The Mindful Environment

Being mindful of what we are consuming means becoming aware of the environment we are in. What we are absorbing from the environment affects our mental and physical health. There are many ways that our surroundings are absorbed into our bodies.  Our nose has a direct pathway to the brain triggering memories, responses and even altering brain matter. It has been found that diesel and black carbon breathed through the nose create lesions in the brain increasing risk of autism, stroke, and cognitive decline.  It has also been found that the scents of the forest also called phytoncides lower blood pressure, act as an anti-viral, and increases T cells in women with breast cancer. (Williams, 2017)


What we see is processed by the eyes and sent in messages to the thalamus and then the primary visual cortex in the back of the brain where it is spread into three different processing systems.  The more complex and busy our surroundings the more work our brain has to do to process the information. Individuals living in cities with high light pollution feel more stressed and have higher anxiety. (Beutel, 2016)  Whereas when we are out in nature landscapes that entice our attention but don’t demand it allow the brain to recover from cognitive performance and executive attention making us calmer and more creative. (Williams, 2017)


Our ears receive information from the cochlea and send signals through the auditory nerve to the auditory center of the brain in the temporal lobe.  The auditory brain processes these signals in three main areas. The auditory cortex may at first cause a reflex in the form of a jump or a turn of the head.  It will then process it into a sound that can be consciously perceived and relate it to sounds heard in the past leading to the appropriate response. The more consistent and noisy our surroundings, the more work our brain is constantly doing to process and respond.  Individuals exposed to long term environmental noise have a twofold higher prevalence of depression and anxiety. (Beutel, 2016) In quiet environments our mind can relax from the consistent cycle of reacting, processing, and responding. What we see, hear, and smell is altering the state of our brain.  By changing our environment, we can change our internal state.


The following are five ways to stay mindful of your environment.


  1. Take a quick pause and name five things you see, four things you hear, three things you feel, and two things you smell.
  2. Distance yourself from the movement and productivity around you and become an observer.  Notice the looks on people’s faces and their body language. Notice the speed at which things are moving.  Can you stay calm amongst the chaos?
  3. Take three deep breaths and check in with your body.  How is it responding to your environment?
  4. Give your senses a break with at least five minutes a day of silence in a calm and comfortable place.
  5. Get out into nature at least three times a week.  This can be a 15min walk through the park or a day in the mountains.  Soak in the sights, smells, and sounds.