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Minimize effects of seasonal affective disorder

Updated January 3, 2023 - 1:52 pm

Though most desert dwellers appreciate the cooler fall and winter temperatures, these months with fewer hours of daylight can sometimes cause some people to experience seasonal affective disorder. With SAD, people may experience long periods of sadness, energy loss, weight gain, oversleeping and a loss of interest in activities they normally enjoy.

SAD, sometimes called seasonal depression, affects about 5 percent of the adult population, and its symptoms are triggered by less sunlight exposure, which lowers serotonin and vitamin D levels. If you are prone to SAD, here are a few things you can do around the home to help boost your mood.

Get the most out of morning sun

With shorter days, it’s important to get natural sunlight into the home early in the day, said Dak Kopec, an architectural psychologist and UNLV professor. Kopec said the hours between 7 and 9 a.m. are ideal for boosting serotonin and vitamin D levels.

“Open up the blinds, sunshades or curtains early in the morning and allow natural light to flood the area as much as possible,” he said.

It may also be a great time to venture outdoors to enjoy some fresh air and sunlight. If you don’t want to leave your property, create outdoor spaces to enjoy while exposing you to natural light.

“The intensity of that full-spectrum light is lower in the winter months, so it’s very key for people to get outdoors,” Kopec said. “Look at those balconies or patios … it may be time to consider new outdoor furniture if it means you’re more likely to go outside in the morning.”

Paint to boost your spirits

Winter may also be a good time to add that accent wall in a bedroom or living area. Certain colors that exude warmth and comfort can work well on an accent wall, said Sara McLean, Dunn-Edwards Paints color marketing manager.

“Look to oranges and yellow for warmth and nature-based colors such as greens to use on accent walls,” she said. “Warmer colors such as pinks and yellows create happy, uplifting spaces; rich reds, zesty oranges and sunnier yellows add energy to spaces.”

For calming yet uplifting colors for the whole room, McLean said, “look to colors that feel tranquil but not too cold or too gray — colors like sage greens, sky blues and lavenders.”

McLean added: “The basics of color theory highlight warmer colors like reds, oranges and yellows as comforting and more energetic while cooler colors like blues, greens and purples exude tranquility and calm. (However) color is personal and subjective, so learning what colors boost your mood goes a long way in providing basic foundations for color palettes to assist you with SAD.”

Dr. Christopher Choi, the founder of Las Vegas-based Concierge Wellness Center, said research has found color can even help those losing cognitive function. Sometimes simple touches like switching black-and-white photos and art out for something brighter can work.

“The thinking is that you start to see things in black and white over time,” he said. “Experiences that stimulate the brain are like seeing bright colors, but we also need to actually see those bright colors to stimulate our senses more. I love Ansell Adams, but that’s not going to work.”

Rearranging and other touches

Sometimes simply moving furniture around can make a space look fresh and inviting. If you rearrange furniture, consider placing it so that it faces a bank of windows or the patio to increase natural light exposure, Kopec suggested.

You can also personalize your walls. Dr. Benjamin Gibson, a Texas-based pharmacist and lifestyle expert, recommended getting an adult coloring book and framing your best pieces. You can also hang photos of experiences you’ve had with others or photos that represent personal accomplishments.

“It helps to remind you, to think back to something important or special in your life, giving yourself that physical reminder,” he said. “For a while, I knew a lot of people who would frame the different puzzles they did to commemorate time they spent with others.”

Power down light intensity at night

A common confusion people have about indoor lighting during the winter is that they think the home should still have strong blue light at night too. But after the sun goes down, it’s actually time to shift to softer lighting, Kopec said.

“You really want to have a dimmer switch and want to make sure once you hit 7 p.m., you have a lower lighting level throughout the house,” he said. “If you don’t have switches, you can shift to a lower wattage bulb and make sure lamps have a good lampshade that diffuses light.”

Try a light box

If your home doesn’t allow for a lot of natural light during the day, a light box may be your answer. You can find some for between $30 and $50 online, but there are also more sophisticated and expensive systems designed to mimic the exact light type for your location and time of day.

BrainLit is a brand that uses its BioCentric Lighting technology to do just that. Its lights generate what founder Tord Wingren calls “light recipes” that can adapt to geographic locations and times of day around the world to provide the right light needed at the right time to help combat the effects of SAD.

“The chronic problem we are addressing is really a light deficit in modern life (because) we typically spend 90 percent of our waking hours indoors,” added Oliver Moorhouse, a BrainLit spokesperson.

The adjustability of the light is key, Wingren said. “Our system gives you more bright light during the morning and during the day, and also … blue-free light during the late evening,” he said. “Research has clearly shown we can minimize the SAD effect with this light.”

Plan ahead

Above all, if you’re battling SAD, Choi said that human contact is key. Getting out every day with the neighbors or with friends, especially during the morning hours, can be very beneficial. At the same time, planning ahead and preparing the home for guests is one way to head off SAD and also keep you enthusiastic about upcoming gatherings.

“The key, if you are prone to SAD, is you want to start planning before you get the blues because once you start feeling that way, you may not want to do anything at all,” he added.

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