• Bola Kwame

You're Not Depressed It's Just Cold Outside

Updated: Jan 15

Winter fell and suddenly you feel discouraged, lazy and unmotivated? You think you have depression, think again! Maybe you just have SAD. No, you are not sad, you HAVE SAD.

Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD (get it now?) Is a mood-related behaviour change that occurs during the fall and winter, when people tend to be out of their homes less and have less exposure to sunlight. People with SAD often show symptoms such as sadness and anxiety, pessimism, feelings of guilt or helplessness, irritability and restlessness, loss of interest in activities that you used to enjoy before, social withdrawal, tiredness and decreased energy, difficulty concentrating and remembering details, weight changes, insomnia in some cases and excessive drowsiness in others, and suicidal thoughts. Sound familiar? Read on.

This disorder is related to the hormone Melatonin, produced by the pineal gland and is crucial in biological processes such as sleep. This hormone is produced more when there is less exposure to sunlight or any source of warm light, creating feelings of fatigue, drowsiness, inactivity and discouragement, this melatonin imbalance is more common the further from the equator the person is.

Simply put, when it's colder and darker outside your brain goes into nap mode and you won't feel like doing anything other than grabbing a pillow and burying yourself in your bed all day. This can become severe and lead to some or all of the symptoms mentioned above.

You Just Need Your Own Sun

Maybe you didn't know it, but sunlight is a natural antidepressant, so not having it can be the cause of many ills. But what can you do when you simply cannot access the Sun either because of the weather or because you are an Eskimo at the South Pole and the nights are six months long? Easy, you buy your own sun for your room. In case you're an Eskimo, I hope there's a Walmart in Antarctica.

All jokes aside, the answer to getting over SAD is light therapy, which is a technique that involves exposure to warm light from a lightbox or screen that meets specific characteristics. This light has effects on us just as sunlight would, and being exposed to it for a few minutes a day upon waking will bring us many health benefits, whether you have SAD or not.

A lightbox or screen works as a source of warm light like the sun. Natural light has been shown to have effective chemicals in the brain, such as the production of melatonin and serotonin, so this light works as a regulator of moods.

A good source of light therapy should:

  • Generate a 10,000 lux light exposure

  • Emit low levels of ultraviolet light or none at all

  • Emit at least amount of magnetism as possible

How you should use a light therapy screen:

  • After waking up, no more than an hour after waking up

  • Between 15 minutes to half an hour

  • At a distance of about one foot (or 30 centimetres)

  • Keeping your eyes open, but not looking directly into the light

That sounds good, what other benefits does having your own bedroom sun have?

Light therapy has been used to treat a variety of ills, such as sleep disorders, degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, and depression. Studies have shown that light has several health benefits such as:

  • Increases sleep stability (decreases awakenings within sleep)

  • Improved quality of sleep (deeper and more restful sleep)

  • Increased effectiveness of sleep; that is, the time spent in bed without sleeping decreases.

  • Increase the amount of REM sleep.

  • Decreases daytime sleepiness

  • Improved cognitive abilities

  • Reduces and even eliminates hallucinatory pictures

  • Alleviates emotional disturbances

  • Decreases nighttime agitation

Do you remember the melatonin I told you about? Well, when you are exposed to light therapy, you will produce less melatonin, so you will not be tired during the day, you will wake up with more energy and even better, you'll produce more melatonin when you go to sleep (which is actually when we want to have melatonin), helping you get the best god damn sleep of your life you with more efficient sleep cycles.

By the way, “bedroom sun” is a GREAT name for a light screen. Tell the corporations to call me, I have good ideas.

The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

Before you rush to buy a lightbox, talk to a healthcare professional first. Educate yourself about what options there are and which one may be the best for you since not all light therapy devices work for the same purpose. Also, make sure you buy a quality product and don't fall for scams.

Some people can suffer from seasonal affective disorder due to a serotonin imbalance, so perhaps light alone is not the only tool you need. Some cases have shown that light therapy is much more effective when accompanied by psychotherapy and professional help.

On the other hand, I know it's cold outside, but don't depend on a lamp to keep you in a good mood. Try to get out as much as you can, walk instead of driving, go to the park, do your shopping in a local groceries store and not in a giant supermarket, call your parents and friends. In the winter we tend to isolate ourselves and disconnect, sometimes the best source of light is our loved ones.

I’ve been using a SAD light for a while myself— 15 minutes in the morning every day, and I’ve noticed less frequent bouts of depression in the last few weeks. I’ve been using my personal little sun for around 3.5 months now, this is the light I use, it's by a company called Northem Lights and the light generates the recommended 10,000 Lux which is what the studies have shown actively helps with depression, and because the light uses glare-free fluorescent bulbs it's not harsh and doesn't damage my eyes. If you want to try it, I’ll link it here.

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