Shedding Light on Anxiety and Sunlight
Thursday, June 1 2017 Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
Researchers are beginning to shed light on the relationship between anxiety and sunlight, and it’s becoming evident that the sun is linked to anxiety and possibly even panic disorder. The connection between sunlight and depression has long been established (Relationship Between Depression and Anxiety). The inclusion of anxiety and sunlight in this mix is a development that just might illuminate more strategies to reduce anxiety.
Do Sunlight Levels Cause Anxiety?
While the exact dance between anxiety and sunlight is still somewhat in the dark, researchers are seeing a connection. With depression, levels of serotonin—the neurotransmitter linked to such things as mood, sleep, sexual function, and more—drop. Low serotonin levels can be an important factor in depression and seasonal affective disorder.
The effect of sunlight is a bit more indirect with anxiety, but there is indeed a connection. While there doesn’t appear to be a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the two, people can and do experience increased anxiety and panic in response to decreased sun exposure. (Note: Anecdotal, but not scientific, reports indicate that some anxiety sufferers experience more anxiety during the summer months when their sun exposure is higher. Again, a clear causal relationship hasn’t been established.)
"Anxiety-related disorders and panic attacks have also been linked with changing seasons and reduced sunlight." —Rachel Nall, RN, BSN, CCRN
Enlightening the Importance of Sunlight for Anxiety
Healthline reports that sunlight offers many benefits, including mental health benefits. It increases the production of serotonin as well as Vitamin D. Each of these play a role in proper health and functioning, and, of course, this includes mental health. When it comes to anxiety, sunlight offers something else, too: lifestyle.
It’s quite possible that the sun reduces anxiety because it influences how we live our lives. When the sun is out, we tend to do things differently. We often become more active, and we naturally spend more time in nature. These activities boost wellbeing and reduce anxiety.
Using sunlight to reduce anxiety can be a simple, natural process. You don’t have to lie outside for hours without sunscreen in hopes that you’ll feel less anxious when you’re done baking. More than likely, you’ll just feel pain and increased agitation and anxiety.
Instead, incorporate some nature into your plan for a low-anxiety, high-quality life. Consider these elements as you work sun in and anxiety out:
- Daily dose: What can you do every day to get more sun? I set my fitness band to buzz every hour to remind me to get up and go out. What would work for you?
- Mix in mindfulness: Mindfulness is an anxiety-reducing tool with proven effectiveness. Consider going for mindful walks to reap the benefits of both mindfulness and sunlight.
- Fun in the sun: Having fun is essential, but sometimes in our quest for anxiety relief, we forget about fun. Lightheartedness and laughter are important for our mental health and key components of an anxiety free life (Hey Kids and Adults, Play with Sand to Reduce Anxiety).
While research is still being done to shed light on anxiety and sunlight, we know enough to take advantage of the benefits of sunlight. We need vitamin D, serotonin, and an outdoor, anxiety-reducing lifestyle. Go forth and discover all of the anxiety-reducing benefits under the sun.
More Vitamin D, Less Anxiety? . (n.d.). Retrieved May 31, 2017, from http://www.calmclinic.com/supplements-for-anxiety/vitamin-d
Sansone, R. A., & Sansone, L. A. (2013). Sunshine, Serotonin, and Skin: A Partial Explanation for Seasonal Patterns in Psychopathology? Retrieved May 31, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3779905/