Struggling With SAD? Light Therapy Can Help With The Winter Blues

By Sarah Fader |Updated May 1, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a kind of depression that occurs during the fall and winter months. Light therapy can help people with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Light therapy for SAD can be beneficial. It can make the difference between a winter where you're feeling incredibly down, and one where you're able to go out and enjoy your life. Light therapy is an effective kind of treatment when combined with counseling. Sometimes, therapy isn't enough to combat the winter blues, and that's where light therapy can be a life-changing complementary treatment. Seasonal Affective Disorder light therapy can make you go from feeling extremely depressed to feeling like yourself.

SAD Light Therapy For Depression

Have you heard of using SAD light therapy for depression? It's a standard treatment where you sit by a light therapy box and feel the effects of it on your mood. Depression is treatable with therapy and if necessary, medication, but SAD light therapy can help depression as well.

What is Light therapy?

Light therapy or light boxes help combat the depressed feelings that happen in the winter. During winter months, we typically see less of the sun, and that can cause our mood to change. The light therapy box mimics the sun. Here's how a SAD light therapy should work: it provides exposure of 10,000 LUX of light, and it emits a little bit of UV light as well. Using your light therapy box in the morning is important. Otherwise, it can impact your sleep. That's how powerful it is - it makes your brain think that it's daytime, which brightens your mood. As little as 20-30 minutes of light therapy per day can help you feel less down during the winter. Lightboxes are designed to be safe, but the FDA doesn't regulate them, so it's important to talk to your doctor before using a light therapy box.

Talk to Your Doctor Before Starting Light Therapy

Before starting light therapy, talk to your medical provider about using a light therapy box for light box therapy. Light therapy isn't appropriate for everyone including those with bipolar disorder as it could aggravate symptoms of mania. If you have eye issues like glaucoma or cataracts, it's important to talk to your optometrist before starting light therapy, to make sure that you won't cause any eye damage. Full-spectrum light therapy can provide excellent relief from depression during the winter months, and it's essential to understand not only the benefits but the cautions associated with light therapy. You don't need a prescription for a light therapy box.

Precautions About Light Boxes

Before engaging in light therapy, you need to know the correct way to operate a light therapy box to keep you safe. Here's what you need to know about using a light therapy box:

  • Keep the light therapy box at a distance of 16-24 inches away from your face
  • Don't look directly into the light.
  • Relax while you're using the light therapy box
  • Follow the directions that come with the box
  • Speak with your doctor or therapist before using

Considerations When Buying A Light Therapy Box

You must make sure that your lightbox was explicitly built to treat SAD. Some light therapy lamps aren't for SAD, but for skin problems. Light therapy boxes created for skin disorders are different, and they could damage your eyes. Make sure to shop around and get the right light therapy box for your particular needs. You might ask for a recommendation from your doctor for a light therapy box.

How Much UV Light Does the Light Therapy Release?

You might be wondering about UV light and SAD light therapy. It's essential that the light therapy box you use filters out UV rays. The last thing you want to worry about when you're having light therapy is the risk of skin cancer. The lightbox you use should be therapeutic and treat SAD. You shouldn't be interacting with UV rays whatsoever. Light therapy boxes for SAD should filter out UV light, so make sure that you look at the box and read everything in detail or contact the manufacturer of the lightbox if you have questions.

Where Should I Put It?

Your lightbox should be an area where you feel comfortable sitting for a good 20-30 minutes. Light therapy is a positive experience. It's one that is intended to lift your mood and distract you from the dreadful gray that happens during the wintertime. Consider a spot in your house where you feel you can sit and relax and tune out the world. Put it in a location where it can be used efficiently. It could be placed next to your computer or at an end table, or even by your bedside, but it's good to make it easily accessible.

What Light Therapy Does

Light therapy affects brain chemicals that help your mood and other mental health issues. Light therapy is also known as phototherapy. The light from the lightbox is telling your brain that wake up. It's communicating the opposite message of the gray sky outside. You might feel tempted to hide underneath the covers during the winter, but a lightbox can make you feel better about getting up and going. You don't have to let the bleak weather get you down. Your lightbox is here to help you!

Why Light Therapy Is Valuable

Light therapy is an excellent treatment for fighting depression. If you're trying to avoid using antidepressants while breastfeeding, light therapy might be an option for you. You can talk to your doctor about using it as an alternative and see if that makes sense for your treatment plan. Light therapy is used to treat SAD, depression, sleep disorders, dementia, and skin conditions or disorders. It can help adjust to a new work schedule (switching to graveyard shifts, for example.) Light therapy has many uses and treats a variety of mental health issues.

Side Effects of Light Therapy

You could have side effects if you're using light therapy to treat SAD. Some of the most significant side effects occur for people with Bipolar Disorder. You might experience mania, euphoria, agitation, or extreme hyperactivity. Headaches, nausea, and eye strain may also occur. You can manage side effects yourself in many cases if you move the lightbox further away or take breaks during light therapy treatment. If these side effects remain a problem, definitely speak to your doctor and see what you can do to combat them.

Use Caution

It's imperative that you're talking to a medical professional when preparing to use a light therapy box. If you have skin problems, for example, you want to make sure that you're using caution. Other health issues to consider include but aren't limited to sensitivity to sunlight or antibiotics, if you're taking anti-inflammatory medication, and Lupus. Light therapy boxes are available to the general public, but it's good to remain cautious and speak to a dermatologist if there are concerns. When you're integrating light therapy into your mental health treatment, you want to consider all of your health issues. Light therapy should add to your health, not take away from it. Talk to your doctor, and make sure you are safe to use a light therapy box.

Tanning Beds Aren't the Same as Light Therapy

Some people assume that light therapy gives people the same benefit as going to a tanning bed. Tanning beds help don't help treat SAD in the same way as a light therapy box. Light therapy is designed to lift your mood and help you feel better. Tanning beds are primarily used for cosmetic purposes. Sure, laying in a tanning bed can make you feel warm and like you're at the beach, but it's not a mood lifter. Additionally, UV rays in tanning beds can damage your skin and potentially cause cancer. Lightboxes don't have this risk.

Preparing for Light Therapy

You don't need a prescription to buy a light therapy box. You can purchase one online or in a local store easily. However, when you talk to your doctor about it, mention any health concerns you might have so that you can minimize side effects and have an enjoyable experience. There are many lightboxes to choose from, and there's one that will be an excellent fit for you. You might have fun searching through all the different kinds online.

What To Expect During Light Therapy

You're seeking SAD light therapy for a reason. You want to feel better, and the chances are you will. Use the light therapy box for 20-30 minutes daily, and you'll start to notice the difference in your mood. Many people begin to feel more energetic, have higher levels of energy, and maintain a better mood after starting light therapy. You'll start to notice that your depression eases and you'll feel better during the rainy and cloudy seasons. You'll begin to feel less down. In addition to light therapy, you also want to see a therapist. Talking about your problems in therapy is essential to maintaining great mental health. Though light therapy is an excellent complement to psychotherapy, it does not replace traditional mental health treatment.

Light Therapy Doesn't Replace Psychotherapy

Taking care of your mental health is essential. In addition to light therapy, going to see a therapist and talk about your problems can't be replaced. Whether you're seeing a professional online or in your local area, therapy is essential. The therapists at BetterHelp are here to help and support you in the process of recovering from depression, so don't wait to talk to an online therapist. They understand and are educated on how to help you through these winter months and beyond.

For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns
Speak with a Licensed Therapist
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.