Seasonal Affective Disorder: Light Therapy

Seasonal Affective Disorder: Light Therapy

Let’s talk about winter. Hot chocolate, sledding, and crackling fires can make us feel all warm and cozy, but having fewer and fewer daylight hours takes its toll. As Daylight Saving Time ends in early November, and our days become even shorter and darker, it is important to have tools in place to combat the downside of the season.

One such tool is called Light Therapy. Light therapy consists of indirect exposure to bright UV-free light. It is primarily used for the treatment of the winter blues and sleep problems. Clinically speaking, there is a type of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (also called S.A.D. or Seasonal Depression; learn more here). The dramatic reduction in sunlight during Minnesota winter months causes our hormones, brain chemicals, and daily rhythms to get out of whack. All of those changes can lead to sleepiness, fatigue, and sad moods, which are symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.Light therapy, cozy by the fire

Spending time with a specially-designed light box can help reverse these symptoms by tricking our brains and bodies into thinking we are getting the sunlight we need. Research consistently shows that regular use improves energy and mood.

Light therapy boxes with 10,000 LUX, the optimal amount of cool blue light that looks and feels like the blue sky on a summer’s day, can trigger biochemical changes in your brain. The right amount of full-spectrum light helps regulate melatonin and boost serotonin, giving you a better chance at restful sleep and a happy (or happier!) mood all winter long.

Light therapy is most effective when used for 30 minute periods several days or every day of the week. When using the light box, sit 20-30 inches away from it, and go about your business–read, study, work at your computer, or eat dinner. The light is meant to enter your eyes indirectly. Just like the Sun, never look directly at the light!

Always follow the manufacturer’s directions for your specific light. Although side effects are rare, they can occur, so make sure to pay attention to how you feel when using your light.

Has light therapy been helpful for you? If not, what has helped during these long winter months?

Blog written by Sentier therapist, Sarah Souder Johnson.

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How to Help Your Child Socially Re-Engage After Covid Isolation

How to Help Your Child Socially Re-Engage After Covid Isolation

Let’s face it. This last year has been rough! Rough on parents. Rough on families. Rough on children. Our “normal” lives were turned upside down. We have intentionally isolated ourselves and our children. Seeing friends, having playdates, and attending social gatherings were all put on hold. School and work were halted, causing a huge change in routines, expectations, and life as we knew it. Many children spent their days at home; spending hours on screens doing online learning, and then playing video games until bedtime. This past year has not only caused an insurmountable amount of stress and anxiety in children and families, but also extreme isolation.

child going back to school after covid

As the Covid numbers begin to go down and the vaccine rates begin to go up, what will life look like for our families? And more importantly, how will our children respond to breaking out of the isolation that has become so normal, and transitioning back to real life? Many predict that it won’t be easy. Here is what is expected:

  • Children may be nervous and worried to return to school.
  • Children may be reluctant to re-engage with friends or in activities outside of the home.
  • Children may prefer to stay at home, and on their screens.
  • Children may experience anxiety, anger and/ or sadness as a response to the transition.

What can parents do to help their child with the transition?

  1. Validate their feelings. It’s been hard and it’s going to be hard. Allow space for your child to express that. Validate and normalize their concerns, fears, and anxieties. You don’t have to “fix it,” just listen and validate what they are feeling. Offer your love and support, and let them know you will be there along the way.
  2. Re-build their confidence in engaging in social interactions. Remind your child of past experiences in which they overcame. For example, the time when they were nervous to start soccer/ballet/kindergarten but pushed through and ended up enjoying it. Or the time when they went to the park and made a new friend. A “you can do this” or “you got this” can go a long way.
  3. Prepare them for what’s to come. Whether it is returning to school or going to see a friend at the playground, prepare the child with what is expected to happen. Discuss what the experience might be like and how they might feel. Answer their questions in the best way you can. This creates feelings of safety and security.
  4. Provide opportunities to socially re-engage. Take baby steps if needed. For example, rather than attend a group gathering, schedule a one on one playdate for a short period of time. Ease the child back into social interactions. Encourage your child to get outside, to play with a friend. Ask them to come up with ways to socialize with others. Do they want to have a friend over? Do they want to play a sport? Have them create a list of ideas. And remember, holding off on socializing may just result in more anxiety and less confidence in the future.
  5. Take time to breathe and de-stress. This is an important step. Don’t skip it. It is important to do with your child (and without!). If you are less stressed, it helps your child to be less stressed. In addition, de-stressing with your child is teaching them the important skills of self regulation and self care. Explain the purpose to your child and practice it with them. Start with getting into a quiet, comfortable space with your child. You may want to play soothing music. Lay down flat on your back. Place your hands on your belly so you can feel your breath. Slowly breathe in and out, and feel your body relaxing. Take a few minutes to just be. We all need a little calm in such a wild world.

What did I miss? What else might kids need during this transition back to the world “after” Covid?

Blog written by Jaime Hughes, M.S.W, LICSW, Child Therapist.

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