Feeling more than a little sluggish and blue? It may be more than just winter boredom. Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD affects an estimated 6% of the US population, primarily in Northern climates. As days grow shorter less exposure to daylight and sunshine in the fall and winter months can trigger a chemical change in the brain, bringing on SAD. According to the Mayo Clinic, suffering from SAD may include difficulty waking in the morning, decreased energy and motivation, loss of interest in normal activities, craving carbohydrates, weight gain, and even withdrawal from people you normally associate with.
SAD can be serious. It shares all of the hallmarks of Major Depressive Disorder, the only difference being the seasonal nature of it.
Treatment for SAD can involve a unique, simple approach–light. According to an article by doctors Steven Targum, MD and Norman Rosenthal, MD (2008) the main treatment options for SAD are medication, counseling and light therapy. They may be used individually, or in conjunction. But far and away, the mainstay of SAD treatment has become light therapy, specifically in the form of lightboxes. An estimated 60% – 80% of SAD users experienced benefit from lightboxes.
Lightboxes are designed to mimic natural daylight. It is believed exposure to this ‘daylight’ causes a chemical change in the brain to help alleviate symptoms of SAD. This may also be why a bright, sunny couple of days in the middle of SAD may make sufferers feel better.
Although there are no harmful effects from using a lightbox, it is important to make sure you do your research to find a lightbox that is specifically meant for treating SAD. Other indoor lighting appliances, such as those used for tanning will not treat SAD and can cause damage to skin and eyes.
So do your research before you buy. Most lightboxes are used for a minimum of 30 minutes a day and typically require the user to be within 2 feet of it for maximum benefit. So choose a light that fits a spot you will be comfortable in for a while.
For more information on how to choose the right lightbox for you, the Mayo Clinic can help you here: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/in-depth/seasonal-affective-disorder-treatment/art-20048298.