Let The Sunshine In: Coping With Seasonal Affective Disorder

I am so excited to share this article writen by Kimberly Hayes with Public Health Alert! See below for tips to relieve Seasonal Affective Disorder

For people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), feelings of personal wellness go into hibernation from fall to spring in accordance with the diminishing appearance of the sun in October and its re-emergence in March and April. Scientists aren’t sure how exactly SAD works, though it’s clear it has some relation to the amount of natural light the individual is exposed to each day.

It is known that light is the most important cue in maintaining a 24-hour circadian rhythm, and that there are negative health issues associated with living in places that are deprived of natural light much of the year.

For people who suffer severely from SAD, light therapy is usually the most effective means of alleviating symptoms that can prove debilitating, because light deprivation affects levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. Restoring healthy levels of serotonin depends on increasing your daily exposure to light.

Brighten your surroundings

Many people who struggle with SAD benefit from brightening the environment in which they live and work. This can easily be done by painting rooms and adding lamps, and by keeping drapes and blinds open throughout the day to let in as much natural light as possible.

Simulating natural light

Scientific research has shown that light therapy is as effective as prescriptive approaches to SAD. A recent study of nearly 100 Canadians revealed that exposure to simulated sunlight was as effective as Prozac in improving mood and feelings of well-being. Light therapy provided relief in just one week, whereas a prescriptive approach took considerably longer to have a positive impact. Fortunately, there are several practical light therapy options for people whose lives have been disrupted by SAD. Light boxes, which simulate sunrise without the ultraviolet rays, and light visors give individuals the exposure they need to feel better.

Morning light

In some cases, people who awaken to a light that’s set to a timer report feeling better and are better able to cope with their symptoms. Introducing light directly into your bedroom first thing in the morning causes a marked improvement in mood and attitude over those who woke up in a dark room to a radio or tonal alarm. Individuals with especially severe cases of SAD may also benefit from a device that simulates the dawn by gradually increasing the amount of light in the room. A study conducted in the 1980s found that symptoms of depression receded, and sufferers were able to get to sleep without difficulty in the evening, which helped them acclimate to a normal, circadian sleep rhythm.

Work environment

People who deal with SAD often struggle at work because they spend hours every day shut off from natural light. If possible, find a way to work next to or nearby a window so that you are exposed to some form of natural light. These individuals may be so sensitive to sunlight that just being near a source of light can have a powerful effect on their mood and ability to get through the day with a positive outlook.

Get outside

Take advantage of opportunities to get outside during the work day. Take a walk during a break or after eating lunch, even if it’s cold outside. Even a short walk to a restaurant at midday can have a significant effect on people who need to find some way to experience even dim sunlight during the day. Try to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity outside every day.

Quick mental health boost

So what are you supposed to do if you need a mental health boost but you just can’t get outside? Look for ways to exercise your brain and stimulate your senses if there are no other options. Try reading a book, going for a hike, or volunteering for a charitable organization.  Get involved in activities that make you feel good about yourself and leave you feeling that you’ve done something positive, rather than surrendering to feelings of hopelessness and emotional fatigue  during the winter months.

If you suffer from severe case of Seasonal Affective Disorder, try combining some form of light therapy with a physical activity that can boost serotonin levels in the brain. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, try to bear in mind the science that underlies SAD, which is the lack of natural light in your daily life and how that affects your daily routine. Understanding can help us cope with a problem more effectively and provide a clear means of attacking the problem at its source.

Holly SteinComment