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In addition, we seek an environment that is psychologically comfortable : for example, environments that are familiar, but offer the right amount of stimulus. Retailers and the hospitality industry know this very well and try to provide an atmosphere that creates a positive customer experience and offers three important attributes: comfort, safety, and entertainment. These attributes are equally important in healthcare as well. Perhaps most importantly for health, the environment can create or reduce stress, which in turn impacts our bodies in multiple ways. This is because our brain and our nervous, endocrine, and immune systems are constantly interacting.

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As neuroscientist Candice Pert puts it, "What you are thinking at any moment is changing your biochemistry. Thus, the stress of a noisy, confusing hospital room might result in a patient not only feeling worried, sad, or helpless, but experiencing higher blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension. In addition, hormones released in response to the emotional stress could suppress the patient's immune system, causing his wounds to heal more slowly.

Environmental Stressors and Their Impact on Our Mental Wellbeing

Stress is an important medical consideration, and creating an environment that reduces stress is a key piece of improving health outcomes. For more information on stress and how it impacts the body, see Why It is Important to Master Stress. Consider Sue's story, which illustrates the impact that prolonged stress can have on health. Sue was a bright and talented high school student. She had always been healthy and done well in school. In the past year, she added more activities, including early morning swim practice, a college prep class, a role in the school play, and work on the school yearbook.

She knew her schedule would be really busy, but she enjoyed all of the activities.

Genetics, Biology, Environment, Stress, Behavior, and Choices all affect Health

Because of her busy schedule, Sue seldom ate dinner with her family. Her meals often consisted of fast food. She started drinking soda to boost her energy. At night, even though she was exhausted, she couldn't sleep because her mind was racing. She started getting sick and missing school, first because of strep throat and then mono. She also started having severe stomachaches. Sue's pediatrician diagnosed her with irritable bowel syndrome and offered her some medication to relax her gut. But Sue's mother felt strongly that she didn't want her to take medication.

Instead, she began to work with Sue on her schedule and habits. She insisted that Sue cut one after-school activity and be home for dinner at least four nights a week. She took Sue to a yoga class, where Sue began learning how to work with her breath, and to focus on the moment without fixating on worries about things that were out of her control. In the mornings before swim practice, she began doing 10 minutes of seated meditation with her mother. After addressing the stress, Sue was still very busy, but she slept better, had more energy, and her stomach problems disappeared.

There is a great deal of very rigorous research that links the physical environment of hospitals to health outcomes. According to Ulrich and Zimming, authors of the report, The Role of the Physical Environment in the 21st Century Hospital , there are more than credible studies that show how aspects of healthcare design can influence medical outcomes. Essentially, this research shows that the conventional ways hospitals have been designed contribute to stress and adverse patient and staff outcomes.

Poor design can adversely impact health and wellbeing, as well as staff productivity and ability to deliver great patient care. For example, because of poor design, nurses in most hospitals spend a great deal of time just gathering the material they need for care. One study showed that almost one-third of nursing staff time was spent walking.

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Ulrich, p5. On the other hand, improving the physical environment can make healthcare settings less stressful, safer, and better places to work. Experts in the new area of evidence-based design have identified five environmental factors that can have a large impact on health outcomes.

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Changes in these areas help create a healing environment that is psychologically supportive for patients, families, and staff. And many hospitals and healthcare settings are applying these findings. Many studies produce strong evidence that even three to five minutes of contact with nature can significantly reduce stress and have a complex impact on emotions, reducing anger and fear and increasing pleasant feelings.

This effect can be achieved by providing: views to the outside, interior gardens or aquariums, or art with a nature theme. Offering choices increases the patient's sense of control, which can significantly lessen stress. Options include the ability to: adjust lighting and temperature, choose music, select places to sit, and control the timing of meals.

In addition, better wayfinding signs and information about where to go reduces disorientation and helps patients feel in control, as does better hospital layouts that allow frail patients to be more independent in getting around. When they started the study, their average age was 10; they will be 19, on average, as they start the new study.

By comparing identical twins, who share the same genetic material, to fraternal twins, who are, on average, like other siblings in terms of the genetic material they share, researchers can determine whether risk factors such as high blood pressure and insulin levels are due to genetics or environmental factors. They believe the cumulative impact of stressful environments will predict cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes. Researchers will evaluate them two more times over the next four years, asking about stress factors, including their living environments and how they cope with stress.

As they've gotten older, they've been exposed to different things, different environments. By comparing them and determining whether they've developed early signs of these diseases, we can tell how much is attributable to genetics and how much is environmental stress. Past phases of the study have revealed that among both the black and white twins, genetics account for about half of the differences in blood pressure and reactions to stress. With the current phase, researchers also hope to find out whether the black twins, whose race tends to develop hypertension earlier and more often than whites, are more impacted by stress.

One theory is that blacks have a higher risk of stress due to things such as discrimination, unfair treatment and unsafe neighborhoods. Materials provided by Medical College of Georgia.

Psychosocial Environment — The Collaborative on Health and the Environment

Note: Content may be edited for style and length. Science News. ScienceDaily, 10 September Medical College of Georgia. Retrieved September 20, from www.