If you’re wired like me, fall and winter are some of the hardest seasons to go through. Dark, gloomy and cold days make you want to do nothing but stay in bed. This time of year can also impact your mental health. According to Psychology Today, it’s estimated that 10 million people in the U.S. will struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). However, there’s a light at the end of this gloomy tunnel and the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) has some great resources and treatments that my family and I have been using.
A type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, SAD usually starts in the late fall or early winter. For me, it can be easy to get caught up in the expectations of the holiday season when it’s supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year.” Social media makes it look like everyone is enjoying the holiday spirit with their loved ones and having the time of their lives. Let’s be honest though, when the days get shorter, work or school get busier and I begin to get overwhelmed with emotions, then all I want to do is stay in bed.
However, as I’ve talked about in my previous blog, counseling has helped me so much through these seasons and I’m able to recognize when my mindset begins to change. I start to crave comfort foods, I’m more tired, I have little motivation to do things or socialize in general, and I’m more easily agitated. This is when I know I need to start facing my struggles with a counselor and upping my vitamin D, whether natural when it’s a sunny day or even by taking a supplement.
One of the treatments the NIMH recommends for seasonal depression is light therapy for 20 to 30 minutes a day. Light therapy is when someone sits in front of an artificial light, one that doesn’t have harmful UV rays, that mimics the purpose of the sun.
This naturally occurring vitamin the sun gives off–and that our body needs–is actually a hormone too, according to Psychology Today. Vitamin D plays an important role within our bodies on many different levels, but when it comes to mental health, it’s important to know why we need it. When received by our body, vitamin D initiates genes that regulate the immune system and the release of our neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin (otherwise known as the happy brain chemical).
My dad and I are wired the same way–in fact, we were both on the same antidepressant for years. Because we’re so similar, I thought I’d ask him how he feels about light therapy for his seasonal depression. He has recently taken up this recommendation from his psychiatrist and has seen a tremendous impact in his emotional stability.
His psychiatrist recommended he get the therapy light with an ionizer, which, in summary, filters and purifies the air similarly to when it rains. That’s my father’s favorite aspect of his therapy light, the fact that it smells like fresh rain when he sits in front of his light three to four times a week as he sips his morning coffee.
Since beginning the use of his therapy light a little less than a year ago, my father has noticed a positive change and actually uses the light throughout the summer some because he works indoors all day. He can tell when he hasn’t used the therapy light in a while, he says, “it seems like there’s more negative thinking going on,” and he begins to feel emotionally unstable.
The best part is it allows him to feel emotionally stable year round–which for him is the reason he invested in a therapy light. With four kids and a full-time job, the most important thing to him, and us, is to take care of himself mentally. He compares it to the spiel flight attendants gives when passengers prepare to depart for their flight, “I can’t take care of my kids and family without taking care of myself first.”