Recently, I had a bit of a breakdown. It was your classic college “am I going to pass such and such class?” and “what do I even want to do with my life?” and “what if I end up jobless and alone and miserable? – I should probably just start planning my train hopping route now” routine. I went to the gym, I had a cup of coffee, I read a book, but still the weight sat resolute on my chest.
As I walked by that one towering banyan tree by the school of architecture, I had an overwhelming need to climb it. I thought of all the time I spent as a child, climbing trees in the woods behind my house and that rush of desire to keep going up that always came with it. I took off my shoes, dropped my backpack, ditched my phone and felt the weight on my chest lift as I pulled myself higher.
The positive correlation between exposure to fresh air and mental health has been proven through extensive research. More importantly, though, it’s something we can all attest to if we stop to think about it. From the smallest benefits of fresh air, such as when we feel nauseous or faint and step outside to breathe, to the larger scale benefits, like being a kid and feeling endlessly energized throughout a summer spent playing outside, a vast majority of people could probably vouch for the calmness that overcomes us when we step outside.
Similarly, we can expect to feel a rush of oxytocin, which triggers the happy hormones serotonin and dopamine, when we do something to help others. When we combine those two feelings – being in the environment and giving to others – we experience a wonderful combination of satisfaction, inner peace and appreciation for the world around us, all of which contribute to positive mental health.
I am able to experience that small rush of purpose by making an effort to clean up around me as I walk from class to class. If I see recyclable containers in the wrong basket, for instance, I put them in the recycling bin. Similarly, if I see a piece of balloon on the ground that a small animal could choke on, or the connected plastic rings from a six-pack of soda that could strangle a sea creature, I properly dispose of the balloon or rip the plastic rings apart before throwing them away.
It’s a small effort and admittedly not life-changing, but that tiny release of satisfaction by going out of my way to help the life around me makes me feel that much better. These acts are not saving the world, but they take about 30 seconds and could potentially save the life of a bird or a turtle or a dolphin. Given our campus’ proximity to the ocean, it’s not unrealistic to think picking up one piece of plastic could actually save a sea creature.
Knowing that makes me feel as though I’m contributing something good to the world. It makes me feel connected to something greater and forces me, if only briefly, out of my preoccupied bubble of ego to look around and take care of our home.
Sophia Constantino is a freshman majoring in journalism and ecosystem science & policy.
Feature photo is a file photo of The Miami Hurricane.