There have been many names given to the emotional malaise that affects millions of people every winter. Some know it as the winter blues, others call it cabin fever. Whatever the name, research has shown that the condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a syndrome that, though not well-understood, is clearly related to the diminished light and shorter days of winter.
Five percent of those who suffer from SAD experience symptoms so severe that they’re unable to function normally. There’s no clear treatment or means of preventing SAD, though exposing the brain to light through the eyes definitely helps. Some medical professionals have theorized that light is involved with melatonin, a hormone that regulates one’s circadian rhythms and sleep patterns. At its worst, SAD can cause severe depression and lead to substance abuse. Fortunately, there are simple, effective measures that doctors often turn to for treatment.
Let in the light
Light deficit is the culprit, so make sure you add lamps and keep your drapes and blinds open. Remember, the more light your brain experiences the less you’ll feel the depressive impact of S.A.D. Light therapy is a commonly prescribed treatment in which patients are exposed to a light box, which simulates sunlight without ultraviolet rays, for up to two hours every day. Studies have proven that light box therapy can be as effective at boosting mood and one’s sense of well-being as prescriptive treatments with antidepressive medications like Prozac. Furthermore, there are no side effects like agitation or sleep deprivation.
Waking up to light can also help improve your mood. A bedside lamp set to a timer simulates the sunrise with a gradually intensifying light. It’s preferable to an alarm clock or a smartphone alarm app, which jars you awake at the same time to the same winter darkness every day.
Find a bright spot
If there’s one place where your mood needs a boost, it’s work. SAD sufferers who are stuck working for eight hours in a dimly lit office or a cubicle space illuminated only by dingy office lighting have little hope of overcoming the oppressive sense of gloom that comes with SAD. Try to find a desk closer to a source of natural light, or if you can take your laptop to a different spot, find one that’s near a window. It may not provide the brightest source of light, but it’ll expose you to enough to make you feel better.
Take a walk
Going for a walk on your lunch break has the dual effect of giving you the exercise you need to get the blood pumping and exposing you to the sun, if only briefly. Getting 30 minutes a day of exercise in the fresh air can be beneficial even if it’s not a clear, bright day outside. It’s bound to do you more good than staying huddled up indoors. If you just can’t get outside, or if it’s too cold, consider setting a light box next to a treadmill or stationary bike so you can get the light and exercise you need at the same time. Remember that you can always give yourself a quick mental health boost by walking, volunteering for a charitable cause, or reading a good book.
SAD affects people in many different ways. Personal relationships, work productivity and physical health may all suffer as you struggle to deal with the debilitating, depressive impact of a disorder caused by insufficient light. Seek ways to get at least a half-hour of natural light or simulated natural light each day.
Kimberly Hayes enjoys writing about health and wellness and created PublicHealthAlert.info to help keep the public informed about the latest developments in popular health issues and concerns. In addition to studying to become a crisis intervention counselor, Kimberly is hard at work on her new book, which discusses the ins and outs of alternative addiction treatments.