Be Your Own Sunshine: 8 Strategies to Reduce Sadness
SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a common mood disorder that affects approximately 1% of the population. A person suffering from SAD experiences severe sadness or depression during certain seasons, such as winter, spring, summer, autumn and so on.
Seasonal affective disorder is characterized by significant changes in mood and behavior associated with the changing weather conditions. The term “season” refers to the time of year when SAD occurs. For example, if SAD occurred in October, it would be called “winter depression.” Other terms used are “winter blues,” “spring fever,” and so on.
The cause of SAD is not known; however, there are several theories about its causes. One theory suggests that the brain produces less serotonin (a neurotransmitter), which leads to decreased levels of happiness and feelings of well-being.
Another theory suggests that the body’s immune system may play a role in causing SAD.
There are many ways to treat SAD, including medication, psychotherapy and lifestyle changes. There is no cure for SAD, but there are treatments that can reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.
Some medications include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), beta blockers, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI) and tricyclic antidepressants. Different types of psychotherapy also can be helpful.
Most individuals with SAD find daily living and working routines difficult to maintain due to persistent sadness or depression. Most people suffering from this disorder do not seek treatment for many reasons, which may include lack of awareness, costs involved or fear of side effects from medication.
Treating SAD with Natural Light
Light therapy is a commonly used SAD treatment that involves exposing the eyes to bright light for a specific time period each day. In controlled studies, daily light therapy was found to be helpful in 80% of people with SAD.
It is believed that the light box works by helping the brain restore its natural sleep-wake cycle. Light therapy can be used in combination with medication and psychotherapy.
Lighting devices used for light therapy are available in many different types, including full-spectrum lights, standard incandescent lights and light-emitting diode (LED) lights.
Full-spectrum lights are available in the form of fluorescent and halogen bulbs. While both light types can be used for light therapy, full-spectrum fluorescent lights have several advantages over halogen bulbs.
They are cheaper, more durable, have a longer life span, and are better for the environment. In addition, they offer a brighter light that is easier on your eyes. However, they tend to be noisier than halogen bulbs.
If you prefer using incandescent light bulbs, standard 60-watt bulbs are a good option. These bulbs offer a softer light than full-spectrum fluorescent tubes and can be used for shorter periods.
Lighting devices that use light-emitting diodes (LEDs) also are used for light therapy. While LEDs don’t have the same wavelengths as the sun or regular lights, they may help relieve SAD and start the body’s internal “clock.”
Types of Light Boxes
The best types of light boxes for light therapy are full-spectrum lights. It is important to note, however, that not all full-spectrum lights are designed to be used as light boxes.
So, it is important to check the product packaging or ask a doctor before buying one.
If you can’t find a full-spectrum light box at your local pharmacy, you can buy one online. Most cost less than $100.
Most light boxes come with a stand, a power cord and a user manual. Some also offer features, such as timers, touch controls and the ability to adjust the brightness of the lights.
If you still prefer having incandescent lights in your home or office, you can buy special bulbs that simulate sunlight. These lights are designed to provide beneficial ultraviolet (UV) rays just like the sun.
Lighting devices that use LEDs may be less effective than other light boxes. While these types of devices may help, they are more expensive and might not be as effective for treating SAD.
Before using a light box, it is recommended that you talk to your doctor first to rule out any underlying health issues that could be causing your symptoms. If you are pregnant or currently using light boxes for a medical condition, it is best to check with your physician before using one.
Here are some tips for using a light box effectively:
Typically, you will use the light box two to three times a week for 30 minutes at a time. You also can use it daily for up to 20 minutes if you want to.
It is best to start with a lower time and work your way up.
The closer you are to the light box, the greater its beneficial effects will be. However, it is not recommended that you sit directly in front of the light box.
It is best to use the light box three to six feet away from your face.
One of the greatest benefits of full-spectrum light boxes is that they can be used during the day. If you tend to be a night owl and work late at night or have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, using a light box in the morning can help you adjust your sleep cycle.
Some people think they can get the same benefit from using a tablet, phone or laptop in the morning. While devices like these may have a minor effect on your mood, they do not give off the same wavelength of light as a light box and should not be used as a substitute.
If you don’t want to sit in front of a light box for an extended period of time, you can use it just before going to bed at night. However, it is recommended that you use the light box during the day for at least a month to see the best benefits.
If you’re concerned about eye strain, most light boxes are designed in a way that minimizes any negative effects on your eyes. It’s also important to take breaks every 20 minutes or so when using a light box.
If possible, it is best to stand in front of your light box so your entire body can be exposed to its rays. There are some light boxes that come with movable arms that allow you to position the lights where you want them.
People who work night shifts may find light boxes especially beneficial. Using a light box can help your brain recognize when it’s actually daytime and when it’s time to sleep.
Many light boxes are designed for use by one person. If you share a light box with someone else, keep in mind that the lights will be positioned directly in front of you.
Make sure whoever you share the light box with is standing in a place where the lights won’t shine directly in their eyes.
If you share a light box with a roommate or spouse, you can set up a timer to have it turn on and off at specific times. You can also purchase a light box that has a built-in timer.
This way the light box will turn on and off automatically.
Light boxes can cost anywhere from $25 to more than $200. If you are on a tight budget, you can buy a full-spectrum bulb that is similar to the lights found in most light boxes.
These bulbs are usually between five and 10 dollars. Just make sure the bulb you buy is rated for a heavy duty socket since some bulbs get very hot.
When shopping for a light box, make sure you compare the intensity of the lights. While more expensive light boxes may be aesthetically nicer, this isn’t a necessity especially if you will only be using the light box once or twice a day.
UV rays can cause skin cancer and sunburns. It is recommended that you do not lie directly in front of the lights and that you do not look directly at the lights unless they are positioned at eye level or higher.
While most light boxes are not positioned in a way that would cause you to look directly at the lights, it is still possible to do so. If you share a light box with someone else, make sure neither of you are positioned in a way where you can look at the lights directly.
These tips are provided for informational purposes only and are based on the experiences of our own TJ with light boxes. They are not substitutes for medical or psychiatric advice.
For a proper diagnosis, we suggest you see a medical professional.
Sources & references used in this article:
Misery is not miserly: Sad and self-focused individuals spend more by CE Cryder, JS Lerner, JJ Gross… – Psychological …, 2008 – journals.sagepub.com
Source market perceptions: How risky is Jordan to travel to? by …, A Schroeder, L Pennington-Gray, SAD Farajat – Journal of Destination …, 2016 – Elsevier
Winter blues: A SAD stock market cycle by MJ Kamstra, LA Kramer, MD Levi – American Economic Review, 2003 – pubs.aeaweb.org
An attitude scale for smart board use in education: Validity and reliability studies by SN Şad – Computers & Education, 2012 – Elsevier