Although we know that the days are getting shorter somehow it seems to catch us off-guard. We get used to long summer days, extending time to be outdoors and enjoying the warm weather. And as the days get shorter and the weather colder, many of us start to feel the effects not just physically, but emotionally.
If you’re not a winter person anyways, you might think this is a normal part of having to deal with snow when you’d rather be sitting under a palm tree. But if the winter blahs are affecting your day-to-day for a prolonged period, and only appear seasonally, you might be prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder.
The good news is, there are simple ways you can reduce your symptoms and start to feel more like yourself again!
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that occurs at the same time each year, typically in fall and/or winter. It affects 2 – 6% of Canadians, according to Mood Disorders Association of Ontario.
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health lists a range of symptoms commonly experienced by those with SAD that include a “sad, despairing mood that present most days and lasts most of the day; lasts for more than two weeks; and impairs the person’s performance at work, school, or in social relationships.”
Seasonal Affective Disorder Treatments
Before trying any treatments for SAD, it’s important to consider whether there’s another reason for your symptoms. Speak with your healthcare provider to rule out any more serious issues like a low functioning thyroid before you assume it’s “just SAD”.
If you’re struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder, you should try to get outside when the sun is highest – even just a lunchtime walk around the block can make a difference! When you’re indoors, try to sit near (and looking out of) a south-facing window as much as possible.
Because direct sunlight can be hard to access in this way for many people, one of the most common treatments is light therapy with a seasonal affective disorder lamp or light box. Approximately 70% of people with SAD experience reduced symptoms within 2 weeks of starting treatment. (Read on for tips on using a light box.)
Other strategies to reduce symptoms include:
- Keep to a consistent bed and wake-up time to help maintain your circadian rhythm. (Our healthy mattresses and pillows will help you sleep comfortably too!)
- Avoid electronics at least an hour before bedtime.
- Stay active! Try to get a few workout sessions in a week – that walk around the block at lunch mentioned above counts if you’re going at a quick pace.
- Stay connected with friends and family to help avoid isolation (which can compound depression).
How to Use a Light Box
If you’re tired of feeling, well, tired, and getting some sun and more exercise isn’t possible or isn’t working, a light box might be your answer.
To get optimal results, you should be sitting within about 2 feet (60cm), facing the lamp with your eyes open – but make sure not to look directly at the light!
The recommended optimal dose is 10,000-lux of the full spectrum or cool white fluorescent light for 30 minutes to two hours each day. You should notice a change within 2 – 4 weeks if the treatment is working for you.
Studies have shown that morning light is often most effective, but if you need more, try combining morning with evening treatments.
Many regular lights (along with smartphones, TVs, and computer screens) emit a blue light, which can disrupt the circadian rhythm and increase depression. So when you’re indoors throughout the day, the more time you can spend in natural light in addition to your morning ritual with light therapy, the better.
How to Choose a Light Box
Make sure you’re buying a light box made specifically for SAD. You’ll want to choose a light box that has a UV blocker to reduce your exposure to harmful radiation since you’ll be sitting near it for extended periods, daily. For this reason, you should also make sure the style and size is something that you’ll be able to use easily to keep up the routine.
Finally, the lightbox should emit a full spectrum of light for optimal results.
You can review customer reviews for a range of SAD lamps here to help you choose one that might work for you.
If you suffer from a seasonal affective disorder, we hope this gives you a better understanding of the condition. Know that you are not alone and that there are things you can do to help improve symptoms.
And if you’ve been able to successfully manage your symptoms, let us know what your best SAD treatment strategy has been in the comments below.