By: Tim De Pass
There is a dramatic change when fall gives way to winter. We wake up in darkness and leave work in the dark. The lack of natural light we receive in these months can be forcefully depressing. Some people call it the winter blues, but clinically it is described as Seasonal Affective Disorder. Whatever you refer to it as, it is important to understand it and how to cope with it. Seasonal Affective Disorder, SAD for short, results in individuals experiencing depressive symptoms in the winter months and then return to normal mood during the spring and summer (Menculini et al., 2018). There have been many neurological explanations for this phenomenon. One such theory explains how neurons tend to be synchronized with environmental “time givers,” the most important of which is daylight (Menculini, 2018). These “time givers” in the environment are markers for our circadian rhythm to keep our internal clock in check. When the season changes and exposure to bright light decreases, our internal rhythm is thrown off and can be an environmental factor contributing to depressive symptoms such as low mood, lack of energy, and morning fatigue.
The change in season and increased darkness impacts everyone, so what can be done to combat the dread of the cold dark nights in the winter? A popular treatment for seasonal affective disorder has been light therapy, which is the use of lamps that mimic sunlight wavelengths. One study looked at the effects of two different types of light therapy lamps in the treatment of SAD, narrow-blue light and broad wavelength white light. The study had participants complete 30-minute session of light therapy on five consecutive days and found that both narrow-blue light and broad wavelength white light decreased seasonal affective disorder symptoms (Meesters et al. 2018). Light therapy can be effective in reducing the depressive symptoms associated with seasonal effects. While Light therapy lamps are not fix-all, they are a non-invasive technique that can help limit the emotional impact that the lack of sunlight can have during winter months. Furthermore, light therapy lamps can be bought with relative ease online with prices ranging on Amazon from $50 to $100.
The winter can be deafening due to the cold temperature and extreme darkness. As explained above, winter months have the potential to make us more susceptible to negative emotions and depressive symptoms. The lack of sunlight may make us feel less energetic, but it is necessary to keep our coping mechanisms in check or to develop seasonal specific coping techniques to help us get through the sometimes-dreaded winter.
Meesters, Y., Duijzer, W. B., & Hommes, V. (2018). The effects of low-intensity narrow-band blue-light treatment compared to bright white-light treatment in seasonal affective disorder. Journal of Affective Disorders, 232, 48-51.
Menculini, G., Verdolini, N., Murru, A., Pacchiarotti, I., Volpe, U., Cervino, A., . . . Tortorella, A. (2018). Depressive mood and circadian rhythms disturbances as outcomes of seasonal affective disorder treatment: A systematic review. Journal of Affective Disorders, 241, 608-626