By Sierra Aceto
This is Do You Mind?, a series where I ponder and reflect over many mindfulness practices, what they mean and how to apply them. As the self-care and self-love revolution is on the rise, I hope to make you wonder, do you mind?
Ah, spring is here. As the temperatures slowly — very slowly — rise, and the sun starts to shine a little stronger each day, I urge you to take advantage of those brilliant rays.
Despite all of the warnings about sunburns and melanoma we’ve heard countless times, short periods of sunscreen-less UV rays actually have many benefits for our physiological and mental health.
Here are just a few of those benefits to entice you to sit out a bit longer on those wonderfully sunny days.
Everybody loves a good mood
Even just 10 to 20 minutes of sun on your face during the day can help increase your mood and calmness. The further you live from the equator (i.e. New England versus Florida), the more likely you are to experience sadness and negative moods during the winter months.
Many even suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, appropriately nicknamed SAD, which is a form of seasonal depression associated with a lack of warmth and sunlight.
So celebrate the sun and yourself this spring! Slow down your speed-walk to work or class, take your lunch break outside on the grass or a bench or simply take a well-deserved break and lift your face to bask in the sun’s beautiful shine.
I’ve missed you, circadian rhythm
Ah, remember when it wasn’t so difficult to fall asleep? Yeah, me too. Did you know that getting less sunlight affects your serotonin (our happy chemical) and melatonin (our sleepy chemical) production? Yeah, the blue light from your screens at night isn’t the only thing to blame.
When we get less sunlight during the day, our serotonin production isn’t as efficient. This, in turn, inhibits our melatonin production, which is that magical hormone that makes your eyelids heavy and your mind ready to shut off for the night.
By basking in bright rays during the day, our body is more able to recognize when the sun goes down and it’s time for bed.
Come to think of it, some of my best sleeps happen after a relaxing day at the beach or hitting that reading/sunbathing combo in my backyard — some pretty quality naps, too.
Strength all around
While we always hear about the dangers of overexposure to the sun, it’s not often we hear about all of the strengths sunlight can provide us.
Most of these benefits are thanks to our best buddy, vitamin D. Sure, you can take supplements and eat vitamin D rich foods, but why not go straight to the source — direct sunlight.
Adequate and regular sun exposure can help decrease the risk of several types of cancer, including breast cancer and prostate cancer.
Higher vitamin D levels are also associated with healthier and stronger bones. That means bones that are less likely to break or fracture and more likely to stay strong through things like calcium deficiencies as we age.
You are my sunshine
Sunshine just makes me smile, guys. There aren’t a lot of experiences that can compare to a cozy sunray hug after hours of being cooped up inside.
That said, you should still be safe. Although short periods of time in the sun are OK without protection, any time period more than 15 or 20 minutes should be enjoyed with your other best pal, sunscreen.
It’s highly recommended that you get outside and under those rays every day if possible, rather than just a single day or two with a prolonged amount of exposure.
It’s all about balance. You wouldn’t eat all your food for the week on one day, so why would you restrict your sunshine dosage to just once or twice a week? Work some sunshine into your daily routine. I have a feeling you’ll be thanking yourself when you feel a little brighter and sleep a little better as a result.
Happy spring and happy sunbathing, friends.
Behavioral Medicine at BU Student Health Services offers confidential counseling for mental health and is available 24/7 for emergencies. You are not alone. Behavioral Medicine is here for you. Call 617-353-3569 to make an appointment.