It’s that time a year again! How did it come back so fast? With summer winding down and fall weather returning, depression can rear its ugly head for those who experience seasonal dips in their mood. Light therapy for seasonal depression works. Often called “light box therapy” because historically it required sitting in front of a large box of light to get treatment. Nowadays, there are more options for light therapy treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder. The best light therapy is the one that you will actually use!
Please read my post from last year on this same topic of seasonal depression. It goes into much more detail about how to use this type of treatment, who may be a good candidate, and possible side effects (risks and benefits).
What happens with Seasonal Depression?
People who have been feeling good for many months come to see me saying, “I just don’t understand it. A couple weeks ago I noticed I don’t feel as good. I’m not happy anymore and I don’t think my antidepressants are working”.
Suddenly we realize it’s Fall again! How did it catch us off-guard? This is the same time a dip in their mood happened last year and the year before that.
Obviously, for people that have this pattern of seasonal depression, we try to plan ahead and anticipate it. But sometimes we don’t recognize the pattern for years.
Why do we miss it?
There may be situational stressors that were going on last Fall so we determined the depression was related to that. It takes stopping to reassess and saying “Hey, wait a minute! I know you had XYZ going on last year at this time but I find it interesting that you are starting to feel lousy again this year right around the same time! Tell me historically how you do this time of year.”
Many people will go on to tell me that EVERY YEAR they feel lousy starting in a particular month. Generally, they notice they start to feel better with the time change in spring but the winter can be so LOOONG and miserable.
Although they may know this is a yearly pattern for themselves, sometimes they don’t recognize it as Seasonal Affective Disorder until we discuss it. And then it seems so obvious to both of us.
Light therapy can be as effective as an antidepressant treatment for people with seasonal depression. It’s so important to not forget this option! There are minimal side effects and the benefits can be great.
When to start light box therapy?
Many people with seasonal affective disorder experience a shift in their mood at the same time every year like clockwork. The key to minimizing these shifts is to plan ahead and anticipate it for next year. Light therapy takes several weeks to get an effect so start treatment a couple weeks ahead of the date that it usually starts.
Interestingly, not all people experience a shift in their mood only in fall and winter when it classically happens. Some people experience the shift in spring or summer. It is important to know YOUR pattern and make plans for treatment accordingly.
Warning about buying a lamp:
If you want to try this treatment don’t wait to order a lamp! One of my patients felt depressed last Fall and we decided that light therapy may be helpful. When they went to order it there was an eight-month waiting list! Their lamp would’ve been available just in time for spring… exactly when they start to feel at their best.
Like all technology, there are continual advances. With light therapy, new ideas and technology are being developed to make it more convenient to use. With these advances, comes more powerful lights that require less time to work and portable options for people who don’t have the time to sit in one place.
Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder on-the-go: LIGHT VISOR
In this busy world, so many people just cannot sit still for long enough in the morning to get their treatment. The lack of portability used to make it impossible to recommend light therapy as a treatment for a busy population. Especially for people with kids, who are trying to not only get themselves ready in the morning but also their children.
The light visor is a perfect solution because they can walk around gathering all of their belongings and taking care of what they need to do while getting their treatment. Warning: they are not particularly “attractive” and I can’t imagine wearing it outside of the house. However, the visors work and allow people to have access to treatment that wouldn’t otherwise.
Here is the recommended light visor:
Light therapy for depression using LIGHT THERAPY GLASSES?
A more recent advancement is light therapy glasses! How cool is that! Lightweight and comfortable, they look a little bit sci-fi but have amazing technology and they are easy to bring wherever you will use them.
Increased energy and alertness:
In addition to treating seasonal depression, light therapy glasses can increase energy during the day and improve alertness. The light visor and light boxes can also do this. People who use light therapy often report the improved energy and alertness are the first benefits they notice.
Actually, people without depression use light therapy for this sole purpose: increased alertness. Some patients have told me it is equivalent to “having a cup of coffee but without the jitteriness” or “as good as an afternoon nap” to help get thru the day.
Reducing jet lag:
Because of the portability, light therapy glasses are used to help with adjusting to new time zones while traveling. They are worth the investment for those frequent travelers who don’t want to spend days adjusting each time they fly and are especially for people that need to hit the ground running. The glasses can help reset the sleep clock for a smooth transition.
I recommend the Luminette 2 glasses because they are equivalent to a 10,000 Lux lamp. There are other light therapy glasses out there that can help with resetting the sleep clock but they aren’t equivalent to 10,000 Lux so their effects on mood may not be as significant.
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These glasses are a huge improvement in convenience and portability over table-top lamps and I recommend them for that reason. Remember, the most effective light therapy is the one you will use!
With more powerful lights available than in past years, most people don’t require an hour every morning to sit there. For those of you who have a light box from years ago- check its strength as you may find it is well below the current technology. The recommended lights have 10,000 Luz strength.
Learn how to effectively use your stationary lamp and what qualities to look for when buying a lamp in THIS post. It is important to use the lamps properly or they are less likely to work.
Here are 3 light box therapy lamps I recommend. Which one you get depends on where you will be using them. If you will use your lamp at home and have a place to put the larger lamp I would get that. I included 2 options for the larger lamps- both are high quality and reliable but have different looks to them. The choice is dependent on your personal preference
If you are bringing the light to put in your office at work, or don’t have a place to put the larger lamp than get the smaller “Boxelite” from Northern Light Technology. This still has 10,000 Lux where many other portable lights are not as strong. For the smaller lamp, make sure to position it in the right way so it is aimed at your face. There is less wiggle-room to move around when using a smaller sized lamp.
I hope you feel more equipped to recognize seasonal depression and will plan accordingly for years to come in order to minimize the time spent depressed. Write when to start light therapy on your calendar for next year or put a reminder in your phone. Don’t let it sneak up on you!
Looking for more information on treating depression? I have written many posts full of self-help tips to help you manage it and antidepressant education to empower you in your treatment. You can find these posts HERE.
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