Those of you who know me know that I LOVE SUNSHINE!! There are very few things I love more than being able to stretch out my bare toes in the sun and feel warm. When I soak up the rays, I truly feel that I am soaking up energy and restoring balance to my body.
I have felt this way since I was a child. Part of it may be that I come from a long line of New England sun-worshippers – I have many distinct memories of my mother “laying out” and of my grandmother “catching some sun.” This might be due to the extreme darkness of New England winters; when it’s finally summer (read: 60 degrees and sunny), you take advantage of it (read: bathing suit and tanning oil).
But perhaps my love for sun is actually my body’s way of telling me what it sorely needs: vitamin D.
I now realize that I have had chronic depression since I was a teenager. When I was in high school my friends would call me “Sunshine” for two reasons: partly because they knew I loved the sun, but mostly as a satirical comment on my anything-but-sunny outlook on life. When I was a freshman in [a New England] college, I learned about a thing called Seasonal Affective Disorder (appropriately called SAD), which is also known as the winter blues or seasonal depression. Whoa. This was huge to me. My depression had gotten pretty severe that winter, and had come with the stereotypical symptoms of insomnia and a terrible body image. I craved sunshine. I felt so desperate for it that I bought a UV light bulb for my dorm room!
Now I realize that I was probably severely vitamin D deficient. I got sick often. I had trouble sleeping. I had depression. And I hadn’t seen the sun in 5 months. Experts at the Mayo Clinic say “Some studies suggest an association between low vitamin D levels in the blood and various mood disorders, including depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and premenstrual syndrome. Also vitamin D supplementation may improve symptoms of depression associated with seasonal affective disorder.” And here’s another great article about the risks of Vitamin D deficiency.
Did you know that if you live north of San Francisco/Washington DC, it is impossible to get enough vitamin D from the sun in the winter? As in, IT IS NOT POSSIBLE. The sun is too low in the sky to penetrate the atmosphere effectively. Some people call it a Vitamin D Winter. Crazy, huh!
So now you’re probably wondering: if sunshine is the cure for depression, why have I struggled with it while living in Southern Arizona?
First of all, sunshine is not a cure for depression, but it can ease symptoms in some cases. Second, hormones and genetics also play a big role. And third, nearly 75% of people living in Southern Arizona are vitamin D deficient!!!* Isn’t that just crazy?!?! The sun shines literally 360 days of the year here!
But, as I noticed very quickly upon my arrival, the people of Arizona are afraid of the sun. They hate it. They will park 50 yards away just to be in the shade. They refuse to be outside between the hours of 9 and 3. At the park, every child (and parent) is wearing a hat, sunscreen (even at nine o’clock in the morning – literally, I saw someone today spray their kid and it was 8:50am) and sometimes even long sleeves even though it’s almost 100 degrees. NO ONE has a tan. We see people using umbrellas walking from their car to the store, and now my daughter asks, “It’s really hot out, Mommy, can I have an umbrella?”
The truth is, we NEED sunshine! Our bodies absorb vitamin D from the sun much more efficiently than from a supplement, and 10-20 minutes in peak sunlight can provide us with the appropriate amount without risking skin cancer. Of course I put [a natural] sunscreen on my kids when we’re out for a long time. But walking from the car to Target? Bring on the sun!
For the first four years of living in Southern Arizona, my depression symptoms drastically decreased. My insomnia was gone, my attitude was better, and overall I just felt healthy. Even my husband noticed a difference in me. The roller-coaster hormones of pregnancy and post-partum of two babies is what did me in, but more on that later.
I firmly believe that sunshine can make a difference, even if slight. So if you are having a lousy day, are sick all the time or are feeling blue, try getting your 15 minutes of rays every day, and see if it helps!
* REF: Am J Clinical Nutrition. Mar;87(3):608-13. 2008
I am not a medical professional, nor do I play one on TV. The comments and opinions expressed in these articles are merely comments and opinions. Please seek professional medical advice before making any changes to the diet, exercise, or medication of yourself or your children.