Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and supporting winter well-being at work

Posted on 5 December 2022 by Ian Mundy

The winter period is a time when many of us perhaps do less exercise, see less of our colleagues (especially if remote working) and may work longer hours as a result of having little else to do. What’s more, the darker days can cause some of us to experience a low ebb in our wellbeing.

All of this should drive employers to proactively and importantly support wellbeing at work through the winter to boost productivity and levels of physical and mental health. Cordell Health have teamed up with You HR Consultancy Ltd. to look at what causes SAD, discuss lifestyle changes that may help and offer tips to help employers maintain levels of workplace health.

Read You HR’s case study, produced in collaboration with one of our Consultancy provider partners (to read our partners write-up on this collaborative case study click here).

What is SAD?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of ‘low mood’ depression that that comes and goes, where people may experience it in the winter seasons.

The exact causes are unclear, but it’s often linked to reduced amount of sunlight which is why some refer to it as the ‘winter blues’. The main clinical theory, according to the NHS, is that a lack of sunlight might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus working properly, which may affect the production of Melatonin (feeling sleepy), Serotonin (mood, appetite and sleep), and the body’s circadian rhythm (internal body clock).

It is thought that the symptoms of SAD are similar to those of depression and can include feelings of sadness, drops in energy and feeling lethargic, loss of interest in normal everyday activities, irritability, feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness, anxiety, needing to sleep for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning, lack of concentration, cravings and weight gain.

Many who suffer with SAD are often waking up in darkness, working inside and finishing work in darkness. Imagine this, mixed with a winter cold, the ongoing pressures of the covid pandemic, and the clocks going back… You can appreciate why such circumstances may reduce our mood. What’s more, the Mental Health Foundation have reported that you’re more likely to develop SAD if you have a relative with SAD or another form of depression, and that SAD is more common in women who are 3 times more likely to be affected than men.

Treatments and lifestyle changes that may help the ‘winter blues’

SAD can be a challenge for many, but there are ways to help cope with the ‘winter blues’ that may be helpful. The Mental Health Foundation recommends speaking to your General Practitioner (GP) and NICE (the National Institute of Clinical Excellence), the organisation that produces guidelines for healthcare professionals, recommends SAD is treated in the same way as depression.

Although professional help should be sought, you may also wish to consider:

The effect winter has on pre-existing mental health conditions

For those that already suffer from depression, SAD can be more frustrating and potentially add to feeling more ‘blue’. Whilst this makes daily life harder and particularly challenging, with support in place, however, and good coping mechanisms, it is possible to manage the winter season positively and without adversity.

How to support wellbeing at work through the winter months

It is important to take care of your wellbeing throughout the whole year, but winter can be particularly tough for some. With the impact of winter affecting many people, there are plenty of ways you can support yourself through the damp and darker months to help ensure optimal health and wellbeing is maintained:

Conclusion

While winter can bring challenges that may affect our mental health and wellbeing, there are steps that can be taken to alleviate this. The key to better mental health is to provide a holistic approach that recognises the need not only for a healthier workspace and physical exercise, but the benefits that connecting with our colleagues and friends can bring too.

If you would like to find out how to promote positive wellbeing at work and ensure your employees are supported and not struggle in the winter months, contact us at alice@youhr.co.uk to book your FREE HR Discovery session.

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