As the days grow darker in the fall and winter, so do many peoples’ moods. 10% or more of the population in northern climates may suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that is cyclical and affected by the time of year. Symptoms include feelings of hopelessness, low self-esteem, poor concentration, low energy or fatigue, and problems with eating and/or sleeping.
SAD is most often treated the same way depression is: with medication. However, SAD sufferers looking for holistic options are in luck. Since research suggests that SAD is caused by the diminished light during the winter months, effective treatment has been developed using electrical light boxes that mimic the sun’s rays. “Light therapy is a way to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD) by exposure to artificial light. It is safe and has few side effects,” states the Mayo Clinic (2010). A Canadian study (American Journal of Psychiatry, 2006) found light therapy and fluoxetine, better known as Prozac, to be equally effective.
I decided to use myself as a guinea pig so I ordered a light box online. The process was easy, with prices ranging from $120-150. When the light box arrived, I started my treatment, about 15 minutes a day of exposure. The light is supposed to shine indirectly into your eyes rather than directly, so I put the box, about the size of a coffee table book, on the side of my desk. It beamed the measured dose of light while I drank my morning coffee and perused Facebook. I noticed a positive effect on my mood right away. In fact, it felt so good I gave myself three more doses, an overdose which produced a headache.
Light box therapy should be done in the morning, as it may be too stimulating later in the day. It’s important to keep a consistent schedule during the winter months. If you stop too soon when you think you’re improving, you’ll miss the cumulative effect which helps bring positive results. Some people experience immediate relief as I did; for others, it may take a week of treatments or longer.
Light therapy is often not enough on its own to provide a cure for SAD. The treatment of any type of depression demands a well-rounded approach. Exercise, psychotherapy, meditation, increasing pleasurable activities, being around other people and not isolating yourself, and even medication: all these are important components of a holistic treatment plan. But if you’ve noticed a correlation between bad weather and bad moods, light box therapy can be a valuable tool for recovery. It’s certainly made a difference for me.
© 2014 Catherine Auman This article is an excerpt from Catherine’s book Shortcuts to Mindfulness: 100 Ways to Personal and Spiritual Growth