It is that time of year when Seasonal Affective Disorder lands like an annoying fly just when I was on a roll. Funny enough, I am writing about it for my next book. After finishing that chapter I realize I have some information to share. That and I always blog about what is bothering me.
What I know, as many of us do, is that in four season climates in the U.S. it’s right now many people are struggling, simultaneously cursing those able to head to warmer climates. And I swear if I see one more Sandal’s commercial with happy couples walking hand in hand on the most gorgeous beaches or hear of another Christmas countdown I am going to run down the road screaming naked. (Don’t dare me.) Isn’t the Christmas count a little premature? For God’s sake we haven’t even come close to Thanksgiving!
Most of us also know the ideal remedy is a mix of sunshine, low stress, exercise and eating right in combination with our medication for those who aren’t medication resistant (which is 30%-40%). It’s the combo plan that is the most effective and this is what struck me over and over while researching for the book.
For those who can’t afford to pack a bag and head south we’re left with full blown winter blues or SAD and it sucks.
I told my friend Ann about my SAD story, how every winter both I go through it. (What a perfect acronym. Can you imagine if they named it HAPPY?) Ann said after graduating from Miami University she moved home to N.J. Once, while out to dinner with her parents and family doctor (they were close friends), he noticed Ann was not her peppy self. When the doctor made this comment and that she had a medical condition, Ann accepted it.
Can you imagine a diagnosis in your early twenties? The average age of diagnosis is thirty-one, not long after that I received mine. I can’t help but think how less I would have suffered had I only known earlier. Those were also the years I was in and out of the hospitals and attempting suicide. I really could have used light and other therapies to get through those horrible winters. In fact not all, but probably half, of my suicide attempts were during the fall/winter/early spring.
For some, like Ann, she slides by with “the winter blues” yet for millions of us, often with pre-existing mood disorders, we suffer from SAD. A small percentage end up hospitalized, attempting suicide or dead. It is very serious.
Here are some stats from Psychology Today:
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is estimated to affect 10 million Americans.
- Another 10 percent to 20 percent may have mild SAD.
- SAD is more common in women than in men.
- Illness typically begins around age 20.
- Some people experience symptoms severe enough to affect quality of life, and
- 6 percent require hospitalization.
- Many people with SAD report at least one close relative with a psychiatric disorder,
- most frequently a severe depressive disorder (55 percent) or
- alcohol abuse (34 percent).
- Although some children and teenagers get SAD, it usually doesn’t start in people younger than age 20.
- When it does affect children and teens, it is the first suspected one suspected by parents and teachers.
- Risk decreases with age.
- SAD is more common the farther north you live.
Now, let’s say to be politically incorrect –since there is a lot of that going around –that SAD sucks. Okay, that is out of my system.Luckily, there are things we can do, starting with a light box. The hardest part of light boxes are researching which one to get, paying for it and remembering to use it consistently and as directed. Other than that, it’s a flip of a switch. Staying on top of your meds and appointments helps as your doctor may want to add an SSRI, in particular, since our serotonin levels drop in the winter. Also, carbs call to us during SAD – and there is a long, medical explanation as to why – but resisting is difficult and requires replacing the cravings with produce and protein. SAD is rough but can be manageable. Right now I”m getting sucked under and that’s with a light box so I am going to use it twice a day and get a dawn stimulator because my sleep is all wacky due to Daylight Savings.
I can’t catch a break this year. I also took a few days off due to headaches and irritated eyes. That’s kind of a no-no but I was sitting too close and for too long.(Typical me, the writer, getting lost in time.) That’s when I have to pull back but even missing a few days can really set you back, i learned in research, and experienced firsthand.
Here is my list of my recommendations.
- Get yourself a light box and consider buying a dawn stimulator and negative ionizer. (Don’t let the word “negative” fool you; it’s quite positive!) See the Center for
- For lightboxes (and gadgets we have yet to purchase) we like Sunbox Co. and have their Sunbox Jr. Remember it’s like chocolate, all about size and quality, and plus we love their warranty.
- Plug that baby in before you get depressed, don’t start right when you realize you are.
- Once you get used to your seasonal patterns you will be able to start a few weeks ahead of time. My psychologist reminds me in mid-September to find it in the basement and plug it in because I start to go downhill in early October.
- In place of a dawn stimulator – code for an alarm clock with “the rising sun” built-in – try putting a timer on your bedside light to help you wake up.
- Remember placement for light therapy has a lot to do with efficacy so be sure to read guidelines. You’d hate to buy it and then not benefit because it’s too far away or out of range of sight, etc.
- If you are experiencing side effects, headaches, itchy eyes (my side effects, for example), consult your doctor. Since I have already spoken my doctor and am used to my light box, I usually I do one of two things. I’ll cut back on the amount of time spent in front of it the next day or I move it further away from me by a foot or two.
- Side effects vary per person (Nora has not experienced any) and for me, occur when I’m not paying attention to how long I have it on. I might skip a day but usually don’t skip two as even one or two days in a row can bring back depression, believe it or now. It has happened to me several times!
- Work up to 30-45 minutes a day with your light box, ideally using it when you first wake up. Don’t use it too late or it could keep you awake, all you night owls out there. Um, okay, that includes me!
- Light boxes are great for people doing 2nd shift or overnights too. It helps maintain circadian rhythm and ward off depression. The same suggestions apply, use it when you wake up.
- See http://www.cet.org/, the top non-profit light organization, for light therapy guidelines. It’ll help describe light box guidelines, dawn stimulators, negative ionizers and more! No, seriously, that site is the bomb. I learned a lot there!
- Enlist a friend or caregiver to get you out of the house when you feel you are getting stuck. This can work, except if you both have it, then a third person is necessary, as in our house! (Takers anyone? Accepting applications..haha.)
- Try to get outside first thing in the morning unless it is raining.
- Even putting your face towards the sun for twenty to thirty minutes is effective. Think, sun=real deal. If sun is not available, backup plan is light box, although I do both if possible.
- Open all window shades and drapes when you wake up. It’s the very first thing I do even before taking meds, making coffee and feeding the kitties.
- Keep your windows clean and branches trimmed so the sun is not blocked. (Yes, all the little things matter.)
- Last but far from least, if you buy on-line make sure you receive the same warranty and return policy. Many times you only get thirty days to return it on Amazon, etc. versus buying directly on the manufacturer’s website. Besides the Sunbox company we mentioned, Verilux is supposed to be very good too.
Worth mentioning is Verilux’s “Happy Light” currently on sale for $140.00 until 11.11.15 @ 12:00 P.M. It that travels well and delivers the recommended 10,000 lumens. I might try that one if I didn’t have one. Here’s a picture of the “Happy Light”. Gosh, it sounds simple doesn’t it? Well it comes down to flipping a switch but more importantly remembering to do it and doing so consistently. I think that’s where people go wrong and then deem it (falsely) ineffective.
Here is the “Happy Light” on sale until 11/11/15 @ 12:00 P.M.
I remember looking at the Verilux catalogue back in 2005 trying desperately to get my insurance to cover it but to no avail. Back then they did not do it at all. Now, there are letters you can write and templates to do so. Look here and try it! What have you got to lose? A little time and perhaps frustration. Well, in the mental health field aren’t we used to that?
Verilux has been around or a long time – I believe the first in the biz – and have a great reputation. Studies at Columbia (the grandaddy of light therapy testing) uses Sunbox for testing. I see Northern Technologies out of Canada are also recommended a lot but I don’t know much about them. When I was shopping for light boxes they had the right specs and had high ratings but seemed pricier. (And P.S. no I don’t receive kickbacks from these, or any products in case you were wondering! I wish…I’d like a dawn stimulator!)
There you have it. If you have SAD, go get a lightbox and don’t forget to use it every day! Experts say even missing one day can set you back. I can attest to that.
Keep it to the sun (or your light box) my friends and tell your depression to simmer down. Spring will be here (gulp) hopefully before we know it. Right now I have to get out of this robe! Oh yes, SAD is here alright.
Check below….good luck…be well. Hey, ask for a gift certificate if you can’t afford it. Shop around but I highly recommend you stick to the companies below. Many that are offered on line don’t have UV filters, diffusers or guarantees. You should feel different after a few weeks. If by that point you don’t either one of three things are true: you don’t respond to light therapy, which over 50% do, you are not positioned correctly (which I wouldn’t suspect would be the case) or your light box is a piece of crap. If it is well under $100, chances are it is the latter.
Do I hear Chirstmas or Hannakah gift? It makes a great gift under the treee. (Doubtful it would fit in a stocking!)
If you’re wondering, I am writing a book on depression and had 30-40 articles on SAD. That’s how I could write this easily. My mind is exploding….next post will likely be jibberish on the holidays causing anxiety, or another chapter’s recap. Maybe TMS? That one has me all excited!!
Sunbox We like Sunbox. Their boxes are metal,very sturdy…and while their designs are not as sleek as their competitors, at least their smaller ones are not, they do what they do very well. The dimensions are excellent for the price and while they don’t travel well, this one fits nicely in corners. I push it back in to the corner of my desk and it takes virtually no space and blends right in (at least to me). Cons: it does not travel so if you do, you may opt for a more compact design.
Sunlight Jr ® Made in USA!
Winter Blues Survival Package! (a great 1st timer deal)…. Expensive but better than buying everything separate…. in my opinion anyway!SB-833
OMG a visor, can you imagine walking around, undetected and getting your light? These babies are still high in price everywhere, but what if their design was so sleek that the light was undetectable? (I would have to try it out and have money to “throw away” but still….I am intrigued.) This might be a good idea in some situations but if you walk, theoretically you’re getting sun outdoors. I”m not sure when this would be helpful? Maybe for people who walk in malls and live in a cloudy climate?
Deluxe Feel Bright Light Visor
This SunRay below looks like the MacDaddy of them all. Look at that surface area! WOW! How could this one NOT work? If I had the funds, I would purchase this one without any hesitation! Sun Ray=Real deal in my opinion. I think it closes to pack and would essentially look like a metal briefcase. Can you imagine going through airport security with that? Or customs? You can’t check it with the bulbs those things would smash in a second. I think you would have to leave this baby home and bring a portable. Maybe a dawn stimulator would suffice for on the road? A d.s. would also keep your sleep regulated.
SunRay ® ON SALE!!SB-558
I don’t know what the difference in between these babies (SRay & SRay II), but it probably comes down to design.SRII must be the “new and improved” but who the heck knows!
SunRay II ®SB-717
*Free Shipping all orders
As you can see, Northern Light is pricey. One can deduce, or hope, it comes down to quality. I just read part of their equipment, boxes, bulbs, etc. is made in America, some in Canada. It’s kind of like the car thing, they call them domestic made but many parts are manufactured overseas. When they put it together in the U.S. and the company is U.S. it is considered Canadian made. But if you want to pay a little extra, they get good reviews too. I’m not sure if paying extra means it is better, but worth a check. Dr. Rosenthal who is the SAD founder & pioneer recommends them (and Verilux and Sunbox) so they must be good.
If you’re wondering if you have SAD, check out this confidential questionnaire here.
Cet.org is the best source, a non-profit, research based organization. It is the only one of it’s kind and has an advisory board of top docs from around the world. In fact, it’s the only one in the world of this caliber that I’m aware of. You can take their recommendations as gold.
Also, SAD leader is Dr. Tehran, the authority in research for SAD. He is the top guy at Columbia’s Center for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms. Check it out. Dr. Rosenthal has a wealth of information here too. You don’t need to buy his book, just comb his website.
Well, that’s all folks. Long post, thanks for making it to the end. Now, I’m off to working on another chapter on our book on depression and treatments for our next Two Bipolar Chicks book. Writing takes a lot of hours but for you? Anything, even a lack of social life…. Who am I kidding? With depression, what social life do I have? Things will get better, i know. For now, it’s me and my light box, baby!