SAD: How Winter impacts Workplace Wellbeing

As the days grow shorter in the Northern Hemisphere, there’s a general feeling of winding down. For some people, there’s a more profound effect which leaves them feeling not just down, but depressed. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, can have a huge impact on workplace wellbeing if we leave it unrecognised.

So what is it, and what can we do to help?

Our Body Clock, Light, and SAD

Our body clock, or circadian rhythm, is conducted by sunlight. Most people wake within a couple of hours of sunrise. When this happen, and our eyes are filled with daylight, our body clock starts running. We produce a pulse of cortisol, which sets things in motion.

The systems that are regulated by our circadian rhythm include our heart rate, blood pressure, digestion and sleep.

Our ancient ancestors (and even our more recent relatives) would have lived their lives by this rhythm of sunrise and sunset. Work would have been done in daylight, and rest and sleep would come with darkness.

Modern life

Our modern lives don’t allow for the natural ebb and flow of the seasons and daylight. We have invented ways to maintain light homes and offices around the clock. Into the bargain, we also created the 8/10/12 hour working day, and shift patterns to ensure maximum productivity.

Our brains still retain the ancient structures that dictate our waking and sleeping hours. It doesn’t respond well to the modern changes.

People who experience SAD may find themselves getting ill more often, feeling demotivated and unproductive.

Sally Potter

Sally Potter

HPD, DSFH, BRIEF

Sally is an experienced hypnotherapist who lives and breathes all angles of wellness. Her life and work reflect her love for nature, food, and intentional movement.

What are the SAD effects of the darkness?

For some people, shorter days and increasing darkness result in symptoms that may include:-

  • a lack of motivation
  • increased sleepiness
  • changes in mood
  • changes in appetite
  • depression

These are unpleasant and debilitating. In addition, they can have a major effect on your ability to be productive and happy at work.

Read More

Anxiety

Read about anxiety and it’s impact on productivity

Sleep

Read about how good sleep promotes creativity and motivation

How about a retreat for your team? Get in touch for more information and lets get planning your bespoke retreat to banish the blues at any time of year!

What can you do to improve things in the workplace?

Whether you work alone or with a team, there are things to look out for. Here are some of the key ways to help yourself and your colleagues manage the effects of SAD and create wellbeing in the workplace.

Access to daylight at work for winter wellbeing

Be creative about enabling access to daylight, especially in the morning. This needs to be accessed outside, rather than through a window. What’s more, it’s important that people can get outside for long enough (at least 15 minutes), and within two hours of sunrise (At mid winter in the UK, sunrise is at around 8am)

If it’s really impossible for people to get outside, consider changing lighting to daylight bulbs. One colleague’s solution is  a desktop daylight lamp.

This really is the most important thing you can do to combat the effects of SAD in the workplace this winter. If you’d like more of the science behind daylight and wellbeing, please have a listen to the Huberman Lab podcasts. They are a fantastic resource for neuroscience information.

Time with other people makes you less SAD

Cold dark evenings can lead to less opportunities for socialising or collaborating.  In turn this creates feelings of isolation. Working from home can feel even more isolating because there are even less opportunities for meeting people. Colleagues who live alone may also experience feelings of loneliness. This is all exacerbated in someone who experiences SAD.

We may have colleagues who feel more vulnerable travelling to and from work in the dark, or when it’s icy for example.

Can you create opportunities for people to meet and socialise? Or how about shifting the working day so that some meetings take place in the evening, meaning less time spent at home alone? Are there ways to help ensure the safety of people travelling – perhaps combining people and travel to kill two birds with one stone? And how about including your WFH colleagues in the life of the office or social events?

Good nutrition to beat the winter workplace blues

Our immune systems need to work harder in the winter. There are more infections around, and a lack of daylight depletes our stores of vitamin D. Moreover if you have an existing condition, this may result in being or feeling more vulnerable.

SAD can make it feel difficult to make good food choices, or even have an appetite at all. The temptation to eat sugary, processed foods may be hard to resist. This cycle of feeling low, and eating poorly tends to lead to more of the same.

If you work from home, ensuring there is enough nutritious, tasty food in the house can mean the difference between a good day and a bad one. Emma Skilton is a nutrition expert who says –

There are a number of ways we can enhance our mood through the food we eat. Foods rich in “Omega-3 such as salmon, Walnuts and almonds are great examples. In fact, by following a gut-friendly diet, we can support our mental well-being. Focus on plenty of citrus fruits, berries, healthy fats, and warming soups and stews.

In the workplace, how about a ‘tuck shop’ with fruit and healthy snacks? My daughter’s workplace has a once a week home cooked shared meal which everyone chips in to, and enjoys together. Ticks the boxes of good food, and good company!

With an eye on all our wellbeing, winter in the workplace can hopefully be a time of productive recovery, preparation and creativity, ready for the Spring.