Winter sunshine can improve your mood

winter sunshineGet outside!

Up here in the Pacific Northwest, we don’t take sunny days for granted, especially during our perpetually gray and wet winters.

Yesterday we were lucky enough to enjoy a beautiful, sunny day! It was really cold, at least by our standards, but a friend and I still bundled up and ventured out for a long walk along the beach.

And we weren’t alone. With the blue skies and the crowds of people, it seemed more like a summer day. Perhaps they read the same article I did a few weeks ago: Here’s a Major Health Reason to Get Outside During the Wintertime.

New research from Brigham Young University, published this month in the Journal of Affective Disorders, finds that sunlight exposure is by far the greatest weather-related factor determining mental health outcomes. In other words: more sunshine, more happiness.

If you’re getting enough sun, your emotions should remain relatively stable, the researchers found. But as the amount of sunlight in the day is reduced, levels of emotional distress can shoot up. Other weather variables including temperature, pollution and rain were not found to have an impact on mental health.

I’m not sure if I agree with them about the rain…  😉

Exercise helps mood, too, so getting outside for a walk, jog or bike ride in the winter sunshine whenever possible is a great idea.

If you can’t get outside, or it’s just too cold, open your blinds or curtains and soak up the sunshine through a window.

What about artificial light?

The BYU study didn’t indicate how much time we should spend in the sunshine to make a difference. However, people being treated with light therapy for moderate seasonal affective disorder (SAD) aim for about half an hour, once or twice a day.

Speaking of light therapy, you might think that simply buying one of those light boxes would work just as well.

Maybe not.

The light boxes aren’t cheap (most are over $100) and there are no good studies showing that they are even effective.

Still, therapists recommend light therapy for seasonal depression because other than cost, the treatment is relatively risk free. And some people do benefit.

Before buying a light box, do some homework. The light needs to mimic natural light, and just any light bulb in any lamp won’t work. You need to know what kind of light is emitted (white or blue) and how much (measured in luxes).

Light boxes aren’t recommended for people with certain health conditions, either, such as diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, cataracts, epilepsy or bipolar disorder.

The Mayo Clinic has a good overview to SAD, as well as a guide to choosing a light therapy box. 

But for most of us, simply taking advantage of those sunny days whenever we can will be enough to tide us over until spring.


Frugal Nurse

Image: “Winter Sun” by Ian Capper; licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0



Winter sunshine can improve your mood — 2 Comments

  1. I think I’m defected then. I love the gloomy weather. I’m situated in Dallas and we have too much sunlight and that depresses me. But right now it’s BEAUTIFUL! It’s all grey, so cold and no sunlight at all. All I want to do is watch “Elf” but I am at work so I won’t :p
    But I do agree with you, every other person I know is feeling a bit low right now because we have not had sunlight for 2 days.
    An interesting observation. Usually I’d associate just the deficiency of vitamin D with scarce sunlight. I’ll make my husband read this, he will find this very interesting.

    P.s. Have you come across a person who becomes over excited in the gloomy sort of weather?

    • Haha, maybe you need to relocate to the Northwest! We have an abundance of gloomy weather between now and, oh, July? Of course, by the end of the summer I am wishing for the rain again, so maybe I’m defective, too! Thanks for the comment, FN