Help Me Not Be SAD
October 22, 2008 4:21 AM   Subscribe

I'm heading into my first Northern European winter, and all of my Berlin friends are regaling me with stories of months spent in a state of unrelenting malaise while developing alcohol problems and watching people throw themselves on to the Bahn tracks. I had problems with depression even when I lived in California, so I'm trying to develop a strategy for a suicide-free season. My primary question: will the sunbeds at my local pool constitute "light therapy"?

I've read through the previous questions on light therapy and SAD, and am looking for some floor lamps and full-spectrum lightbulbs (by the way, if you know what those are called in German you will win a special cash prize of an as-yet-undisclosed amount). I also am pro-midday walks and cardiovascular exercise. But I'm wondering if the sunbeds provide the type of light ("blue light"?) used in light therapy, or if I'm just courting a bad tan and skin cancer.

Whatever the lizard part of my brain is that responds to light therapy is called thanks you in advance.
posted by foxy_hedgehog to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The general definition of a light therapy lamp is:

1) Full Spectrum, at least moderately so. CRI of 93 or better, daylight balanced.

2) 10000 lux is preferred. 2500 lux can be effective, but requires more exposure.

So the answer is "I can't tell," since I don't know the output, distance, or spectrum.

I'd consult with a psych health professional first. Northern Europe is surprisingly far north compared to what USians are used to, and my first time in York turned out to be surprisingly hard to deal with. It's not just the lack of daylight, it's the low angled light (so it seems you have two hours of sunrise and two hours of sunset.

On the "bright" side, if the sun does come out, you get some great light for photography.
posted by eriko at 5:02 AM on October 22, 2008

Best answer: Lights used for SAD can be bright full-spectrum or a particular wavelength of blue light, though the way they're used can differ - I don't think there's much good evidence to favour one or the other, but I haven't really looked. Sunbeds won't help since their output is mostly ultraviolet; you'd also have to spend far too long in them as light therapy is supposed to be used for at least 30 minutes a day.

The German Apparently the German for "light therapy device" is "lichttherapiegerät". If you search for that you can find various German websites selling them. For example this, from
posted by xchmp at 5:02 AM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think xchmp is correct in calling this a "Lichttherapiegerät" (I am a native speaker but haven't exactly asked for one of these yet).

remember that winter depression requires solitude. surround yourself with people to fight it off. this can mean going out with friends as well as just leaving your own four walls behind. party, have plenty of Gluehwein, go walking/jogging/running/biking/hiking early in the morning when the sun is coming up and everything is draped in a warm glow.

and for pete's sake, build an obscene and offensive snowman. your flickr stream needs that.
posted by krautland at 5:29 AM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When I lived in Sweden many, many years ago, sunbeds were an accepted weapon in the battle against the gloom, but I always suspected that it was more of the "if you look good, you feel good" school of thought. And it was the 80s, and people were still convinced sunbeds were good for you, which they aren't.

As Krautland said, getting out of the house was a big deal, or having lots of friends over so they can get out of theirs. And don't take everyone's war stories entirely to heart, either - it is entirely possible to think yourself into a depression when you'd otherwise be in pretty good shape. Come spring, expect to look back at the winter and think "oh my god, that was so awful," but that says more about the relief of spring than the actual awfulness of the winter.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:17 AM on October 22, 2008

Best answer: I went from California to the far north and definitely you want to be surrounded by people and activities. Take up things like snow shoeing, skiing, seeing films. Have activities for home like personal film festivals or take classes. You need to keep active. Be aware that you will want to sleep and crave very sweet, fatty, salty foods so don't go into the depression cycle about the weight gain and be prepared for that response from your body.

You will also entertain, possibly unusual thoughts, like carving Moses receiving the Ten Commandments in potato as a response to all the nativity action in the neighborhood or shave your head with idea that it will grow back more thick by the spring; choose and use those moments wisely.
posted by jadepearl at 7:03 AM on October 22, 2008 [3 favorites]

Fellow SAD sufferer here, back in Texas after 4 winters in New Jersey. I've also lived in Yorkshire and remember how depressing the low light and early sundowns were.

My experience was that the best depression-buster I could find was a trip to parts south in January or February. Consider a long weekend in southern Italy, France, or Spain at about that time if you can afford it. You'll come back light-refreshed and better able to cope.
posted by immlass at 7:28 AM on October 22, 2008

I was driven more crazy by how late it stayed light in summer. Just sayin'.
posted by Goofyy at 7:42 AM on October 22, 2008

Best answer: no no. I just looked into this for myself. You want a SAD light to be UV free, so you can use it for an hour with no damage, and glance at it. It's looking at it as much as anything. If you look in a sunbed it will fuck you up, hence the goggles.
posted by Not Supplied at 8:45 AM on October 22, 2008

As someone who is living north of the Arctic Circle, I can tell you:

1. too much light and lack of sleep is more annoying than darkness (seconding goofyy)

2. Keeping busy is probably more important than worrying over how much light your skin has received on a given day (seconding Krautland and lyn).

3. The last person in my position left behind a goLITE p1 in my office which supposedly emits a certain safe wavelength that combats depression. I priced these on e-bay and they are expensive as hell. I'll sell you mine cheap if you're worried... It's as big as a paperback book. I don't use it. I'm too busy going to the gym, playing wii, reading and hiking.
posted by Brodiggitty at 9:04 AM on October 22, 2008

I'm in the Pacific North West where the rain and clouds move in around Halloween and tend not to leave until at least March, so we know all about gloom. My strategy is simply to go out into it. Face the season. Own decent outdoor gear, hike, go for walks, keep the blood pumping. Winter air is usually the cleanest, freshest of the year so get it moving through you. Marijuana also helps.
posted by philip-random at 9:28 AM on October 22, 2008

Best answer: I bought my SAD light from these people on eBay, who are coincidentally in Germany and apparently also have a website. I've been really happy with it. Keeping busy, embracing the season for what it is, both are of vital importance, but if you have a tendency towards SAD in the darkest days of the year then I do recommend the light as well.

Long walks in the cold air and cosy evenings with gluehwein are also highly recommended too!
posted by different at 10:47 AM on October 22, 2008

Oops, this link is better.
posted by different at 10:49 AM on October 22, 2008

Long walks in the cold air... are also highly recommended too!

Can I emphasize this? Winter here in MN has always been a tough season for me - it's not just the loss of daylight but that it's such a hassle to go out in what sun there is... then the baby came along who must have exercise no matter the weather! Go out whenever the weather isn't absolutely prohibitive, it makes such a difference.
posted by nanojath at 10:54 AM on October 22, 2008

Response by poster: I was just told about Gluehwein as Germany's Hamburger Helper for winter! Krautland and xchmp, thanks for the Deutschesprache tips (I suspected it was a compound word of some kind, but whenever I try to come up with my own I usually get blank stares in response.

Thanks everyone, for the advice and for reminding me that this really is what Colin Powell would have called a multi-lateral strategy. Off to the woods...
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 1:50 AM on October 23, 2008

I've noticed that the typical German "Solarium" can indeed help with mild depressive symptoms. I sometimes visit one exactly for this effect.
Don't fear the German winter! We invented "Gemütlichkeit", the perfect tool to survive - and even enjoy - the cold months. Buy Lebkuchen and invite friends for a "Spieleabend", and you'll be fine.

[As an aside, and hopefully not relevant for you: most suicides take place not in dreary Winter, but in May. Suicidality is not a common symptom of SAD. If you develop suicidal thoughts, you probably suffer from Major Depression. In that case, "Lichttherapie" probably won't help.]
posted by The Toad at 4:09 AM on October 23, 2008

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