September 13, 2010

Heading off the Winter Blues, By Theresa Emerson

Filed under: Story — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — BringChange2Mind @ 12:30 am

The Fall season and the approach of the holidays seem to trigger an influx of lows for me.  I have always been affected by the shorter days and lack of sunshine.  In fact, I used to joke that I’m solar powered and it turns out that that’s not far from the truth!

Many people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder and for me, it can be the first trigger of depression and anxiety.   Early on, before I had a good understanding of my mental health I fell victim to these depressive phases in my life, struggling through these cycles year after year.   Privately, I was constantly tired, not eating, cried easily and felt very alone fluctuating between apathy and high anxiety.  On the outside, I did my best to smile my way through these phases.  Unfortunately when one of these phases coincided with the timing of my divorce and the death of a dear friend and her son, I “crashed”.    When major life stressors occur during low phases, the end result can be emotionally devastating.

Through the help of a wonderful therapist and Zoloft, I was able to get back on my feet emotionally.   It took awhile to find the right medication, in fact Zoloft was my third medication and I gave each medication a fairly long trial period so the whole process seemed to take forever.

Ironically two months before her death, my friend  had given me a SAD light box to use and it has been a tremendous help to me.  I pull out my light and use it practically every morning from November through April.  I wake up, grab a cup of green tea, turn on the Today show and fire up my computer and sit in bed with my light shining on me from the bedside table.  It only takes about 20-30 mins a day for me to get the boost that I need.  On those mornings when I don’t have the time to sit next to my light, enjoying my cup of tea, I place the light on my bathroom vanity and it shines on me while I get ready for the day.   Another option is to place it on my kitchen counter right next to me while I prepare and have my breakfast.  All of these little opportunities offer valuable “light time”!

I also do my best to eat and drink healthily and I think that helps my emotional/mental health as well as my physical health.  My personal experience has been that when my body is struggling to process unhealthy foods, it increases feelings of fatigue.  And when you’re constantly fatigued, it’s easy to get down.  It can be a slippery slope.

There have been times over the years that I have had to go back on Zoloft.   Times when life’s circumstances create feelings of lows and anxiety that I find hard to control.  I now have a good sense of when I need to go back on medication and luckily am able to control my health through a very low dose.  My advice is to get to know your body, listen to it and try to recognize the triggers that affect your mental health.     It’s not a particularly easy or quick process but it is worth it!

Theresa Emerson

BringChange2Mind Volunteer



  1. You make some really good points, Theresa, and thank you for sharing your experiences. We’ve used light therapy over the years to combat a very strong and persistent seasonal depression with one of my daughters. It works really well when we we are proactive and start the process before things head too far south. As you said, it can be a very slippery slope. Regular sleep patterns, exercise, balanced diet all play a significant role in our mental wellness as does recognizing when medications can play an important role.

    For our family, the key is knowing and listening to our bodies, recognizing potential triggers (such as lack of sleep, changes in seasons, life stressors) and not being afraid to ask for help. Our wellness depends on the support of our family, friends and clinicians and we are grateful for all of those wonderful people in our lives. And for BringChange2Mind!

    Comment by Nanci Schiman — September 13, 2010 @ 9:25 am

  2. Thanks for sharing the info. Where do you get a SAD light? Also, do you know if the salt lamps are similar in the theraputic way? Lisa

    Comment by La Duchessa Lisa — September 13, 2010 @ 10:26 am

  3. Thanks for sharing Theresa! I have never heard of the SAD light before. I am so glad that SAD is becoming more and more recognized. The winter season is so demanding in and of itself with all the holiday preparations that it is so easy for someone without every day mental health issues to feel very overwhelmed and anxious. I can certainly relate with how hard this time period is for those with mental health issues as my husband Chris has Bipolar Disorder. We hear so much about the more recognized disorders so thanks for shedding some light on what it is like to live with SAD. Sharing your efforts to use your SAD light will give great ideas to others who have one or get one as a result of your post.

    Jenny Prochut
    BringChange2Mind Volunteer

    Comment by Jenny Prochut — September 13, 2010 @ 1:00 pm

  4. Lisa, the main thing to watch for is that you get a lamp that is 10,000 lux. Here’s one article on light therapy that might be helpful:

    Here are a few websites that sell lights:

    Comment by Nanci Schiman — September 13, 2010 @ 7:31 pm

  5. I have recently acquired a light box because of a particularly intense hormonal depressive event where I lost more sleep than usual and was motivated to look for everything and anything to help. It made me lose hours at work and I cannot afford to start missing work. I was concerned about the exposure to my eyes, but I visited my eye doctor this week and she okay’d the use of the light box for me. My question for you…is your depression linked to hormones. I know mine is, but I still believe that light box therapy will help with my mood and sleep issues. It is difficult to say what is helping now as I am on a number of herbs and also hormones. Anyone suffering from depression…please seek professional help (no shame in that) and also keep trying therapies until you find relief. Life was meant for living not suffering, don’t settle for less.

    Comment by Goldie Girl 51 — November 27, 2010 @ 12:36 pm

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