‘I’m an Psychologist and These Are The Light Therapy Treatments I Recommend for Seasonal Affective Disorder’

If you’re finding yourself cursing the reality of darker mornings and even darker, longer nights, you could be dealing with the pangs of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a very real type of depression that becomes more severe as winter approaches.



a man that is standing in the dark: Chances are you're not the only one experiencing the blues as the mercury drops. Here's how you can push back


© Mint Images – Getty Images
Chances are you’re not the only one experiencing the blues as the mercury drops. Here’s how you can push back

Despite how it may feel, you’re not the only one — it’s thought that around 10-20 per cent of people in the UK experience “mildly debilitating” symptoms of seasonal affective disorder as the weather gets colder and six per cent of adults will experience “recurrent major depressive episodes with seasonal pattern”. Currently, the average age at which seasonal affective disorder symptoms present themselves is 27-years-old in both men and women. Both genders are equally affected.

Despite enjoying an extra hour in bed, most of us will, especially at this time, be spending the majority of daylight hour indoors. For many, this could impact mental health — a 2019 YouGov poll found that 29 per cent of UK adults will experience some kind of depressive symptoms this winter, while six per cent of us will suffer seasonal affective disorder to the point where they’re unable to work or to function properly.

Worried about SAD? Don’t be. We’re here to help with our digestible guide on seasonal affective disorder including expert advice, study commentary, actionable advice, product information and more.



a sunset over a grass field: Cold Dawn Sunrise


© George W Johnson
Cold Dawn Sunrise

What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?

A form of depression that’s directly related to the changing of the seasons, seasonal affective disorder is experienced most commonly when summer transitions into winter. As it’s as seasonal issue, seasonal affective disorder is often experienced every 12 months. “Patients often begin experiencing symptoms of depression during autumn and often do not feel an improvement in mood until the spring,” explains Dr. Chun Tang, general Practitioner at Pall Mall Medical.

But how is seasonal affective disorder caused?

The research is sporadic, but one cause, it’s believed, is the correlation between the reduced exposure to sunlight and shorter days in winter. That’s because the hormone melatonin, responsible for controlling our sleep cycles, becomes “phase delayed” by people experiencing seasonal affective disorder, leading us to feel sluggish, tired and irritable — regardless of how many espressos have bene imbibed. Stress levels will rise, too, thereby impacting our mental wellbeing, immunity and overall health.

Similarly, serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates anxiety, happiness and mood, could have a bigger impact than previously thought. Due to winter having shorter days and darker weather, there typically isn’t enough natural daylight, which causes a drop in serotonin levels in our brains. On a biological level, this increases the likelihood of someone experiencing a depressive episode.

Seasonal Affective Disorder: What Are The Symptoms?

According to the NHS, symptoms of SAD can include:

  • A persistent low mood
  • A loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of despair, guilt and
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4 Balance Exercises a PT Loves To Recommend

If my stint on the beam in childhood gymnastics class taught me anything, it’s that balance is no small feat. While strength and flexibility get a lot of accolades in the fitness world, your relationship with gravity is just as important. That’s why I tapped yoga teacher-slash-physical therapist Lara Heimann, PT, for balance exercises that you should make a point of incorporating into your fitness routine.

“Balance is a host of different variables that are all orchestrated in the brain,” says Heimann. Your vision, mobility, proprioception (your “sixth sense” that tells you where your body is in space), and the vestibular system (a network of organs in the inner ear) all play a role in keeping you upright. It’s an intricate system that works together in complex and fascinating ways, and Heimann breaks it down as follows.

“There are receptors lining your joints, in your ligaments, and in your tendons that are telling you where you are in space. They’re constantly communicating with the brain,” says Heimann. “If you’re walking over pavement and then suddenly the terrain switches to gravel, it’s not like you have to look down and adjust. Your body makes a really quick response, and that’s a part of balance.” All of this is encompassed by the term proprioception. Meanwhile, the vestibular system acts like a leveler in your body, keeping you from leaning too far one way or the other. Vision and mobility are a little more straightforward; you need both for balance because you need to see what’s around you and move with ease to take the path of least resistance.

“The thing about balance is that we are constantly making it better or making it worse.” —Lara Heimann, PT

Working on your balance is a lifelong commitment and one that’s well worth your time, says Heimann. “The thing about balance is that we are constantly making it better or making it worse. It doesn’t tend to stay static,” she says. When we habitually do less large movement patterns (as sometimes happens as we get older), our body develops a fear around them and they get harder to do. That’s why physical therapists often use the sitting-rising test (which involves sitting down then standing up without using your hands) as a marker of longevity.

Before you dive into workouts that will better your balance better, Heimann says she likes to recommend a little test that you can use a diagnostic that will lay bare exactly how your body’s feeling about gravity these days. (Hint: It involves standing on one leg—so get excited.)

The single-leg exercise for testing your balance

Remember your schoolyard days when you would try to hopscotch with just one leg once you’d mastered the move with two? Well, Heimann wants you to channel your younger, carefree self to see how your bod really feels about balance. “Stand on one leg. Stand on your left leg and bring your right knee up to about hip height,” instructs Heimann. From there, Heimann wants

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