How To Use Natural Light To Combat Seasonal Depression

Words: Hattie Evans
Feature Image: Jonathan Knepper

There has been a definite seasonal change and drop in temperature over the recent weeks. Those lush summer evenings drinking Aperol Spritz and having barbecues in the park after work feel as though they are just a distant memory. With summer fading behind us it can also feel like your mood is slipping into darker days.

Winter brings with it exciting times, and I genuinely feel like my whole year is basically leading up to Christmas; nostalgia, cosy socks, log fires, unfolding old jumpers and just generally battening down the hatches- in other words settling in for a period of hibernation while binge watching a BBC drama becomes a definite possibility. With the festive season now in full swing- the John Lewis advert has been released, Christmas markets, family parties, and of course, the increased craving for anything with carbohydrates, or in my case anything and everything baked in cream and cheese! Just thinking about the seasons traditions seems like a completely blissful bubble of mulled wine and re-watching Love Actually.

However, the reality can feel quite the opposite; daily slog of waking up and feeling like its still the middle of the night, and then finishing work with that almost gravitational pull towards just getting straight back into bed as soon as possible even if it is only 7pm because its already pitch black outside. This can really begin to take its toll of our mental health and the thought of socialising can feel just a definite no go. This seasonal shift in mood comes as an all too familiar feeling for those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder or “winter depression”. For many it can feel as though they have been enveloped in a constant state of despair and misery as the days seem to close in all too early, with little energy or interest in doing those things you once enjoyed. As the days grow shorter, low levels of serotonin (a chemical that helps regulates your mood) in our bodies due to lack of light during the winter months can mean we are much more susceptible to depression and SAD. Research shows that 3% of the British population suffer from the effects of the seasonal change, with women in particular much more prone to the “winter depression” than men.

One way of tackling the ‘winter blues’ that has gained popularity in recent years is light therapy. Light therapy simulates the sunlight that we lose during the winter months and can make a notable difference in lifting your mood, and is fast gaining wider recognition. It is believed bright light therapy encourages your brain to reduce the production of melatonin (a hormone that triggers tiredness) and increase the production of serotonin. Many who suffer from SAD have found that light therapy has been a vital tool in helping boost their mood during the seemingly endless grey and dreary days. Light therapy works by using light boxes which produce a very bright light, or alternatively through dawn-stimulating alarm clocks which gradually let light into your room as you wake up, mimicking a more natural sunrise. Although, light therapy cannot stop you from getting seasonal depression in the future, it can help bring a sense of release to the often all-consuming symptoms associated with SAD in the short term, and can sufficiently shift your mood when it can feel like a continuous confinement. This form of therapy is able to bring a real sense of assurance and optimism for those for which the start of Autumn can be a daunting and bleak time of year. As many of us are working longer and longer hours in cities that can sometimes seem intensely lonely places, even with the sun shining. The winter depression or SAD is often under-recognised and just dismissed as having a bad few days or feeling blue, but it can lead to more serious forms of depression. If light therapy is able to offer a release and feeling of relief and hope, even if just briefly, from the then it something that should be greatly encouraged.