As the seasons change from summer to fall and then to winter, the days get shorter, the weather gets colder, and it can feel more bleak. For people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) the change of seasons triggers depression. As with any mental illness, treatment is needed to restore and maintain wellness and productivity.
With SAD, depressive episodes can happen frequently and be a recurring issue. Because of its persistence, the depression triggered by SAD calls for consistent treatment. It won’t simply “go away” with time.
Along with psychiatric treatment and medication, there are some actions you can take to boost the mood in the workplace. Here are a dozen wellness tips grouped around four wellness strategies to consider.
Catch some rays
SAD is often triggered by sunlight, or rather the lack of sunlight in the fall and winter seasons. Upping the amount of sunlight in the workplace can help smooth out the disruption to serotonin and melatonin production caused by lack of sun and lift the mood.
1. Let the sun shine in
Open the blinds and curtains. Move furniture and plants that block the light out of the way. Do whatever you can to let more sunshine into the workplace.
3. Encourage people to go outside in the sun
Make it attractive to go outside for a break. Set up benches where people can sit in the sun while still remaining sheltered from the elements. Conduct meetings while walking outside in the sun.
What people eat, think about, and do with their bodies all have an effect on mood. Here are a few things people can do to take better care of themselves and their moods.
4. Avoid sugar and caffeine
Sugar and caffeine can give individuals who consume it a little boost. But often, that boost is followed by a crash, which, in the presence of depression, can turn into a downward spiral. Have low- and no- sugar and low- and no-caffeine options available in the break room and cafeteria. Herbal teas are a good alternative to caffeinated coffee. Protein snacks, like jerky or nuts, can replace sweets or baked goods.
5. Take time to be mindful
Encourage people to take breaks regularly throughout their workday. Breaks are an opportunity for people to check their mood and make a choice about how to respond. A walk outside. A few minutes of gratitude. A healthy snack to nourish the body. All of these choices can lift moods and counter depressive feelings.
6. Move your body
The mere act of getting up from a chair and giving the body a good stretch or a quick walk gets the blood flowing, interrupts depressive thoughts, and can lift the mood. Encourage people to get up and move throughout the day.
For those employees diagnosed with SAD, following their treatment plan consistently is the best way for them to experience improvement. SAD is recognized as a disability requiring accommodation.
7. Make space for light boxes at the work station
Light therapy is considered the mainstay treatment for SAD. People using this treatment sit with their face in front of a bright, artificial light that filters out UV rays each day for a fixed amount of time. These lights are generally self-contained and portable, so they can be easily set up at a work desk for use.
8. Modify work schedules, when needed
Sometimes a change in work schedule will help by giving people more opportunity to be up and about when the sun is out. Keeping a consistent routine can also help alleviate SAD, and a modified work schedule might be needed to keep a routine in place.
9. Adjust workdays for doctor appointments
It’s important for people diagnosed with SAD to keep their doctor appointments, whether with a psychiatrist or a medical doctor, so that they can follow their treatment plan consistently. In order to do this they may need adjust their schedule to keep their appointments.
Build a supportive work environment
SAD is a form of depression. Depression is a mental illness that is often misunderstood and, sometimes, dismissed. For people with SAD to have the best chance of managing their health they need a supportive environment.
10. Help all of your employees understand SAD, its causes, and its effects
As with any mental health issue, the best way to counter stigma and misunderstanding is through education. Let your employees know what SAD is, its symptoms, how it can affect the workplace, its causes, and its treatments. With this understanding your employees will be better able to recognize SAD symptoms in themselves. They will also know how to support their co-workers who are experiencing SAD.
11. Encourage stigma-free discussion about SAD in the workplace
Make it okay to discuss and address SAD (along with other types of depression and mental illness) in the workplace. Stigma gets in the way of people getting diagnosed and treated. When people feel like they will be judged or criticized they will avoid dealing with their illness, often making it worse in the long run.
12. Remind your employees that EAP is available
For those employees who need more than wellness tips to counter the down moods that can come with the change of season, remind them that help is available. Encourage them to use your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to seek professional help.
Know that brighter days lie ahead
The shorter days of winter can bring with them a bleakness and Seasonal Affective Disorder. By taking concerted action you can counter the effect of this and lift the mood throughout the workplace.