Author: Lauren Jelinek
This series, “Minding the Garden,” looks at how mental health and gardening interact. In this article, I look at light therapy, how it can help us, and how it’s connected to gardening practices. Check out the previous post about the benefits of horticultural therapy or stay tuned to discover the real-world applications of both of these therapeutic practices through the Nutritower’s real-life placements in the mental health field.
How can connecting with nature improve our mental health? What parts of the natural world can help us connect to calm, peace, and serenity? Connecting with the earth by gardening and spending time among plants does wonders for our mental health, but so does another natural wonder — the sun. Spending time outside in the sun is an obvious mood-booster, but bright, warm weather isn’t always available to us. Just like how indoor gardening towers make gardening year-round possible, there are now solutions to help us reap the benefits of sunlight whenever we need to.
Light therapy, also called heliotherapy or phototherapy, uses light to treat illnesses or for therapy. Treatments involve exposure to sources of light (such as LEDs or sunlight), and there are different types of techniques depending on the condition being treated. It compensates for a lack of exposure to sunlight, which is often linked to depression and low mood.
Humans have always felt a connection to nature, but scientists and doctors have only started to note how this connection can link to science and therapy in recent times. Spending time in the sun is undoubtedly a mood-booster, and it’s easy to see how it could translate to treatments; in fact, light therapy has been practiced in various forms for centuries. It had long been believed that light can help with mood or various illnesses, but it was first pioneered as a scientific treatment by Dr. Niels Ryberg Finesen, who received a Nobel Prize in 1903 for his work using artificial light sources for therapy.
Spending time in the sun, or enjoying sunlight, can have amazing effects on our mood (source: Nutritower instagram & Pexels).
There are widespread applications for treatments that harness the power of the sun. Even as we depend more and more on technology, the benefits of nature — such as the happiness we get from a sunny day — never fade. Light therapy can affect brain chemicals that are connected to our mood and sleep, and can ease negative mental health symptoms. For example, it can help with depression or sleep disorders and can be used to treat seasonal affective disorder, which is a type of depression that occurs seasonally (usually in darker months, such as fall or winter). I personally have friends who use “SAD lamps,” which are LED lamps used to treat seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD. These lamps are light therapy boxes which mimic natural outdoor light by emitting a bright light; you sit or work near a box so it enters your eyes indirectly. Light therapy can also help with jet lag and even dementia. There are mild risks to light therapy, such as eyestrain, headaches, or nausea. However, it is usually seen as safe with few side effects. Although light therapy is likely to ease symptoms and increase energy levels, it won’t completely cure you. It may be more effective when combined with other treatments such as counseling. And of course, it is always a good idea to consult a doctor before seriously undertaking light therapy.
There is concrete evidence showing how light can help our mental health. Several studies have found that just one hour of bright light therapy improves depressive symptoms, and that consistent light treatment can significantly reduce depression. One study looked at 15 patients with untreated seasonal affective disorder, who used sad lamps for a trial period. Using them not only resulted in a significant improvement in mood compared to what they felt before, but researchers even found that using the lamps for longer (40 compared to 20 minutes) helped even more.
SAD Lamps like the one in this photo can fit easily into any home and lifestyle (source: Nutritower instagram & Daniel Foster).
Similar to horticultural therapy, light therapy is an accessible and safe solution to mental health concerns. It can be especially effective when combined with other treatments, or it can be used as a simple way to help lift the mood and clear the mind by itself. It’s easy to see how it could also make you feel subliminally calmer or happier, as it mimics sitting or basking in the sun. Enjoying bright weather and sunshine is also something that often happens when gardening, which is great for mental health too. Light therapy is connected to horticultural therapy and gardening practices in multiple ways; light and the sun are central to gardening and healthy plants, both treatments mimic or involve the outdoors, and both replicate the calming effects of connecting with nature.
The efficacy of both horticultural and light therapy demonstrates how useful gardening and spending time in nature can be for mental health, and how accessible solutions are available. Indoor gardening systems and SAD lamps are among some of the readily available tools for bettering mental health. But keep in mind what these tools can accomplish — although the Nutritower, an indoor gardening tower, bright lighting to grow plants, it is not meant for light therapy, just as many top-selling SAD lamps may not be the right light source for growing plants indoors.
Light columns in the Nutritower help your plants grow; different types of light can benefit human or plant health.
Finding the right solution for mental health issues can depend on what kind of problems you’re experiencing, what you want to spend time doing, or what solutions appeal to you. With accessible options that help you feel connected to the earth and allow you to receive nature’s benefits year-round, there are many ways for you to strengthen your mental health more than ever. You can garden year-round and benefit from light indoors, but also spend time in the sun and engage with nature — there are plenty of options, so make sure you get out there and connect with the earth!
Author: Lauren Jelinek