Subjective well-being has regularly been proved to be an independent predictor of health (Corley et al., 2021). In addition to its terrible physical implications, the COVID-19 pandemic has posed a mental health issue, prompting governments worldwide to impose lockdowns to prevent disease spread. When people's access to work, education, and public spaces is limited, their homes must play a special role in their daily lives and mental health (Meagher & Cheadle, 2020).
There is a well-established link between perceived interior crowding, social isolation, and poor mental health. It is also widely acknowledged that exposure to nature has a positive impact on mental health. Nonetheless, in the contemporary setting of COVID-19, little is known about the critical role of time in correlations between perceptual characteristics and the repercussions of social isolation (Melo & Soares, 2020). Our goal was to shed more light on this topic by examining changes in psychological distress in a cohort of healthy women during the pandemic-related stay-at-home order, using two waves of data. The current study adds to the body of knowledge by addressing the following issues: During a lockdown, did social isolation and psychological distress increase? Is there a link between nature exposure and psychological distress caused by perceived interior crowding? Is this moderating role temporally dependent? Is it possible that having a sense of behavioral control over social distancing from others in public areas could reduce the impact of social isolation on psychological distress?
The most important predictor variable in the model was perceived interior crowding, which had both direct and indirect effects on psychological distress. Perceived interior crowding was adversely associated with social isolation and psychological distress in both waves of this investigation, indicating that people's impressions of their homes can contribute to poor mental health outcomes. The model revealed that social isolation was the second strongest predictor and a significant mediator variable, confirming prior findings (e.g., Wells & Harris, 2007). Our data indicated that social isolation is linked to psychological distress, confirming Durkheim's theory that lack of social integration has negative mental health repercussions (Berkman et al., 2000). Many areas of people's lives, including levels of physical activity, psychological and physical wellbeing, have been negatively impacted by key policies such as social distancing and self-isolation (Cellini et al., 2020; Corely et al., 2021). Self-reported social isolation and psychological distress were considerably higher at wave 2 than at wave 1. This finding demonstrated that, while social distancing techniques may assist safeguard public health, they may have unanticipated negative repercussions for mental health, consistent with evidence identifying loneliness as a risk factor for mental health (e.g., Liu et al., 2020). Cutting off from social networks can make people feel vulnerable and pessimistic about their situation, resulting in negative mood states and discomfort, amplified during a pandemic. Because residents are likely to have already experienced a loss of interpersonal bonds due to the epidemic, the additional social isolation brought on by the mandatory physical separation can exacerbate the psychological toll (Hyun-soo & Jung, 2021). The pandemic is a global stressor with no predictable endpoint, and its effects cannot be controlled by a single individual factor; additionally, psychological distress can arise not only from isolation and loneliness, but also from increased worry (Gorenko et al., 2020) and the pandemic's simultaneous impacts on various domains (e.g., financial, and physical health) (Liu et al., 2020).
Exposure to nature has been linked to various health advantages based on classic early studies, such as attention restoration theory (Kaplan, 2001) and stress reduction theory (Brooks et al., 2020). However, some studies have discovered significant positive correlations between perceptions of urban green space quantity and mental health outcomes (Sugiyama et al., 2008; Cleary et al., 2019); recent urban studies have found that psychological well-being has a significant relationship with perceptions of green space, which may differ from objective measures. Considering the quantity and objectively quantifying green space without taking into account how people perceive the space may not provide the full picture of a situation (Hyun-soo & Jung, 2021). As a result, we have concentrated on how people feel about being in nature.
Access to nature is rapidly acknowledged as playing a significant part in the COVID-19 pandemic (Ahmadpoor & Shahab, 2020; Ferrini & Gori, 2021). Exposure to nature during the stay-at-home order was also thought to mitigate the negative impacts of perceived interior crowding on mental health outcomes (Olszewska-Guizzo et al., 2021). This relationship is explored over time in a longitudinal study. Our findings imply that exposure to nature may aid in maintaining people's health during a pandemic but this link is time-dependent (Meagher & Cheadle., 2020). It is worth noting that this link was strong at the start; hence, exposure to nature predicted short-term mental health effects. At any stage throughout the pandemic, individuals' reported exposure to nature did not help to mitigate the detrimental effect of perceived interior crowding on psychological distress. This study supports prior findings that the pandemic restrictions' broader implications on public health may not be apparent for some time (e.g., Corley et al., 2021). During the earliest stages of the national response to the outbreak, one's link to nature was vital. Given the possibility of additional lockdown reinstatement at a local level, this is helpful. As a result, the ordinary mental health benefit of exposure to nature may not be sufficient to safeguard against psychological distress over the long term in the event of a widespread pandemic. This problem, however, can be linked to the quality of green space, emphasizing the need to provide a high-quality natural experience in cities as well as a variety of visual exposures (Olszewska-Guizzo et al., 2021).
The role of perceived behavioral control in the link between social isolation and psychological distress (in wave 2) provides empirical support for the influence of perceived behavioral control on the usage of open places during the pandemic. This study suggests that therapies aimed at increasing distress tolerance, such as mindfulness-based therapy, may be more beneficial than cognitive interventions to change core self-beliefs (Nila et al., 2016; Liu et al., 2020). Spending time in public open areas may encourage people to interact with their neighbors, fostering a sense of community and social relationships. Increased social cohesion has been identified as a fundamental driver of psychological wellbeing and as an underlying mechanism in the link between green space and health (De Vries et al., 2013; Corley et al., 2021). Furthermore, neighborhood identification is an essential driver of responses to the local environment and has a direct impact on mental health (Fong et al., 2019). The advantages of having an optimistic attitude in life were amplified by community togetherness. This conclusion emphasizes that a home's appraisal will vary depending on the amount to which particular sorts of psychological needs are addressed or not. Individuals' ability to directly organize the home environment to allow desirable behaviors can also be an important aspect of maintaining excellent mental health (Meagher et al., 2020). Effective self-regulation, for example, frequently entails engaging in future self-control by establishing an atmosphere that encourages desired behaviors while discouraging undesired ones (Hyun-soo & Jung, 2021).
To promote mental health through the built environment, residential spaces should be planned and managed to accommodate differing preferences and perceptions, particularly among people from various socioeconomic backgrounds. Only individuals with a particular degree of technology skill and internet connection were eligible to participate; the study sample may be biased toward people from higher socioeconomic backgrounds. Because the relationship between perceived interior congestion and adverse outcomes varies by gender (Rollings & Evans, 2019), generalizing the findings should be done with caution.
Given that this case study was limited to a small number of socio-demographic and health-related characteristics, as well as gated communities in a specific context, future research should look at the outcomes in other cities and socio-cultural settings. It seems logical that the physical, social, and cultural contexts can foster or restrain social distancing; consequently, future research should compare the influence of open space arrangements and home layouts. Our longitudinal data supports the core assumption that the effects of built environment features linked to mental health outcomes change with time. Future longitudinal studies could, however, concentrate on different waves of data collection in order to better address the issue of temporal ordering of the focal relationships. Finally, future research should confirm the findings of this study using a larger, more representative sample in various settings and demographics.