As the winter months carry on with short days and gloomy skies, some may find themselves at the whim of the season. Traveling across the country, therapists are likely to encounter a wide range of climates and preferences of their patients. Sometimes the darker conditions of our colder months can reduce a person’s ability to maintain their energy and leave us feeling lethargic, at times even depressed. Light therapy is one way shown to help those suffering from what’s known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD. Quite a convenient acronym!
Although SAD is usually less severe than full cases of depression, it can lead to persistent feelings of melancholia, an unpleasant malaise, vague ennui… basically, you just feel sad. To remedy this, light therapy in the form of using special light boxes allows individuals to expose themselves to mimicked sunlight, producing uplifting effects.
Essentially what happens for people with SAD is this:
Transporter proteins move serotonin back to presynaptic neurons in the brain, resulting in a gloomier mood, in addition to darker conditions allowing higher melatonin production which induces sleepiness. Light, even if artificial, mitigates this process and can help to promote greater well-being.
Adding Light Therapy to your Toolkit
So why is light therapy something traveling therapists should consider? For one, it can be a portable device you can include in any variety of therapy sessions. If a patient isn’t feeling particularly giddy to engage in your planned activities and goals for the day, adding some healthy light might elevate the mood. It’s important to consider that mental wellbeing plays a huge part in how well we can respond to physical treatments!
In addition to integrating light therapy into a patient’s routine, traveling often or to different parts of the country can also have an effect on your own mood and well-being. Maybe you’re a California-native assigned to the freezing Minnesota cold – starting the day with added light therapy might be just the remedy for throwing off your SAD. It’s also a great tool to help with jet lag! Not only will you feel better personally, but that will also mean you’ll be ready to do a great job with providing therapy for your patients.
Three key elements to consider for effective light therapy include:
• Intensity – Light box intensity is recorded in lux, measuring the amount of light received by the user. The typical recommended usage is 10,000-lux at a distance of around 16-24 inches from the face at a 45-degree angle.
• Duration – 20 to 30 minutes of light from a 10,000-lux unit is usually sufficient for daily sessions. Be sure to read the guidelines set forth by the device’s manufacturer and adjust your sessions according to professional instruction.
• Timing – One way to time light therapy is with the natural schedule of the Sun. The most effective time is usually in the early morning or after you first wake up, although it can be used throughout the day at regular intervals.
Keep in mind that light therapy isn’t for everyone. There is a potential of experiencing side effects such as eyestrain, headaches, nausea, and increased agitation. People with bipolar disorder may also want to avoid the use of light therapy boxes as they can in some cases encourage hyperactivity, mania, and euphoria associated with the illness.
That said, depression can be a very serious condition and light therapy alone won’t necessarily help sufferers. Yet, for those with mild winter-time blues, this remedy can be a safe, effective way to introduce a little more light into your therapy sessions and personal health!