Do you find yourself feeling more depressed, sluggish and non-motivated year after year during the fall to winter months? If so, you may be experiencing a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that affects roughly 14% of the population. Statistically, as you move further from the equator, the likelihood of an individual to experience SAD increases incrementally, as days become shorter and nights longer.
Typical symptoms of SAD include heightened anxiety, depression, weight gain, increase in appetite, trouble sleeping, loss of energy, and difficulty concentrating. These symptoms usually begin at the end of fall, with winter just on the horizon, and tend to dissipate at the start of spring. In my practice, SAD is much more prevalent when it’s the time of year for “trick or treating” or when you have to turn the clock back for daylight savings time, whichever comes first (even in “sunny” Los Angeles, we have mild to moderate cases of SAD).
So if you’re one of the 14% of people in the U.S. suffering from this seasonal slump, what can you do to help yourself feel better during the colder months? While there are several ways to overcome Seasonal Affective Disorder, including various medications and cognitive-behavioral therapy, one of my personal favorite ways to reduce SAD symptoms is to use artificial or natural light therapy.
Light therapy involves using light boxes emit a full spectrum of artificial white light in order soothe symptoms of anxiety and insomnia associated with SAD. Sitting or working near such a box can simulate the calming effect of natural, outdoor light. I personally use and recommend the Sun-A-Lux light box. Due to its intensity and effectiveness, only 15 -20 minutes is necessary to enhance your well being, and turn off the pineal gland from secreting excess melatonin. The extra level of melatonin at inappropriate times is what causes you to feel so sluggish and depressed. The light turns off the pineal gland’s function in the morning. Light therapy works best if you use it in the morning to early lunch time. Please do not use it during the night, it will cause insomnia!
In addition to using light therapy, I would recommend spending some time outdoors daily, to help eliminate the winter blues. Half an hour in the morning outside in direct sunlight (not under an umbrella or shade) eating breakfast, drinking tea, reading or taking a short walk, even on a cloudy day, is sometimes just what you need to lift your spirits, and send your SAD packing.