As we shift into winter, cold weather and shorter days become the norm for the citizens of the northern hemisphere. These dark, dreary conditions can play a role in seasonal depression, which is rising among the population.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.)?
Norman E. Rosenthal officially used the expression: Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) along with his peers at the National Institute For Mental Health in 1984 to describe states of major clinical depression experienced seasonally, typically affecting residents of the northern hemisphere where strong seasonal shifts occur both in temperature and exposure to sunlight (1).
Diminished exposure to sunlight creates chemical changes in the body and brain – less sunlight leads to less absorption of vitamin D through the skin and eyes. Increased darkness may have damaging effects on neurotransmitters in the brain, impeding the release of chemicals that allow us to feel happy, including serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins (2). Further, the shortened days of winter interrupts the natural circadian rhythm of the body.
Scientific researchers have postulated several theories about the direct cause of S.A.D. without providing any conclusive evidence. If, however, you have ever experienced short days, long nights, grey skies and cold whipping winds, then you already know the devastating effects that plummeting temperatures and lack of light can have on your body and mind.
The Human Body and Nature
The vibrancy of warm summer days, blossoming flowers and green foliage ignite the resonance of joy within. As human beings, our external environment inextricably encompasses us.
Many of us head to work in the dark, sit inside office buildings or schools all day, returning home in the dark, with little to no sun exposure or the pleasures of outdoor recreation, hence why the percentage of individuals suffering from seasonal depression is so high.
Thankfully, with light therapy, there is no need to become victim to the external fluctuation of seasons. You can bask in the warm glow of the broad spectrum of the infrared sauna during the coldest, greyest days of the year and inspire your spirit, heal your body and generate healthy brain chemistry while enjoying states of deep relaxation.
The Role of Increased Dopamine
While the heat alone of an infrared sauna is enjoyable, the body’s physiological response to the rise of internal temperatures causes the cardiovascular system to engage as if were actively participating in exercise. Therefore, the same positive effects of vigorous exercise that increase the release of dopamine hormones also occurs during infrared sauna therapy. However, unlike exercise, the body remains in a relaxed state during your sauna session. In as little as 15 minutes of an infrared sauna session, three times as much dopamine is released compared to that of a moderate run. Elevated levels of dopamine in the body are responsible for some portions of states of euphoria! Naturally, feelings of euphoria are a welcome change to anyone suffering from S.A.D. (3).
A Natural High: The Endorphin Rush
Peaceful states of relaxation permeate the body during thermal therapy; additionally, as the autonomic nervous system calms itself in the heat, beta-endorphins, a natural opioid, are released into the body’s chemical make-up. As endorphins flush through the body a natural ‘high’ is created. The increased endorphins in the body serve to counteract depression experienced in patients suffering from S.A.D. From despair to euphoric high in the midst of the winter blues is the perfect antidote to states of seasonal depression (4). Even as mood is increased, the body is also engaging its natural healing mechanisms, thereby creating a perfect recipe to feel balanced emotionally even when daylight and sun exposure are minimal.
Balance Serotonin Production With Infrared Light
Emerge from the deep low of the mid-winter blues with normalized serotonin production that occurs during and after your infrared sauna session. Serotonin is often attributed to the body and brain’s ability to stabilize mood and create an internal atmosphere of joy, relaxation, and increased focus(5).
The shorter days, coupled with less exposure to sunlight, can stunt the release of serotonin in the body. Exposure to the broad spectrum of infrared light along with chromotherapy may generate states of security, comfort, and satisfaction within. Additionally, neurotransmitters respond positively to the light spectrum found in the infrared sauna, making serotonin uptake more efficient. Serotonin is a precursor to melatonin, a necessary hormone needed to balance circadian rhythm, and sleep patterns may be improved with regular infrared sauna use(6).
A Gaze Inward
Introspective tendencies are heightened during the cold winter months. Many mammals hibernate while they wait for warmer weather. While full hibernation is not an option for people, the winter months provide an excellent opportunity to turn inward. Your time in the infrared sauna will create a warm space where states of meditation can easily be reached as the autonomic nervous system relaxes.
There is stillness and quietude during your sauna session. The body enters states of relaxation, creating an optimal time to take an inner inventory of the landscape of your mind and body. While the 50 trillion cells that make up the human form become supple and receptive with exposure to increased heat, the brain becomes more available for re-programming at the subconscious level. Time spent in the infrared sauna can be an excellent opportunity to set goals and intentions for your life.
An Oasis From the Cold
Empower yourself to create the ideal space of warmth and light during the long cold winter months. While it is true we cannot control the external climate; we can create a controlled internal climate through thermal therapy.
As the cold wind blows outside, you can step inside your infrared sauna for warmth, light, and sanctuary. Sink into the heat of the infrared sauna: Sweat and engage your cardiovascular system without exposure to the intimidating weather outside.
An oasis of warmth and light is paramount for anyone suffering from S.A.D. Without this safe harbor, it can feel as if we are thrust into the darkness of the winter without reprieve.
Recharge Your Body And Soul: Cellular Regeneration
Increase cellular regeneration with exposure to broad-spectrum infrared sauna therapy. Lack of exposure to natural sunlight in the winter months leads to vitamin D deficiency, which is often thought to be the cause of S.A.D. Vitamin D is responsible for cellular regeneration. Infrared wavelengths also influence augmented cellular regeneration; this can be an excellent antidote to vitamin D deficits in the body. While exposure to infrared light is not the same as vitamin D, it is an excellent substitute, as it mimics the process of serotonin uptake(7).
Actualize Your Ideal Body
Come to love and appreciate your body with regular infrared sauna therapy: Regular thermal therapy increases lean muscle mass while simultaneously decreasing fatty tissue. Sometimes while in the midst of depressive episodes it can be difficult to find the motivation to engage in exercise. Sitting in a warm sauna engages the cardiovascular system, stimulates circulation and provides many of the same benefits of vigorous exercise. There is no need to thrust oneself into exercise to reap the rewards of a healthy and fit body (8).
After a few months of regular sauna therapy, the body will shed excess weight and you can step into the warm spring weather with your ideal body.
Freedom From S.A.D. With Regular Broad Spectrum Infrared Sauna Therapy
Seasonal Affective Disorder has the potential to be lethal; it is a serious condition for those who suffer from its compelling pull. There are, however, a variety of treatments available. Infrared sauna therapy may be a powerful and effective treatment for S.A.D. that capitalizes on the body’s own naturally occurring mechanisms to provide profound, all-encompassing healing, including: Positive serotonin uptake, stabilized circadian rhythm with more accessible melatonin, higher levels of endorphins and dopamine release, improved cardiovascular function, as well as an opportunity for self-care. If you suffer from seasonal depression there is hope and a way out: Give yourself the gift of warmth, light, deep healing and step out of S.A.D with the help of the infrared light spectrum.
* Seasonal affective disorder is a medical condition. Please see a healthcare professional for full treatment advice. If suicidal thoughts are present please reach out for help immediately.
If you are interested in reading more in-depth research on the subjects of this article, please see the sources below.