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. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/light-therapy/about/pac-20384604

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.

Recent Posts

I’m Anxious About My Future

It is very normal to feel anxious about the future. For one thing, the future brings lots of uncertainty, which can be anxiety provoking in itself. Also, when thinking about the future, there are big decisions to make such as whether or not to go to college, take a gap year, enter the workforce, etc. Maybe you haven’t made these decisions yet and that’s okay. Some people put pressure on themselves about these decisions and/or get pressure from outside sources such as teachers and parents. Maybe you have gotten the message that you need to know what you want to do RIGHT NOW, and that what you choose you will be stuck with until you retire. That’s a lot of pressure! No wonder you are anxious if this is how the future feels to you.is my teen suffering from anxiety

Future decisions are not set in stone. You can take your time to make up your mind and can then make changes along the way. Some people change their major in college numerous times. Some people go to school for one thing and end up doing something else. Some people have a career for a while and then change careers later in life. All of this is okay. While thinking about the future is scary, taking time to plan out the future might decrease anxiety because it decreases uncertainty. And be ready for the curves or changes of heart that come along with being human. We don’t always know how things are going to be, or how we are going to feel. There is not a “right” way, as we are all different.

I also see young people worry about the future because they think if they take a “misstep” their dreams will unravel. For example, they think they need to get all As or they will not get to have the future they want (or the future others want for them). Again, no wonder you feel anxious if you are being given the message that one B will ruin your future. It’s okay to not get all As. Many people who did not get all As in school go on to have very successful careers. I’m not saying don’t try in school. I’m just saying that you don’t have to put so much pressure on yourself.

what decision making actually looks like

Or maybe you are anxious for the future because it is such a big change (like those of you who are about to graduate high school, go off to college, or enter the workforce). Other people feel nervous about these transitions, too. You are not alone. Think about other times you have gone through a transition, like the transition from middle school to high school. Remind yourself you were able to get through it.

In summary, here are the strategies I have detailed to reduce worry about future:

  1. Remind yourself that decisions are not set in stone; life is fluid and ever changing. It is okay to change your mind.
  2. Make a plan, so that you know your next step. Remember, plans can change. This is a normal part of life and helps us understand ourselves better!
  3. Do your best to put less pressure on yourself!
  4. Remember other transitions you have gone through in your life that turned out okay. Think positive thoughts!

There are many reasons why thinking about the future is difficult. What has helped you in managing your anxiety about the future?

Blog written by Sentier therapist, Andrea Schroeder, MS, LPCC, LPC

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