Morning Faces Therapy: Personal Account

Five years ago I heard from someone that he had been successfully using my discovery that seeing faces in the morning improved my mood the next day. Recently I asked him to write about his experiences with it. Here’s what he wrote:

I’m a male professional in my 30s and have had mild to moderate depression since my early teens. I am a considerable rationalist and skeptic, so when I read about Seth’s morning faces therapy in a New York Times article about 5 years ago, my first thought was to doubt its effectiveness. But it was so easy and simple to try, with nothing to lose, that I gave it a shot. To my surprise, it really worked, and the change was quite noticeable.

I do 30-40 minutes of faces therapy every morning, starting around 7:00, 7:15, but the timing moves around a bit based on my schedule or sometimes for experimentation purposes. My first few years I used videos of actual faces (some of the recommendations that I found on Seth’s blog and others that I found on my own). Over time it’s become harder to find quality videos of sufficient length and compelling interest, and I now more often use a mirror. The effect, for me, usually lags by a day or two. So if I haven’t been doing faces for a while and I’m depressed then it takes a couple of day or so to get back to where I should be, and similarly when I stop the faces therapy it takes a few days or so for the depression to return.

While the therapy itself is simple, getting up on time and doing it every single morning has proven more difficult than expected. Even when I do it for several weeks in a row with no break, at some point the tiredness and weariness inevitably kicks in, whether because I was up late several nights in a row and am too tired to get up early, or because I’m traveling, or for other reasons.

Proof the therapy works is that I’m still carrying on five years after discovering it! When I stop for more than a few days, the resultant drop in mood inevitably brings me back.

As an aside, I sometimes spend time in the evening or morning doing other depression exercises, such as writing a gratitude list (google “count your blessings exercise”) or doing meditation/self-hypnosis. In the spirit of self-experimentation, I am currently seeing whether I can get the equivalent effect I get from the faces, by doing these other therapies in morning sunlight at the same early hour as I do the faces therapy. Full results are not yet in.
More about morning faces therapy.

7 Responses to “Morning Faces Therapy: Personal Account”

  1. Beth@WeightMaven Says:

    I’ve been using Flickr slideshows for what I call “assisted meditation” … I started out viewing nature shows, but found that looking at smiling faces was more uplifting. Especially when it’s babies!

    http://www.flickr.com/groups/baby_love/pool/show/

  2. Rex Says:

    Seth has profiled me on this blog. I have been on anti-depressants continously over the last 8 years. Most recently I have been taking Cymbalta. I finally weened myself off it during the summer, after experiencing nasty withdrawals. Morning faces has been the one major change in my daily routine. I began in late Spring and have not experienced any depression except for the usual sad stuff we all deal with. I have had some mania, which tends to hit me in late summer. I seem to get quicker benefits from morning faces than others, but also feel more down days when I do not stick to the plan.

    I do not want to stop what i’m doing, but am sure there will come I time when I go without morning faces for an extended time. Then I will have a better idea of the benefits I am getting using Seth’s theory.

  3. Jeff Says:

    Seth -

    Your original research paper mentions the need to avoid fluorescent lights in the evening because they mess with the circadian rhythm. I assume that’s also the same reason for the recommended consistent sleep schedule of around 10 p.m. – 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. – 7 a.m. Is there a certain point in the evening when one should avoid fluorescent lights (e.g., 2 hours before bed)? I’m asking because my job requires me to attend some evening meetings that have fluorescent lights. IIt might negatively impact my job security if I start wearing blue blocker glasses to these work functions. :)

  4. Seth Roberts Says:

    Jeff,

    I try to avoid fluorescent lights after the sun goes down. I’m sure their damaging effect gets worse the later you are exposed to them — I can’t say more than that. Before 7 pm I don’t worry much.

    Seth

  5. Jeff Says:

    Seth -

    Thanks for the info. I live in the midwest where nightfall happens as early as 5 p.m. in the middle of winter. My sleep time remains fairly consistent. Does your suggested 7 p.m. fluorescent light time frame hold true under these circumstances as well?

  6. Seth Roberts Says:

    Jeff, I don’t know, sorry. Nowadays when I am exposed to fluorescent lights after dark I wear blue-blocker glasses. I still try to avoid fluorescent lights after dark but sometimes they are unavoidable. I worry much less about them now so long as I am wearing my blue-blocker glasses.

  7. Donald Says:

    This is very interesting and I may well try it. These are some random points I’d make:

    - It might be useful to combine a SAD light above the computer while looking at vblogs, particularly if the people are talking supportively about mood disorders. I even wonder if people who record vblogs could be given instructions in how to make their posts useful for this technique, i.e. looking directly at the camera, filling the frame.

    - I’m reminded of psychology research where 2 groups of employers told staff they were changing the temperature (or some other variable) by 1 degree to increase productivity and this resulted in higher productivity whether or not the temperature became higher or lower; i.e. taking any steps whatsoever to produce an outcome may be enough to get the result.

    - This therapy takes a lot of commitment so may encourage strong mindfulness which may be the cause of improvement. I wonder if this level of commitment would produce a result regardless of the goal, i.e. spend an hour every morning on a demanding technique and you will lose weight as you are creating a strong commitment to weight loss.

    - As well as using faces other changes have been incorporated: light therapy, early sleeping, early rising, consistent sleep and wake times (?).

    I suppose I’m still skeptical, however only a few years ago even light therapy raised eyebrows.

    Seth: When I discovered the effect, I found that lots of details mattered (e.g., face distance). If the effect was due simply to making a big commitment, or changing something, these details shouldn’t have mattered.