Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is more common in the late fall and winter months and appears to be directly related to a person’s exposure to daylight. Each year, SAD becomes more prevalent as the days become shorter and the weather turns colder. While the “winter blues” or the “winter blahs” are commonly misidentified as SAD, the symptoms of SAD are actually more severe.
Those suffering from SAD commonly feel lethargic, with low energy levels and require a lot more sleep. Usually those suffering from SAD start to withdraw from social interaction and develop difficulties concentrating. They can even feel depression symptoms, such as sadness and anxiety, while gaining weight, in part due to cravings for starchy foods and sweets. Symptoms can also include headaches and irritability.
Effective types of treatment for SAD are bright light boxes. Light therapy consists of daily exposure to a specific type of light. Most people sit near bright light boxes first thing in the morning to start the day, reading a newspaper or having breakfast near the full-spectrum white light. The actual timing and length of the daily exposure to the white light are highly individual and will require the affected person to establish his or her own schedule.
Bright light boxes are the most established type of treatment for SAD. This treatment can quickly bring relief, with many people noticing reduced symptoms within a few days of starting light therapy. In fact, if there is no noticeable relief from symptoms within the first week of treatment with bright light boxes, it is recommended that those suffering from SAD seek a different type of treatment.
But light therapy treatment works for most cases of SAD, with research showing that 8 out of 10 people with SAD symptoms will improve after using bright light boxes. It is believed that bright light boxes affect the retina in the eye, which sends messages to the parts of the brain that affect mood.
Using bright light boxes to treat SAD is also safe and relatively inexpensive. It involves the cost of the bright light box, but the treatment can be administered at a person’s own convenience, privately at home, every fall and winter. In addition to using bright light boxes to treat SAD, it is also recommended that those suffering from SAD make sure to get enough exercise on a daily basis to help improve symptoms.
For anyone who has been diagnosed with SAD, or has started to notice a seasonal pattern with their depressive behavior, treatment with bright light boxes may offer the much-needed relief.