The Insider Picks team writes about stuff we think you’ll like. Business Insider has affiliate partnerships, so we get a share of the revenue from your purchase.
- Mara Leighton
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects millions of people each year. It often starts in the fall and continues into winter months. Symptoms can include fatigue, depression, and social withdrawal.
- One highly recommended and inexpensive treatment is light therapy, which mimics the elements found in sunlight.
- I tried the new Verilux HappyLight Touch ($79.95) and found that my mood pretty much instantly improved. It’s not ideal to spend $80 on anything, but it’s relatively cheap and convenient.
- I chose the HappyLight Touch because it’s sleek and unobtrusive in my apartment and easy to move around – both at home and for travel.
The cold months, and their characteristically long, dark, chilly days, are known to usher in SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) for millions of people each year. Energy levels and moods drop, sleep quality worsens, and some, like me, eschew hobbies and activities they enjoy to burrow into the comfort of their homes under two weighted blankets until the weather lifts.
SAD, if you’re unfamiliar, is a type of depression that occurs at a certain time each year – usually the fall or winter, according to the Mayo Clinic. One possible treatment that’s relatively inexpensive, convenient, and effective is light therapy.
Light therapy, in a nutshell, includes siting by or working near a light-emanating device that essentially mimics the elements of bright, natural light. In one study, an immediate improvement in mood was observed after one session as short as 20 minutes. It feels almost primal, and it can ticks the right boxes in your brain to produce better, happier, more energetic moods. According to doctors, you should start light therapy in the early fall and continue through the spring, or until the natural light is sufficient enough to provide those higher energy levels.
When looking for a light therapy box, you want to search for something with 10,000-lux light. The Wirecutter and the Center for Environmental Therapeutics (a nonprofit collective of scientists and clinicians focused on environmental therapies) suggests the $115 Carex Day-Light Classic Lamp, but I opted for the new Verilux HappyLight Touch ($79.95) instead. It meets the requirements for efficacy, and it’s far more portable and unobtrusive in a shoe box New York City apartment. Since it’s more convenient, I’m more likely to use it rather than resent it for taking up two-thirds of my most spacious room corner. It also small enough for travel.
For me, this has been a great fit, and one that isn’t disruptive to my life. The Verilux HappyLight emits 10,000-lux light, and claims to be the first with personalized settings of brightness levels and two colors of light (day light and warm light). It’s sleek and looks like a tablet, so it fits in well with the rest of my decor and can be slipped into a purse or suitcase. Though technically you can wall mount it, I like the convenience of mobility.
To use it most effectively, the light from the light box needs to enter your eyes indirectly. Don’t look right into it or you may damage them (same rules as the sun). Ideally, you’ll set it up about 16 to 24 inches from your face. With 10,000-lux light, sessions typically involve daily sessions of 20-30 minutes. Lower intensity boxes will require longer sessions. Whatever you opt for, the most important factor is just being consistent.
For most people, light therapy is most effective when you do it right after you wake up in the morning – but you may want to check with your doctor for a personal plan. For me, it’s a really great ritual to begin the day with. When I leave my room’s watery light (courtesy of a blocked off window in Manhattan), the real sunshine outdoors feels brighter and more invigorating.
Though my experience won’t always be the same as the next person, I can firmly say that this light does, indeed, make me feel happier. Surprisingly so. Having said that, I’ll readily admit that I’m already sensitive to my environment (my best home splurge was smart lights with 50,000 shades of white light), and that the sickly light in my low apartment has been known to kill strong plants even when perched on windowsills. So this is a definite upgrade.
The major upside to this type of therapy is that it’s inexpensive. You should not replace regular in-person therapy sessions with light therapy, but it may be an affordable supplement. I think feeling more relaxed and happy at home, and overall, is worth the $80. Investing in mental health is important to me, and this light is probably one of the cheaper therapy bills I’ll rack up in life for such immediate and convenient results.
Part of the reason light therapy boxes are so beloved is their safety and convenience – but you should check with your doctor before using one, just to be certain. If you’re taking any medications or have any conditions that make you sensitive to light, it may not be for you.
It’s also worth noting that light therapy probably won’t cure Seasonal Affective Disorder or other types of non-seasonal depression. But, it may decrease symptoms and make you feel happier, better, and more energetic in the meantime.
I still come home some winter nights feeling fatigued, and there are still mornings when I feel lethargic, but I genuinely feel happier, calmer, and more like myself with a light therapy lamp session. It’s not ideal to spend $80 on something you may see as inessential, but it’s one of the cheaper options, and I wouldn’t regret the expense.
If you’re considering a light therapy box, this has been a good option for me. You may want to visit your doctor before getting your own, but I’d recommend keeping this one on the list.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or has had thoughts of harming themselves or taking their own life, get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress, as well as best practices for professionals and resources to aid in prevention and crisis situations.