In the UK right now the nights and the mornings are now pretty dark – or simply put – winter is here.
I love winter but I tend to feel especially low in mood during the darker months of the year.
I’m not alone either. Many people struggle to get up and get energised when the mornings are dark and the daylight hours are short. For some of us, we don’t just feel lethargic, we can feel downright miserable and depressed.
In many workplaces it’s not acceptable or encouraged to discuss mental health and wellbeing openly (tragically), so it often comes down to you, as an individual, to discover your own treatments and remedies.
Try speaking to your local HR team or manager if you need help at work. Consult your doctor before embarking on any new treatments.
If you are thinking about or have tried to harm yourself, please call The Samaritans on 116 123 (UK) or visit their website at https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/contact-us. They have a 24/7 hours, 365 days option. It’s important to talk to someone.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is incredibly common, yet mostly goes undiagnosed or simply put down to “feeling a little low”.
There’s a lot of science behind it, yet scientists still don’t know for sure what causes it.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as winter depression, winter blues, summer depression, summertime sadness, or seasonal depression, is a mood disorder subset in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year experience depressive symptoms in the winter or summer
I’m not certain I have SAD, but what I do know is that when I get sunshine in the mornings, straight after waking up, I feel amazing for the whole day. In the winter months when there is no sunshine light therapy can be an amazing alternative.
Enter the SAD Lamps
To help with my low mood I invested in a couple of SAD lamps and try to spend time in front of them each morning.
A SAD lamp is an electric light that essentially mimics outdoor light, so when it’s dark outside I can get a blast of light.
A light box mimics outdoor light. Researchers believe this type of light causes a chemical change in the brain that lifts your mood and eases other symptoms of SAD. Most people use light boxes for a minimum of 30 minutes each morning.
I’ve got a nice little routine going now where I get up early, have a Bullet Proof coffee, stick on my SAD lamp and write.
I use the lamp for about 30 minutes, sometimes an hour, and I feel much better for it. I can really tell the difference when I use the lamp. Even so, it’s still hard to make it part of my routine. I’m working on it.
For the last few years I’ve kept sporadic notes on how I’ve felt with and without using the lamp. This data shows, anecdotally, that the lamp is a massive help for me. I really do feel better when I use it.
Light therapy doesn’t help everyone though and please ensure you consult your doctor before trying light therapy.
Although light therapy is at least as effective as antidepressant medications for treating seasonal affective disorder, it doesn’t work or isn’t appropriate for everyone. Some people need more light, or brighter light. Others can’t tolerate bright light—in people with bipolar disorder, for example, it can trigger hypomania or mania. And even though the risk of eye damage from bright light is low, anyone with diabetes (which can damage the retina) or pre-existing eye disease should check with a doctor before trying light therapy. – Harvard Article on light therapy.
I have two lights in use right now.
I have a full powered light (10,000 lux at 23 cm away from me) for the mornings which gives me a massive hit of light.
I also have a smaller one (6,300 at 7.5cm) which I use on my desk during the morning if I’m feeling lower in mood still. It’s also useful for when I travel in winter too. The portability of the LAMP is important as when I travel I tend not to check bags in.
With the smaller light I need to use it for longer but that’s a trade off for portability.
My main lamp is a LitePod lifebox lamp*. It’s quite expensive at around £115 but it delivers a lot of light in one sitting.
My smaller second lamp is a LitePod LifeMax lamp* which requires a little more time in front of, but the portability is very useful.
Lots of other lights are available – there is some really good advice and review at Sad.org.
Just Winter Use?
I use my lamps all year round not just in the winter. In the UK we aren’t always blessed with the best weather so I use the lamp on gloomy dark days. Otherwise I try to get outside in the mornings to get a blast of sunshine (skin exposed, no glasses to maximise exposure).
For those who notice a really big difference in mood in the winter months, or are affected by SAD or depression, light therapy can offer huge benefits but of course, it may not help everyone. Light therapy has also helped me to build a routine around the use of my lamps, which allows me to blast out a blog post each morning whilst also getting a blast of light to boost my mood.
Please check with your doctor before starting to use a SAD lamp.
* I have used affiliate links in this post – you can read more about my affiliate policy here.