Dark nights and mornings aren’t just unpleasant and make it difficult to get out of bed, but they cause our bodies to feel lethargic and our mood plummet. So, what is it that causes one in three Brits to feel down in the dark winter months, and what can we do to combat it in our workplace?
SAD: what is it?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a depression primarily caused by the lack of natural light. 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 the symptoms?
Do you, or someone you know, suffer from SAD? 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 is it affecting my performance at work?
As a nation of moaners, us Brits love to complain about their 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.
According to research 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.
Furthermore, 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 the workplace help combat SAD?
SAD can be prevented by 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 can help improve vitamin intake e.g. supplements for joints, or 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 the UK, 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.
The workplace can be helpful in bringing in flexible working patterns and remote working — two other great ways to help employees during the winter months. 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.
It’s important to recognise how you can help mitigate symptoms and look after yourself in the dark months. If you think you’re suffering from SAD, seek medical advice.