When we’re in the dark and cold months of winter, the lack of sunlight affects our mental and physical functioning, making getting out of bed and leaving the house a gloomy prospect. Our bodies feel tired and our moods are certainly dropping — what is it that causes one in three Brits to struggle in winter and is there anything we can do at work to help?
What is seasonal affective disorder?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs during winter that is caused by a lack of sunlight. It is associated with the late autumn and winter months. This occurs when your body’s internal clock and your brain and body’s chemicals all change. Some people class it as ‘the winter blues’ and it’s most common between 18–30-year-olds. Females are also most likely to be affected, but anyone of any gender or age can suffer from the disorder.
What are SAD symptoms?
If you think your, or someone you know, suffers from SAD then here are some of the most common symptoms you should be aware of:
- A persistent low mood
- Sleep issues — normally oversleeping and struggling to stay awake
- Weakened immune system
- Loss of motivation
- Social issues, including withdrawal from social situations
- Lack of interest in activities which were previously enjoyable
- Overeating — particularly carbohydrates and sweet foods
- Being lethargic
- Increased anxiety
How can SAD affect my work performance?
Us Brits are a nation of moaners, we love to complain about our workload and work-based environment, no matter what time of year it is. Research has found that the public misses the idea of ‘having a job for life’ and four in 10 of us feel they have a poor work/life balance. Although we do complain all-year round, we tend to take more sickness leave in the winter months. Brits have claimed to feel under the weather in two out of every five days during the winter months.
Research carried out by HR software firm, CharlieHR, January has the most ‘sick days’ recorded in Britain. Staggeringly, the number of sick days recorded in the first month of the year is 53 per cent above the average of the other 11 months. The Office for National Statistics says that the main causes include coughs, colds, stress, depression, and anxiety. A lot of this could be assigned to the impact of seasonal affective disorder.
Additionally, it’s not just sick days that can be associated with SAD. Research has found that more than half of British workers are significantly less productive during the winter months. Aspects such as darker and gloomy night making it harder to concentrate and the view from the office being less inspiring when it’s dark outside have been blamed for the lack of motivation.
How can work help combat SAD?
There are many steps that can be taken to mitigate symptoms of SAD in the workplace. Laurence Olins, former Chairman of British Fruits, previously stated that companies should provide more fruit for their workers: He said: “More employers could encourage their staff to adopt a healthier diet, providing greater access to fruit in the office to prevent people reaching for sugary confectionery, particularly in these cold winter months. Eating healthily shouldn’t feel like a chore and snacking on fruits like berries can help with food cravings during the day due to their natural sweetness”.
Taking supplements for health can help improve our intake of vitamins, such as joint supplements and magnesium. Pharma Nord’s Senior Nutritionist, Frankie Brogan, insists that supplements will improve productivity and morale. “Supplements are a great way to boost your team’s health and nutrition, which will in turn enhance their performance. By offering supplements to your colleagues, they will also benefit from the knowledge that you care for their well-being.”
In Britain, one in five of us suffer from a lack of vitamin D3 in our diet — a figure which increases when sunlight exposure drops. By upping vitamin intake, employees will benefit from the reduced risk of a faltering immune system during the winter months. “Vitamin D does an excellent job of supporting our immune systems, making supplements an important consideration,” added Brogan.
Introducing flexible working and remote working are helpful ways to help workers. With December and January in the UK average just eight hours of day light — the same time period as the usual working day — many find themselves commuting to and from work in darkness. By offering flexible shifts or remote working, people may benefit from being able to get out when it is still light.
If you suspect you have SAD, seek medical advice — there are a range of things you can do to help yourself cope in the darkness.