Don’t be SAD

It’s that time of year again – it’s dark out when I leave for work at 7:30am and dark again by the time I head home at 5pm. Darn near impossible to catch any daylight unless I take a chilly walk outside at lunchtime. This may also be the time of year when you start to notice your mood and energy plummeting. I am one of those people. Don’t feel like getting out of bed in the morning? Ready to be back in bed right after the 5 o’clock news? Feeling down and unmotivated? You could be one of many victims of Seasonal Affective Disorder – also known as SAD (very appropriate acronym). Don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with you. You don’t need to run to the doctor for a prescription or start drinking a lot more cocktails. The culprit is quite simple – Vitamin D – or lack thereof.

In the Spring and Summer (sigh), when our skin is exposed to sunlight, our bodies produce Vitamin D (much like plants synthesize chlorophyll from sunlight). In fact, 15 minutes of exposure to unfiltered sunlight per day (unprotected by sunscreen), allows your body to produce the entire day’s worth of Vitamin D. Vitamin D, in turn, is necessary to regulate serotonin in our brains, which helps stabilize our moods and sleep patterns.

In the colder months, when sunlight is scarce, or if you live in a cloudy, cool part of the world, instances of depression increase. So, what can you do to keep yourself from falling into the SAD black hole this season?  Make just a couple of relatively easy changes to your routine.

First – start going outside!! Even on a freezing cold day, if you spend 15 minutes outside in sunlight, you will have done yourself a world of good. Take half of your lunch break to bundle up, and go around the block a few times. Certainly try to spend more time outside on the weekends. We have become so sheltered and so sensitive to the elements that what we consider to be intolerable weather, is actually not that bad. Children are capable of playing outside rain or shine – so should adults!

Second – start taking a Vitamin D supplement. You can purchase those at most health food stores. However, to get the best results, and the most bioavailable type of Vitamin D, you want to turn to – what else – food! Foods with high levels of Vitamin D are: fatty fish (salmon, sardines), and mushrooms (especially sun-dried shiitake).

Third – exercise. Exercise increases feel-good chemicals in your brain, and also gives you more energy.

Fourth – as a last resort remedy, you can look into “phototherapy” – a fancy way of saying “tanning bed.” Yes, the ultraviolet lights in tanning beds serve as a sun-substitute not just to give you that vacation glow, but also to help your body make the vitamin D that it needs. Of course, be very careful to not over-expose yourself and cause more harm than good. Make sure to wear some sunscreen if you’re going tanning regularly, and remember – if your skin is starting to look like purse leather, you’re tanning too much.

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