Sunshine and Mental Health

Sunshine and Mental Health article header image
Sunshine and Mental Health
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In 1971 when John Denver released his hit song, Sunshine on My Shoulders, he may not have known the scientific backing to his verse but must have intuitively understood the glorious advantages of those golden rays. Massive changes have swept through modern society since John sang about sunshine on his shoulders nearly fifty years ago. The home computer was virtually unheard of and the phone still had a rotary dial. Now the computer and phone have merged and fit in your pocket. This nasty little technological wonder invades almost every minute of our lives, pulling us from the wonders of the natural world. We live life through a five-inch screen. Looking at pictures of sunset instead of enjoying the sunshine and improving our mental health.

For our health, and futures sake, put the phone back in your pocket, and explore the world through your senses, feeling, breathing, and looking at the wonders of nature.

Most of the luxuries and many so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.”

~Henry David Thoreau

Technology and Loss of Outdoor Time

Technology blesses our lives in countless ways. Our health can either be enhanced or deteriorated through the integration of advances. Many of us need, like Mr. Thoreau, an escape to Walden Pond. Yesterday, wearied from a long week, I vegetated on the sofa in front of the television. Sunday Night Football about to begin. I felt unsettled. Maybe the prospects of writing this article on the benefits of the outdoors was weighing on my mind. I forced my self off of the comfortable cushion and wandered into the great suburban outdoors—my front yard.

“Many of us need, like Mr. Thoreau, an escape to Walden Pond.”I initially planned to simply care for a few roses deprived of water. Soon my wife joined me, with clippers in hand, then the dog. The gentle setting of an autumn sun warmed my face and competed with the cooling breeze. Watering the roses transitioned into fixing the drip system that was guilty for the withering roses. Ninety minutes later, chores completed and daylight waning, we wrapped up the work and returned to our protective four-walled cocoon. Amazingly, the brewing dysthymia had been dispelled. A little sunshine on my shoulders improved my mental health. A little time outside was all I needed as aa remedy prescription to lift my spirits and rejuvenate my soul. 

Nature Deficit Disorder

Richard Louv, in his book Last Child in the Woods, refers to a present-day ailment he calls “Nature Deficit Disorder” (2008). We don’t know what to do with the expansive world we live in, so we shrink and jam ourselves into a five-inch screen. I watched the gentleman in front me at this year’s firework display, filter the grandness of the experience through the screen of his iPhone; he watched a minimized version of reality. Put the phone back in your pocket.​

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Science and Mental Health Benefits of Sunshine

​Nature is more than a simple luxury, or a nice new age psychological gimmick. Science backs the health benefits of getting outdoors and enjoying nature. Studies have shown that outdoor exercise can enhance emotional well-being, amplifying the general benefits of exercise. Additional research has shown that simply being in green spaces, such as walking in a tree lined parked, is associated with better cognition and improved self-discipline (Seltenrich, 2015).

David Strayer, PhD. who studied nature’s effects on the brain at the University of Utah found that time outdoors enhances creativity and boosts performance and focus (Granada, 2018).

​Sharpening the Axe

Nature sharpens the axe of our mind, so we can conquer the challenging task of living. These findings support the theory of attention restoration. Healthy cognitions need a restorative break from the direct attention that much of our complex lives demand. Nature does just that. Our cognitions shift while in nature to a more relaxed state of attention, absorbing the passing stimuli not available in our more controlled environments. Sunshine improves our mental health by sharpening focus.

Morita therapy teaches that many problems in life cannot be banished with sheer force. We don’t take them on head on. We approach stubborn mental states in around about fashion, working on other areas of our psyche to restore and replenish well-being.

“It takes a lot of strength to knock down a wall of depression. It takes great courage to break through a wall of fear. But to simply go around the wall doesn’t require any strength or courage at all. It requires a bit of wisdom. It requires clarity of purpose. And it requires acceptance. We leave the ice intact. We leave the wall standing” (Krech, 2014. Loc. 1331). 

Rejuvenating adventures outdoors are a simple addition that can enhance personal wellness. We add nourishment to our souls. Instead of subtracting annoying elements of our psyche, we can add experiences that improves our state of being. One simple remedy to the general malaise of living is sunshine, so pull back the curtains, open a window, or take a walk in the park and enjoy healthy healing of the sun.

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Granada, S. (2018) How Nature Boosts Your HealthExperience Life. June 2018 Issue.

Krech, G (2014) The Art of Taking Action: Lessons from Japanese Psychology. ToDo Institute. Kindle Edition.

Louv, R. (2008) Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. Algonquin Books.

Seltenrich, N. (2015). Just What the Doctor Ordered: Using Parks to Improve Children’s HealthEnvironmental Health Perspectives,123(10). Retrieved from Questia.

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