I don’t know if you’ve always thought it too, but Americans and Australians seem all-round happier people than us Brits (and whatever country you live with a famously colder climate). No doubt about it. Their glowing grins, fizzing energy… it’s like their tans and floaty clothes are shields from all the bad stuff. No straws breaking camels’ backs any time there.
And I thought that was all due to psychological effects creating a happier attitude to life. You know, enjoying the sight and the warmth of the sun… so more barbecues outside with family and friends, meaning more opportunities for connection. Later evenings, so making more plans to socialise, instead of hibernating behind the curtains and a cuppa with a box-set for the night, alone.
But following a trip to the doctor’s recently after a blood test… turns out it’s down to science. The science of what’s IN the sun that affects our happiness. And amazingly, no matter how varied and balanced our diet, just 10% of what our body crucially needs – vitamin D, can be found in food. Now I used to think all of this vitamin malarkey was boring text-book stuff from science lessons back at school, that was only important in order to pass your GCSE’s (so you could escape the over-sized blazers and bitchy girl-gangs, obvs)… but I suppose through my years of experiencing the mental and physical effects of Anorexia (although I didn’t make sense of it all at first because of my mental capacity) it became drummed into me over time during therapy and hospital admissions, how crucial vitamins were for every cell of our body – and for different reasons.
I mean, I can appreciate the physical benefits of all these pesky vitamins the scientists suggest we have, but I’ve never properly grasped how vitamins can have such a huge impact on our MENTAL health. In a nutshell, 90% of vitamin D comes from the sun. So there’s no wonder depression and suicide rates tend to be higher in countries with less sun… because this vitamin gives our brain chemicals that help us regulate our mood, and reduce depression.
In my case… facing the doctor about my blood results at this particular time, made sense. Yes, it was an incredibly beautiful summer for us Brits this year. The sunnier version of Christmas. (although then you start worrying about global warming, the poor polar bears and suddenly the intense Summer days lose their excitement a tad…) BUT, I’d spent the entire few months in which we are likely to actually get our full required amount of vitamin D (April to August), in hoodies or jumpers. It’s the same with people who cover their skin for religious purposes… apparently they are often deficient in vitamin D, too.
So when I clocked this – I was pretty amazed by the science behind it all. And the ironic thing was, I was depressed by my body image, so felt better to hide away behind baggy clothes, and my cheeks behind my long, curly hair (not even they could get a lick of sun, bless ’em)… but the result was the lack of sun/vitamin D absorbed by my skin, was probably making me feel more depressed.
…and in this, it gave me hope that perhaps I would be able to lift my mood in the longer-term if I was to take action to increase the vitamin D in my body.
Obviously, this news at the doc’s wasn’t enough to make me transform into a “body-posi” guru and throw off my hoodies for crop-tops and shorts… oh, definitely not – but I’d work towards that, and hopefully enjoy basking in vitamin D the natural way, next Summer. (this doesn’t have to involve a dangerous amount of sunbathing, just generally being outside with skin protection, but shorter clothes) For now… I was prescribed high-dose, slow-release tablets to boost my levels from a dangerous level.
And researching the foods that CAN give us the 10% possible from our diet, I’ve been more mindful to start including those, motivated mainly by the fact that they can scientifically improve my mood. These are (some examples): egg yolks, mushrooms, salmon, tuna, fortified foods (meaning foods added with vitamins) like some cereals, dairy products and orange juice) and cheese.
Turns out as well, that vitamin D is to calcium, like Ant is to Dec. One can’t work without the other – so if you’ve got a smashing amount of calcium in your diet, it can’t actually be properly absorbed by your body without vitamin D. (sun exposure/foods above) This can cause bone health problems like Osteoperosis.
Fast forward a couple of months since the doctor’s appointment… I actually did something extremely significant for me. In terms of my long-term body confidence, and feeling free. Yesterday, I bought a SKIRT and some T-SHIRTS! (to go together as I’ve been eyeing up the style in my head for some time but just have not had the balls yet…) I only went and bloody tried them on too in the New Look changing rooms, on a spontaneous whim! Imagining myself wearing anything other than a hoodie over the past couple of years, has felt just as unlikely as seeing Donald Trump with pale skin. I felt like a banana that had been peeled for the first time in a few years.
Yes, I do still feel ‘fat’ and there’s a part of me that still doesn’t feel deserving to wear these dressy kind of clothes, rather than dress for the sake of covering up. But bloody hell, does it feel empowering!? There is never the right time, but I am at a place where I can dare to take that risk now – day 76 no binging and purging, and the mental benefits to what I’m now getting involved in with my life are both big factors in this! So I plan to wear my new attire some time this week. (and prepare myself for the conflicting thoughts…)
In terms of the effect of lack of sun/vitamin D on those suffering with mental health disorders, I feel that with knowing all of this info now and from my own experience, that people in units/mental health facilities SHOULD be encouraged to go outside for at least 15 minutes a day – as part of their treatment package. Okay, it doesn’t have as much benefit in the autumn/winter months, but any bit of sunlight is obviously better than none. Perhaps, as much as patients may not feel up to it if they are experiencing depressive symptoms, it could help, over time to take the edge off. It’s so hard to break away from isolating yourself and feeling unmotivated to participate in life outside one room when you’re feeling low in mood on a mental health inpatient ward, but I now truly believe that if it became mandatory to spend a certain amount of time outside per day then it could really have an impact in the long-run.
My advice to YOU, to protect yourself, no matter what experience you have with your own mental health – none, some or a lot… would be to:
- Tweak your diet to include some of the foods listed above…
- Get outside *definitely* every day, 15 minutes at a minimum.
- But ALSO, most importantly now we’re in September… and until about March/April is to take a vitamin D supplement. ALL of us in this country will benefit our own health, mentally and physically if we do. And if there’s even a teeny chance of our mood being in a better place, we all want that right? This isn’t just coming from me either by the way, the NHS recommends that during these months every adult takes one of these supplements a day… and they’re only a couple of quid for 90 (three months’ worth).
So get down to Boots and pop them in ya basket!