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20 September 2022

Is Ambient Stress Hurting Your Mental Health?

Jairek Robbins

There is an enemy lurking, and that enemy is a big threat to our mental health. We are talking about ambient stress. What is ambient stress and how can it be such a big threat to one’s mental health? Can one cope with it to limit its dangers? Read on and learn everything you need to know about this insidious enemy potentially eating away at your health and wellbeing.

So, what is ambient stress?

We all know what stress is, so let us take a little detour in order to understand what ambient stress is. Think of ambient light, that light that is all around you. It varies depending on the time of day and the specific place where you are.

 For example, there is likely to be minimal ambient light if you are in the woods in the evening, while there will be plenty of ambient light if you are walking your dog in the park on a Saturday afternoon. Because ambient light is all around you, you rarely take notice of it and it is relegated to the unconscious level of your mind.

In the same way, ambient stress refers to those stressors operating on the fringes of your conscious mind. The stressors are ever-present, but they don’t pose an immediate threat to you and so you may not even be aware that this stress is present.

For instance, people who live close to major highways get to a point where they hardly notice the noise of traffic at night while they sleep. But a visitor may lie awake all night due to the disturbance or noise caused by the heavy traffic moving past throughout the night. In this case, the home occupants have, in a way, been desensitized to the traffic noise while the visitor remains acutely aware of it.

Other forms of ambient stress include fears about this current pandemic that the world isn’t sure whether it has really ended, living in an urban setting where everything is fast-paced, living paycheck to paycheck and getting used to needing more money but never having enough to meet your basic needs comfortably, and so on.

Why is ambient stress something to be concerned about?

As we mentioned earlier, ambient stress is insidious and not many people are aware that it even exists in their lives. This creates problems for two key reasons.

First, ambient stress has the capacity to compound every other stressor you get exposed to. For instance, you may easily lash out at colleagues at work over minor slights because your emotions are keyed up by the ambient stress you are constantly exposed to. It is therefore important to recognize ambient stress and find ways to cope so that you are more resilient in the face of the stressors that pop up every now and then as you go about your day.

Secondly, ambient stress is something to worry about because it can be chronic in nature. Humans are able to deal with the stresses that come up from time to time, such as the stress associated with a looming deadline on a project or task. However, we aren’t wired to deal well with chronic stress, and so physical health and mental health can suffer if ambient stress is left unmanaged for long. Problems with motivation, the development of diabetes and high blood pressure, sleep problems, and feelings of being overwhelmed are examples of how ambient stress can wear us down and take a huge toll on us.

How can one cope with ambient stress?

Strengthen your relationships.

It is important for you to create and nurture healthy relationships in all spheres of your life. This includes your relationship with your significant other, with your kids, your pets, nature, workmates, friends, social groups like religious groups and leisure activity groups, and so on. We are social beings and have an innate need to relate with others. These relationships therefore provide a support group that will enable you to buttress yourself against the effects of ambient stress.

Have sustainable coping mechanisms.

These can include mindfulness meditation, exercising, joining a music class, and so on. The ways to cope with stress are so many and different people will respond differently to each approach. Find what works for you and make those techniques part of your routine.

Limit your exposure to negativity.

Remember what we said about ambient stress magnifying all other stressors that you may get exposed to? One key way to manage ambient stress is to consciously limit how much negativity you are exposed to. This includes avoiding negative news, staying away from people who are negative and are energy drainers, and also avoiding negative events as much as possible. For instance, if there has been a motor accident on your street, do you really need to stand by the entire time while the emergency services are evacuating the victims and the police starts doing its investigations?

Get plenty of rest.

When you rest, you give your body time to recharge and renew itself. Rest also enables the emotional control system to reset from all the stressors it has been exposed to. So, have your seven hours of sleep each night, take frequent breaks from work, take a nap whenever you can, turn off your phone and TV periodically so that your mind isn’t unceasingly bombarded with all the stimulation from the notifications on your phone or what’s on the news. Slow down!

Expose yourself to new stimuli.

Learn to expose yourself to new stimuli in order to keep ambient stress at bay. For example, while taking your daily evening walk, why not use a route you have never taken? Your senses will be stimulated by the novel things you see, smell and otherwise experience while walking through that new place. The new stimuli will excite your mind and emotions, and stress has no place in such a set up. Try eating food you have never eaten before, do things differently from the way you have always done them (walk your dog instead of waiting for the kid from next door to help out), and so on. A new stimulus excites us and keeps us interested in what’s around us, and that is one sure way to keep ambient stress at bay.

All in all, it is important that you recognize ambient stress and take appropriate steps to manage it so that it doesn’t compromise your physical and mental health. The suggestions above are a good place to start this journey. Implement them and feel how you change for the better!


To Your Success,

Jairek Robbins

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