I want to share how to use light therapy to heal winter depression. Today is the winter solstice, a time of the shortest day and the longest night. At this time of year, during the winter months, many people experience seasonal mood changes that lead to anxiety and depression. This condition is called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as winter depression. The symptoms of winter depression are:

  •  altered sleep patterns, with overall increased amount of sleep;
  • difficulty in getting out of bed in the morning and
  • getting going;
  • increased lethargy and fatigue;
  • apathy, sadness and/or irritability;
  • increased appetite, carbohydrate craving and weight gain; and
  • decreased physical activity.

     Seasonal depression normally begins in October or November and remits in April or May. Researchers believe that Seasonal Affective Disorder is caused by winter’s reduction in daylight hours which desynchronizes the body clock and disturbs the circadian rhythms and serotonin metabolism.

     The way to treat winter depression is through increasing one’s exposure to light. Light therapy helps to restore melatonin, (a hormone that promotes sleep), the neurotransmitter serotonin, and other mood-regulating molecules to their normal cycles and levels of production. This in turn reduces the symptoms of depression as effectively as antidepressant medications.

    Here are some ways to benefit from light therapy:

  • Each morning, expose yourself to bright artificial light using light boxes. By providing appropriately timed light exposure, the body’s circadian rhythms become resynchronized and the symptoms of SAD resolve.
  • Spend time outside first thing in the morning.
  • Light up your homes as much as you need to. Use white wallpaper and light-colored carpet instead of dark paneling and dark carpet.
  • Choose to live in dwellings with large windows.
  • Allow light to shine through doors and windows when temperatures are  moderate. Trim hedges around windows to let more light in.
  •  Exercise outdoors.
  •  Set up reading or work spaces near a window.
  •  Ask to sit near a window in restaurants, classrooms or at your workplace.
  •  Arrange a winter vacation in a warm, sunny climate.

     Finally, reduced exposure to sunlight during the winter also means that less natural Vitamin D is produced by the skin. Since vitamin D is thought to regulate mood, many clinicians recommend taking a Vitamin D supplement during the winter months. The data indicates that 2000 IU/day or more of Vitamin D may be necessary for most people to maintain adequate blood levels of this important hormone.

     I wish you the best in your mental health recovery.