Thursday, January 12, 2012

Let there be light!

Many years a go, I recall visiting my parents at their home in Connecticut. My mother had a table top light sitting next to her favorite red chair in the family room. It was small and looked a bit like a make up mirror, but was much brighter. This was my first introduction into the world of light therapy. She told me to sit in front of it every morning for 10 minutes or so and see how it made me feel. I found it to be quite relaxing and mood lifting. I was equally impressed that my mother had the gumption to purchase such an item as at the time Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD as we now refer to it, was still being tested out as a theory and many thought it to be just another gimmick. Not so today of course. It goes without saying, my mother had no formal diagnosis, she just seemed to know her mood dropped off in the winter months and when she came across this device in a newspaper she decided to give it a try.

I too am greatly affected by the lack of light. Many of you might recall from earlier posts my mention of my sun loving nature, so much so that I will spend a good deal of my days outside in the warmer months. Winter gets tough for me around Christmas when the darkness falls for us here in New England around 4pm or so. In the excitement and fun of the holiday though I find it easy to turn my attention and focus elsewhere rather then on the diminished light and low horizon sun. Not so easy after the holiday bustle is over.

Years ago I purchased a large light box from a company called Northern Lights, as I was truly feeling the dark nights. I had recently moved from New Jersey to the New England area and found the snow, cold and dark nights all a bit too much for me to handle. My "winter blues" as I called them seemed much more pronounced and the light box did indeed help. I would plug it in to use while I went about my business of folding laundry, making dinner, etc. It did help me to focus less on the fading light outside and I felt more energized.

I have not been faithful to my light box over the years and was rather haphazard in its use. In fact, some winters I forgot about it all together. Recently though, I have been reading in a myriad of sources that women are more susceptible to the seasonal changes, in particular around perimenopause and menopause. Also, thyroid issues can exacerbate SAD as well. Family history plays a part, as many of us are genetically hard wired or predisposed to certain types of conditions that are just a part of who we are as individuals. So as a result, I am now "back in the light" so to speak.

There is a terrific book written by the man who was one of the early pioneers on SAD, by a Norman E. Rosenthal, MD called "Winter Blues." The book is a fantastic reference on all things related to this condition. It is a most useful resource for people and its full of plenty of practical advice and scientific research to support his studies.

I know so many of us talk about our own winter blues and feel it is just something to muscle through or tough it out, but for others it is a very real condition that makes us long for spring and the longer days in an all consuming way sometimes. So my light box is in full use now and I am not going to stray from its use, as I have in the past. Plain and simple: it helps. And just as my mother self diagnosed herself those 20 or so years I ago, I too have done the same. I use my best judgement with its use and in fact, Dr. Rosenthal tells people it is an intuitive process in which you begin to determine how much you need by how well you feel.

The most important thing I learned is to start it as soon as you get the symptoms, which for most people is when we start to notice it  harder to get out of bed in the morning. I am glad I know that now as next winter that will be my aim! I was a bit late this winter, and did not really notice it starting to bother me so much until I got a virus recently and found my energy drained more so then it should have been as I was recovering. That made me take notice of how much the lack of light was adding to my weariness and tension at dusk. By the way, have your Vitamin D levels checked as well. Mine are low, so I do supplement also, as it has been found to assist people in areas of the country where winter light is reduced so substantially.

All in all, it would be great to be a snowbird like some of my friends, but it is not practical for most of us. I admit, there are those days I have contemplated homeschooling my son just to get away in the winter to a brighter, warmer spot! But alas, this is not to be. So I do what I must do make the days seem just a tad more brighter in order to help me make it through yet another winter bathed in as much light as I can muster!

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