Posted Under Health & Healing

Light and Color Vs. Seasonal Affective Disorder

Hands in the Sun

It was Thanksgiving. For most people in the United States, the end of November marked the beginning of a time for being with your family and friends. For me it was a time to dread. I hated winters, and winters hated me.

For over ten years, every winter had the same effect on me. My eating habits changed, and I would end up gaining fifteen to twenty pounds in no time. It might not have been as bad if I exercised as much as I did the rest of the year, but I would be tired all the time and just couldn't get going. My work in the data processing division suffered because I couldn't seem to concentrate on anything.

Because I'd gain weight and my work suffered I became terrified that I might lose my job. If I did lose it, how would I survive? I'd become filled with despair. After five years of this winter negativity, my wife divorced me. I couldn't really blame her. After my marriage failed, I neatly avoided any sort of relationship during the winter. And yet, in the spring I would bounce back. I'd feel great and exercise daily. I'd lose weight and start dating until Thanksgiving and the months that followed.

I thought about moving south. Currently I live in a city in northern Minnesota that is called the coldest city in the States. And it's true, our winters are very harsh up here in International Falls. But the company I work for was headquartered here and unless I got another job there was no way I was leaving this place. Besides, I do like it here -- the people are wonderful and seeing the effects of the seasons and even the Northern Lights is incredible. But over the last decade, every winter has made me feel worse and worse.

As the American economy went through a downturn, my company was affected. One of the changes they made was to get a different health insurance provider, so I had to have a physical. I can see now that this was one of the best things that had ever happened to me.


As the doctor examined me, he noticed the gloomy look on my face. "Are you unhappy about something? Does something hurt?" he asked.

"I'm sorry, Doctor." I replied. "It just seems that every winter I get surly."

"Really?" he asked. "Tell me more."

So I told him how every winter was worse than the one before. I had no energy and would reach for those fatty foods and gain weight. I felt depressed and had trouble with work. I didn't discuss it with a doctor before because in a few months, with the coming of Spring, I'd quickly revive.

"Hmm," he mused. "Do you ever feel this way during the other seasons of the year?"

"No. Just winter."

"Do you ever feel anxious, like you're waiting for something important to happen but it never does?"

"Yes, that's exactly right." I perked up. "You're familiar with this? Is it some sort of disease?"

"Do your relationships, both personal and professional, suffer as a result of what you feel?"

"Yes. Yes. What is it? What have I got? Can you treat it?"

The doctor wrote something in the file he was getting together about me. Then he looked up at me. "If you had the conditions you described year round, the diagnosis would be 'clinical depression.' I'd put you on some strong mood-altering drugs, which have a very profound effect on the body."

"But I don't have it year round," I said. "I only have it in the winter. Is it possible to be clinically depressed on a part-time basis?"

He laughed and said, "Sorry, you don't have depression. You have SAD."

"I'm sad? That's it? The cause is that I'm sad?"

"No, you have SAD. That's Seasonal Affective Disorder."

"I've never heard of that."

"Most people haven't. It was first described in 1984, only fifteen years ago.

"So far, researchers haven't been able to find physical causes, although the symptoms you describe are typical of clinical depression, which is often a physiological problem. It usually occurs in women over 30, but lots of men get it, too.

"Contributing factors seem to be the season—sometimes it's called 'Winter Depression'—the climate (including storms and cloud cover), and even how much time you spend indoors. It seems that people who live in northern areas are more likely to get SAD."

"Is there a treatment?" I asked.

"There are several, including using those powerful drugs. But that should probably be the last resort. SAD seems to be related to the amount of light and exercise you get. What I'd like you to do is simply get one of those fluorescent light fixtures that holds four bulbs. Sit in front of it for 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening. And get some exercise."

"Light? Sit in front of lights?" This sounds a bit like Voodoo or something."

The doctor laughed. "It seems that light creates some sort of physiological effect on the hormones of the brain. A more expensive treatment includes a special light that gradually gets brighter to wake you up. But for now, let's just try the plain light therapy. Come back in a month if you're not better."


That afternoon I purchased a fixture and some bulbs from one of those big warehouses. I set it up in my living room. It was so bright I wanted to wear sunglasses. I sat in front of that big thing for 30 minutes, twice a day, for a week. I still felt hungry all the time, depressed, and listless. It wasn't working.

I started thinking that light comes in different wavelengths, and each wavelength might have a different effect. I knew that each wavelength was seen as a different color. Perhaps using colored lights to heal me might help. But what colors?

Something in the back of my head reminded me that using colored lights to heal was done by alternative healing practitioners. So I went to a bookstore and scanned several different books to see if any mentioned using colored lights. I finally picked up a copy of Healing Alternatives for Beginners by Kay Henrion. I chose her book for a couple of reasons. First, the cover says that she "is an Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner with more than twenty years experience in the nursing field." This gave me confidence that she knew what she was talking about. Second, the book has a chapter called "Healing Hues of Color."

I took the book home and went right to that chapter. It begins by sharing a bunch of theory about color and how colors heal. Frankly, I wasn't interested in that. I just wanted the facts about what colors you can use for different purposes. Here is a brief summary of the colors and their uses (p. 80-81):

  • Red: Speeds up sluggish body systems. Gives an extra boost of energy.
  • Green: Rebuilds damaged bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, cells.
  • Blue: Calming. Reduces pain and discomfort. It works mainly on the nervous system. Good for some insect stings.
  • Pink: Also calming. Produces a state of peace and well being. Reduces stress.
  • White: All purpose. Helps to change negative behavior. Protection.

The book talks about "mentally wrapping" people in these colors to achieve these purposes, but I wasn't sure what that meant. So I looked at the list and saw that I probably needed to add some red light. (I included the list above so that if you have a different need, perhaps you can find a solution with light.)

I went back to the warehouse and bought four clamp-on lamps and four red flood lights. I hooked two on either side of the fluorescent fixture. This way I would get the white light and the red.


I continued with the two, 30-minute daily treatments using all of the lights. It was on the fifth day I noticed that I wasn't tired. A couple of days later and I started feeling different. I was actually in a good mood. People noticed it. One person said, "I see you turned that frown upside down!" and I laughed instead of growled at the silly comment. I was feeling good.

I told the doctor about what happened. His comment "If it doesn't hurt and it does help, use it."

So that's my story. Before I tried using colored lights to heal, I thought alternative healing was just a way for someone to scam money off desperate people. Now I'm not so sure, especially since the approved therapy many doctors prescribe for people suffering from SAD includes the use of light. They know that light does have an effect on you. They may not know how it works, but they do know that it works. For me, I needed to work with colored lights as well as white light. I don't know why it worked, either, but it did. So that's what I've been doing. This winter looks to be the best I've had in many years!

I just used the light therapy—as described in Healing Alternatives for Beginners—it worked for me! That started me wondering about other forms of alternative therapies (meditation, visualization, homeopathy, dietetics, herbology, laying on of hands, etc.) that are described in this book.

I've been studying it, and some of these "healing modalities" sound awfully strange to me. But so did healing with light until I tried it. Perhaps alternative medicine is not so alternative after all.

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