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How Light Affects Our Mood

Sandy Braz

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I’m staring out my window right now and feeling a little torn: although I love the way the icicles sparkle, it’s also a grey, gloomy day. And it’s been raining for what feels like weeks! Around this time of year, these feelings are familiar for many of us.

Being born and raised in Canada, I know the dark days will only increase—dark at 4:30? Ugh—in the weeks to come, taking good moods to new lows all across the country. So what can we do? First things first: ask yourself, are you SAD?

S.A.D.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a common type of depression that occurs when light is in low supply. Much like plants, humans thrive in the sun. It lifts our moods, leaves us feeling energetic and gets us in the mood to exercise, go for walks or spend time outdoors. Combine that with the hit of vitamin D we get from the sun and it’s no wonder we long for the light when winter’s here.

Who gets SAD?

This condition appears in a large percentage of the population, particularly in those of us living in northern cities. The lack of light can make us feel lethargic, sleepy, blue, fatigued, as well as socially withdrawn. For most of us, these feelings disappear with the first signs of warmer weather—budding flowers, warm temperatures and sprouting trees—but for others, some extra help can go a long, long way.

Anyone can get SAD, but it is more apparent in:

  • People living in areas where days are short (winter) or there are changes in the amount of daylight in different seasons
  • Females
  • People between age 15 and 55 (the risk of SAD goes down as you age)
  • People with a close relative with SAD

Treatments

Although talk therapy (psychotherapy) or a short vacation somewhere tropical can help us navigate SAD, for others using something called light therapy is the ticket.

Also known as phototherapy, this treatment involves sitting in a special light therapy box, which exposes you to bright light. These can be purchased for your home or used in a wellness clinic. It mimics outdoor light and, according to experts, changes brain chemicals linked to mood. Research on light therapy is limited, but it’s shown to have positive results for combating SAD.

The most important thing to do is know yourself—if you think SAD will start creeping into your happy days this winter, see your doctor or a therapist to come up with a plan to shed a little positive light on your mood. There is hope for better days!

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