<%-- Page Title--%> Straight Talk <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 154 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

May 14, 2004

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Sun Worshippers

Nadia Kabir Barb

What a wonderful feeling it is to wake up in the morning and see the sun shining in all its glory. Especially if you live in London where the sun seems to lose its way on its journey here. As if by magic, the world feels like a nicer place and you almost feel able to face the day and tackle head on all the problems it throws your way. As I sit at the computer, I can see the dull grey sky, hear the constant drumming on the window pane and empathise wholeheartedly with the people outside rushing around with their umbrellas, shoulders hunched and heads bent to avoid rain in their eyes. Now if I were to carry out some scientific experiment it would probably be possible to demonstrate that were I to put the exact same people in a warm and sunny climate, those people would be going about their business but with a completely different demeanour. In all likelihood, they would be ambling instead of rushing, the hunched shoulders would be relaxed and the bent heads would be lifted trying to soak in the warmth of the sun. In fact you might even get a glimpse of a smile on their faces. I am sure most of us don't think about the sun very often except to comment on how hot it is but when something become a rare commodity you learn to value it more. You see I am a bona fide sun worshipper. No, I don't mean I believe in some pagan faith that makes sacrificial offerings to the sun but I am very aware of how it affects me on a day to day basis.

If I said that someone was suffering from S.A.D, you would probably tell me that my sentence was grammatically incorrect and I probably meant to say "sadness". Actually the lower light levels of the winter seasons have been shown to cause a psychological state known as S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder). This is a type of depression that affects a large number of people every winter between September and April, in particular during the months of December, January and February. It is caused by a biochemical imbalance in the hypothalamus due to the shortening of daylight hours and the lack of sunlight in winter. For many people S.A.D is a seriously disabling illness, preventing them from functioning normally and may require "phototherapy" i.e. bright light treatment. If phototherapy doesn't work, an antidepressant drug may prove effective in reducing or eliminating S.A.D symptoms, but as with many things, there may be unwanted side effects to consider. For others, it is a mild but debilitating condition causing discomfort but not severe suffering. The technical name for this is "subsyndromal S.A.D" or in layman's terms 'winter blues.' Symptoms of S.A.D can include poor appetite and significant weight loss, or the reverse; insomnia, or increased sleep; agitation, or lethargy of movement and thought; loss of interest or enjoyment in usual activities or diminished sexual drive; fatigue and loss of energy; feelings of worthlessness, self-reproach, unwarranted or inappropriate guilt; diminished ability to concentrate, or indecisiveness; and in extreme cases, frequent thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts. For mild symptoms, the best way to reverse the symptoms is to try and spend as much time outdoors or make sure that there is adequate light in the place of work or home. Who would have guessed that not being exposed to natural sunlight for prolonged periods would have such die consequences?

Apart from the actual physical manifestations of deprivation of sunlight, I really believe it affects to some extent the personalities of people. For example, if you look at people from the Mediterranean or Tropical countries, they tend to be extroverted, gregarious, laid back, passionate and emotional (sometimes excessively so). When they talk there are a lot of hand and arm gestures and facial expressions. On the other hand people from colder climates very often tend to be more reserved, less expressive and try not to display their emotions for all to see. This of course is a gross generalisation but it is still fascinating to speculate how the sun may contribute to our behavioural traits as well as providing us with an abundant source of vitamin D!

Sadly, it is still raining outside and though I am aware of such a thing as a rain dance I was wondering if anyone could tell me if there is the equivalent of that vis-à-vis the sunů


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