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Depression can prevent you from living life to its fullest. If you are like many people with depression, you struggle to ease symptoms of depression without medication or hours of counseling. Fortunately, red light therapy can help reduce symptoms of depression.

Many practitioners are now recommending red light therapy for depression.

Types of Depression

There are several types of depression. Some develop due to events in your life, while others are due to chemical changes in your brain.

Types of depression include:

  • Major depressive disorder: Feeling symptoms of depression on most days of the week
  • Persistent depressive disorder: Experiencing depression for more than two years
  • Bipolar disorder: Mood swings from extremely high energy to very low depressive periods
  • Seasonal depression: Formerly known as seasonal affective disorder, seasonal depression usually develops during the winter months when there is less natural light

Symptoms of Depression

Symptoms of depression can vary widely between patients and can even vary from day to day. What’s more, symptoms can vary according to the type of depression a person is experiencing. Generally speaking, though, symptoms of depression include:

  • Feeling helpless or hopeless
  • Loss of interest in favorite pastimes, daily activities
  • Significant changes in appetite or weight
  • Changes in sleep patterns, such as insomnia, waking in the early hours of the morning, or oversleeping
  • Anger or irritability
  • Loss of energy
  • Self-loathing
  • Reckless behavior
  • Trouble focusing, problems making decisions, forgetfulness
  • Unexplained aches and pains

Most Effective Therapies for Depression

Several treatments for depression are now available. The treatment that works best for one person may not work well for another.

  • Watchful waiting: Everyone experiences sadness now and then, and symptoms often go away on their own without treatment after a few days
  • Psychological treatment: “Talk treatment,” also known as cognitive behavioral therapy, helps break negative thought patterns associated with depression
  • Medications: Herbal products (such as St. John’s wort) and antidepressants may cause side effects and take weeks or months to work
  • Red light therapy: Uses specific wavelengths of light to directly or indirectly trigger physiological changes in the brain and body

Combining treatments works well for many people. Because there are no known interactions or complications with red light therapy, you may combine it with watchful waiting, talk therapy, or medication. Red light therapy may improve the efficacy of other treatments by improving the patient’s overall quality of life, which makes all treatments easier to tolerate.

Using Red Light Therapy for Depression and Anxiety

Red light therapy is a non-invasive, non-pharmaceutical approach to easing the symptoms of depression and anxiety. This treatment involves using devices that emit therapeutic wavelengths of light that cause specific changes in body cells. Researchers are still working to unlock all the benefits of red light therapy, including using it for depression and anxiety.

Red light therapy targets the mitochondria, or “powerhouse” of the cells, to improve the production and use of energy within the cell. These effects boost blood flow to the brain, prompt the development of new cells, decrease inflammation, and reduce damage. Each of these effects can help reduce the symptoms of depression.

Exposure to red light can also boost dopamine, which gives your brain a sense of pleasure, motivation, and satisfaction.

Benefits of red light therapy include:

  • Improved sleep
  • Healthier skin boosts confidence; healthier skin also feels more comfortable and itches less, which improves sleep and well-being
  • Reduced oxidative stress and inflammation, both of which contribute to the development of major depression
  • Better physical health

Can Red Light Therapy Help With Depression?

Yes!

Red light therapy can fight depression directly and indirectly. This high-tech therapy can directly reduce seasonal depression by providing the light the human body needs for mood stabilization, for example. Exposure to sunlight can stimulate the body’s production of serotonin, a " feel-good” hormone that helps us feel calm and focused. This action provides direct relief from the symptoms of depression.

The treatment can offer direct results in other ways. Red light therapy can make meaningful changes to the brain, for example, and these changes may improve the symptoms of depression.

Red light therapy can also help indirectly. Easing symptoms, such as body pain and poor sleep, can improve the overall quality of life in people with depression. In addition to melting body aches and pains, research shows that red light therapy works to ease depression in several ways, including:

  • Restoring circadian rhythm
  • Balancing serotonin levels
  • Contributing to consistent and stable sleep patterns
  • Increasing alertness

The researchers concluded their study by saying that red light therapy should be personalized according to the type of depression the patient experiences, whether or not they experience seasonal depression, and how well they tolerate the treatment.

Other research shows connections between red light therapy and depression. A 2012 study showed that participants experienced an improvement in their depression after just one hour of light therapy.

How to Use Red Light Therapy for Depression and Anxiety

While red light therapy is easy to use, using it correctly can help you get the most out of your treatment.

Determine the type of depression or anxiety you are experiencing

Consult with a mental health professional to get an accurate diagnosis. Your practitioner can also recommend a treatment plan using red light therapy.

Of course, you can use red light therapy whenever you feel blue or tense.

Repeat red light therapy treatment as recommended

If you are like most people who undergo red light therapy for depression, you’ll feel better after the first session. However, most patients see more meaningful results after several red light therapy sessions.

Position the light at the recommended distance

Most red light therapy devices work best when placed 6 to 12 inches from the patient. This distance allows the red light to penetrate the skin to the proper distance inside the body while staying far enough away to avoid skin irritation.

Wear goggles as needed

Near-infrared light benefits most body tissues, but it can also harm your eyes. Protective eyewear can prevent potential damage to your eyes and vision.

However, those using red light therapy to treat seasonal depression may wish to forgo eye protection, but only as long as they do not look directly at the red light. When light strikes the light-sensitive retina at the back of the eye, it stimulates the release of serotonin.

Light striking the retina also promotes sleep by regulating the sleep/wake cycle, known as the circadian rhythm.

Do red light therapy as often as recommended

For many, depression can last for long periods. During these periods of depression, known as depressive episodes, symptoms can vary. Because of the long-term nature of depression, some people benefit from doing red light therapy every day.

Red light therapy is safe and effective to do every day. There is no maximum or upper limit to how many times you can use red light therapy.

For more information on how to use red light therapy for depression, consult with your healthcare provider or wellness professional. The sooner you start treatment, the quicker you’ll enjoy relief.

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