Mental Health

Sunshine Is Not Medicine, But It Helps

If you’re a depression aficionado (or depressionado as I like to call us) much like I am, then I’m sure you’ll have heard all the usual advice from people who got their psychology degree on Facebook. Eat lettuce, do yoga, think happy thoughts, and go outside.

Of course, we know that depression is so much more than just diet and exercise. It is a fundamental issue with our brains. We simplify it as a chemical imbalance, but there’s also stuff like neural pathways, family history, past traumas, and a whole bunch of other sciencey bullshit. So we know that the advice from Dr Facebook MD, doing a downward dog and eating a leaf, won’t cure us.

I know this advice is too often parroted by people who don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s frequently used to invalidate our struggles, by telling us that we can prevent this all if we just go outside for five minutes. Believe me, I know how frustrating it can be to explain the reality of depression to someone who has nothing but misconceptions in their mind.

No, it won’t cure us. But it can help.

When I get really down, to the point where all of my thoughts are negative ones, and I’ve already pushed everybody away, I like to think of this comic from poorlydrawnlines.com

poorlydrawnlines houseplant
[Image transcription: Three panel comic, with the heading “Don’t Forget”. The first panel shows a bottle of water with the heading “Drink Water”. The second shows an open window with sunshine outside, with the heading “Get Sunlight.” And the third shows a small potted plant, with the heading “You’re basically a house plant with more complicated emotions.” There is a watermark for poorlydrawnlines.com at the bottom right corner.]
Of course, it’s a huge simplification. But it’s true, we do need water, and sunshine, and sometimes it’s good to recognise that while our minds may run wild, we still have a body to take care of too.

Right now, let’s talk about sunlight.

 

Sunlight in particular, is an oft-neglected part of our self care routines. It’s very easy to sit in your depression cave, curled up in the dark, watching Emilia Fart videos on youtube for 7 hours solid. But as difficult as it is, sometimes we need to give ourselves a kick up the arse and take care of our physical bodies. Going outside for five minutes is one of the easiest ways to start that journey.

I’ve written about this before in my 15 Tiny Ways article, but it’s very important to note that you actually don’t have to go to extremes to start getting better. Even just spending 5 minutes on self care is a good start. And I mean literally five minutes. Set an alarm. Be nice to yourself for five exact minutes, then you can go right back to wallowing and I won’t judge you at all. But do the 5 minutes.

 

Here’s a tiny bit of science to back up my reasons for digging sunlight so much. A brief disclaimer, I am not a scientist, and I’m talking about studies, not accepted scientific fact. Do not take medical advice from someone whose only qualification is paying for a web domain. Speak to your doctor.

Sunlight, of course, gives us Vitamin D. It’s well established that vitamin D promotes healthy bone growth and maintenance, among some other things. There are some studies though, that actually show a link between vitamin D deficiency and depression. Although I will point out these are just preliminary studies, and this has not been fully researched yet. The study in question is a meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, wherein some scientists did find that people with depression in their sample also usually had lower levels of Vitamin D. They concluded from this that there was indeed consistency between vitamin D deficiency and depression. While of course, one study just shows that we need to do more work on this subject, it does give us something very interesting to think about.

We also know that in cases of Seasonal Affective Disorder, light therapy is often effective in treating it. Light therapy is a treatment wherein a person is given a lamp that simulates sunlight, and they use it at times where they usually would get sunshine in the summer months. SAD tends to affect people the worst in winter, where we have far more dark and cold days. There are, of course, other reasons behind SAD, such as an interference with the circadian rhythm and a greater likelihood of staying indoors and becoming inactive, among other things.

But still, sunshine shows its benefits. A lack of sunshine is, of course, not the only reason you’re depressed. But getting a little bit extra sunshine in your life may help you along the way to recovery. Maybe. Hopefully.

 

Now, what does that mean for you?

 

Well. I know it’s easy for me to sit here on the other side of a screen and tell you how great it is to go outside. To tell you that getting some sun will help you feel like less of a bag of shit. Maybe you’ve had a bad day, it’s late at night, and you’re desperately searching for something to grab hold of, something that says maybe you’ll feel okay some day. I do that too. I grip tightly to every self help article that floats my way, as if it’s a raft and I’m stranded in the middle of the Atlantic. Point being, maybe it’s not possible for you to go get some sunlight right now. 

 

I’m not gonna tell you you’ll be cured by getting some sunshine. I won’t tell you to go guzzle down some Vitamin D pills. Actually, if you’re on any medication, you shouldn’t take Vitamin D unless your doctor says so. Serious talk, if you add that and most antidepressants, you’re at a higher risk of serotonin syndrome. Which is not a fun disease. So I’m certainly not telling you that. Don’t do that.

 

Here’s the thing, man. There’s no easy cure. No easy way out. And I mean, yeah, that’s an absolute bummer to hear. But that’s the truth. I’m not gonna lie to you just so you get the warm fuzzies for a second. Us depressionados, we’re pretty good at sussing out lies and empty platitudes for some reason. It’s a long slog, and it’s gonna be hard going, but even on your absolute worst days you can get through it. You don’t have to get through the entire year. Not even the entire month. Just get through today. Through the next ten minutes, if that’s all you can face. It can be done, even though it sucks while you’re doing it. And that’s the truth. I’m not lying to make you feel better here. 

If I can be real with you for a second, and I think I can because this is my website and not anybody elses, I wrote this whole thing because I bought a hammock recently. I’ve loved sitting outside, even if I’m just on my phone. Same thing I’d be doing inside, just a little brighter. Last Thursday I went out to hammock as usual, and it just didn’t work. I sat in my hammock, under a blanket, and cried. Over nothing. I just cried about crying. I did that for an hour then called the doctor to make an appointment, then went back inside. But the next day, I went back outside. Because even if I felt like absolute complete and utter shit, it’s a little nicer to feel like that in a hammock. And slowly, it does start to feel a little nicer.

I’m not gonna shame you for not being able to jump enthusiastically over every hurdle that you meet either. God knows, there are plenty of hurdles I encounter, and I just sort of sit there and wait until the wind blows them over so I can crawl past it. If that’s all you can manage, that’s plenty. You’re doing enough. Shit’s hard. Shit’s way hard. I know. I see you there, struggling along. It’s hard. But you’re doing it.

 

And it might be nicer to struggle along in the sunshine.

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