Tips for Beating the Winter Blues – Seasonal Affective Disorder

A Nature Bright SunTouch Therapy Lamp 

As the dreaded end of daylight saving time (Nov. 4) peaks around the corner for those who love their sunlight, it’s time for some tips to combat the winter blues.

Not everyone gets slumped down enough to qualify as having seasonal depression, but you can tell there might be a general drop in energy among your friends and family. School is ramping up during this time. Everyone working seems busy with trying to get projects finished before the Holidays. And a walk around the block becomes suddenly less appealing below 55 degrees.

If you are finding difficulty functioning as well as you used to, you may be a sufferer of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Here are some medically-backed, but non-prescription, tips for surviving the winter blues and keeping your energy levels up.

A Therapy Lamp

There are so many options out there for therapy lamps on the Internet, shoppers might be confused as to what qualifies as a therapy lamp and what is the best lamp to purchase. Here are some answers based on experience and science.

Medical Literature recommends at least 10,000 LUX for the brightness. Many therapy lamps around or under the $100 range fit the bill.

NatureBright SunTouch Plus is a top seller which is also the featured picture above. When I bought one a few years ago, they sold for around $75 but now appear to be around $50.

Buy directly from the seller to avoid a fake product.

Note: Do NOT use the ionizer on the SunTouch or any lamp. While companies claim negative ionization is better, people aren’t made to breathe ionized air and its safety hasn’t been established.

The pic above shows the spectrum of light that the lamp provides but this colorful effect is only seen when using a camera. When using the lamp, the light will actually look like a white, bright, more natural light to your eyes.

If you want to go all the way in your light therapy, a friend recommends the $475 Sunsqare+. The cost may be burdensome to some but my friend reports it truly is like having a mini sun of your own in your bedroom:

SubBox SunSquare +

Vitamin D3 Supplements

Vitamin D3 is one of the most important vitamins for mental health and feeling energetic. Get a blood test at your doctor’s to find out your levels during the winter and if it’s a good idea to take a supplement.

Many people take a 1,000 IU D3 supplement in their multivitamin, which is perfectly safe. However, if your blood levels are low, your doctor may recommend up to 50,000 IU once a week.

Taking too much Vitamin D3 can cause excess calcium in your blood. Many vitamins are safe to take at high levels, but because D3 can cause hypercalcemia, a blood test is recommended to figure out how much of the vitamin should be taken.

Exercise – Either Cardio or Strength Training

There’s a debate whether cardio or strength training and weight lifting is best for depression. Honestly it doesn’t matter much as long as you’re doing it. Whatever you enjoy the most and are the most likely to continue performing is best.

Doctors might recommend cardio over strength training, but there is growing evidence for adding strength training or just doing strength training alone. The recommended time for exercise is at least 30 minutes a day, three days a week.

Many gyms such as Planet Fitness and Crunch offer monthly rates as low at $10 a month. With gyms being cheaper than ever, there’s no excuse not to join one if you don’t already have a weekly workout routine.

Hot Baths


Hot baths can actually have a great benefit for relieving depression symptoms. There’s many inflammation theories of depression and so a warm to hot bath can have a relaxing effect on your body and lower stress hormones that may throw off your sleep cycle.

Bomb baths and fancy perfumed products can dry your skin. But you can add a teaspoon of an essential oil such as lavender with an unscented gel body wash and create your own aromatherapy bath.

Go Outside and Don’t Live in Alaska

Going outside during the day can pretty much cover all the above suggestions—a winter sport especially will get the blood pumping. The only area you might need help is for the Vitamin D. There’s a maximum amount of Vitamin D your body can produce with sunlight. Many people aren’t getting enough even if they do go outside. So get that blood work done!

Alaska and other northern and southern latitudes have Seasonal Affective Disorder rates at almost 10x higher than other parts of the world. This list may especially useful for people living in these low-light areas.

They have nice tax incentives to move to Alaska. But, if you are a person who loves your sunlight, don’t live there. Just don’t live in Alaska. There’s not much in Alaska anyway besides the Aurora Borealis.

These have been tips that work for me and I can cite references if anyone has questions.

Hopefully I’ll go on vacation to tropical island and get some sun and warm weather come December. Vacation is never a bad idea if you need a mental health break.

Be well this winter!



The Psychiatric Ward and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Or: An Oddly Personal Reaction to the News.

I was once in a psychiatric hospital against my will. And yes, they can get just as terrible as mainstream media can make them seem. I don’t keep my mental health problems a secret. Or my involuntary commitment a secret; it’s not an experience I care to repress or forget. At the same time, I’ve never publicly blogged about it before it now.

It happened 16 months ago, and although it’s left an indelible mark on my psyche, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to get the experience out in a single entry. “The Psych Ward Story” is a complicated story and when asked why it happened I usually sigh and say, “an unfortunate series of events.”

There were lots of traumatic aspects of the ordeal in addition to the obvious confinement: Being denied birth control by the Catholic hospital. Being transferred to another hospital in a poorer area with an under-trained and under-educated staff. Being prescribed psychotropic drugs that I knew from extensive experience were not going to help or agree with me. Being misdiagnosed.* Being falsely accused of being danger to myself.

But the incident that I would ping in my head as “the most wrong” in the week-long experience was when my doctor refused to give me access to my court paperwork and refused to give me the identity or phone number of the public defender. (There were also a nurse and a counselor present at my first and only meeting with the psychiatrist. They were silent.)

It was as simple and as curt as a “No.” My basic rights, probably as citizen and most definitely as a patient, were flagrantly violated.

I never did pursue a civil lawsuit. Besides legal fees and the desire to not re-live the experience, it was disheartening but unsurprising to learn that my requests to pursue my legal options to formally contest the confinement were never documented. My hopeless crying at the psychiatrist’s dismissal of me was ironically* recorded by the doctor in the progress notes as, “Patient thinks [referring to self in third person] does not care.”

These days I get emotional when reading about anything remotely related to civil rights violations, specifically unjust treatment during confinement. Some days I’m afraid I’m becoming a libertarian. I don’t know enough about trauma to talk about it on a medical level, but I do know that I never used to start crying when reading about the disgrace that is Guantanamo. And I have no doubt that had the psych ward incident not have happened, I would not avoid listening to the Bradley Manning tapes out of fear of having a panic attack.

So today when I read that the Boston Marathon bombing suspect was not Mirandized, my immediate thoughts were, “That’s terrible!” and then “I bet Glenn Greenwald is going to go off about this.”

Greenwald already did:

Needless to say, Tsarnaev is probably the single most hated figure in America now. As a result, as Bazelon noted, not many people will care what is done to him, just like few people care what happens to the accused terrorists at Guantanamo, or Bagram, or in Yemen and Pakistan. But that’s always how rights are abridged: by targeting the most marginalized group or most hated individual in the first instance, based on the expectation that nobody will object because of how marginalized or hated they are. Once those rights violations are acquiesced to in the first instance, then they become institutionalized forever, and there is no basis for objecting once they are applied to others.

I cried a lot at that editorial. Not that I want to hyperbolize my experience by comparing it to individuals of national interest or make a plea on behalf of all those that have undergone civil or criminal commitment. I just wanted to make note of the highly personal ways individuals can react to current events based on their own experiences.

Today, in a weird way, I find myself having empathy for a terrorist. Or, to be fully politically correct, an alleged terrorist. I too have made had my fundamental rights abrogated in the name of “safety.” And as an American and an idealist, it makes me very sad.


*My only long-standing diagnosis is Major Depressive Disorder. The same inpatient psychiatrist who shit on my Due Process later carelessly listed the “Final Diagnosis” on my discharge report as “Schizophrenia.”