Did you experience Post Greece Blues (PGB) on your return from Greece this year? Did you even know that it’s a real thing? Learn more & get tips to help.
Post Greece Blues are real
This summer many people vacationed in Greece. My family and I spent a fantastic three weeks traveling the country. On return though, I felt it; I like to call it, Post Greece Blues – PGB for short. I wondered if I was imagining it…is PGB even a “thing?” Many friends seemed to agree. Those around me were telling me that they were feeling the same — slightly off, sad, even mildly depressed. I started wondering what was going on both physically and mentally that induced such a state of “blah.” Read on to learn how we benefit while in Greece, what happens when we come back, and some tips to help you get back on track.
It’s all about the sun
Greece is known for its beautiful sunny weather. Athens enjoys around 350 sunny days per year. Compare that to Chicago’s total of 189 sunny days and it’s easy to see why so many of us plan a trip! What is it about sunlight that makes us feel so good?
Sunlight lowers blood pressure
Sun exposure has been found to protect against high blood pressure. Nitric oxide, a vasodilator, is the photoproduct that provides this protection and the production of nitric oxide is stimulated by UVA rays. Just 20 minutes of exposure to natural sunlight dilates blood vessels to initiate this process. When we’re exposed to sunlight, small amounts of nitic oxide are transferred from the skin to blood circulation, blood vessel tone is then reduced, and blood pressure drops. Considering that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S., regulated blood pressure via sunlight can have a significant impact on both short- and long-term health and can just feel plain good.
Sunlight helps boost mood and energy via adrenals
Adrenals are two little glands that sit on top of our kidneys and are part of the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal axis (HPA axis). This axis helps regulate everything in our bodies ranging from hormones, metabolism to mood and energy. While there are many factors that go into maintaining this HPA axis, one of it’s hallmark characteristics is that it follows a 24-hour circadian rhythm and this rhythm is greatly influenced by light.
When these natural rhythms fall out of sync, a whole host of problems can arise, ranging from fatigue, to depression, even weight gain. Lack of sunlight, on return from vacation, may contribute to whacky circadian rhythms for many of us, as a result, contributing to PGB.
Sun exposure helps us sleep better
Do you sleep less while in Greece but still feel rested? Quantity over quality matters in this instance and the benefits of high-quality sleep are numerous. Research shows that exposure to optimal light levels during the day helps induce quality and/or restorative sleep. Synchronized circadian rhythms and bright light actually improve metabolic and hormonal status of circadian rhythm sleep disorders. So while we may sacrifice valuable sleep time to spend extra time at the local plateia, the synchronization of our biological rhythms may make up for it.
Sun provides us with much needed vitamin D
No discussion on the benefits of sun exposure would be complete without reference to the well-known benefits of vitamin D. Unlike other essential vitamins, which must be obtained from food, vitamin D is synthesized in the skin through a photosynthetic reaction triggered by exposure to UVB radiation. Our production efficiency depends on the number of UVB that penetrates the skin. For most Greek-Americans, a half-hour in the summer sun, in a bathing suit, can initiate the release of 50,000 IU (1.25 mg) vitamin D within 24 hours of exposure.
The initial photosynthesis produces vitamin D3, 25-hydroxyvitamin D, the form routinely measured at your doctor’s office. Additional transformations of this much-needed, usually depleted vitamin, occur in the liver, kidney, and other tissues, ending in a vitamin that is akin to a hormone.
Some benefits of vitamin D include helping calcium build strong bones, regulating the immune system, and it has major roles in the life cycle of human cells. While some may question the long-term benefits of vitamin D production during a typical 3-4 week vacation in Greece, it’s worth keeping in mind that the ½ life of vitamin D circulating in the bloodstream is about 15 days.
Sun equals lots of outdoor fun
Of course, with the beautiful weather, the majority of our time in Greece is spent outdoors rather than indoors. Research has found that regular outdoor activities, independent of activity level (so yes, laying on the beach counts!) was associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease. The researchers also found that those with the highest frequency of outdoor activities AND optimal vitamin D level also had the lowest risk of type II diabetes.
What if the sun bothers you?
Do you have trouble tolerating sunlight? Does it bother you? You may be in what’s referred to as advanced stages of HPA axis dysfunction (a.k.a. adrenal fatigue). Sufferers of HPA dysfunction, especially in advanced stages, tend to have temperature regulation issues. In this case, short exposure to sunlight may trigger adrenal “crashes” (fatigue, lethargy, etc.). Even indirect sunlight tolerance may be limited. Timing and frequency of sun exposure is key here. Seek adrenal health testing for further intervention.
What to do back home
When we return from Greece, taking advantage of what little sun we DO have is key to maintaining the above-listed benefits. Responsible sun exposure daily can help you avoid Post Greece Blues.
Here are some tips:
Every morning wake up early to view the sunrise and/or get outdoors even for just a few minutes.
This can help reset your circadian rhythm. Making additional time to spend outdoors during the day may also help with vitamin D production and also help manage blood pressure.
When there’s no sun, seek light therapy.
Studies have demonstrated that using light therapy and/or a light box when sunlight is minimal (a trigger for Seasonal Affective Disorder), has been found to relieve “depressive” symptoms associated with this disorder. It can also help with Post Greece Blues. Finally, targeted vitamin D supplementation may be useful if you are one of the many that has low vitamin D and live in an area without much sun.
There’s more! In Part 2, learn how else we benefit while vacationing in Greece and what happens to our bodies when we come back. Most importantly, learn about what we can do to keep the effects going back home, and lessen those Post Greece Blues.
Additional Sources and Inspiration:
Questions about this article? Contact Roula.
Read more from Roula Marinos Papamihail, MA, CHHC, FDN-P:
She trained at Functional Diagnostic Nutrition, the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. and holds a Masters in Clinical Psychology from the University of Indianapolis. She’s also the proud mom of 4 little boys. Roula is currently accepting new clients in her office, at home, over the phone, or via Skype. Visit her website at www.myhealthysoma.com.