Shorter Days Part 2: Blues Avoidance
I began part one this two part series on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) by reflecting on my adventure in Iceland, the Land of the Midnight Sun. I illustrated the power of sunlight and how we are affected by its presence--in the case of my Iceland trip, by its overabundance. I also described the symptoms and causes of SAD. Here I'm going to discuss some steps you can take to help maintain a good mood over the fall and winter months, whether you've been diagnosed with SAD or not.
Stave off the "Winter Blues"
Light therapy, which generally provides quick response and limited adverse effects, is for many a preferred front line treatment for SAD. The use of an antidepressant is another approved approach to treatment. No prescription is needed for a light box, but you will need to be evaluated by a physician to obtain antidepressant medication. Exercise, a way to increase serotonin production, also has been shown to be helpful. Even if you have not been diagnosed with SAD, the use of light therapy and exercise are great ways to lessen the lethargy, weight gain and carb cravings often associated with the dark fall and winter months.
In addition to exercising and spending time outdoors, helpful strategies include thinking more positively about winter which may include trying to socialize more. With the goal of being more social, plan ahead, rather than leaving it to chance that you'll be up for seeing a movie, going to a live concert, cheering for your team at a basketball game or attending a dance performance. Get your tickets in advance, recruit a friend or partner to join you, and put it on your calendar.
Replacing old lightbulbs with brighter "full spectrum" bulbs in your home and following a regular sleep schedule are two more ways to lessen the winter blues. If you have the resources and the time, planning one or more get-aways to a warm and sunny climate can provide a helpful boost to get you through the dark months.
This Little Light of Mine . . .
I've recommended the use of a light box for many of my patients, who've had quick and significant relief, especially when used consistently. The recommended "dose" of bright light is 10,000 lux (a light measurement) for 30 minutes per day administered upon waking. Smaller devices giving off fewer lux will require longer periods of light exposure. The efficacy of light treatment has been proven over the years and the purchase of light boxes has increased. Light therapy also has been shown to be effective in the treatment of non-seasonal depression. If you decide to get a light box, use it in the morning only and try not to exceed the recommended time per day. Too much light will screw up your sleep schedule -- remember my Iceland experience!
Here's a link to a very well made light box (giving off 10,000 lux in a 30 minute period) that many of my patients have used with great success: Daylight Classic SAD Lamp.
The help of a trained clinician is best if you begin to experience prolonged and deepening feelings of depression. Depression can manifest in a number of ways, including irritability, sadness, tearfulness, downward spiraling negativity, "dark" thoughts, and self-isolation. If you or anyone you know experiences these feelings, don't wait, reach out for help immediately. If you experience thoughts of wanting to harm yourself, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.
See Related Blog Post: Shorter Days Part 1: Gear up for Less Light
Read more about Seasonal Affective Disorder and light therapy:
Even, C., Schroeder, C.M. Efficacy of Light Therapy in Non-Seasonal Depression: http://www.cet.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Even-2008-JAD.pdf
Terman M, Terman JS. "Light therapy for seasonal and nonseasonal depression: Efficacy, protocol, safety, and side effects," CNS Spectrums, August 2005, pp. 647-63.