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Every year around this time friendly reminders to get outside to enjoy the sun are in overwhelming supply online. While there is proof sunshine can help boost mood and improve health, especially for those struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder (depression that fluctuates depending on the seasons), the sun does not have this same effect on everyone.

Benefits of Increased Sunlight

There is no denying the scientific evidence that more sunshine can increase our serotonin and melatonin levels, helping us feel happier and calmer while also improving our sleep. The increase in sunlight during the spring and summer months also means more daylight to get outside, get active, and get things done. Since people tend to spend more time outside being active when it is sunny and warm, it can also have a positive impact on physical and immune health thanks to the boost in Vitamin D.

“A sunny day has the power to act as an uplifting backdrop for any activity, and often gives me a gentle nudge in the right direction. Also, it keeps my skin tan.” – Zach

Negatives of Increased Sunlight

Even though there seems to be a lot to love about being out in the sun, there are some more unfavourable effects that impact people negatively, actually making them more unhappy. Beyond the potential to get a sunburn or feel tired, exposure to sunlight can make some feel anxious and upset.

Fear of Sunlight

Some people experience heliophobia or the fear of sunlight. The causes behind this phobia differ from person to person. Some have been through trauma related to the sun, like extreme burns, and experience PTSD or anxiety when thinking about or seeing sunlight. Others feel extreme anxiety in fear of developing burns, skin cancer or other health complications related to the sun. Heliophobia may also have a genetic link, so it may be possible to develop it from a family member. 

If you suffer from heliophobia, exposure to the sun may cause similar feelings to other anxiety disorders, such as racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, panic attacks, nausea and increased blood pressure, among other symptoms. As upsetting and helpless as such fears may seem, they can be treated through cognitive behaviour therapy, exposure therapy or medications for relieving anxiety.

Societal Expectations

Beyond the physical fear of the sun, societal expectations that come with the summer weather and increased sunlight can also cause stress. When the weather starts to get nice, it is common for people to talk about getting outside to enjoy the day. While going outside may help boost some people’s moods, those who struggle with feelings of depression and anxiety may not see an improvement by simply increasing their vitamin D intake. Such individuals may feel increasingly low, guilty or shameful for not reacting to the weather the way others do.

“When I wake up to a rainy cloudy day, I feel relieved inside. I know it will grant me a day of just lazing around, reading a good book and feeling guiltless.” – Karla

Another summer stressor is the pressure to achieve a “beach body,” and wear shorts and bathing suits. This societal practice of looking up to a specific beauty standard is damaging year-round but heightened in the summer. With so much fashion gatekeeping, many people of all shapes and sizes struggle with body image issues or insecurities if they don’t feel they fit into that extremely narrow mould.  As more of society starts to dismantle diet culture and open up our definitions of beauty and healthy bodies, hopefully in the future fewer people will feel this sense of anxiety when dressing for summer.

There is no doubt that the summer season can be a time of healing and fun for many people, but it is important to remember that struggles with mental health or self-confidence might not simply end when the sun comes out. No matter what your feelings might be about the summer sun and heat, we hope you can take care of yourself and find moments of joy and hope throughout this season.

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