As the season shifts to a cold, murky winter, you may find that your mood mirrors the world around you. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depressive disorder triggered by the changing of the seasons. It typically kicks in toward the end of fall and can last for months at a time. The symptoms manifest as low moods, tiredness, and a difficulty concentrating, as well as these additional signs of SAD. Now, researchers in Vermont think they may have found the most effective solution to this condition yet, and it doesn’t cost a thing.
Between 4 and 6 percent of the population battles with SAD, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians—that’s more than 14 million Americans. Another 10 to 20 percent of people have a mild form of SAD. The most common SAD treatment is light box therapy. The strong light produces by the box mimics natural sunlight, increasing a person’s serotonin levels and boosting their well-being. Yet it comes with downsides: The therapy doesn’t always work, a box can be costly, and you may have to sit in front of it for long periods of time.
According to a study by the University of Vermont, there may be a more effective way to combat the onset of SAD: talking through it. The researchers recruited 177 participants, all of whom were suffering from the disorder. Over the course of six weeks, each individual was treated using either light therapy or a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) designed to challenge and change their negative thoughts about winter darkness. This is how CBT works to change your behavior.
The researchers checked back in with the participants two winters after the initial treatment. Nearly half of people who tried the light box therapy reported a recurrence of their depression, while only 27 percent of the people who had CBT suffered a recurrence. The results seem to suggest that using CBT and talking about the issue may be a more effective long-term strategy than using a gadget to simulate daylight.
“The degree of improvement was substantial,” writes Kelly Rohan, a psychology professor at the University of Vermont and the lead author on the study. While both treatments seemed to help considerably, CBT had longer lasting benefits, say the researchers.
The core idea of CBT is that a person can change the way they feel and act by shifting the way in which they perceive a situation. The great thing about this type of therapy is that if you sign up with a professional, it may be covered by your insurance. You can also find ways to direct your own CBT through free online resources, like Living Life to the Full, or by using an app like Pacifica. For more ways to ward off seasonal depression, check out these 15 other solutions to beat SAD.