In many northern parts of the United States, the leaves are beginning to turn, the air is getting a bit crisper, and the days are becoming shorter. As the colder weather approaches, we must contend with our regular seasonal anxiety compounded with the ongoing pandemic and other seasonal infectious diseases. Now more than ever, we must reconnect with the outdoors for natural anxiety relief–even if it’s cold out!
A couple of years ago, I started to change my mindset on the change of seasons. I found ways to combat my winter blues after daylight savings time. However, this year’s fall and winter season are going to be different. We’ve been limited and confined to quarantine since spring. Here’s why I’m embracing fresh air and light therapy for my seasonal anxiety.
Why Fresh Air and Sun Help Seasonal Anxiety
Nature provides our bodies and minds with fresh, rejuvenating air and revitalizing sunlight. The outdoors serves as the perfect backdrop to exercise your body and receive natural light therapy for anxiety. It’s a self-care win-win as seasonal anxiety creeps in.
While those are obvious reasons why the outdoors is a fantastic source for natural anxiety relief, some science-backed reasons might fly under the radar. Let’s discuss some of these lesser-discussed benefits.
Breaks Up Stagnant Air
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) we spend about 90% of our day indoors. While these statistics are up-to-date, the data was collected pre-pandemic. Therefore, these numbers have likely risen since last winter.
Don’t get me wrong; I find comfort hanging out in my own environment. Unfortunately, there are plenty of other indoor pollutants that can wreak havoc on our mental and physical health. The same EPA report noted, “Indoor levels of pollutants may be two to five times — and occasionally more than 100 times — higher than outdoor levels.”
Contaminants from chemical cleaners, germs from sick kids, and bacteria from pet feces can accumulate in your dust. All of these chemicals get ingested through our respiratory tract and interact with our cells. These can cause countless reactions that might interrupt brain communication and trigger anxiety symptoms.
Try to spend more time outdoors, even if it’s just a few minutes throughout the day. During that time, take full breaths of fresh air. Try to elongate each inhale and exhale. Feel that chill deep down in your diaphragm!
How to Reduce Indoor Air Pollution
I know we spend a lot of time and effort trying to winterize our houses to save on electrical costs. However, try to open the window for 5-10 minutes per day to circulate the air.
Consider purchasing an air purifier with carbon and HEPA filters. These will capture heavy metals and reintroduce cleaner air into the atmosphere.
Essential oils are also good for combating environmental toxins. Mint, pine, and citrus scents all exhibit antibacterial, antimicrobial, and detoxifying properties.
Lastly, consider investing in a heavy metal detector. Companies have at-home test kits that look for the most common heavy metals found on earth that are related to health-related issues.
Beneficial Microbes and Bacteria
There is so much research that verifies the gut-brain-connection. The bacteria in our gut influence many physiological functions that impact our mental well-being. In fact, up to 90% of the serotonin in our system lies in our gut!
Our gut microbiome is very dynamic, as it’s influenced by everything that comes into contact with us. Environmental toxins indoors can permeate the pores in our skin and cause inflammation. Chronic inflammation will result in a lack of bacterial diversity.
Research confirms that a diverse gut microbiome is associated with good mental health. Each bacterial species plays a role that influences physiological functions, such as nutrient absorption, cell metabolism, and fighting off the overgrowth of other bacteria.
For decades, science has confirmed the hygiene hypothesis to be true. Exposure to microbes in our dirt only improves our immune system. We inhale these microbes with a fresh breeze. They can also enter our skin by planting fall mums in your soil.
Speaking of the immune system, about 80% of your immune cells live in our gut, too. This realization further confirms the connection between nature and our mental and physical health.
Sun Gives Vitamin D for Anxiety
Vitamin D is an essential vitamin that helps with gastrointestinal functions, cellular growth, and regulates white blood cells. As we continue to unveil the deep connection between our mind, gut, and immune system, Vitamin D seems to bridge all these gaps.
Unfortunately, about one billion people have a Vitamin D deficiency. These statistics coincide with a rise in anxiety disorders across the globe. That’s because Vitamin D plays a significant role in fighting inflammation that destroys brain cells.
Abundance of IL-6 is closely linked to schizophrenia. This breakthrough realization has opened the door for exploring natural mental health remedies using Vitamin D.
While many of us can obtain essential vitamins and minerals through diet, such is not the case for Vitamin D. Besides oysters and fortified milk, dietary Vitamin D options are limited. Our primary source of Vitamin D is through the sun.
Going outdoors multiple times per day gives you a hefty dose of Vitamin D for anxiety. If you are sensitive to ultraviolet rays, limit bare skin sun exposure. Be sure to apply skin protectant if you will be in the sun for extended periods.
How to Get Outside More During the Fall and Winter for Natural Anxiety Relief
We felt stir-crazy all summer long. Has winter become the new summer in this new normal? As the temperature dips, I’m thinking not!
However, we can’t let plunging temperatures stop us from maintaining our mental health. Here are a few tips to help get more fresh air and light therapy for anxiety during the long winter days.
While I love the sunny summer, I’m not a huge fan of the extreme heat and sweating. I tend to keep working out to a minimum, relying on swimming, softball, and rock climbing. Otherwise, it’s air-conditioned weightlifting and treadmilling!
This colder weather makes getting a sweat-on outdoors more bearable. So, this year I’m going to partake in more outdoor sporting activities.
I’ve spent a lot of time away from peers this summer. So, I’m going to sign up for an adult soccer recreation league. Interacting with others will definitely help my seasonal anxiety and improve my mood after a COVID-summer.
Fall is also perfect for running. Not only is running an excellent cardio workout, but it forces you to breathe more. You are actively inhaling and exhaling fresh and rejuvenating air.
In the winter, I’m going to actually embrace the snow. There are plenty of chances to get Vitamin D for anxiety while building a snowman with kids or acting like a big child yourself sledding down the hill!
Go For a Fall Foliage Hike!
Also, now is the perfect time to go for a hike and enjoy the changing leaves. The vibrant colors of fall foliage will help you appreciate the beauty that is nature. That practice in itself is enough to quell a racing mind.
Lastly, these colors also can help improve our mental state. Color therapy is growing in popularity for natural anxiety relief.
The colors we see in the fall are very aesthetically pleasing, especially red. It’s the densest of wavelengths. Red berries in the spring and summer draw in birds and pollinators because these wavelengths they’re easiest for eyes to see.
During warmer months, we pay less mind to colorful berries because they are hidden by so many green leaves. Once the leaves turn yellow, orange, and red, they finally get our undivided attention.
These wavelengths resonate with us, stimulating some neural pathways. That’s why many people have turned to expensive chromotherapy treatments.
Wavelengths emitted from these leaves in chromotherapy act as “a relaxant and tranquilizer for anxious individuals, lowering blood pressure, providing relief from tension, alleviating of muscle spasms and reducing eye blink frequency.”
The days are shorter in the fall and winter. That means less natural sunlight. Over the last few years, I’ve found relief by trying Seasonal Affective Disorder light therapy.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) light therapy works a lot like chromotherapy. After all, white light comprises all the colors of the rainbow, including those on leaves!
Light therapy for anxiety involves sitting about 16 to 24 inches from a light box. This device will emit light rays that you can control in increments called a “lux”. A lux will increase and decrease the amount of red light emitted. There’s that color again!
Best Natural Sun Lamp for Anxiety
I first tried light therapy for anxiety sessions with a holistic doctor. The experience made me feel more comfortable about using light for natural anxiety relief.
Sadly, the visits were adding up monetarily. With fewer inhibitions towards this form of self-care, I decided to get my own Seasonal Affective Disorder lamp.
The MayoClinic recommends a 10,000-lux light lamp. I did some research and found that the best natural sun lamp for anxiety was Verilux’s HappyLight.
This light box is the size of a tablet. It even looks like one! You can get your light therapy for anxiety, whether it’s your day back in the office, are studying for exams in the library, or are self-isolating at home.
Sometimes the day gets past us, and we miss out on the sunlight. It doesn’t mean that our chance to get positive ions from this energy source is over.
The ground sits under the sun all day, getting charged by its rays. Soak up those rays through grounding!
Try standing barefoot on grass or dirt for 5-10 minutes per day, even if it’s cold or cloudy out. One small human study compared one hour of grounding to one hour of relaxation. Results found that humans felt less anxious after grounding than those who took a 60-minute siesta.
If you’re going to be outside anyway, might as well glance at the sun. Our ancestors have practiced sungazing for centuries.
Also known as sun-eating, you should only sungaze at dawn and dusk. At these moments, the ultraviolet rays are at their lowest and shouldn’t cause damage to the eyes.
Build your tolerance to the sun to avoid pain or injury to the eye. Start with just 10 seconds of sungazing. Increase by these increments every day until you reach a half hour.
If you want to jump right in, by all means! Just don’t exceed five minutes until you’ve sungazed a few times successfully.
When the sun feels too intense, look around the sun. The horizon will still provide you with relaxing rays.
Sungazing is the perfect way to recharge your circadian rhythm. Your pineal gland relies on cues from the sun, so it knows when to produce melatonin that makes us sleepy and serotonin that wakes us up.
Shorter days also throw off our circadian rhythm. Our cell metabolism runs on a 24-hour cycle that’s dictated by light. That’s why many people who suffer from SAD also have sleep issues.
If you’re having trouble sleeping from seasonal anxiety, consider sungazing at dusk and dawn. The morning rays will charge your pineal gland, promoting focus and uplifting mood.
Dusk rays will let your pineal gland know that bedtime is approaching and can promote standard sleep patterns. You can further biohack your circadian rhythm by using all-natural supplements, such as Tranquility Labs’ Sleep-Fast Plus.
This melatonin spray gives your body the support it needs to sleep through the night and wake up ready to take on the day.
Your body needs sleep to fight off anxious behavior. As we sleep, our brain waves, heart rate, and digestive organs all slow down.
This reset naturally lowers our stress levels, which causes a dip in our stress hormone, cortisol. Research shows that excess cortisol levels significantly influence Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Stress breeds stress. When we endure chronic stress, it causes continuous cortisol production. This reaction makes less room for other beneficial hormones that regulate our moods, such as serotonin, dopamine, and melatonin.
We must do everything in our power to ensure stress doesn’t get the better of us. I find the most effective way to manage my stress is through meditation.
Meditation is the reset button for my mental headspace. It’s an internal escape that allows me to forget about all of my stressors. When I’m done meditating, I have a clearer mind and can recognize and combat my stress triggers much quicker.
Once again, I’d like to bring up essential oils. These aromatic extracts stimulate our olfactory system, which modulates our central nervous system. Essential oils, such as ylang-ylang, lavender, and Roman chamomile, are amazing for a meditative state.
If being cooped up at home is getting to you, then get away! Plan a winter vacation, even if it’s just a few towns over.
Being in the same quarters all season long can wear on anyone’s mental state. A change of scenery can help you unplug and gain a sense of appreciation for what you have.
You’re less likely to return home with anxiety. Just make sure you are up-to-date on all local COVID-19 travel restrictions and isolation protocols before and after traveling.
Open the Windows and Your Workspace
Our homes have also evolved into our offices. When we work from home, we need to make the most of this space to ensure we’re getting as much light and fresh air as possible.
Try cracking your window a few times per day to let some fresh air in. If the air is too cold, put on a jacket or wrap up in a blanket. Once you’ve recycled in some fresh air, close the window and turn on the heat again!
Also, make sure you take frequent breaks to prevent mental fatigue. It’s suggested that you take a short break every 30-60 minutes. Visit the outdoors for some Vitamin D for anxiety during these breaks.
If you’re stuck inside all day, bring the outdoors to you. Move your desk closer to the window. Natural light will permeate through, nourishing your skin and mood!
Many traditional Chinese medicine followers believe in feng shui for anxiety. Changing things around can help declutter, give you something fun to do, and give you a sense of control. All of these positive benefits are ideal for boosting your mood!
I haven’t started yet, but I’ve been considering some house renovations to introduce more light into my home. We’re tinkering with the idea of getting a screened-in porch with larger windows. That way, we can drink coffee and watch the sun come up every morning!
I’ve also thought about getting a skylight above my desk. That way, the sun’s ray can penetrate my crown. For those who follow reiki and Eastern philosophies, this can charge our chakras and improve our mood.
Lastly, I’m considering renovating the back porch door. We’re thinking of taking out a bit more wall space and adding a slider. Little changes like that can drastically improve lighting conditions.
Water is essential for life, including our cells. When our body is dehydrated, it creates stress on the system. This stress can manifest as anxiety.
It’s even easier to become dehydrated in the colder months. We stay indoors with the heat cranked up to a maximum. Make sure you have water handy at all times.
If you’re not a fan of water, eat it! Consume water-heavy foods like celery, cucumbers, oranges, spinach, tomatoes, and pineapple.
The key to fighting SAD is to surround yourself with things that bring you joy. Nothing fills my heart more than my family and friends.
After all, laughter is the best medicine. Nothing gives me more joy than ragging on my dad’s refusal to upgrade his technology, watching my dog run around in the snow, or seeing my child jumping into a pile of leaves.
If the coronavirus has taught me one thing, it’s the importance of staying connected. I’m going to remain in contact with those I care about most all fall and winter long.
Regular FaceTime calls will still be a thing. However, there’s plenty of opportunities to combine outdoor time and loved ones. First, there’s campfires!
There’s nothing like sitting around the fire, telling ghost stories while drinking hot cider and making s’mores. I also plan on hosting an outdoor movie night where we watch The Nightmare Before Christmas. Nothing gets us in the spirit for the winter holidays more than that movie!
In the winter, I’m inviting the kids’ cousins over after the first snowfall. We’re going to have a snowman building contest and hide chocolates to hunt for in snow piles.
Fighting Seasonal Affective Disorder with Light Therapy, Fresh Air, and Love
Instead of dwelling on limitations this autumn and winter, I’m focusing on the possibilities. Shorter winter days make for longer days in my head. So, I’m biohacking my SAD with natural anxiety relief.
I’m using light therapy for anxiety by heading outdoors more. Breathing in fresh air and soaking in sun rays are ideal for combating environmental toxins inhaled through indoor pollution. It also introduces beneficial microbes to our body and gives us adequate Vitamin D for anxiety.
This fall and winter, I’m creating more opportunities that force me outdoors. I’m joining an outdoor sports league and getting up early to do some grounding and sungazing.
A little feng shui might help break up some of the cold weather monotony. I’m going to play around with my work desk arrangements to get more air and light. Perhaps there might be a little renovation or two coming up, as well.
Lastly, I’m staying close to those I love. They’re always there for me. That won’t change when I experience seasonal anxiety. I know I can always depend on my loved ones to get me through the darkest of days.
- Light and fresh air are excellent for natural anxiety relief.
- Going outdoors reduces exposure to indoor pollution, improves gut bacteria, and provides Vitamin D for anxiety.
- Sungazing, grounding, and light therapy for anxiety are excellent for Seasonal Affective Disorder.
- Changes around the house, family time, and hydration can also improve symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.