Elevated levels of air pollution can result in inhaling harmful air. When considering the consequences of smog, the focus is usually on physical health issues like respiratory and cardiovascular ailments. However, it can also have direct and indirect implications on our mental health and overall psychological well-being. Keep reading to explore the influence of smog on mental health.
Smog, a blend of smoke and fog, refers to the hazy and discolored appearance caused by the fog with smoke particles. This phenomenon often gives the sky a brown or gray hue, and it signifies intense air pollution leading to reduced visibility.
Can Smog Impact Mental Health?
Poor air quality and high levels of air pollution not only lead to respiratory issues but also pose concerns for mental health. Here’s why:
1. Heightens susceptibility to mental disorders
Air pollution could amplify the risk of mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and personality disorders, as outlined by consultant psychologist Ritika Aggarwal. An investigation published in The Lancet in 2022 also revealed that depressive symptoms were predominant among many participants aged 45 and older.
2. Cognitive decline in the elderly
Air pollution can escalate the likelihood of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and general cognitive decline in the elderly. Finer particles in air pollution can easily breach the body’s defenses and travel from the lungs into the bloodstream, and at times, enter the brain through the axon of the olfactory nerve.
3. Provokes aggressive behavior
Poor air quality may induce irritability and lead to displays of aggressive behavior, according to the expert.
4. Diminishes social trust
Low AQI levels may negatively impact social trust, causing individuals to focus more on negative traits in others and view them as less dependable.
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Air pollution can generate unnecessary stress due to health and travel constraints, affecting cognitive function and thought processes. Any health issues arising from smog could also lead to mental stress.
Preventing Mental Health Impacts of Air Pollution
Our mental well-being influences our cognitive abilities, emotions, behavior, interpersonal connections, and resilience. It doesn’t imply that we won’t face difficulties or emotional challenges, but rather how we tackle and recover from them.
Here are several approaches to sustain mental well-being amidst smog:
• Plan and prepare for smog to cultivate a sense of control over the situation, thereby fostering psychological well-being.
• Stay informed about the AQI levels in your area to take appropriate precautions.
• Minimize outdoor activities during severe smog conditions, and explore productive indoor pursuits, as recommended by Aggarwal.
• Utilize a face mask in heavily polluted environments.
• Engage in outdoor activities on clearer days or bask in sunlight indoors for a few minutes to boost vitamin D levels.
• Enhance indoor air quality to minimize exposure to air pollution. Consider investing in a high-quality home air filtration system or purifier.
• Regularly wash your face, especially after spending time outdoors.
• Address smog-related and other physical health issues to enhance overall quality of life.
• Consume a nutritious diet that includes immune-boosting foods rich in vitamin C, omega-3 fatty acids, and magnesium.
• Maintain an indoor exercise routine.
• Uphold self-care and hygiene practices.
• Foster resilience by accepting situations beyond your control.
• Pursue hobbies and interests that stimulate cognitive abilities, such as solving puzzles, singing, dancing, and reading.
• Engage in relaxation techniques like yoga, breathing exercises, mindfulness, or meditation.
You can also explore community engagement and contribute to creating green spaces to encourage social interaction and combat pollution at a local level.