Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or “winter blues” is a form of depression most often associated with the lack of light during the fall and winter months. It is very common and may be associated with low serotonin levels. We often associate low serotonin with depression, however low serotonin can also be associated with: anxiety, excessive worry and feeling overly stressed. There’s evidence of seasonality in anxiety and panic attacks, just as there is with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Another common sign of low serotonin is increased carbohydrate cravings, especially during the afternoon or evening.
One every effective approach for SAD is light therapy. I also find amino acid therapy and a dietary approach to be very useful but we won’t go into that today.
I’ve just finished reading a really great book called Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder by Dr. Norman Rosenthal MD, and the research is fascinating. He is a fellow South African who moved to the USA and found he was depressed each winter. After 3 seasons of this, he started doing research on light therapy and was one of the original SAD researchers. He is internationally recognized for his pioneering contributions to understanding SAD and using light therapy to treat it.
I asked some colleagues what they have used and/or liked, and recommend and share some of these below (providing my Amazon links in most cases so you can find them easily):
Donna Kelley, Certified Holistic Nutritionist
I have a Blue Max, full spectrum, 70 watt dimmable desk lamp. I have had it for 3 years and actually use it to work by. It was recommended by Julia Ross in her certification program. (The company that makes this one is Full Spectrum Solutions.)
Christine Wokowsky, Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition
Verilux Happy Light. My office is the darkest room in the house and I have one sitting on my desk, especially helpful in the winter. This is the second Verilux Happy Light I have used and I really like it. Living in Nevada where there is sunshine over 330 days of the year I am so accustom to light and brightness if I am in a dark room or space for too long it really affects me. This has been a great product for me and I can recommend it.
Tracey Schuyler, Owner, Nutrition Counselor at Redefining Food 4 Health, LLC, also likes the Verilux
Like Christine, I personally use the Verilux Happy Light , which I purchased recently. It made a difference right away. I live in Boise, Idaho, and we are accustomed to winter inversions … sometimes days / weeks on end without any sunlight! I place it on my bathroom counter, turn it on in the morning before I shower, and turn it off as I’m leaving the bathroom, after drying my hair, etc. (about 25 minutes).
Shirley Pastore McCormack, Writer, Life/Wellness Coach, Registered Yoga Teacher
I use the Blue Max Lighting (BlueMax 70W dimmable) floor lamp. I use it 20 minutes each morning from the fall to spring equinoxes. I noticed a great level of improvement, but even more improvement when a doctor prescribed Vitamin D therapy. I was moderately to severely deficient, and needed 10,000 IU for 4-6 weeks under her care to bring my levels up. I do well with the light therapy as long as it is used in conjunction with regular daily doses of D3 (I’m now on 2000IU daily). The light therapy just seems to be “part of the whole solution.” (The company that makes this one is also Full Spectrum Solutions.)”
Dr Josh Friedman, PHD, Integrative Psychotherapy of Omaha
I follow the guidelines of Columbia University’s Center for Environmental Therapeutics. They have done research on a variety of light boxes and the one on this page is inexpensive and effective [and is 10,000 lux] You can find it on Amazon here: Day-Light Classic Plus Bright Light Therapy Lamp
This is what the Center for Environmental Therapeutics has to say about this newer light therapy device:
This handsome new bright light therapy unit ― the Day-light “Classic” Plus Model supersedes our former Daylight “Classic” Model, presenting the same benefits at lower cost and with enhanced design. The required parameters for 10,000 lux light therapy have been thoroughly clinically tested at major university centers, and have been established as the international standard for treatment of winter depression, milder “winter doldrums,” and other chronobiological, circadian rhythm sleep and mood disturbances.
Do you get the winter blues and increased anxiety in the winter months? Have you had success with light therapy? If yes, which full spectrum lamp have you found to be the most useful?