We’ve all been enduring this pandemic for well over a year, and mental health concerns such as depression, suicidality and psychiatric disorders in the Northern Hemisphere have been skyrocketing within the last few months (1). Although these spikes are likely (in-part) emerging off the back of strict lockdown measures, isolation and illness – there’s one contributing factor that has been largely overlooked: the lack of Vitamin D intake during the winter months. Dark seasons already increase our vulnerability to mental health concerns, and mixing that with pandemic fallout can create a pretty unsavoury wellbeing cocktail.
While we will still be navigating the COVID woods for some time, the good sign is we are well on our way to warmer, sunnier, summertime weather! In fact, the month of June brings us the longest day of the year, and therefore the greatest access to vitamin D – the sunshine vitamin – and all the benefits that it can bring. This serves us a good opportunity to take a look at the benefits from vitamin D that we can look forward to over the next few months.
So what can vitamin D do for your wellbeing?
1) Relieve your stress
Dark, winter months can bring stress to many, and the science suggests it’s more than just feeling cold and stuck indoors. Low levels of vitamin D are associated with depression (e.g. low mood, low energy, increased irritability), making seasonal affective disorder (SAD) a common experience for all in wintertime, but even more prevalent in geographical locations that don’t get a lot of regular sunshine (2).
2) Boost your mood and energy
Although this might sound similar to relieving stress, strong levels of vitamin D not only correlate with reduced stress – it also improves the production of “feel good” hormones. Vitamin D actively fights depression by increasing serotonin, the hormone key to stabilising mood and increasing happiness.
3) Improve your sleep
Accessing regular sunlight helps us to better align with our biological clock, and it fosters a healthy balance of melatonin (rest hormone) and cortisol (alert hormone) production so that we are more likely to get deeper quality sleep when we do hit the sheets (4). You might even recall those long days of playing in the sun and the delicious sleep that you got afterwards! Simultaneously, getting good sleep has phenomenal mental health benefits of psychological regulation, restoration and repair.
4) Motivate you
This one is a bit of a no-brainer – we are more motivated to get outside if the weather isn’t inclement. Yet, science comes through once again to back us up. Dopamine has also been found to increase when we access those sweet rays of sunshine (5). This is great, because dopamine is known as the “motivation molecule” for its ability to keep us action-focused, mentally clear and attentive. So increasing your sunshine intake can be a great brain-fog buster.
5) Improve your overall quality of life
There’s a good reason people flock to sunny beach vacations – it creates the perfect conditions for feeling good. Studies have shown that people who spend more time in the sun are more likely to live longer [alongside protective skincare routines] (6) and also more likely to report higher life satisfaction
Increasing your intake of vitamin D can help reduce stress, improve your happiness, improve your sleep and motivation, and overall improve your quality of life. Hopefully this gives you some good excuses to take every opportunity to get outside and play in the sunlight when you can (while minding your skin and exposure levels). But what if the sunny days don’t come as frequently as you’d like? Not to fear! There are alternatives to boosting our vitamin D intake, like consuming vitamin D-rich foods (e.g. fortified foods, fatty protein sources [fish like salmon, liver, red meat]), vitamin D supplements and light therapy [can be done at home]. As always, remember to consult with your GP or medical professional before engaging in alternative form of supplementation.
We need things to look forward to right now – and more sunshine is on the horizon! Give yourself permission to look forward to spending time in the sunshine, because whether it is alone or with loved ones, remember that you will be doing your mental health a major service.
Here at Zevo Health, we provide many workplace wellbeing topics including nutrition and mental health.
Jung YS, Chae CH, Kim YO, Son JS, Kim CW, Park HO, Lee JH, Shin YH, Kwak HS (2017). The relationship between serum vitamin D levels and sleep quality in fixed day indoor field workers in the electronics manufacturing industry in Korea. Ann Occup Environ Med. 29:25.
Tsai HY, Chin K, Yang YK, Chen PS (2010). Sunshine-exposure variation of human striatal dopamine D-2/D-3 receptor availability in healthy volunteers. Prog Neuro PsychoPharm