Environmental and social stressors often negatively impact an individual’s work performance and mental wellbeing. It might seem as if these stressors are completely out of our control and that one must surrender to their impact. However, it is important to acknowledge that individuals do have control of how they respond to these stressors. Here, we take a look at some common examples of these types of stressors, and some ways in which we can choose to respond.
Environmental Stressors like weather, traffic, and the work environment represent a few examples of things that cannot always be controlled. The way humans respond to these situations can affect wellbeing. If there is no way to change one’s reality, there are likely ways to at least balance it. Consider taking possible measures to balance your own environmental stressors.
- Scheduling: Traffic, for example, can be a huge environmental stressor. Leaving the house late and speeding regularly adds to stress levels. Rather than cursing the freeways and inanity of one’s fellow drivers, a person can leave home in the morning 30 minutes early; they could put on their favorite music while sipping a nice hot beverage of their choice. This might make the commute more tolerable, possibly even enjoyable.
- Personal space: Another aspect of environment has to do with your physical environment. When you walk into your house after a long day of work how does it feel? When you sit at your desk at work all day how does it feel? What can you do to make your spaces feel better, healthier, and more supportive for you? Everyone is different. For some, having pictures of loved ones on your desk makes a big difference. For others, keeping your desk or home uncluttered and clean has a huge effect on their sense of control and wellbeing. Maybe others like to have lots of live green plants around to liven things up, or like to light incense or a candle to clear the air. Maybe you don’t have a window in your office, but is it possible to make sure you take a few small breaks during the day and go outside for a couple minutes to keep you grounded and feel some sunshine? Although these may seem like small efforts, they make a big difference in your emotional health and overall wellbeing.
- We can limit our exposure to environmental stressors. If you are someone who is agitated by listening to or reading the news, you can choose to limit your time doing that activity. We all know that the news tends to focus on negative stories and violence, and it may be beneficial to substitute an activity that is more calming. Limiting our exposure to unrealistic images of beauty that can be found on most magazine covers can lead to higher self-esteem. Perhaps bypassing the tabloid magazine for the bestseller at Barnes & Noble will give you a necessary break to develop self-compassion and inner peace. Things like pesticides, toxins, and pollutants are out of our control, but we can limit our exposure by eating more organic foods, drinking filtered water, and filtering our air with a HEPA filter. Things like noise pollution can be out of our control, but installing a white noise machine can drown out the unpleasant noise.
Social stressors can also weigh heavy in a person’s life. An ideal social environment would include meaningful relationships, positive support, and mutual respect. However, sometimes we are forced to learn how to best relate with individuals we encounter who may manipulate, try to exert control over us, or are emotionally or physically abusive.
- Boundaries: Create and maintain strong boundaries. It is okay to limit time with a problematic individual. It is also permissible to say “no” at times. It often feels difficult to set boundaries because the person may be angry or upset; however, in the long run boundaries actually help build much stronger relationships.
- Social support system: Although in some cases we don’t have control over the people in our lives, such as family and coworkers, we do have control over who we invite into our lives for a social support network. A person’s circle of friends has a strong influence on emotional health and overall wellbeing. If someone wants to think more positively and then they surround themselves with people who think negatively, they are likely not meeting their goal. Or take for example a person who wants to get healthier both physically and mentally by partying less. But that person’s friends put pressure on them to drink and go out during the weekends. The person in search of health might feel “out of control” or destined to constantly party. This furthers emotional and physical discomfort while simultaneously being held back from evolving and reaching your goals. You have a choice who to bring into your support system. You can bring people in who lift you up, inspire you, support you, and help you grow. Intimate relationships are another area you have choices in. If your partner is always putting you down or is abusive in any way, they may create a toxic environment that negatively influences your physical and emtional wellbeing.
- EAP and Counseling: Another way to get some support around social and environmental stressors is through counseling or your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Counseling is a safe, non-judgemental place to get support around things you are struggling with in your life — whether they are related to work or not. Sometimes counseling is helpful just to gain another perspective or to attain some new coping skills. EAP is completely confidential and provides a great way to access free counseling services through your benefits. EAPs often offer telephonic or video sessions if you are too busy to go in for an appointment.
Remember: Our reactions to an environmental or social stressor can determine its impact. It’s always possible to reduce stress levels by consciously responding to these stressors in a way that can balance their effects. By practicing this skill often, you will begin to know yourself well enough to tell if an environmental or social stressor is negatively impacting your wellbeing, and you will be able to promptly take steps to improve your emotional and physical health.
To Your Wellbeing,
Alea Makley, MA – Clinical Case Manager
Alex Rothchild, MA, LPC – Clinical Case Manager
The MINES Clinical Case Management Team