"You're Not Alone … Really": Coping with the Ups and Downs of Expat Life
by Andrea McKenna Brankin
Spring brings sunshine elsewhere, but here on the Equator, we get quite a lot for about 12 hours a day all year! Even though we had a lot of rain at the beginning of Singapore Spring, aka Chinese New Year, we’re still ahead of the global game of getting healthy sunlight. And turns out that’s really, really good for you!
Many health professionals suggest getting 15-30 minutes of morning sun per day. (But sun anytime of day is still good.) I know AWA has many outdoor activities, such as the walking/hiking group, golf, tennis and running groups and more that will give you a good reason to catch some rays.
Turns out, sunlight helps with several health issues and provides many benefits:
Sunlight can help adults and kids with jet lag because it helps reconnect with a hormone called melatonin, which resets your body clock after traveling. We’re all in that boat at one time or another as expats.
It can help you sleep better…and there’s that melatonin thing again, as sleep is definitely generally affected by your body clock. Your pineal gland in the top/central part of your head is the endocrine gland that produces melatonin, by the way. Once you’re out of the light, your body can start to wind down at night when you switch from sunlight to evening.
For those that may suffer from SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, bright light is a key treatment for this type of mood disorder. Even if you don’t have that, several days of rain can really bring a girl down.
Sunlight also helps your body to process the key vitamin, D, referred to as the Sunshine Vitamin, that can help with weight control and boosting your immune system. During the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918-1921, some doctors even treated patients by putting them in beds outdoors. This topic also came up with Covid treatments. I know when I was stuck in Koh Samui, Thailand, with Covid, I made sure I spent a LOT of time in the lounge chair.
Sunshiny days bring the hormone on that I most care about as someone living with bipolar disorder: Seratonin. Serotonin is associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel calm and focused. I personally can’t get enough of this and even when I feel really bad and am struggling, my therapist gets me out for sessions in a local park. My AWA group, The Listen Ladies, also get together over Walk-n-Talk sessions to get us out in the sun and chatting if we need it. (See the AWA website to sign up for our next upcoming Walk-n-Talk on March 30, 2023)
I know people also worry about too much sun and wearing sunblock to prevent skin cancer. Personally, I only wear block on my face, allowing my legs and arms to get my Vitamin D-Seratonin-Melatonin blasts. (Sun block actually blocks the positive effects of the sun.)
For me, it’s a more important issue and I do have to choose between those risks. Of course, you should check with your doctor and make your own decision on this.
However you choose to approach the mood-boosting effects of the sun, I hope you will give it a try and see how you feel … and smile.