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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Light Therapy and The Holiday Blues

Caution: Consult a medical professional if you have major depression, a potentially dangerous condition that requires correct diagnosis and treatment. Home remedies should only be used with medical approval. Also, check with your medical professional for prescription drug contraindications, and double check with your pharmacist to be extra sure.

From now until the new year I'm going to write about depression, focusing on a remedy per day. Today's post is about light therapy for depression. And by depression, I do not mean major depression. I mean something more like the holiday blues.

During the holiday season, we put up lights to bring good cheer. Perhaps that's instinctive, since the days are shorter and there's not as much natural light. On top of that, many people live in cold climates and spend more time indoors in winter. So the days are shorter, and more time is spent indoors in artficial light. Double whammy. Really triple whammy, because indoor light is not as bright and not full spectrum, unless you have special lights. Oh heck, it's really a quadruple whammy, because winter sunlight isn't as intense, either. Anyway...

Without sufficient light, the pineal gland is understimulated, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may result. That's a particular kind of depression cause by a light deficiency. So, hey, lighten up! It may be what you need to brighten your mood!

Getting out in early morning and late afternoon is safest, although the light is less intense at these times...probably more of a factor in summer than winter anyway, and often it's too cold to be out at those times, other than taking the time to scrape the snow and ice off your windshield.

There are light boxes made for just this purpose, so you can use them indoors, where it's warm. They generally run about $200, but if that's not in your budget, you can make your own light bank. I spoke of full spectrum light earlier. That isn't absolutely essential for SAD, a quantity of light spoken of as 10,000 lux is the usual therapeutic dose, but light boxes vary on how close you have to be to receive that amount.

I've linked below to further information in case you want specifics, background info, instructions on making a light bank. Or you can buy a light box at Amazon.

May your days be merry and bright!

Further Reading:

Seasonal affective disorder treatment: Choosing a light therapy box - Mayo Clinic website article includes safety precautions as well as purchase considerations.

Light Therapy - another Mayo Clinic article. This one is about the uses of light therapy, as well as possible side effects.

Light on Winter Darkness: Disorders Beyond SAD - article at describes several disorders for which light therapy may be useful.

Is light therapy a good depression treatment option? - yet another bit of info from the Mayo Clinic website. Basicly says the jury is still out on this one, and gives info for further help, including emergency contact info.

Light Therapy - Wiki

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Information - M&M Lighting Co. web page includes info on how light (or lack thereof) affects the pineal gland.

Lightbox Construction - Pictures and all! Personally, I wouldn't make mine with CFLs because of the mercury contamination if one breaks. But the instructions are for any type of light bulb, so although it's what they picture, you can use incandescent if you prefer.

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