Although we have already passed the shortest day of winter, there is still a while to go before Spring brings more light into our lives. After a cold and wet start to the year, and with another couple of months to go before the end of Winter, we look at how to spot the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and provide some tips to look after our mental health for the remainder of the quarter.
Just under 3% of the population in the UK have been diagnosed with SAD, but it is suspected that 1 in 5 of us experience what is commonly known as the “winter blues”. Add to the seasonality the overall economic doom and gloom, and it is easy to understand why almost 60% of employees say they are experiencing some form of anxiety or depression. With 1 in 5 employer citing poor mental health as a factor that impacts productivity, it is important that business owners provide adequate support to members of their team so they can identify early signs of SAD, address them and seek further help if necessary.
What are the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
An official SAD diagnosis is often characterised as experiencing some or all the following symptoms for longer than a two-week period for two consecutive years, although many of us are likely to experience them in milder forms too. The main symptoms of SAD include:
- Persistent low mood, feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Sleep disturbances (sleeping for longer, or waking up not feeling refreshed)
- Decreased levels of energy
- Loss of interest in physical contact
- Lack of motivation and difficulties concentrating
- Loss of pleasure and interest in everyday activities
- An increase in appetite, particularly for carbohydrate rich foods and sometimes leading to weight gain
Why do we suffer from mood changes in the winter months?
There are several reasons behind the shift in mood and motivation during the winter months. Firstly, the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin (the chemical which helps regulate mood and emotions) is higher in the summer months in most of us, whilst the availability of an amino acid called L-Tryptophan, which helps the body synthesise serotonin, also fluctuates. The lack of daylight and exposure to artificial lights for longer can also result in a disruption to our natural body clock, which affects our sleep pattern and contributes to a lower mood and lack of energy. In addition, some people with SAD also produce higher levels of melatonin during winter, the hormone that helps our body get ready for sleep, which might account for sluggishness and sleepiness during the daytime.
What can employees do to combat SAD?
Firstly, it is important to remind your team to speak to their GP or NHS24 to discuss the symptoms they experience and possible options that can help combat them. In the meantime, there are some easy ways to help us keep moving during the colder months. These include:
- Light therapy – many lights and alarm clocks now simulate the sun rising and setting to help increase serotonin and reduce melatonin
- Daylight exposure – encourage your team to get outside during lunch to increase their exposure to natural daylight to help boost their levels of serotonin and vitamin D
- Sleep hygiene – having a good and regular sleep pattern will help protect the body’s natural rhythms
- Getting active – there are many physical and mental health benefits to exercise and working out in winter can help release endorphins to boost mood and dopamine levels. At Ultimate Finance we run a yearly friendly competition that sees teams across the business record their activity to earn points and plant trees as a result of their efforts to help them keep fit whilst doing good for the planet
- Focusing on a good diet – healthy foods rich in nutrients and vitamins can help boost food and prevent sleep disturbances
- Meditation – regular meditation can help bring a sense of calm and help changed negative thoughts about the winter months into positive ones
- Embracing the season – seeking out the positives and changing our perspective through cognitive behaviour therapy is one of the recommended treatments for people diagnosed with SAD. Cultures known for embracing winter report lower cases of SAD.
Making the most of relationships
The winter season can feel lonely, especially after the holidays, and so it is important to maximise existing relationships to help combat low mood. Remote working can emphasise feelings of loneliness, and so we at Ultimate Finance run monthly “Coffee Roulette” events which see members of our team allocated to a random virtual room with a few others so that they can take some time out of their day to share a cuppa and have a chat with colleagues.
Customers and partners are people too, and we strongly believe that great relationships are essential to success, so we encourage our Regional Directors and Relationship Managers to make the most of their meetings with business owners and introducers, be it during an official work appointment to discuss a facility or a more personal gathering during one of the events we run such as golfing, tastings or outings to live events.
To support your team further, you could assess opportunities for enhanced interactions within your business and consider sharing details for local mental health charities or links to the NHS website to help them care for their health.
Find out more about SAD on Mind’s website.