I’ve been seeing things all over my social media feeds that relate to SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, and it reminded me that spring is finally on the horizon in Calgary and everywhere else at that latitude. I guess being somewhere where the temperature generally doesn’t get close to freezing even in the winter has allowed me to forget that it is, in fact, April and that people back home are experiencing the last few days of snow and sub-zero temperatures. To be completely honest I’m sitting on my back patio writing this and considering going inside only because the mosquitoes are already showing up to suckle my apparently delicious blood.
As I’m sure you can imagine, the warmer climate and much longer growing season have been one of the more favorable things about moving so far away from my support network, but all these posts about the sun finally being out and the temperature being warm enough to go out and enjoy the sun on bare skin have made me question whether I actually missed the sun or not.
Back in Calgary I saw an acupuncturist for a few months in a bid to try and lessen my anxiety, and while I found acupuncture relaxing I found it was actually the advice of my acupuncturist that truly made the whole experience beneficial to my anxiety treatment. She advised me that doctors in Alberta used to test their patients for vitamin D deficiencies whenever they sent said patients for blood work – usually for their annual physical or check up for another unrelated ailment. They started finding that almost everyone in Alberta was vitamin D deficient simply because the majority of the year the weather would not allow for bare skin sun exposure. It makes sense – you’re cold but you still have to go outside, so you put on a long sleeved shirt or a coat and make sure most of your skin is covered.
All of this made sense to me, and I even tried taking vitamin D supplements. I didn’t notice a difference but I was also on an anti-depressant at the time, but now I’m wondering, could they be beneficial to me now, even though I’m in super warm and usually quite sunny Texas?
I did some reading on vitamin D deficiency and its effects are very unpleasant. Many people report lethargy and aching in their bones, but eventually the effects compound and you can start losing bone density and start experiencing hair loss and – you guessed it – depression. One doctor in Austin started testing all his patients just like the doctors in Alberta used to do and he estimated that about 70% of his patients were deficient, but he credited it to more people working in office settings and the increased awareness of the benefits of sunscreen in everyday life.
According to the Mayo Clinic’s page on Seasonal Affective Disorder, there are multiple factors that can have an impact on your mood including which season tends to affect you, but the incidences of Spring- or Summer-induced SAD are by far much lower than Winter and Fall. The other interesting thing I learned was that the occurrence of SAD goes up the further away from the equator you get, so I thought there could be no way I was better off in Calgary than in Texas for that reason alone. I thought to myself, ‘Just go outside and experience the sunlight (UVB rays between 11 am and 4 pm are most recommended) and that will help your mood’.
I’m not sure exactly how to explain this next part, because I feel my mood has been better for a variety of reasons, but one of those reasons is that I’ve been getting outside for at least 30 minutes per day without sunscreen. That last stipulation is key here, and for anyone who’s met me or seen my pictures, you’ll know that I’m part red-head and that part of me burns at the slightest touch of sun, so being outside without sunscreen is a really touch-and-go tightrope walk for me (sorry Mom). That being said, sunscreen filters out the UVA and UVB rays, and the UVB rays contain all the vitamin D you need, so I’ve been leaving it off.
Long story short, I can’t tell if it’s the sunshine or just simply being outside that has helped my mood and my depression, but my yard is looking nicer every day because of all the weeding I’ve been doing in the sunshine so no one’s complaining – least of all, me.