skip to Main Content
Seasonal Depression And Light Therapy

Seasonal Depression and Light Therapy

What’s Most Effective for Seasonal Depression?

It’s January/February…. In Milwaukee that means an average of 14.5 hours of darkness per day.  I actually calculated it.

upset-stencilNaturally this is the time of year we see increases in Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which is brought on by light deprivation.

People who do not usually experience depression at all may get SAD during the darker months.  Additionally, those who are already prone to depression can find that depression gets worse in the dark months.

I recommend 2 highly effective, non-medication treatments for seasonal depression:
         1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
         2. Light Therapy

CBT for Seasonal Depression

Depression symptoms are physical, mental and emotional.

While Light Therapy works at the physical level to help your body’s biochemical balance (see more below), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) works the mental and emotional level.

CBT is highly effective for depression because it helps reduce negative thinking, while improving mood, motivation, productivity, focus, and energy.

Research shows CBT is equally effective, or even more effective in the long term than antidepressant medication… with none of the negative side effects that come with medication.

I’ve written a lot about CBT on my blog so I’m going to focus on the Light Therapy in this article.  Check out these articles for more about CBT:

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?
Why Does CBT Work (for Anxiety and More)?
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (Change the Way You Think)
#1 Most Effective Anxiety Treatment: CBT

New Research: Light Therapy beats Prozac

Bright light therapy using a special light box is an effective treatment for people whose depression occurs seasonally, or whose depression gets worse in the darker months.

Because my specialty is non-medication treatments for anxiety and depression, I like keeping up on the research in this area and I found a fascinating one…

Participants in a recent study were assigned to one of four groups who got different treatments.  They didn’t know which group they were in and all were treated as if they were getting the “real” treatments.

Four Different Treatment Groups
     1. Light therapy + placebo pill (i.e. a sugar pill)
     2. Light therapy + Prozac
     3. Placebo light box + placebo pill
     4. Placebo light box + Prozac

Check out these results:
     • Less depression for those who got Light Therapy than those who got Prozac
     • Less depression for those who got Light Therapy than those who got a placebo pill
     • Light Therapy was more effective than Prozac
     • The placebo medication was actually more effective than Prozac!
     • Little to no side effects shown with light therapy.  This compares with 85 side effects of Prozac (as listed on

Why Does Light Therapy Work?

Inquiring minds want to know why, but I just want to know what works!

Experts can’t say for sure why but research shows light therapy does help.  For Seasonal Affective Disorder, they think it may help correct disturbances in your internal clock which is driven by your body’s circadian rhythms.

Another theory is that light affects neurotransmitters in the brain (such as serotonin) which affects mood for both seasonal and non-seasonal depression.

Do It Yourself Light Therapy

Light therapy boxes have come a long way in recent years.  They are affordable and easy to use.

lighttherapy-diTreatment involves sitting near the light box for 30-60 minutes daily.  You don’t have to look directly at the light so you can use it while doing other things like eating, reading, or using your phone or computer.

The light therapy box I use (not pictured) is The Northern Lights Travelite:
You can find it on Amazon

Light therapy can help improve your mood, reduce negative thinking and irritability, and increase energy levels.

It is not meant to be an instant fix for mood, but intended to be used daily and has a cumulative effect over time.

Be sure to read the instructions and warnings for the light box you choose.  Light therapy is not recommended for those with mania or bipolar disorder, or those with various eye conditions.

Back To Top