I Tried Light Therapy To Cure My Depression. Here’s What Happened.

February 1, 2018

You can take charge of seasonal depression.

For years, I told myself that the winter blues were all in my head.

After all, there are lots of things to dislike about the cold season: frequent sickness, being cooped up inside, holiday-related anxieties, and feeling smothered under endless layers of insulated thermal polyester. And of course, it doesn’t help that the sun makes its farewell so darn early in the day. It’s gloomy. But I felt like it was just me; I was letting the winter season get me down.

It turns out that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is an actual type of depression backed up with brain science.

“People with seasonal depression have been found to 5 percent higher levels of a transporter protein that whisks serotonin away from the space in between neurons and moves serotonin back into the presynaptic neuron, which can lead to depression,” Marlynn Wei, MD, JD explains to the Huffington Post, discussing why light boxes work.

“Sunlight in the summer stops this process from happening, but when winter approaches, less sunlight can mean that more serotonin ends up hibernating in your neurons, causing seasonal depression.” Okay — full disclosure, I don’t totally understand all that. But it means that my winter blues aren’t “in my head” but actually, literally, in my brain.

So what to do? If you’ve ever struggled with depression, you know there are lots of legitimate ways to approach it, ranging from medication to mindfulness. I looked into light box therapy to help deal with my SAD and here’s what I found out.

The science

A SAD overview on the National Center for Biotechnology Information says that multiple light therapy studies “concluded that 53.3 percent of individuals with SAD met criteria for full remission with light therapy.”

In addition, light therapy can be helpful when it’s paired with other approaches like medication.

While some light boxes can cost hundreds of dollars, I found out that others are much more reasonable, costing as little as $30. Though it’s important to keep in mind that not all light boxes are made equal.

Dr. Wei advises a light box that emits 10,000 lux, explaining that “If you have a lamp with fewer lux units, then you may need to use it for longer periods of time to achieve the same benefit.” (And go UV-free, please!) My cute little light box emits 5,000 lux, but I sit closer to it and use it for a longer amount of time per day. FYI; an actual light box is made to act like sunlight — so choosing the brightest lamp in your home and camping out in front of it is not going to cut it. Ditto shining a flashlight in your eyes.

Let your light shine

It sounds simple enough: Obtain light box. Sit in front of it. Repeat daily. But there are actually right and wrong ways to use your light box (or let’s say “more effective” and “less effective”). Take a few minutes to read the instructions (or do your own research) so you’ll know how close to sit, how long to do it for, and what time of day will optimize the results as well as which medications should be avoided while doing light therapy.

Now that I’m clear on how to effectively use light therapy, I enjoy doing it. What’s not to like? I can have tea while I sit with my light box, write in my journal, or read a book. In fact, using my light box had the added bonus of forcing me to set aside “me time.”

And, more importantly, using my light box started helping alleviate my winter blues almost right away. Dr. Wei confirms that “You should start to notice more energy and an improved mood within 1 to 2 weeks with daily use. Many people notice a more immediate response to light therapy.” But if you feel like you need additional tools to combat your depression, don’t hesitate to consult with a professional, okay? You’re not alone.

Images via shutterstock.com, bandcamp.com.

Comment: Have you ever tried light box therapy? How did it work for you?

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