Posted by: jedwardswright | November 27, 2010

Fading Light and Deepening Depression

I crave light and sanity.

The scenery absorbs the

steel gray sky.

My window frames an ashen world.

Contaminated colors seep inside, invading

cells to bone.

 

The rain stopped falling, but the gray never did. It lingers, darkening the view like a filter on a lens.

“Overcast” does not do it justice.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a common affliction in northern areas.  The lack of sunshine in the late fall and all winter can cause depression (or deepens existing depression) in susceptible people. Genetics are thought to be a contributing factor.

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are three possible effects of light deprivation.

  • The body’s inner clock (or Circadian rhythm) is disrupted by the increasing darkness.
  • Melatonin levels decrease.
  • Serotonin levels also decrease.
  • Melatonin is a hormone which affects sleeping patterns, which can then contribute to depression. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter important in regulating mood. A drop in serotonin causes depression to rise.[i]

Melatonin supplements are available in pharmacies and health food stores, and are often taken at night as a natural sleep aid. Certain antidepressants can cause a rise in serotonin levels. Your doctor may choose to begin, change, or supplement prescription medication during the darker times of the year.

The most common treatment for SAD however does not involve taking pills. Daily exposure to a light therapy box is considered beneficial, although the medical community doesn’t actually know why or how it works.[ii]  Exposure to light therapy is best done in the morning, to mimic the rising of the sun.

In my experience, light therapy boxes are expensive, so I have also experimented with putting light bulbs that mimic natural light in lamps close to where I sit the most e.g. a lighting fixture that shines on my computer area. My personal opinion is that this helps, but I have no information or credentials to back this up. 

If you can afford a good light therapy box, then go for it. If you are short on funds though, it might be worth trying natural light bulbs to see whether it makes a difference in your mood or helps to normalize your sleeping habits. I also have a travel version of the light therapy box, which is more reasonable that seems to work just fine.

For those of us who deal with depression year round, SAD may be the difference between coping or slipping into the abyss. If you find yourself sinking deeper into despair at this time of the year, try light therapy and let your doctor know about it, so your meds can be reviewed


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Responses

  1. It’s SO important to keep things like this in mind. It’s so easy for things to take a turn for the worse. When things get worse, I am quick to ignore the possible triggers, and blame myself. I get so down on myself for not just feeling better, which just makes the downward spiral spin out of control.

  2. Yes, and the sooner it is treated the better off we’ll be!
    There is something about heading into a slump that usually makes us passive and unwilling to take action, and we have to fight that inclination to let it go.
    Self-blame is a big problem for people with depression. Other people expect us to manage our emotions the way that they can, and so we take that upon ourselves, even when we really know it is a physical condition.


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