Think light, bright in winter to avoid depression


‘Tis no longer the season to feel jolly --instead, people may feel "SAD."

The cold weather and lack of sunlight this time of year gives way to Season Affective Disorder --appropriately acronymed SAD. It's a real form of depression that is common in the Northeast, but treatable, according to Jennifer Michaels, a psychologist at Berkshire Medical Center and The Brien Center in Pittsfield.

"It's a subtype of regular depression which can look like a hibernation," Michaels said. "People sleep more, they tend to crave food and eat more, and may have difficulty concentrating."

Michaels said that about 10 percent of the population in Berkshire County suffer from seasonal depression this time of year, compared to one percent in parts of Florida.

"It's related to light, and the absence of light," Michaels said. "Symptoms revisit people in the fall and winter, but tend to dissipate in the spring."

Exposure to artificial light is one remedy according to Michaels, but she discourages the use of tanning beds because of the exposure to UV rays.

Instead, she recommends a 10,000-lux light box, a therapeutic light box that doesn't use UV lights. They are readily available in many stores, and sometimes are covered by insurance, Michaels said. They decrease the amount of Melatonin in the brain that causes people to feel sluggish.

"People start with 10-minute sessions, then build up," Michaels said. "Don't look at them directly."

Still, tanning salons like Banana Tana, 575 Tyler St., still experiences an increase in business. David Demyer, the manager, said it's because people are looking to expose themselves to sunlight again to prepare for vacations. Or they're trying to get rid of "cabin fever," another name for Season Affective Disorder.

Demyer knows little something about Seasonal Affective Disorder: When he was in the military, he lived in Alaska, a state known for its darkness.

"We're part of nature, everything needs a balance of sun and [darkness]," Demyer said. "People crave it like the foliage does."

The exposure to the artificial sunlight increases Melanin and Vitamin D, which makes "your endorphins pop, and you feel so good," Demyer said.

Demyer said that Banana Tana practices safe tanning, and people have to work up to a full 15-minute session, which he said is equivalent to an hour of full exposure in natural sunlight.

"When people come out, they're happy," he said.

There are also ways to proof your home from seasonal depression, according to Mitch Plaine, the owner of United Country Property Events. He recently posted an article he found on, titled "Season Mood Elevators Brighten Berkshire Spirits."

The article suggests getting rid of clutter outside of your home to get you outdoors, and also bringing bright patterns into the house.

"Surround yourself with bright colors and happiness," he said.

To reach Adam Poulisse:,
or (413) 496-6214.
On Twitter: @BE_Poulisse


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