“Sun, Shine On My Mind.”
Sunlight and the summer have a significant effect on mental health. Studies have shown that the amount of time spent outdoors between sunrise and sunset has a co-relation with anxiety and distress levels.
Lots of people are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder/SAD every winter. The main point of difference between regular depression and SAD is that with the latter full remission happens in the summer and spring months.
Sunlight’s complex stimulus can affect the mental health and mood via numerous methods, including affecting the levels of serotonin, vitamin D, nitric oxide, endorphins, and mitochondrial energy, etc.
Different effects of the sun and summer on anxiety and mental health
We generally link exposure to sunlight as optimization of vitamin D creation. This forms just a small percentage of the effects of the spectrum of sunlight as the only part that can carry out vitamin D photosynthesis in the skin is UV B radiation. The advantages of sun exposure is however not limited to just UV B.
Sunlight affects parasympathetic and sympathetic functions and is a key seasonal and circadian stimulus for the natural clock in the body.
The human body system detects the varied colors of light that surrounds us through the skin and the eyes so as to adjust the hormonal system to the peculiar needs of place and time. Different studies have shown that chromophores/molecules present in large numbers in varied skin layers absorb and network with UV rays, creating numerous synergistic and complex effects.
Molecules present in the electron transport system of mitochondria respond to sunlight’s near-infrared rays. Such a stimulus from the sun impacts not just bodily health via prevention of illnesses, but also affects the mood and a persons overall mental health.
- The body makes use of the near-infrared spectrum of light in production of mitochondrial energy and keeping the systemic equilibrium. Thus, reduced levels of cellular energy due to lack of exposure to sunlight can result in tiredness, sluggishness, and even anxiety and depression.
- Epidermal cells called keratinocytes get stimulated by UV light to produce beta-endorphins, which help boost the mood.
- The circadian rhythm is regulated by sunlight and it is known that light therapy can help ease anxiety, SAD, and major depression. Levels of melatonin tend to rise when it gets dark. This is one of the reasons why we begin to feel tired after the sun sets. During winters, tiredness may arrive early as the sun can set really early.
- NO/nitric oxide is released in the skin by UVA. ‘NO’ causes an increase in blood supply to the capillaries in the skin and enable them to efficiently absorb infrared radiation and sun’s energy. Cellular battery gets recharged by infrared, while infections in blood get destroyed by UVA. NO also plays a role in protection of the heart via reduction of blood pressure, relaxation of blood vessels, and stimulation of the brain. It also serves as an antioxidant. Anxiety and depression are associated with low-grade, chronic inflammation; nitric oxide helps reduce inflammation, thereby positively affecting the mental health.
- Serotonin gets secreted due to sunlight exposure and this can boost energy and mood.
As you can see the summer and the sun can have a great affect on your emotional and mental health. Even so, it’s always important to get to the root cause of your anxiety challenges through a dedicated CBT based program for anxiety. Enjoy the sun!