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How Light Affects Bipolar Disorder Patients

In some parts of the United States snow is already on the ground, in some places it has been for quite a while (hello, Alaska). I do not care for snow. I have lived places with blizzards and they can be fun for a bit but then the dirty slush is left behind and it just feels dirty everywhere. I now live in the South and prefer my winters. I did not see a single snow flake last year and that was perfectly fine with me.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or S.A.D, is a mental condition in which a person’s mood is affected by the season. Although this a condition that can be diagnosed, I believe a lot of people feel the effects of seasonal change, including those of us who live with bipolar disorder. Already with the waning light, I feel more lethargic and sad. This happens every year. My deeper, longer depressive episodes lurk in the shadows of winter. Conversely, my manic and hypomanic states tend to occur in spring and especially summer.

So, why does all this happen? Well, mainly because of the sun and the lack of, or of its abundance. On sunny days our brain creates more serotonin which boosts our mood than it does on darker days. Sun can create an increase in vitamin D and, you guessed, vitamin D boosts energy levels by creating more serotonin, that feel good chemical. In a world where we have become much more knowledgeable about skin cancer and the aging effects of the sun, we now avoid the sun more than we used to and block it out with sun protection products thus thwarting our vitamin D intake.

Why is it important to get some sunlight in the winter? For the reasons listed above. We need that serotonin. How can we get that light we crave? Bundle up and go for a fifteen minute walk in the sun. That is all we really need, fifteen minutes. If you can manage a walk with your sunlight seeking you are also increasing your serotonin with exercise. Win, win. But if all you can manage is a blanket and a cup of hot cocoa on the patio, do it, dear reader. Just remember light thwarts depression and for that, I will do just about anything.

So, my Alaskan readers with barely any sun during your short days, what do you do? You buy a handy dandy light box. Light therapy is a stand in for the sun. It has the same benefits as a sunny day boosting that ‘ole serotonin. Here is how it work: you purchase a light box. There are many to choose from and they come in all sizes. Basically you put the box in a place where the light will reach your open eyes. You can place it next to your computer (which is what I used to do), on a table as a reading light, where you eat. It is not something you really have to go out of your way to use and is actually quite convenient and as easy as it is, you reap the benefits.

Some places with extremely dark winters have found light therapy extremely important. In Sweden, there are cafes where you can have your latte while soaking up your light. To me, this is genius. You are there for the needed time and you are not thinking, ‘Geez, how much longer with this stupid light’ (though, if you use it, you won’t think it stupid). I believe the allotted time to use the light is at least fifteen minutes to half an hour. One latte later, your serotonin is up and you have energy for the day.

I strongly encourage you to get some sun as the seasons change. A light box is a fantastic idea. Depression is boring.

How Light Affects Bipolar Disorder Patients

Elaina J. Martin

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APA Reference
Martin, E. (2019). How Light Affects Bipolar Disorder Patients. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 21, 2020, from


Last updated: 11 Nov 2019
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