Getting Happy with a SAD lamp

SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder – a disorder with symptoms similar to depression that occurs regularly at certain times of the year, usually in winter when days are shorter.

Nearly dark at only 4:31 pm!

On my second day in England, a relatively sunny Mid-May day, I was informed that soon enough, the skies would darken and it would be a good idea to invest in, or rent from base, a SAD lamp. I hadn’t even heard of a SAD lamp before but when described, I knew it was going to be something I needed.

Now before we get too far…Real Talk time… I have PTSD and Generalized anxiety disorder, the first from a past relationship and the other, possibly from him, possibly genetic, we’ll never know. But I do know that because of these, I also get a form of SAD and have since college. For me though, it’s not seasonal as much as it is a time of day.

Living in Sunny Southern California for most of my life, there aren’t many days where it isn’t clear bright and sunny. Some of my fondest memories of childhood revolve around hot summer days and warm, breezy, star-filled summer nights. The desert can be a magical place, if you let it. But I digress. Growing up in the desert and living closer to the beach in my adulthood, left me rarely wanting for sunshine. But I did find, starting around junior year of college, that dusk made me increasingly anxious and sad.

I grew up with the Joshua Tree National Park in my back yard… tell me that’s not sunny and gorgeous!? (stock photo)

And now I know… you’re thinking, but sunsets are so beautiful! And I agree. I like watching the sky turn a brilliant red and orange as much as the next person. But it’s not the sunset itself but the darkening of the day that causes my heart to ache. When the sun-filled room you’re in starts to dim, and the atmosphere just gets a little hazier with lack of light. That’s when, if I notice it, if I’m not busy cooking dinner, or doing something productive, I get sad. As the sunlight retreats from the room, it takes something of me with it.

Even though this small form of SAD has been happening off since college, I rarely gave it thought in California because the sadness was usually fleeting, easily whisked away by wonderful distractions like dance, cooking and friends. But here, here was a whole new game entirely. With budding friendships, less dance classes and generally a serious lack of sunshine in the fall and winter, I knew that I was going to take the advice I heard on orientation and invest in a SAD lamp.

On Christmas morning I unwrapped a sleek, flat SAD lamp that’s not much larger than a standard iPad and about twice as thick. It comes equipped with three levels of white light and a blue tinted light (which I don’t really understand). It also comes with a timer so you don’t overdo yourself on happy light.

My sleek little lamp makes my days a little brighter!
My little SAD lamp is so bright it lights the whole room!

According to the NHS (that’s National Health System in England for all you Americans reading this… not the National Honors Society of which many of us were part of in high school), SAD lamps are thought to decrease your brain’s production of melatonin (you know… the stuff I take at night to sleep…) and increase serotonin (a chemical in your brain that contributes to happiness) production. Recommended use of your light is anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours depending on how bright your lamp is. I’ve started with 30 minutes each morning while I do my Italian lessons and drink my morning coffee. It’s only been about a week of this routine soI can’t say any long term benefits yet. It’s also hard to remember how I felt earlier in the winter since for the past month my life has been non-stop with visitors and trips, so I’m struggling to compare the feelings. BUT I can say that while I’m sitting in front of the lamp, it makes me happy. It makes me feel warm inside like those sweltering summer days as a kid when I’d sit on the back deck of my parent’s house and soak up the rays. That warmth that starts inside your heart and radiates outward. That’s what the lamp gives me but without the outside of your body feeling hot. It’s an interesting but deliciously pleasant feeling. I am quite satisfied with my SAD lamp so far and I’m looking forward to seeing how it makes me feel for the rest of the winter.

So tell me your thoughts! Have any of you used SAD lamps? If so, what are the benefits for you? What have you found works best for you?

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