Anti-Depressive Strategies: Change Your Environment, Change Your Mood

Situational factors including:

1. your current physical environment, and
2. other people’s behaviour

exert big effects on your emotions and thoughts.

The effects of situational factors on thoughts and feelings come about (at least in part) through what psychology PhDs call “conditioning,” of which there are two main types: classical conditioning and operant conditioning (I won’t go into the details now but I will some other time).

The important thing to know is:

If you want to change how you’re feeling or thinking, and want to do it quickly, try changing your physical environment.

To illustrate it’s easiest to give real examples, so here are some of the super simple things I do:

If I want to “get a different perspective,” I do things like

1. Sit and read in different chair or different room of the house than I usually do.

2. Change the picture on my computer screen. (The pic I have at the moment, which looks phenomenal on a widescreen laptop is here – Central Park, New York)

3. Move furniture so that I’m not looking at the same things all the time, and so I’m moving around the house less on autopilot.

If I want to encourage myself to see the big picture, I literally seek out expansive views.

1. In Christchurch, I like the Crater Rim walk (near the Sign of the Kiwi) with views of Christchurch City, Banks Peninsula, Lyttelton Harbour, the Plains, and the Southern Alps.

2. At night, the Sign of the Takehe and Hackthorne Road areas are good places to take in the sparkly city lights.

3. Star gazing: Any night there’s a clear, vibrant sky, lots of stars and a bright moon is good for walking.

If I want to see things more clearly, I do things like

1. Clean my computer screen.
2. Clean the window I look out of the most.
3. Clean my car windscreen.

If I want to stimulate different thoughts from what I’ve been thinking about, I do something different than my normal routine.

(I have lots of examples that would fit into this category but here are a couple.)

1. The drive is long, but sometimes I need mountains and bush walks. In which case I either go to Springs Junction (2 hours; to lay in a field and feel like I’m in the Sound of Music) or Punakaiki (3 1/2 hours). Springs Junction is only good on a warm, extra sunny day. Punakaiki is better in nice weather, but still interesting in stormy winter weather.

2. I read and work outside whenever I’m home and the weather is good.

Hopefully these all sound like really basic things to do. The idea is to try things and be surprised that seemingly tiny changes in physical environment can have a significant impact on your mood, energy, and thoughts.

Another tip:

Psychologically, it’s important to spend at least 20 minutes a day outside, in as much sunlight as you can find (obviously don’t get sunburnt).

If you’re feeling sluggish or your thinking is stuck, check in with yourself about whether you’ve been inside all day.