Feeling down? An extra dose of natural light may help brighten your mood, especially if you’re one of the millions of people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
The disorder, which is a seasonal form of depression, can occur at any time of year but is more common in the winter, when natural light levels are lower. SAD symptoms are similar to those of other depressive illnesses, including feeling “down” most of the time, sleeping and eating more than usual, and irritability. Women in their childbearing years tend to suffer from SAD more often than men, perhaps at a ratio as high as 4 to 1. But even those who don’t have full-blown SAD may experience lower levels of energy when the nights get longer and the temperatures dip. It is almost a vestige of hibernation.
Fortunately, there are ways to take advantage of existing natural light, from high-tech tools to different diet and exercise patterns, to combat the sluggishness that can come from not getting enough natural light.
If you suffer from SAD, the most important thing is to be proactive. Experts recommend talking to your healthcare professional about creating a seasonal plan of attack.
Let there be light
Because SAD kicks in when access to natural light is limited, using a light box—which simulates natural light indoors—has been shown to be helpful for both body and mind. Although the cost of a light box may not be covered by insurance, experts contend they are worth every penny.
Before you invest in a light box, though, work with a professional who can help you choose one that’s right for your needs. It’s the brightness of the light that is most important, not its color or whether or not it is “full spectrum”. Your physician can help determine how often to use a light box, but for many people, 30 minutes first thing in the morning works well.
Exercise, eat well
Whether or not you use a light box, just exercising more in natural light and eating better can make a huge impact on SAD. Exercise at noon, when outdoor light is brightest. Even if the best you can do is a walk during your lunch hour, the exposure to light combined with the endorphin boost from exercising will help alleviate SAD symptoms.
And since one of the symptoms of SAD is craving carbohydrates, be on the lookout for overeating to prevent weight gain. It can be difficult to lose SAD-related weight after the season changes and your other symptoms are relieved.
Seeing the light
Here are some easy ways to add more natural light to your day:
* Spend as much time as possible outside, especially on sunny days.
* Use timers on bedroom lights so they come on early in the morning.
* Sit close to outside windows at home and work.
* Keep your home as bright as possible: Use window treatments that let in light and trim foliage that blocks light.
* If possible, take a vacation to a sunny locale.