Combat Cabin Fever and Battle Winter Blues with Light Therapy

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  We jokingly refer to it as “cabin fever” or “winter blues,” but for some people, it’s an actual clinical condition.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is linked to the change in seasons, usually beginning around October or November but worsening around the January, February months when days become shorter.

Clinical Social Worker Glenn Baughmann at the Eyerly Ball Mental Health Clinic in Des Moines said Seasonal Affective Disorder is a subset of the general category of depression. The decreased exposure to sunlight causes our levels of serotonin, a chemical in our brain that affects how we perceive things, to go down. And when serotonin goes down, melatonin, another chemical that prepares our brains for sleep goes up.

“People who are facing Seasonal Affective Disorder tend to oversleep, they tend to become more agitated, and they also want to eat more,” Baughmann said.

Some things that will combat Seasonal Affective Disorder and increase serotonin are taking vitamin D supplements, exercising, and socializing.

“Just try to do things that you like to do, stay active, stay involved, spend time with family and friends,” Des Moines resident Kyle Pieper said.

Baughmann says the most effective way to increase serotonin is with light therapy.

“A kind of appliance that gives you additional light,” Baughmann said.

Baughmann recommends using them for 30 to 60 minutes in the morning or while you are at work.

“I have a number of coworkers who will sit with their little fake sun lamp in their office,” Des Moines resident Beth Mensing said.

There is even an alarm clock that simulates a sunrise.

“It slowly increases the light in the room until your alarm goes off,” Baughmann said. “When it’s so dark out and you have to get moving and you really want to sleep in anyway, it’s tough.”

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.