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Does Light Therapy Work?

Kick Your SAD to the Curb With a Healthy Dose of Light Therapy This Winter

As the days grow colder and darker, people are considering light therapy as a possible salvation for the so-called Winter blues.

"As the seasons shift, and as the expansive expression of nature of Spring and Summer draws inward during Fall and Winter, it would make sense that people do as well. But for some people, this change of seasons brings about a kind of depression that can range from the blahs and blues, to a debilitating condition referred to as SAD: seasonal affect disorder," says Dr. Tammi Balisewski, who has a double PhD, is a holistic life counselor, hypnotherapist, author of Manifesting Love From the Inside Out and Manifesting Prosperity from the Inside Out, and the radio host of Journey to Center on Empower Radio.

"There are likely several contributing factors that bring SAD about, including the shorter days and longer nights, less sunlight and vitamin D, the changes in circadian rhythms, and in how chemical messengers like serotonin and melatonin function. For some, light therapy has been a positive and helpful alternative," Dr. Balisewski says. With light therapy, the participant sits next to a light box, which emanates bright light, for 30 to 60 minutes a day, usually first thing in the morning or as soon as they get up. The eyes need to be open but not looking directly into the light. Some people take this time to read, work, eat, make phone calls, and check email, and some just take the time to breathe and relax.

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For light therapy to be effective, it requires time and consistency. "As a holistic life counselor to make this powerful therapy even more potent, I like to invite people to use this time in a mindful way and prepare for an empowered day by counting their blessings, setting their intentions, and focusing on affirmations," Dr. Balisewski says. A form of meditation can make light therapy an even more effective tool to navigate the challenges of SAD and a wonderful tool that be supportive all year-long.

For some, it absolutely does work, but it is not a universal fix for SAD. The bottom line is that many bright white light and light therapy studies are methodologically flawed. "That leaves us wondering, does bright white light actually have an effect on mood and behavior, or is it simply placebo? Unfortunately, more clinical research — with more clearly defined parameters for active and placebo conditions and more robust sample sizes and randomization — is needed to uncover whether light therapy hails unequivocal value for conditions, like SAD," says neuroscientist and holistic wellness expert Leigh Winters.

On the other hand, what's not up for debate is the influence of nature on our well-being. If the shorter days and longer nights are affecting your mood, make an effort to spend more time outside. "Being outside is an easy and inexpensive way to get some vitamin D and help regulate your circadian rhythm that may feel out of whack with the season change. Along with many other scientists, I'm a huge proponent of this idea that the antidote to our oh-so-stressful lives is more time in fresh air checking in with how we feel," Winters says.

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