We are now on week two of January and the remnants of last week’s celebration continue to linger. Most people set resolutions with the aim to improve ourselves, our relationships, careers, or general circumstances.
Our brain and our nervous, endocrine, and immune systems are constantly communicating. As neuroscientist Candice Pert puts it, “What you are thinking at any moment is changing your biochemistry.” In turn, situating ourselves in an environment that reduces stress is a key piece of improving mental and physical wellness.
Resolutions represent a sense of hope and the recognition of a need to make positive changes with every new year. It is, most of the time, a look inwards. However, discovering the changes we can make outside – of things we can control – can further propel our lives into our most ideal state.
A change of pace
Resolutions mainly focus on changing oneself, which is not a bad thing. Improvements start with the self. With so much focus on changing the self, is it also worth looking around to see if the external world is directly affecting us?
Point of reflection: A flower will continue to wither unless replanted into fertile soil–or at least the weeds around it are being removed.
When we’ve done regular and fruitful self-work, yet there are aspects of our lives that remain cloaked in negativity, it is important to ask ourselves if there is anything we can change in our environment to lift the darkness.
Where/what/who is the source of these negative thoughts and emotions? Can we remove ourselves from proximity?
- Is our work causing excessive anxiety and unfulfillment?
- Is someone constantly pulling us back into a state of unease or self-sabotage?
- Is our immediate surrounding failing to give us joy and a sense of peace?
If your answer to these questions is “yes”, know that you can change the external to regain balance.
– Take steps to find work that gives you a sense of accomplishment and purpose. We may not be at a position where we can choose to live and work based on our true passion now, however, we can always find a way to move closer to making that into a reality.
– Set boundaries from people who elicit negative feelings and compromise your state of wellness. Know when to distance yourself from a toxic relationship, be it with family, friends, or romantic partners. You control who stays in your circle of trust. Saying “no” is one of the highest forms of self-love. When we’re trying to grow into the person we wish to be, it’s helpful to be around people who demonstrate qualities that we aspire to achieve. They can be mentors from whom we can learn new skills, colleagues who cheer us on as we get to the finish line, or friends who hold us accountable for our choices.
– Moving to a new neighbourhood, city, or country is not easy. But it can be substantially rewarding. It is literally changing our environment. It is a step towards Zero-based Thinking where we are empowered to change the course of our lives by answering the question: “Knowing what we know now, would we have chosen differently?” And if what we know now implies that we can choose differently, why not do it? Why not move? No place is inherently good or bad, but it helps to pay attention to how we feel while we are in these places. Be aware of changes in feelings when leaving them.
What does the science say?
Scientific research by Roger Ulrich and Craig Zimming, authors of the 2004 report, The Role of the Physical Environment in the 21st Century Hospital, studied the effects of hospital design on staff and patients.
The report was able to identify five factors that impact people’s level of stress based on their environment (in this case, the hospital).
1. Increased exposure to nature – Three to five minutes with nature can significantly reduce stress, anger, and fear.
2. The presence of choice – Providing options that give people control over their environments such as places to sit, temperature control, and music playlists ease anxiety.
3. Access to social support – Results showed that social support from family and friends improved recovery in heart patients, and emotional wellbeing and quality of life in late-stage cancer patients.
4. Noise and clutter – Well-planned paging systems, equipment, alarms, roommate pairing, and staff designations reduce noise pollution and clutter, thereby reducing stress for both patients and staff.
5. Positive diversions – In one example, heart surgery patients in intensive care who viewed nature (landscape scenes) reported less anxiety/stress and needed fewer pain medications than a control group with no pictures.
These five factors can serve as an outline for the changes we can make with our own roadblocks. This means looking at lifestyle changes, a re-examination of our social circles, as well as physically decluttering the spaces where we spend most of our time.
Changes do not always have to be instantaneous. The initial step is knowing that you can change the external to find wholeness inside. So instead of a set of resolutions to change ourselves, perhaps we can also look at changing our world outside. There are plenty of things we can do to make our world hospitable.
We can’t always completely change.
Real growth happens when we understand who and what best supports our dreams and desires, and then align ourselves with those people, places, and circumstances that do.