As I write this, there is a heat wave going on in Europe. We have had a few really lovely weeks already this week, and apparently the heat is set to return here soon. While excess sunshine and heat will leave us all feeling exhausted, a little bit of sunshine in the summer goes a long way towards making us feel better about ourselves. We all know the saying of someone having a “sunny disposition”. This is the person who is usually happy and wears a smile on their face despite their circumstances and despite the weather. Can you carry the sun in your heart?
How does the sun actually make us feel better?
Our skin has receptors for sun rays, which use sunlight to convert it into the hormone-like Vitamin D in the skin. This fat soluble vitamin is essential for many bodily functions, including building strong bones and creating a strong immune system. Vitamin D is also important to a feeling of wellbeing.
The sunlight also helps our body produce Serotonin in our eyes. Yes, sun exposure helps us produce this “feel good” hormone in vast quantities. This is the direct link to why sun exposure makes us so happy and why we seek it out so much.
Serotonin makes you feel happy, relaxed and feeling good about yourself. It’s actually not the poolside cocktail that makes you feel good on holidays, it’s the time you spend near or in the sun you need to feel good.
Sunshine will also help your body naturally reduce blood pressure by causing the skin to release nitric oxide, a compound known to help regulate blood pressure.
Here are a few top tips for responsible sun exposure:
Go for a walk wearing a sun hat and sunglasses, spend 15 minutes going for a swim in the pool or the sea, you can even sit in the shade enjoying a book or nice Mocktail. Whatever you chose to do outside on a sunny day will bestow the sun’s positive benefits on you.
Can you carry the sun in your heart?
Do you actually have to be making an effort to expose yourself to sunshine in order to get the benefits of the sun? No, you don’t have to at all. There is nothing quite like knowing that you are outside on a warm, sunny day. And you can relax in the shade all day long. I personally feel like I soak up the warmth and beauty of a warm sunny day in order to store it in my heart for a colder, wetter, windier day. Over the years, I have perfected this inner attitude, my own personal moment of Mindfulness on a windy, rainy day. Try reminding yourself of a sunny day on your last summer, a time when you felt especially relaxed. Feel inside yourself, you might be surprised that you will feel the inner warmth of the sun shining inside of you.
Note of caution: while it is essential to spend a part of every day outside in direct sunlight to enable your skin to produce valuable Vitamin D and nitric oxide, and your eyes to make serotonin, it is not advisable to be outdoors in direct sunlight for extended periods of time. Despite trying to soak up the valuable UVA/UVB rays, remember that excess is damaging to your skin and health. Always stick to the basic rules of putting on sun screen factor 20 or more when in direct sunlight for more than 15 minutes. Also try to reduce your time spent in direct sunlight between 11am and 3pm to a minimum. You still get the benefits of the relaxing and soothing feeling of sunshine (serotonin made in your eyes) from simply being outside, in the shade, relaxing with a good book or friends. You don’t need to be out in full sunshine to get the benefits. 15-30 minutes of sun exposure every other day are plenty of time for your skin to make valuable Vitamin D. So there is no excuse for going out into the sunshine without wearing at least Factor 20.