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Mind over matter

As I write this column, light pours out of a large green light box designed to ease the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, otherwise known as the winter blues.

If you feel down during the winter, like I do, you’re not alone. An estimated 10 million Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, according to a report in Psychology Today.

Symptoms for the disorder can look a lot like depression. They can include thoughts of hopelessness or sadness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability and a change in appetite, among other warning signs.

According to WebMD, the reason Seasonal Affective Disorder unfolds in so many people is because a lack of sunlight can upset your biological clock, changing your sleep patterns and circadian rhythms. It can also change your brain’s serotonin levels, affecting a person’s mood.

I swear by the light box. I never considered getting one until my doctor — a woman in Shakopee who is as kind as intelligent — prescribed it. My insurance even helped cover it. The light box simulates sunlight. Melanopsin receptors in the eyes then trigger the release of serotonin, helping with sleep cycles and feelings of well-being.

I also think yoga can help a great deal, which readers of this column may already know how much I love the practice. There are even “Sun Salutation” yoga sequences that yogis practice to honor the sun, which brings much-needed light for our well-being.

Yoga International, in fact, wrote an article all about the benefits of sunlight. Not only does the sunshine affect your mood, of course, but it also helps regulate appetite, produce Vitamin D in your body and can even clear up skin conditions such as psoriasis, the article states.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, those most at risk for Seasonal Affective Disorder are women, people who live far from the equator, people who struggle with depression and people who have a family history of the winter blues and/or depression. They also say that younger adults are at greater risk for the disorder than older adults.

Medication can be a solution as much as a light box, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Psychotherapy and Vitamin D can also be used for treatment.

The institute is actually hosting a Twitter chat on Feb. 20 from 12:30-1:30 p.m. If you’re curious to learn more, follow @NIMHgov.

If you’re anything like the 10 million Americans affected by the winter blues, learning more can always help. More information can always arm you with solutions.

I’m not a doctor, but from one Seasonal Affective Disorder sufferer to the next, try the light box and maybe even some yoga. It just may help your mood until the sun, spring and bird songs return.


Britt Johnsen is a Savage reporter who loves in-depth reporting and bringing more heart and soul to the paper. Britt is thoughtful, hard-working and an “introverted extrovert.” She loves her two cats, yoga, poetry and snobby Minneapolis coffee.