During the winter months, do you find that your mood is lower, you are tired more often and you start craving “comfort” foods more? If you do, you might be suffering from a mental health disorder called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a condition that is now taken more seriously by the medical profession than it used to be. However, if you are worried that a diagnosis of SAD means a recipe of prescription drugs to cope with the condition, you might be interested to learn that there are more natural remedies at hand, such as light therapy.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Put simply, seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression; it usually affects people in the Fall and winter months, when the days grow shorter, and the nights grow longer. Suddenly, our daily dose of sunshine and natural light is no longer as readily available as it was in the summer and our bodies go into “close down” mode.
However, some people are more sensitive to seasonal changes than others and as a consequence their bodies have a period of adjustment when the seasons change; therefore, some people also suffer from seasonal affective disorder during the summer months. Seasonal affective disorder affects more women than men, and many women are diagnosed with the illness in their twenties (source: NAMI).
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
These are some of the symptoms that you might experience if you suffer from seasonal affective disorder:
- fatigue during the day
- sleeping longer hours
- craving for comfort foods that contain carbohydrates
- weight gain
- lack of interest in sex
- difficulty concentrating
- lack of interest in social activities with friends and family
- suicidal thoughts.
Light therapy is a common natural health remedy for the treatment of seasonal affective disorder and is a proven effective treatment for the condition (source). You can use light therapy in a variety of formats; you can simply increase your exposure to sunlight, if you have access to it. However, one of the most popular ways to use light therapy is through the purchase of a light box.
Light boxes emit a certain level of light from lamps that are contained inside a box with a diffusing lens which filters out ultraviolet radiation. There are a wide variety of light boxes available, so do your homework before purchasing one. Light boxes that expose the lower half of the retina to the light are thought to be more effective than those that don’t because this part of the eye helps to reduce the depressive responses (source: NAMI).
The light intensity emitted by the light box, the duration of time in which to use the light box and when to use the light box are all interchangeable variables, depending on the patient. Consult your medical practitioner for specific advice relating to your own diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder.
When to See a Doctor
If you think that you might have seasonal affective disorder, and that light therapy might work for you, consult a medical practitioner first. Light therapy in general is not a risky solution but some people (such as people with bipolar disorder, those with an increased sensitivity to light, taking certain medications or a history of skin cancer) might be advised against light therapy as a solution (source).
Using Light Therapy for SAD
You don’t need to have a prescription to buy a light box, but knowing what to buy for your condition is key to finding success with the use of light therapy for seasonal affective disorder. Between 50% and 80% of light therapy users have found that there has been a reduction in symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (source). However, you need to continue using light therapy to control these symptoms. In general, light therapy is a safe, easy way in which to deal with the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder – and a natural one too.