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Surviving Winter Blues

In this hemisphere, it is autumn, the days are growing shorter, and we are acclimating ourselves to more darkness. It happens every year, but it always affects my mood. I am sure I’m not the only one. This time of year can be especially difficult for active people. In New England, the roads are a lot less passable and the opportunities for open water swimming are restricted, to say the least. But I think there is more to our seasonal depression than the restrictions of winter living.

Most psychologists do, too. According to Psychology Today, about 10 million Americans suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a type of depression associated with changing seasons. As many as 60 million may suffer from a milder form, a persistent sadness and apathy that falls short of clinical depression. Symptoms of SAD are highly variable, and can include heightened sensitivity to social rejection, feelings of hopelessness and sadness, fatigue, heavy-feeling limbs, weight gain, difficulty concentrating, and even suicidal thoughts.

SAD can be treated, however, and the most popular treatment is a light box: the patient sits in front of a broad-spectrum light source for 30 or 60 minutes a day. It seems to be effective. A Google search for “light box SAD” got 122 million hits.

What if your SAD is too mild to warrant full-blown medical treatment? You may want to try treating yourself, but bear in mind that a light box gives off light that is about 20 times stronger than normal indoor lighting. So if you want light treatment, you can’t just use your desk lamp. You can buy a light box, or you may want to try photobiomodulation (PBM).

I haven’t been able to find any research that says PBM is useful for treating SAD. But there is nothing to prevent you from trying it for yourself. More than one of our PBM users have reported feeling mood elevation as a result of a session, and I think there is a reason for this. A 2009 study reported in Behavioral and Brain Functions tested a form of PBM against major depression and anxiety. The researchers worked with 10 patients suffering from depression or anxiety and assessed them against the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D) and Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HAM-A). Each patient got PBM to the left forehead, PBM to the right forehead, placebo to the left forehead, and placebo to the right forehead. After each treatment, each patient was assessed again several times. The result: “At 2-weeks post treatment 6 of 10 patients had a remission (a score ≤ 10) on the HAM-D and 7 of 10 achieved this on the HAM-A. Patients experienced highly significant reductions in both HAM-D and HAM-A scores following treatment, with the greatest reductions occurring at 2 weeks.”

We don’t provide treatments at Peak Recovery & Health Center, but we can offer you the opportunity to experience photobiomodulation. The researchers cited above reduced or eliminated depression and anxiety by applying PBM to a person’s forehead. Think what you could do to your winter blues by applying it to your whole body with our light bed. If you decide to try it, take a tip from light box users and book a session for the morning rather than afternoon or evening.

Book a PBM session at Peak Recovery & Health Center today.

Image: “Blue” by smerikal. Creative Commons license.