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David Baxter

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Light Boxes Help Lift the Winter Blues
January 9, 2005
By E.J. Mundell, HealthDay

SUNDAY, Jan. 9 (HealthDayNews) -- Few people relish the cold, short days of winter.

For many, there's good reason: Experts believe that about one in five Americans suffers from either mild or severe forms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which can lead to depression, overeating, weight gain and fatigue.

Fortunately, this is one condition where drugs aren't the best answer. A new study confirms that simply sitting next to a light-emitting box for a half-hour a day greatly reduces SAD symptoms.

"Bright light treatment is definitely the treatment of choice for SAD," said lead researcher Randall Flory, a professor of psychology at Hollins University, in Roanoke, Va.

Flory's study, presented at a recent meeting of the American Psychological Society, also found that room air ionizers -- which increase levels of negatively charged particles circulating in air -- can help ease the symptoms of SAD.

According to Flory, about 14 percent of Americans admit to feeling "blah" during the winter months. "They have the lesser form of SAD, which we just call the 'winter blues,'" he said. "It's not as debilitating as full-blown SAD."

Another 6 percent to 7 percent of people may experience full-blown SAD, which can include clinical depression, overeating and related weight gain (up to 40 pounds per season), excess sleep followed by daytime fatigue, a heightened sensitivity to pain, and social withdrawal.

Premenopausal women are four times more likely to be affected by SAD than men, Flory said, suggesting links between SAD and the female hormones estrogen and progesterone.

While popular antidepressants such as Prozac, Zoloft and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have shown some effectiveness in treating SAD, non-medicinal methods are proving even more powerful, he said.

In their study involving 140 women observed over five successive winters, the Roanoke researchers compared the effectiveness of two non-pharmaceutical treatments: 30 minutes per day of home exposure to light-emitting boxes, and air-cleaning devices that also produce negative ionization of airborne particles.

Light boxes were the clear winner, Flory said, although the air ionizers were also somewhat effective. The results suggest that a combination of winter conditions -- fewer hours of strong sunlight, as well as weaker negative ionization of air -- work together to affect humans in a physiological way.

"From previous studies, we know that just about everybody, whether they have SAD or not, shows lowered levels of serotonin in the brain in winter compared with summer," Flory said.

SSRIs work by adjusting brain serotonin levels, so it makes sense that they fight SAD. But Flory believes most patients are better off using light boxes, since they have virtually no side effects and are much cheaper than prescription drugs over the long term.

Use of a standard light box for five years works out to "about $60 per year," Flory noted, "compared to about $300 to $500 per year for Prozac or another of the SSRIs."

Michael Young, a SAD expert and director of clinical training at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, agreed that "light boxes are certainly the most effective treatment" for seasonal depression.

New variations on light boxes are giving patients more choices, he said, including devices called "dawn simulators." These devices -- hooked up to a bright light in the bedroom -- cause light to slowly grow in intensity during the early morning hours, much as it would on a spring day.

"There's been less research done on dawn simulators compared to light boxes, but the research that is out there seems to have gotten positive results," said Young, who is also president of the non-profit Society for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms.

He stressed that scientists still aren't sure why some individuals are more deeply affected by winter than others.

"For example, there are many of us that have the physiological changes but not the psychological ones -- they'll say 'Yeah, winter is crummy, I sleep more, I want to eat sweets all the time, but, hey, that's the way it goes.' They aren't depressed."

Others experience those physical signs, plus the debilitating depression that marks severe SAD. Young believes some people may simply be more neurologically vulnerable to season-to-season changes than others.

For most, light boxes provide an easy, harmless solution, the experts agree.

"You just sit three for a half hour a day, that's all it takes," Flory said. "It's not even necessary that it's there in front of you --- only that the light somehow enters your eye. In fact, when we do studies, the light box is over to the side while people watch a movie on television."

More information
To learn more about SAD, visit the National Mental Health Association.
 

Gayalondiel

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Oh goodness, yes. My lightbox is a lifeline through the winter, especially now I've moved north and the days are so much shorter. If you make it something routine, you won't even think about it after a couple of weeks and the results are *dramatic*. At least, they are for me, and I suffer severely from SAD.

(They also make excellent make-up lights. I use mine while I'm doing my hair and make-up in the morning and it's much better than your average lightbulb, and more convenient than natural light.)
 

David Baxter

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They also make excellent make-up lights.
LOL! Only a woman would think of that.

On the other hand, a man might point it to a solar cell and hook up a power screwdriver to it...
 

Roy H.

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I had one of these prescribed for me and I've just been waiting for it get cleared for me to pick it up.


Last Winter - the first Winter I was sober all the way through - was the darkest (figuratively) of my adult life. I felt like I was in the darkest place ever, spiritually, emotionally and mentally. Despite having been sober the whole way through. And now that my best friend and father has died last May, I'm already terrified of whether I'll even get through this Winter. We literally skipped right over Spring here in MN so it's been bad. I also don't know if this Prozac crap is good for me or not - I was very depressed last night at work. I was reading articles on suicides on SSRIs like Prozac (particularly combat veterans on that) and it's very problematic.


Anyway, I am going to get one of these lights and I really do hope they make a marked difference for me. There is nothing really holding me in MN anymore and I do have family (that I have no relation to) in Florida, so there is nothing to stop me (aside from my janitorial work) from really getting up and going South, but I HATE humidity and I have heard electric bills in the South are quite expensive to pay for air conditioning.


I guess I am damned if I do, damned if I don't. I just hope one of these light boxes can really be helpful.
 
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The lights do work i know several people who use them and they have said how much they have them so i do hope you can get one soon Roy H.
 

Daniel

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but I HATE humidity

In Miami, it's not as bad since the horrible traffic distracts you from the swamp/sauna experience. (The weather near the beach/coast is nice though since you get ocean breezes.) Florida also has a lot of swimming pools, which is what I miss the most.
 

Roy H.

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I got the light and immediately I thought it was working but who knows. I just took it out of the box and fired it up today so obviously it's way premature to say if it will be effective for me.


Regarding Florida, I plan on being homeless down the road. It might be a while - I might even live to see those days - but I plan on being on the street. I have a small (immediate) family and I have no real (sober) friends so I don't know, I might get rid of all my stuff and buy a RN and go down there and live in it until I lose it or whatever.


I don't know. There is homeless communities in all major cities and Minneapolis is no different and I know the lay of the land so I might just go on the streets here down the road.
 

GaryQ

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I suggest you rethink your plans regarding homelessness. It’s not the lifestyle portrayed in some movies.
Its an addiction based extremely violent lifestyle you’re better off on social assistance. I don’t think getting beaten to death or worse yet surviving the beatings is something you would enjoy. Some get killed for a couple dollars or not sharing a bottle etc. It’s worse than being in prison. Although the legal system technically prevails across our countries I can guarantee you that In the street it’s like In the jungle. survival of the strongest. No if buts or ors.

if you have some winter vacation time coming try it (not partiality but fully) and you’ll réalisé that your problems with social interactions will be amplified. To have even a basic chance of survival on the streets you need expert social and manipulative skills. This is something you have stated is a big issue for you.

i could go on and on but will leave it at that.
 

Daniel

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Yeah, maybe focus more on positive (less dramatic) things like refinancing your mortgage or focusing on a career path. (Addiction and mental health counselors make decent money, at least enough to avoid being homeless.)
 

Roy H.

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I suggest you rethink your plans regarding homelessness. It’s not the lifestyle portrayed in some movies.
Its an addiction based extremely violent lifestyle you’re better off on social assistance. I don’t think getting beaten to death or worse yet surviving the beatings is something you would enjoy. Some get killed for a couple dollars or not sharing a bottle etc. It’s worse than being in prison. Although the legal system technically prevails across our countries I can guarantee you that In the street it’s like In the jungle. survival of the strongest. No if buts or ors.

if you have some winter vacation time coming try it (not partiality but fully) and you’ll réalisé that your problems with social interactions will be amplified. To have even a basic chance of survival on the streets you need expert social and manipulative skills. This is something you have stated is a big issue for you.

i could go on and on but will leave it at that.

I'm going to try to avoid it but the writing is on the wall. I don't have the basic social skills to even maintain a job.


I can't even make eye contact and everyone feels awkward (including myself) in any social setting. I feel like I'm "white knuckling" every day holding on to razor blades. It's just a matter of time before I crack.

I had a nervous breakdown at work back when I was 20 years old and I can foresee another one or just walking away from this job I currently have.

I'm just being real - I'm a realist. I'm going to try to avoid being on the streets but with basically no social skills I feel like I'm very handicapped so I think somewhere down the road I am going to walk away from my current situation - not by choice, but because it is too much pressure mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
 

GaryQ

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When all hope seems lost, Try and remember a few important positive facts:

1 - You made it through all the sh*t life has thrown at you and are still standing.

2 - That means you are stronger and more resilient than you think you are.

3 - At the current moment you have a job a roof over your head and the future has many possibilities even if you are currently focussing on the possible dark outcomes

4 - You have reached out for help here and I see some positive attitude changes since we first started interacting: Less debating more openness to advice.

5 - You haven't given up on the meds even if you want to real bad!

6 - You haven't given up on your therapist even if you want to real bad.

7 - You have put a lot of effort into staying dry. (stumbling and falling are a part of life. Getting back up is a victory each time)

8 - You want out of this "situation" and you're seeking help to avoid doing something that will have a devastating impact on your life.

9 - You know where to come when you can't see the light at the end of the tunnel. We can't offer miracles but compassion, support, ideas and sometimes a kick in the behind are just a post away.

I'll leave finding a # 10 up to you ;)
 
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Roy can you ask for a leave of absence for stress relieve or perhaps talk to your boss about decreasing the amount of work given to you look at options that will decrease the stress before it becomes to much ok and you have to leave. i wish i did that i left it too long just see if there are other ways the stress at work for you can be lessen so you are not push to your limits
 

David Baxter

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You are not condemned to repeat the past or to live in the past. It does take effort to change things but it is not impossible.

Ultimately, it's a decision you make to move forward or stay stuck where you are or have been.
 

Daniel

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Since you are in the US, you may also want to look into free vocational training and/or placement from the local job center:

[US] Social Security Disability: Ticket to Work - Page 2

Your job sounds ideal compared to most for avoiding human contact, so perhaps just finding a different employer or shift may help.

I worked the night shift at a group home and that was the most alone I ever felt working. Until everyone woke up and wanted breakfast, meds, etc. The job had so much down time and we could watch TV, use the Internet, etc. to stay awake, but dealing with management was a pain. (The work mostly was housekeeping, escorting clients who needed supervision, and occasionally dealing with medical or psychological emergencies.)
 
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