer the case, with the scientific consensus converging to see the mind and body as one. This seems fairly obvious since your brain, which produces your thoughts, is inside your body. There are multiple ways in which your overall health can benefit from living a sustainable lifestyle, and this includes lifestyle components that directly and indirectly benefit your mental health.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 25% of people will experience poor mental health at some point in their lives. With uncertainty and a lack of control as the leading causes of stress, and the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic is emerging to be one of the most stressful.
What is a sustainable lifestyle?
Sustainability generally refers to activities that can be done forever without depleting the earth’s natural resources. Any activity that will eventually cause a resource to run out, no matter how abundant it may seem, or damages the environment does not meet this definition. Coal power does not meet this definition, but even mass vegetable farming that uses pesticides and excess water does not meet this definition.
The best way to assess if something is sustainable is to think about the earth’s resources, ethics, and the economy. For example, you could support a small local organic farm that treats its animals well, doesn’t use pesticides, and relies on natural water sources and solar power. This way you contribute to the local economy, promote sustainable farming and produce, and preserve natural resources because the farm relies on solar energy.
A sustainable lifestyle does not mean you need to constantly be perfect. It means that you need to consistently try to make sustainable choices and support businesses and people in the sustainability industry. If the whole world applied this approach, all industries would soon become as sustainable as possible.
It’s helpful to have resources to learn about what sustainable solutions and options are currently available, and you can find a curation of these at Whole People. For those who want to pursue a sustainable lifestyle, consider the things that you do most frequently, what you eat, the clothes you buy, which businesses you support, and how you consume fuel.
What is mental health?
Mental health is a combination of how we feel, think, and act. This includes our psychological, social, and mental well-being. Experiencing negative feelings and thoughts is a very normal thing, however, this should not be the case all the time. Poor mental health is a very difficult thing to be conscious of as it usually happens gradually. Therefore, it may be difficult to notice as day-to-day differences are small.
Different things in a person’s life can affect their state and how they think and feel every day, such as relationships, food, alcohol, sleep, exercise, and work. Any of these factors can improve or impair a person’s mental health. For example, consider a secure and loving relationship versus a toxic relationship, or a routine of too much alcohol and caffeine use, and a lack of sleep versus a routine of moderate stimulant consumption, exercise, and sufficient sleep.
Lifestyle factors can be even more important for those with a family history of mental illness, as they may be genetically predisposed to poor mental health and mental health disorders.
How a sustainable lifestyle improves mental health
A key factor in mental health is relationships and these are all around us. We have relationships with family, friends, colleagues, and pets. But we also have relationships with inanimate objects, like your smartphone, food, your bed, etc. We have relationships with everything in our environment and the environment itself. Living a sustainable lifestyle is going to make you aware of all of these relationships. Considering all the factors that go into your food, like where it comes from and how it got there, is going to improve your relationship with it.
As you start to make more ethical and sustainable choices, you are going to feel better about your relationships, and you are making a positive contribution to your environment. The positive energy that you put into the world is going to give you a sense of meaning and connection in your life, thus improving your mental health.
We are biologically-wired to get a dopamine kick when we help someone. Just think about the last time you helped someone and how you felt after. Living a sustainable lifestyle is going to provide you with the knowledge and awareness of how your actions affect the broader environment. When you make sustainable choices, in a similar way to getting that dopamine kick from helping someone in need, you get to feel good about the resources that you use and the choices that you make, which in turn improves your mental health.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.