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1:00 AM 1st July 2023
lifestyle

The Mental Health Benefits Of Longer Days & Sunshine

 
Photo by John Michael Wilyat on Unsplash
Photo by John Michael Wilyat on Unsplash
With Summer officially here, now’s the time to take advantage of the longer days and soak up the mental health benefits of sunlight, such as increased serotonin production and Vitamin D levels, proven for lowering depression and anxiety. Mental health expert Noel McDermott looks at how something as seemingly simple as going outside to get more sunlight is actually a multi-modal solution as it combines activity, social interaction, engagement with nature and how that’s exactly how we are designed to be, outside, being active and being social.

Photo by Rachael Crowe on Unsplash
Photo by Rachael Crowe on Unsplash
Sunlight Increases serotonin levels

Sunlight triggers the release of hormones in the brain, namely serotonin which is associated with improved mood and wellbeing. Without enough exposure to the sun, your serotonin levels can lower, and this creates a higher risk of depression and anxiety. Serotonin is both a neurotransmitter and a hormone and lays a crucial role in the brain and also the body working well. It helps regulate mood, sleep patterns, libido, blood clotting, digestion, sleep patterns and as such is crucial to health and wellbeing. It’s part of a group of neurochemicals in the body we call DOSE - dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins which are all known to play an important part in mood.

Treating anxiety/depression with serotonin

Serotonin is probably best known because for many years now it has been a standard mental health treatment from doctors to help people with anxiety or depression, in the form of SSRI medication. In the UK most will know the medication fluoxetine, which is the unbranded version of Prozac, the very famous first medication in this family of drugs and there are 8 commonly prescribed SSRI’s including this one in the UK. These medications affect how the brain works and increases the capacity of the serotonin receptors on the brain.

Noel McDermott comments:
“The guidelines for the treatment of anxiety and depression in the UK recently changed and rather than prescribe medication automatically, NICE (the body who decide on treatments in the UK) have said the evidence is that psychological therapies should be offered for depression and anxiety first. The key thing about modern psychological therapy for treatment is that CBT etc encourage long term behaviour change and promote psychological knowledge. The areas of behaviour change promoted are around for example behavioural activation, activity, exercise, joining groups, looking at sleep hygiene, diet etc and serotonin is significantly affected by all of those things. This approach to regulating your mood has a much more beneficial impact on your overall health and wellbeing rather than taking medicine; there are global health benefits.”

Simple Tips to boost your mental health this Summer:

Reduce anxiety levels by getting outdoors as much as you can, whether it’s in the garden, a walk in the park or a hike. Actively seeking sunlight by going outdoors encourages exercise and social interaction and engages the biophilia effect.
15 minutes exposure to sunlight is enough to reap the benefits associated with vitamin D, with direct sunlight improving our mood. Sunlight promotes higher levels of Vitamin D, which may improve depression symptoms and reduce depression rates.
Look at your diet - serotonin is readily available in many foods associated with healthy diets (greens, fruit, fish, cheese, eggs).
Exercise promotes serotonin especially a mix or cardio and load bearing activities.

In terms of thinking about serotonin and mood issues we can look at the receptors in the brain not working from the medical/medication model, or we are not doing enough to get naturally occurring serotonin levels up via the psychological model. Think of it this way, that our depression/anxiety is a signal from our brain/body that something needs to change in the way we are doing life so as to feel better and often those ’somethings’ involve developing a healthier lifestyle and getting sunlight by going outside is one of those healthier lifestyle decisions which leads to global health improvements.

It’s about getting more bang for your buck and by making healthy decisions we can meet many needs at the same time, and we are likely to be able to sustain that decision in the long term as the range of DOSE reward chemicals released into our bodes is significantly greater. Frame it this way in comparison to a specific targeted medication that only works with one chemical and then the benefits are obvious. So, get outside and reap the natural mental health benefits of sunlight!

Noel McDermott is a mental health expert with over 25 years’ experience in health, social care, and education. He has created unique, mental health services in the independent sector. Noel’s company offer at-home mental health care and will source, identify and co-ordinate personalised care teams for the individual. They have recently launched a range of online therapy resources to help clients access help without leaving home – www.noelmcdermott.net