How Sunlight Triggers My Anxiety

It is becoming increasingly well-known in the mental health community that the impact of sunlight can play a huge role in the lives of people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The NHS reports that 1 in 15 people are affected by SAD. This is because reduced exposure to sunlight during autumn and winter can lead to lower serotonin levels which is linked to feelings of depression. But did you know that sunlight can also exacerbate the symptoms of anxiety? This is said to be due to the effect of heat and sunlight causing sweating, palpitations, shaking, shortness of breath, feeling faint which are symptomatic of anxiety.

Statistics and research aside, I experience these symptoms of anxiety whenever I’m faced with sunny weather. Though these physiological symptoms are present, my anxiety is triggered for a completely different reason, though not at all unrelated to the impact of sunlight.

As a child, though shy and geeky, I was often hyperactive and constantly ‘on the go.’ And if the situation (or subject) didn’t inspire action or interest on my part, I would simply go – leave the classroom and go wandering the school building to satiate my curiosity and love for adventure and movement. I think, in large part, this was as a result of the abundance of adventures I experienced during a prior lengthy holiday in Bangladesh where every day was filled with novelty, traveling and fun. Before this holiday, my days in London brought nothing but a series of listless monotony that I now only recall in dull sepia-toned flashbacks. My childhood was wanting in vibrance and colour… and Bangladesh presented this to me in a gift-wrapped, rainbow striped package.

Returning to London, I knew that adventure was at my fingertips. It only required that I seize the day, that I persevere in my dogged pursuit for adventure. And I did.

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Life under the roof of my childhood home wasn’t always pleasant, but no amount of pain and trauma deterred me. Likewise, no amount of teasing, isolation and bullying at school would lead me to back down in my pursuit of an action-packed life. And why should it have? For every problem, there were always ten more solutions and I was determined to try out each one – what’s life without a little social experimentation? I tried almost every method under the sun to overcome those obstacles and finally understood that only one worked… but that’s a story for another day.

You must be wondering what has all this got to do with anxiety? If there’s anything I learned from CBT is that to tackle the areas of our life which impact our mental health, we need to understand our triggers and get to the heart of the matter. Sometimes the answer lies in the foundations that we’ve built.

“The entire tree is contained in the seed, but equally true is that the entire forest is contained in the seed.” – Daniel, ChooseYourMetaphor

I fear monotony. I fear routine. I fear a life that is boring and uninteresting. I fear doing nothing. These fears are my triggers. My first panic attack was a result of this. By age ten I had accumulated a plethora of sources of fun. I had several friends in the neighbourhood and cousins from other parts of London who I played almost every sport and PlayStation game under the sun with, enacted dramatic performances from plays I had found in the library, dances – and eventually hosted parties in secondary school, spooky games and then some. I had friends at Islamic school, though there weren’t many opportunities to play games, I had my fellow classmates to talk to. I didn’t make an actual friend in school until Year Six, but it never stopped me from joining in to play football, hopscotch, cops and robbers, tag and the other many games that are pivotal to a 90’s childhood. In short, I wasn’t short of fun.

But it made me an experience junkie, and this brings me to my first ever panic attack.

At age ten, during the stifling heat of the summer holidays, I woke up ready to play sports or invent games or plan a prank on either one of the two girls in my neighbourhood that my best friend and I hated. But my best friend was nowhere to be found and nor was my brother, my cousins were far away at their own houses, and not a single one of my neighbourhood friends were home. Not a single friend was available.

The day was too beautiful to stay inside and read a book (I detested reading during daylight hours) or play PlayStation when the bright orange glare would prove too distracting. I had nothing to do. I was stuck home without a single play-mate. I was Scarlett O’Hara standing behind the stall, a witness to the frolicking and romping of young and single belles, a witness to the denial of her own fun because of her widow status. I could barely breathe, I was sweating, heart beating fast, I stood rock still, gripping the underbelly of my bed to steady me as the sunlight stood watching, mocking. I was having my first panic attack and I didn’t even realise it.

I don’t even remember what happened afterwards. Whenever anything shocking happens to me, the aftermath becomes a drunken blur.

Time spent at CBT sessions made me self-reflect. In the year of 2016, I frequently woke up panicking and terrified. I had undergone something serious at the start of the year, I won’t go into too much detail because it’s too private a loss to reveal. But that loss taught me how afraid I am of not only loneliness, but of boredom, routine and monotony which, in turn, made me non-committal to various things and people in life. I’ve since learned that life doesn’t always have to be jam-packed with adventure, that sometimes the best things, friendships, and relationships will undergo periods of nothingness. Not every moment needs to be seized, but as long as I’m with the right people, doing nothing with the right people will always be a source of joy and contentment. I can be happy on my own too.

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And if I still feel restless… I can use my anxiety to be productive. If you’ve watched ‘The Anxiety Optimization,’ an episode of The Big Bang Theory, a certain level of anxiety leads Sheldon to be more productive. The restless energy I feel as a result of my anxiety, a perceived flaw, can be a blessing in disguise and a weapon I can wield to get work done.

So, this trigger? I can make it work wonders for me.

RELATED:

7 Ways Anxiety is Not Fashionable
World Mental Health Day: Pick Me Up Playlist Tag
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How is your mental health affected by changes in the weather? Does sunny weather have an impact on your mental health? Do you have any strange anxiety triggers? What coping mechanisms would you recommend? Let me know in the comments!

Sophia Ismaa  

Connect with me:

-Let’s talk all things books on Goodreads
-Talk politics, books, TV shows, blogging and life with me on Twitter

26 Comments

  1. I definitely feel the effects of (SAD). This past Autumn was awful, I was out of commission from my onset of depression and anxiety, I was a blatant mess. Heck, I even avoided my blogging which was a safe zone.
    The sunlight is almost a healing source to me but on the really hot and humid days of Summer, I tend to fall back into the (SAD) effects yet again.
    Excellent entry!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s such a terrifying thing because it comes out of nowhere, I get you, and then it takes a while to get out of it. So scary. For now, at least we know it exists and we can at least prepare a little for it, just the thought that we got out of it eventually is the light at the end of the tunnel. And yes, totally agree with you that blogging helps to express our feelings, because when we keep it inside that’s when it hurts more! I hope when summer comes that it is kind to you, sister. And thank you 💖

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the post so much and I can relate to so many things!

    I wanted to ask can I do a post similar to this one? I’ll make sure to mention you were the original person who came up with it but I would really love to write a post like that especially considering I have been going through my fair share of panic attacks this year.

    Once again loved the post sooo much it was amazing thank you for sharing xo ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, and I’m happy to hear that you could relate to it. And if you ever need to talk or need any help, please don’t hesitate to drop me a comment.

      I think panic attacks vary from person to person, the reasons that cause it happen to be different for people. Don’t worry about giving credit, I don’t think mental health and sunlight is a original concept. I look forward to reading yours. 🙂💛

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This was an interesting piece. I do feel like sunlight is a trigger for me too sometimes. I always feel like I should be doing something and if I can’t or am suffering physically or mentally I feel like that’s an added failure on my part. Like the sun is shining and everyone is out living why can’t you get out of bed? But I’ve been trying to look it more for the benefits to my physical health.
    I alway found that episode of Big Bang Theory fascinating. It was like looking into my head. Thanks for sharing your story!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Like the sun is shining and everyone is out living why can’t you get out of bed?” That’s anxiety making you feel guilty and having you compare yourself to others, it’s scary! True, I think once you understand your triggers, you can start using it for your own benefit – to motivate you, or to simply remind yourself that it’s your anxiety speaking and not actual reality, it’s okay to not be doing something. It was such a great episode, I think because it’s a show focused on science, there is a lot of potential to bring issues subtly to the fore and that was a great episode for it. Thank you for reading and sharing yours here too! 🙂

      Like

  4. Oh my goodness this is one of the reasons I hate summer. The heat just zaps everything out of me, exacerbating my anxiety. Doesn’t help that LA is permanently sunny and hot.
    Wonderful wonderful post! How do you come up with such great ideas? Teach me your ways, oh wise one!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That too! Even if I do come up with something to do, especially with global warming on the rise, we’ll easily suffer from heat exhaustion – it can so easily become a lose/lose situation!

      Paha, lots of brainstorming sessions! (I have 200 more blog post ideas planned 😂)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I have a tendency to panic when I feel claustrophobic. This caused me to have to pay a fine last week when I had the overwhelming need to escape from bumper to bumper traffic. I was making progress too but when I passed the last vehicle that was holding me back it had blue lights on top.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh wow, that’s so interesting, I always thought only lack of sunlight brings us down, but maybe because I’ve always lived in cold climates…

    Like

  7. This is one of the very reasons that I absolutely hate summers. Where I live I just can’t go out in summers until its evening and when I stay back home I start to overthink things. Plus all the humidity and sweating. I HATE IT!
    I also want to know how you come up with ideas for such great posts. I just saw your comment! Do you really have 200 ideas for blog posts?!

    Like

    1. I’m guessing it must be doubly hot in India? I remember reading a few years ago, in the news, that Pakistan had a heatwave that killed many people. Terrifying. I’m just going to channel the overthinking and restlessness that anxiety gives me into being productive – otherwise our minds will spiral out of control!

      Thank you, that means a lot coming from you!☺️ I literally just came up with another idea right now, haha. I’ve been creating since I was a child and I went to a creative arts secondary school, that’s probably why XD.

      Like

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