How Effective Is Light Therapy in Treating Anxiety?

The transition from fall into winter is hardly easy. An estimated 10 percent of people in North America suffer from winter anxiety, also known as seasonal affective disorder and I am one of the 10 percent. Chalk it up to holiday blues, the biting cold or the dull weather but winter gets me moody, panicky and depressed altogether. People do not talk much about their anxious or depressive feelings that tend to intensify when the weather becomes colder and there is little sunlight outside.

As such, we hardly make a direct connection between anxiety and the weather. It’s easy to assume that nothing can be done to alleviate these depressive symptoms.

What Causes Winter Blues?

What makes some people feel i the dumps while others are hardy affected by the frosty, dull weather?

There is no single known cause of seasonal affective disorder. What I would call the most comprehensive scientific study to date indicates that those who are prone to winter blues typically produce a higher level of serotonin transporter (SERT) protein that inhibits the ‘happy’ hormone, serotonin, during winter. The presence of sunlight keeps the SERT protein low but when the nights become longer, the protein levels increase and undermine the production of serotonin.

Obviously, there is not much sunlight exposure during winter. This is where artificial light comes into play to alleviate winter anxiety. Given that I am particularly sensitive to light or the lack of it, I know how difficult it is to deal with the dumps of winter doldrums. I have been using light therapy for the last 4 years and I am able to get through winter so much easier than I was in the past.

For me, the biggest struggle was waking up and mustering the energy to be productive throughout the day.

Winter comes with longer nights and shorter days. This means that once we transition into winter, you tend to wake up before dawn, due to your circadian rhythm or the workings of your internal body clock.

Given that your circadian rhythm causes you to wake up before dawn, you naturally struggle to get out of bed. The sullen weather also does not help your energy levels.

How Light Therapy Helped Me to Better Deal With the Dull Winter Weather

Exposure to artificial light in the morning has the same effect as being exposed to the natural sun. Think about those sunny, bright summer mornings—they naturally fill you up with a happy, warm feeling that usually lasts throughout the day.

Exposure to a light therapy lamp for at least 30 minutes triggers the same uplifting feeling, allowing you to get on with the day feeling less depressed. I have found that sitting in front of the lamp for 60 minutes as I do something else in the morning such as catching up with the newspapers or having breakfast makes me less moody or worried throughout the day.

What’s really important is the time of exposure. As I mentioned, mornings yield the best results and doctors also recommend morning exposure to light therapy lamps to boost your energy levels for the day.

There are other solutions to treat anxiety, but if you already own a light therapy lamp, making use of it is a no-brainer if you suffer from Winter anxiety.