Feeling down and blue? Has the gloom of winter gotten you? The sky is cloudy and dark. You feel tired, unable to concentrate, want to eat, crave carbohydrates, and feel like being alone. It’s hard to get out of bed. You feel irritable, anxious and down. It seems like winter will never end. All you can think about is sitting in the sun somewhere in the Caribbean. Actually this is not such a crazy thought. You, like 35 million Americans, may be affected by winter depression. The “winter blues” has a name, “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)”. It usually begins mid October and ends around April. It’s real and treatable.
Most sufferers of SAD are women in their 30’s (although the disorder affects others including children). SAD is a form of depression that follows a seasonal pattern. The farther north you live, the greater your chance to be one of 10 million diagnosed or 25 million suffering some symptoms of SAD. Why? Because during winter, people in the Northern states get half as much sunshine as those in the South. People with SAD need more light. During late fall and winter, days shorten which means less sunlight. In some cases less daylight can activate depression. So what can you do to stop being an irritable or depressed family member? Move to Florida? You could but there is a cheaper and easier solution.
Treatment for SAD is surprisingly simple. Get more light. The theory here is that light therapy regulates brain chemistry. When light interacts with the eye through the optic nerve, things happen to affect mood. In very simple terms, light increases brain chemicals that help depression.
Some people are helped more by using intense light in the mornings, while others respond to increased light anytime of the day. There are commercial lighting devices and florescent light boxes. Some insurers will even reimburse you for the light devices. Or you can try 30 minutes of morning light by walking outside, sitting under a fluorescent light while watching TV, reading, etc. However, you shouldn’t stare into a light source. You’ll only get a headache! Just do a normal activity with the light in your field of vision.
You should be careful not to self-diagnose SAD because you may confuse symptoms with other conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. And if you suffer from severe depression you should consult a mental health professional. Light won’t hurt you but it may not help either.
Isn’t it amazing that a source of God’s creation–light, can improve mood? Remember the Sunday School song, “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine?” Don’t hide it under a bushel like the song exhorts. Let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine!
Dr. Linda Mintle writes the Doing Life Together blog for Beliefnet.