Mind Body Connection: Effects of Sunlight, Spirituality and Traveling
By Sonal Goswami, MD

After practicing psychiatry for 17 years, I have realized that western medicine doesn’t have answers for all, especially mental health issues. Eastern culture has always been focused on healing from the inside and I do firmly believe that is the way to go, considering the current stressful time we live in.

I believe in strong mind-body connection. Being a psychiatrist, my goal is to help make people aware of natural ways to address their mental health issues and not only seek western medicine to “fix” everything in life. I try to teach and guide my patients how to be blissful by using tools that can help them for their whole life.

Getting a good history gives you a lot of information about a patient’s lifestyle, and coping skills. In my routine exam, the following questions are part of history taking:

–  Have you ever been tested for vitamin D or been told you are deficient? Do you get enough sunlight or have a healthy diet?

–  Do you have any spiritual or religious belief? If yes, how do you practice?

–  When was the last time you traveled?

You will be surprised to know that most people don’t know any connection with their mood and low vitamin D or how traveling and spirituality can help them cope with their emotions.

Role of sunlight​: It is a good source of vitamin D and vitamin D helps with your serotonin level to boost your mood. Seasonal affective disorder​ is common in cold winter months where there is not adequate sunlight. This can trigger depressive symptoms. Less sunlight causes a sudden drop in vitamin D levels and it has an effect on lowering serotonin level. I start my patients on vitamin D supplements when they are coming with depression/anxiety in general and have a low vitamin D level. Combining vitamin D with antidepressant has shown better therapeutic response.

Vitamin D Improves: Mood, energy, sleep, weight loss, immunity, bone density

Spirituality​: Being spiritual gives you a positive attitude towards life in general and better coping skills with mental health issues. When you have faith in some kind of higher power, you will tend to not blame yourself for things not going well in your life or the ones you don’t have control of. It also gives you an opportunity to connect with nature and connect with your inner peace either through prayers, meditation, mindful activities and also learning to accept life as it comes.

I also ask if they find their work meaningful. Spirituality is connected with the kind of work you do. I find that if what you are doing is helpful to others, it will give you more happiness. Studies have shown that spiritual practices/meditation increases serotonin, dopamine, melatonin and endorphins. It also lowers stress hormones.

Traveling​:​ Sometimes we need a break from the routine and traveling rejuvenates our mind and body. Travelling creates a new energy, excitement, motivation. By visiting new places you meet new people and create new experiences. In my mind traveling is not only going to far places, but just taking a break from your routine and connecting with nature, new culture or people. The moment you start thinking about going somewhere new or revisiting a place or experience you enjoy, your brain starts imagining positive things. Just thinking of going places, the positive energy shifts your brain from work, routine, and stress to a happy peaceful moment. This can  lower your stress hormones and increase happiness, good energy, motivation and excitement about life!

I recommend everyone to take a vacation and travel when you can for your own good mental health. Or even just go for a hike!

Be Blissful!

Sonal Goswami, MD is a board certified child-adolescent & adult psychiatrist, practicing for 17 years. You can read more about mental health and mind-body connection on her personal blog: Blissed Psychiatry.

Dr. Goswami is a guest writer for InCrowd.

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