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The connection between our mental well-being and the situation around us By Inika Khosla

Understanding how the situation around us impacts our mental well-being (The Stanford Prison experiment)

In 1971, a Psychologist named Philip Zimbardo along with his colleagues conducted what is now famously known as ‘The Stanford Prison Experiment’ which went on to speak volumes on how the environment around us can impact our mental well-being. Although the experiment did move to experience several criticisms such as the ethical issues around the entire setting or the distinct lack of realism, it was quite clear to the researchers that those placed in a position of power(guards) were largely aggressive while others having almost no control(prisoners) became submissive. 

Accepting the fact that everything in our surroundings, including our settings and relations, impact and affect our mental health daily is a huge step towards well-being. As large parts of our time and energy are often spent in these places and people, it’s safe to deduce that these in turn also play a role in shaping us not just physically but emotionally and mentally as an individual. 

Our mental health can be impacted by almost anything in our environment such as – 

Spaces

The need to use the word ‘personal space’ when we want some time to our thoughts is a prime example of this. Places where we can unwind or just gather our thoughts often have a calming effect on the mind. Similarly clustered or overcrowded spaces can make one suddenly feel overwhelmed or unsafe in their surroundings.

People 

Highlighting the importance of communication; inconsistent or sudden distancing can be very stressful and unreliable, causing an unnecessary strain on our well-being. Having the ability to share good communication and trust with people in your life often becomes key to being a healthy mind.

Setting 

Whether it be the lighting, sounds, temperature or even smell of a particular setting, it's easy to be swayed by our emotions. A sudden change in temperature or noise can leave us irritable while a simple smell of a lit candle with our favourite book can bring instant comfort and safety to the mind. 

However, the key to making the right step towards better mental health lies in understanding the following statements about our surroundings -  

- Removing yourself from a given situation or moving away from people that don’t necessarily see eye to eye with you is the best option when at crossroads. 

- Increasing the lighting or putting on your favourite tunes also allows one to bring the mind to focus on something different rather than fixate on a specific problem.

- While one might not like to admit, communication even in difficult times is the only way forward. 

However, the most important thing one could benefit from is understanding that our perception largely motivates how we feel around ourselves. In no way am I discrediting or denying how toxic certain environments can be, but sometimes it’s also one’s perspective of that environment that changes how we can feel. Creating a routine, appreciating one positive element or even decluttering (whether the space around you or people) can bring about a tremendous difference in our outlook. In the end, some elements which influence our well-being are almost always out of our control, however, bringing small changes to seize just a little control over what makes you ‘you’ brings one a sense of comfort in the long run.