My Anxiety and the Moon


For over thirty years, I have had quite a share of anxiety bouts; many I could overcome quickly, but some last days, weeks, and even months. My anxieties usually start at night and they have quite often kept me up; over the years, I have experienced all the common symptoms of anxiety to varying degrees:

  • Feeling tense, nervous, or restless;
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic, or doom;
  • Having an increased heart rate;
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation);
  • Sweating;
  • Trembling;
  • Feeling weak or tired;
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry.

In reality, everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life; most commonly in situations like sitting an exam, having a medical test or job interview, etc. During times like these, feeling anxious can be perfectly normal. However, some people—like me—often find it hard to control our worries; our feelings of anxiety are more constant and can often affect our daily lives.

Some tips to deal with anxiety include:

  • Know your triggers.
  • Leave the situation.
  • Use grounding techniques; look around you for:
    • 5 things you can see;
    • 4 things you can touch;
    • 3 things you can hear;
    • 2 things you can smell;
    • 1 thing you can taste.
  • Meditate and breathe mindfully.
  • Visualize a safe place.
  • Count.
  • Let it happen; ride it out.
  • Talk to a friend or family member.

Anxiety can be even more severe in some people that it becomes a serious mental health issue. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a long-term condition that causes you to feel anxious about a wide range of situations and issues, rather than one specific event. People with GAD feel anxious most days and often struggle to remember the last time they felt relaxed; as soon as one anxious thought is resolved, another may appear about a different issue. In such cases, professional assistance would be recommended.

What has that got to do with the Moon?!

Well, a few months back, I was suddenly hit by one of my anxiety bouts without any triggers I could figure out and it was quite bad for a few days. It eventually mostly passed, because they never really completely pass for quite a while, and I felt OK for about a month. The following month, at about the same time, I had another, albeit less severe, bout, which thankfully passed more quickly. However, the fact that it recurred at about the same time as the previous month got me thinking of something I have often heard. I checked, and indeed, both times, there was a full Moon.

For centuries, people believed that the Moon affects human behavior; the word lunacy derives from the Latin lunaticus, meaning “moonstruck”. Psychiatrist Arnold Lieber, MD, dug deeper into this belief with his books, such as The Lunar Effect: Biological Tides and Human Emotions (1978). He suggested that, because the human body is about 70% water, humans experience tidal shifts caused by the Moon's phases, just like Earth's oceans. He wrote that, under a full Moon, the occurrence of murder, suicide, aggravated assault, psychiatric emergencies, and fatal auto accidents increase dramatically.

Alas, the theory was quickly dismissed by experts. One study took down Lieber's theory, arguing that the Earth's gravitational pull is 5,012 times stronger than the Moon's. The Moon might regulate the tides of large, open bodies of water, but think about its effect on a glass of water or a bathtub, let alone the water that makes up the human body.

Astronomers, physicists, and psychologists have all come to the conclusion that human behavior is not related to the lunar phase.

Yet, if a belief sticks for thousands of years, there must be something there. An article in Discover magazine suggested that the lunar lunacy effect originates from the fact that a brighter Moon was probably more likely to disrupt our ancestors' sleep quality, causing sleep deprivation and sour moods.

A 2013 study conducted under the highly-controlled conditions of a sleep laboratory found that people took five minutes longer to fall asleep on average, and slept for 20 minutes less overall, around a full Moon, compared to during the rest of the month—even though they were not exposed to any moonlight. Measurement of their brain activity suggested that the amount of deep sleep they experienced dropped by 30%. Even so, a follow-up study failed to replicate the findings.

To be honest, I think I was driven to look into the Moon Effect because I wanted to find a reason for my recent anxiety bouts. The truth is, anxiety is just something that happens whether there is a reason for it or not. It is a mental issue that gets better when we understand it for what it is and talk about it.

Once we talk about these issues, we encourage others to do the same and we feel less lonely in our condition and less fearful of it, because it is happens for many other people and not just you. Of course, some people might need to go beyond reading about it and talking about it to people around them; if one feels they cannot deal with their anxiety, they should consider talking to a professional.


Cover image by storyset on Freepik

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SCIplanet is a bilingual edutainment science magazine published by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Planetarium Science Center and developed by the Cultural Outreach Publications Unit ...
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