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S.A.D and Light Therapy

December 1, 2016

First off, sorry for the slow response time to some of your questions.  It can get busy and I'm working on some exciting new projects right now, an online course "30 days to stronger emotional muscles" or something like that, still haven't figured out the title, and I'm also making a tiny human being inside of my body. These projects seem to keep me fairly distracted. But here goes on the latest question:

 

I'd love your opinion on light boxes/dawn simulators to help with depression/SAD. What product(s) would you recommend?

 

OK so a little background. Seasonal Affective Disorder (it has the perfect acronym, SAD) is a type of depression that is associated with changes in the seasons. For affected people it tends to come and go about the same time each year. For most people that happens in fall and winter. Scientists believe that it is associated with the amount of light and the weather.  Interestingly, there is some good evidence that even on summer days with "bad" weather like clouds and rain that people experience lower mood(which sometimes gets labeled as bad mood or negative emotions, but I digress, more on the functionality of emotions later).  Back to what is SAD, usually people feel less energy and more moody, with symptoms similar to depression. 

Look out for: 

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day

  • Feeling hopeless or worthless

  • Having low energy

  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed

  • Having problems with sleeping

  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight

  • Feeling sluggish or agitated

  • Having difficulty concentrating

  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

There's a few symptoms specific to SAD type depression:

  • Irritability

  • Tiredness or low energy

  • Problems getting along with other people

  • Hypersensitivity to rejection

  • Heavy, "leaden" feeling in the arms or legs

  • Oversleeping

  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates

  • Weight gain

(Straight from the Mayo Clinic http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/basics/symptoms/con-20021047)

 

Now as I was doing my research on this, I learned a couple of things that I hadn't been aware of.

 

1. Some people get Spring and Summer SAD. They might feel depressed, have trouble sleeping, lose weight or feel agitated or anxious. 

 

2. I learned that with Bipolar Disorder, spring and summer can bring on mania and fall and winter can be a time of depression. Also that Light Therapy can sometimes trigger those manic symptoms, so be cautious if you have Bipolar and would like to try Light Therapy

 

The Function of Emotions:

Sometimes we get this idea that our bodies and minds are out to get us. That we are just screwed up people and that we have to fight all the negative impulses and instincts that we have in order to overcome them. In my experience however, I have found that it is generally more helpful to work with our drives, instincts, and emotions to channel them into positive directions. I genuinely believe that we, and our bodies and minds, are inherently good, and that the things that stem from them are functional at their core. We just tend to get in the way sometimes.  For example, check out the symptoms of SAD: oversleeping, craving food, gaining weight. These are all perfectly functional drives and behaviors-If you are a caveman. If survival of the species/your family is important then in the past thousands of years the way to survive the scarcity of winter was to build up a fat reserve and sleep through the long, cold nights and hang out in your tiny hut during the short cold days. If you had tons of energy and excitement and drive during those months of confinement you would drive yourself and others crazy, not to mention burning tons of calories that you didn't have the food reserves to replace.

 

 

Same thing goes for Spring SAD- that's a time to have tons of energy (agitation), not sleep well (to get up early and get those seeds in the ground) and to lose appetite/weight (get rid of that hibernation store you were keeping in your midsection). 

 

All of these "symptoms" served an excellent survival function before the days of indoor heating, 9-5 workdays year round, and indoor lighting.  

I've personally experienced this when I worked and lived in the desert. When I worked through the cold winter months I developed the ability to stay in my sleeping bag for 12-15 hours, sleeping much of it, I craved more food and was able to be more chill through the days when we were stuck in the tents (tarp shelters really). In the summer months I'd sleep maybe 6 hours, be awake early and feel agitated and irritated if we weren't on the move right away. These instincts helped me function in a primitive environment.  

 

All I'm saying is: don't get down on your mind or body, that's rarely helpful. Look at how you can work with those drives, feelings and impulses to improve your functioning and quality of life.  Here's a little excerpt from my upcoming course:

 

  Do you Label emotions as good or bad? Do you often tell yourself “I shouldn’t be feeling this way” or do you apologize for having emotions? In western society we have been trained to think of “positive” and “negative” emotions. However this doesn’t seem to be too helpful, especially when you think about the original 6 “primary emotions’ (according to some theorist who became popular) Out of the 6 emotions : anger, happiness, surprise, disgust, sadness, and fear 5 of them would traditionally be considered negative. The only emotion we are supposed to approve of is happiness. This is a setup for failure! I believe a more helpful way to look at emotions is to acknowledge their function, here's an example

 

 

 

Obviously if you can't get motivated to do things, if you feel hopeless or suicidal you need to reach out to your doctor and therapist for help. SAD can be treated with medication, therapy, and Light therapy. Plus there's a lot of things you can do on your own to improve your winters. 

 

Back to the Question: (I swear I don't have ADD, just don't ask my family)

 

 

OK so back to the question: Where to get a good Light therapy box.  OK the good news is that they are relative cheap, and fairly easily accessible. My clients have used different brands, and none have seemed to be harmful.  From what I've read it's important to get one that has over 10,000 lux and very low UV. Don't get a light box that has UV rays because that could hurt your eyes.  I know that I have had clients get the one from Costco:  and they have seemed to like it. But there are cheaper ones out there, I'm just not familiar with each of the brands.  Here's one on Amazon that meets the criteria for half the price: 

Also remember, these are different from lights that are meant to help you wake up. Those lights tend to have a different color and light spectrum. In general blue toned lights do help people wake up and yellow/red toned lights help people calm down and fall asleep. That's why TV and cell phones, with their blue toned light spectrum tend to interfere with sleep habits.  With SAD you want the ones specifically for Light Therapy aka Phototherapy. 

 

When you use a Light Box:

  • You don't have to stare straight at it, just put it to the side of whatever you are working on

  • Use it first thing in the morning for 15-30 minutes 

  • It should be fairly close to your face 18-24 inches. 

Pretty simple, low cost, most likely few to no side effects unless you have Bipolar Disorder. (Dang)

 

Anyways, hope that's helpful!!

Emma 

 

 

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