High levels of air pollution can mean inhaling toxic air. When we think about the side effects of smog, we usually think of physical health concerns such as respiratory and cardiovascular disease. However, it can also directly and indirectly affect our mental health and general psychological well-being. Read on to find out how smog affects mental health.
Smog is a combination of the words smoke and fog, referring to the opacity and colour caused by the smoky looking fog. It usually makes the blue sky look brown or grey. It is basically an intense type of air pollution that reduces visibility.
Poor air quality and high levels of air pollution don’t just lead to breathing issues. You should be concerned about your mental health too. Here’s why:
Air pollution may increase the risk of psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and personality disorders, says consultant psychologist Ritika Aggarwal. A 2022 study, published in The Lancet, also showed that depressive symptoms were the most frequent among many participants aged 45 years and older.
Air pollution may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and general cognitive decline among the elderly. Finer particles in air pollution can penetrate the body’s defenses more easily and so, can travel from the lungs to the blood. Sometimes, they travel up the axon of the olfactory nerve into the brain.
Poor air quality index may make people more irritable and they may show signs of aggressive behaviour too, says the expert.
Poor AQI may negatively impact social trust, which means that you will more likely focus on the negative characteristics of others and find them less trustworthy.
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Air pollution can lead to unnecessary stress due to health or travel restrictions, affecting the way you think and function. Any health problems arising out of smog may also put you under mental stress.
Our mental health influences our ability to think, feel, behave, build relationships, and also impacts our resilience. It does not mean we are never going to have bad experiences or emotional issues, but rather it decides how we are going to overcome and recover from those issues.
A few ways to stay mentally healthy during smog are as follows:
• Plan and prepare yourself for the smog so as to create a sense of control over the situation which in turn promotes psychological well-being.
• Be aware of the AQI levels in your area so that you can protect yourself accordingly.
• Avoid outdoor activities unless necessary when the smog is particularly bad. Try finding ways to spend time productively indoors, suggests Aggarwal.
• Use a face mask while going out if the AQI is particularly bad.
• Participate in outdoor activities on sunny days when the smog is less or find a sunny spot in your homes and sit there for a few minutes to increase your vitamin D levels.
• Improve the indoor air quality to reduce your exposure to air pollution. You can consider looking into a good home air filtration system or purifier.
• Wash your face regularly, especially after being outside.
• Get your smog-related and other physical health concerns addressed so as to improve your general quality of life.
• Eat healthy and nutritious foods, especially those that would boost your immune system. Add foods that are rich in vitamin C, omega-3 fatty acids, and magnesium.
• Continue your exercise regime indoors.
• Maintain self-care and hygiene practices
• Enhance resilience, which means work on accepting the situations that you cannot change.
• Find and continue with hobbies and passions that enhance your cognitive skills such as solving puzzles, singing, dancing and reading.
• Try something relaxing. Practice yoga, breathing exercises mindfulness or meditation.
You can also consider community involvement and try to create greener spaces to promote social interaction as well as combat pollution at your own level.