Light Your Way This Winter with light therapy

SAD, depression, mental healthThe winter solstice just passed. The good news is that from now until mid-summer, our days will only be getting longer and longer. The bad news is that it also means that right now is the darkest period of the year.

I hadn’t really given much thought to the prevalence of darkness other than to grudgingly accept it as part of my least favorite season. Then my daughter and I attended a solstice ceremony at her Waldorf preschool. The school made a small labyrinth of pine boughs with a big candle lit in the center. Each child got a small candle of his or her own and took a turn walking the labyrinth to light the small candle off the larger flame—the idea being that making that walk and lighting your candle will remind you to keep your own light shining even when things are at their darkest. It was simple and sweet—and powerful. As I held her hand and we made our way to the center of the spiral, it clicked for me that we don’t have to just muddle through the dark days. We can literally take steps to keep our own light shining until the sun comes back in spring.

Here are some ways each one of us can make sure we get enough light in our lives over the next few months—metaphorically and literally.

Try light therapy. If you notice a downtick in your mood during the winter months (and I’ve seen estimates that as many 11 million Americans suffer from full-blown Seasonal Affective Disorder and 25 from the less severe “winter blues”), why not make this the year you try light therapy? A recent Canadian study found that sitting in front of a lightbox for 30 minutes a day was as effective at relieving symptoms of depression as taking Prozac—and only took a week to start having an effect (as opposed to anti-depressants, which can take several weeks to make an improvement). Light boxes cost about $150. But what’s worth more than your happiness?

Seek the heat. Saunas, steam rooms, hot tubs, and even hot or Bikram yoga increase your internal temperature and help you sweat out anything your body doesn’t need. It also feels great be warm all the way down to your bones. Since I’m pregnant, I can’t indulge in any of these activities this winter—so please, get your shvitz on for me!

Candles. You can also keep things very low-tech and get yourself a candle or two or three or twenty. Lighting one at meal times or bath time turns an everyday event in to a soul-satisfying ritual, and it takes all of five seconds to do. I love pure beeswax candles, either unscented (they have a subtle sweet scent all their own) or scented with pure essential oils, because I know they aren’t mucking up my indoor air with anything artificial. I’ve also read that burning beeswax produces positive ions, which bind with negative ions (also known as free radicals), creating a force field, if you will, of health-promoting air. It’s hearsay, but it makes me feel even better about the simple ritual of striking a match and enjoying the glow.

Supplement with Vitamin D. Vitamin D is the superstar of the vitamin world at the moment—known as the “sunshine vitamin” because our bodies manufacture it when our skin is exposed to sunlight, it is currently coming to light how essential this nutrient is to numerous areas of wellbeing, including bone health, immunity, and treating and preventing chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Sadly, a whopping 75% of Americans are deficient in Vitamin D. If you live north of about Nashville, it’s unlikely that you get the sunshine you need to manufacture enough Vitamin D during the winter months. I’ve interviewed several medical experts for stories on Vitamin D (including one on boosting your immunity coming out in the January issue of Delicious Living, which is available for free in health food stores), and they all recommend taking at least1000 IUs of D every day to insure that you’re getting enough.

Congrats to Mary Beth!
She won a dreamy set of organic skincare products from Odacité—a company started by fellow reader Valerie Grandury. They make your products to order so you know you’re getting the goods as fresh as they can possibly be. I’ve been using the products in the Elegance line and my skin is glowing—plus, they smell and feel so good that they motivate me to washy my face before bed when I might otherwise be tempted to skip skincare for the night.

Mary Beth shared her tip for staying sane during the holidays. I love it because it shows that you don’t have to do a big, formal self-care practice—just doing 15 minutes of something you love every day can have a big impact on your stress levels and mood.

“During this hectic season, I take time to read something in a quiet space for at least fifteen minutes each day. It works wonders. Though it’s a short amount time, it gives me the sense that I have accomplished something (however small) and that I have stuck to a schedule.”

There were lots of great ideas, read them all here.

I hope you all have a restful and peaceful holiday week.

Take care and keep breathing,



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5 thoughts on “Light Your Way This Winter with light therapy

  1. Thanks for this post Kate! As a registered dietitian I can’t stress enough the importance of enough Vitamin D. This year I’ve seen new research that suggests even mild insufficiency could contribute towards serious health issues like hypertension, certain cancers – even immunity. Also a quick reminder that Vitamin D is best absorbed when taken with meals (especially if there’s a bit of fat in that meal).
    Lisa Cashman MS, RD, CDN

  2. I was floored recently when I received the results from a blood test that said I was deficient
    in D. I have a light box and it didn’t seem to help so maybe this is what is needed

  3. Light therapy is an incredible technology! It has so many immense benefits for mind, body, and skin. This is a fantastic post with tons of great info. This can be a hard time of year for many parts of the country that don’t see much of the sun. Your information will help lots of people this season!

  4. Great ideas for winter! Last year I suffered from the “blues” in winter and I couldn’t figure out why for the longest time. I’d never had the issue before. Then I realized that because of a change in my work schedule, I was literally arriving at work before it was light out and leaving when it was dark. I hadn’t been getting any daylight exposure at all! And that quickly adds up. I was able to change my schedule and almost immediately I felt better.

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