Combatting Seasonal Affective Disorder in the Office

Stressed Man in Office at Computer

The days are getting shorter. If you work regular office hours and work in a cubicle without windows, you may only see the sun on weekends. Even then, if you live in one of the northern states and it’s gotten too cold to spend time outdoors, you get less light, exercise and fresh air.

Most people are affected by the lack of sunlight to some degree, but if your mood takes a big plunge in the autumn, you may have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that typically starts in the fall because there are fewer daylight hours. SAD tends to start disappearing in the Spring as days get longer again. It's more than winter blues, and there are steps to take to prevent it or combat the sadness and lack of energy.

Symptoms

 It’s important to understand and watch for symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder in yourself, coworkers and employees. Symptoms vary from person to person, but they are the same as in other types of clinical depression:

  • Low Mood
  • Lack of Energy
  • Appetite Changes
  • Sleeplessness or Sleeping Too Much
  • Reduced Interest in Usual Activities
  • Negative Thoughts
  • Irritability  

What Companies Can Do

Companies aware of the mood disorder can do several things to help sufferers and keep morale high. Increasing access to natural light and adding therapeutic light fixtures throughout the building can be extremely helpful. Encouraging everyone to recognize symptoms and communicate about how they are feeling leads to solutions and remedies. Increasing social and physical activity during the winter months can boost everyone’s mood.

·Light Therapy

SAD happens when the lack of sunlight prevents the absorption of Vitamin D. Low levels of the vitamin can cause depression. Companies should try to provide employees with as much natural light as possible. It may not be practical to give everyone a window, but adding windows and skylights to break rooms, meeting rooms, and common areas to bring in sunlight can help people get a little more sun during their workday.

Companies can also add therapeutic lights to workspaces. They are less expensive than they used to be. A company could provide them for everyone who requests them or offer to reimburse individuals who buy them on their own. They could also add these light sources in supply rooms, restrooms, hallways, and meeting rooms to increase everyone’s daily exposure.

·Communication

Sending out a memo in October or November to remind everyone about SAD brings the problem out into the open, so no one feels uncomfortable acknowledging it. Talk openly about Seasonal Affective Disorder. People tend to hide their symptoms, so speak up if you are experiencing problems and encourage employees and coworkers to communicate. Inform everyone of steps the company is taking to help those who are dealing with SAD.

·Add Activities and Movement

Adding some social activities in the workplace, especially those that get people moving more, improves cardiovascular health and boosts everyone’s mood. If weather permits, encourage walking during breaks or over the lunch hour. Even just walking around the outside of the building a couple of times cab increase everyone’s vitamin D. Get everyone a step-counting watch and set up a challenge or competition. If you have some musical people, form a chorus, and do some mini-concerts for holidays. Have a door decorating contest or pajama day to break up the monotony and keep everyone upbeat.

What Individuals Can Do

Individuals can work the same three angles as companies do: communication, light therapy and activity.

Communication- Recognizing the symptoms, watching for them and taking appropriate actions can prevent depression from spiraling out of control. Be patient with yourself if you start feeling down. Know that there are things you can do. Seek help from professionals if you feel overwhelmed.

Light- Get outside during the day whenever possible. Work in rooms with outside light if you can. Add therapeutic light sources in your office and at home. Get outside on the weekends whenever possible.

Activity- Many people tend to do less during the winter. It’s very nice to stay warm at home watching television, but depression can feed on inactivity. Movement, on the other hand, can improve your mood. Join a yoga class or bowling league. In addition to moving more, try adding a new inside activity to the mix. Get some indoor plants to cultivate and watch grow. Learn to knit, paint or draw. Take up an instrument or join a book club.

To ensure follow-through on these new activities, either set up a personal schedule or get a friend or family member involved. Share your goals and keep each other "on-task."  Do activities mindfully, be committed, and enjoy them thoroughly to get the most out of them. Instead of drawing or painting for an hour because you scheduled it, try to put everything else out of your mind. Think about the lines and colors and what a miracle your hands and brain are.

If your company doesn’t suggest additional social activities during the workday, find ways to increase movement and social interaction at work. While you might not normally go out for lunch with colleagues, doing it during the winter months gets everyone outside and communicating. Suggest a covered-dish lunch day. Challenge others to a step counting contest. Do anything you can think of to keep people moving and engaged with each other.

Seasonal Affective Disorder can affect anyone and can be especially challenging for office workers who stay inside during the daylight hours. If you live up north and don't go outside much because of the cold, you are even more likely to be affected by the lack of sunlight. It's a manageable problem, however, when people are aware and take steps to combat it.

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