Walking Dog in Autumn

Although we have seen a sunny fall in British Columbia, the rain and darker days are now upon us. Unfortunately, during the late fall and throughout the winter, your team may get the winter blues, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This article describes what exactly SAD is and how to keep your team and employees in good spirits through the winter months.  

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is depression related to changes in the seasons. This usually starts in the fall and lasts throughout the winter, with symptoms usually resolving in the spring or summer. Spring and summer SAD also exists but is less common. 

What are the Symptoms of SAD?

Seasonal Affective Disorder

The general symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) include:

  • Listlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Low energy
  • Oversleeping
  • Overeating
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or guilt 

Some symptoms that are more specific to those who encounter SAD in the fall and winter months are:

  • Oversleeping 
  • Appetite changes, overeating 
  • Weight gain
  • Tiredness or low energy

What Causes SAD and Who Gets It?

Tired at work

There is no consensus on the exact cause. Some research suggests that it has to do with a lack of sunlight during the fall and winter months and that it can be hereditary. SAD is reported to affect 2% to 3% of Canadians in their lifetime with 15% experiencing a mild form. 

Those at higher risk of SAD include adults, women, and people living in more northern countries and cities who are less likely to see sunlight, especially during winter. 

How to Keep Your Team Happy During the Winter Blues

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There are a few different ways you can help your team combat SAD. SAD can be especially challenging in a remote work environment. An important first step is to talk to your team about what SAD is in early fall, let them know the symptoms, and try to set up a foundation for them to be proactive in avoiding or lessening the effects of SAD. 

Encourage your team to talk to their doctor or a mental health professional, especially if they feel they are encountering symptoms. Getting proper treatment early is key in combating SAD.

Recommend to your team to plan their day and week around mind-boosting activities and prioritizing social activities. A big reason why many love summer is because there are ample opportunities to be outside participating in activities like biking, hiking, swimming, boating, etc. It’s just as important in the winter for your team to fill up their calendar with indoor activities, especially with friends and family. Although it can be more challenging due to weather and shorter days, it’s also important to plan outdoor activities, such as skiing, skating, snowshoeing, etc. if possible.

One great idea for your team is to plan an activity day together. This can be:

  • Painting class
  • Cooking class
  • Escape room
  • Yoga class 
  • Social lunch or dinner
  • Or even going to a local ski hill together

Colleagues at dinner

It is also recommended to stick to some more practical day-to-day activities. Encourage your team to stick to a set sleep schedule, especially since oversleeping can be a symptom. Further, exercising regularly, whether that means at the gym, at home workouts, yoga, etc. Alcohol is another big factor. It is highly recommended to drink less alcohol during the fall and winter as it is a depressant. 

Yoga class

One recommendation for your team members is to take a vacation somewhere warm and tropical if they are able to. Not only is it something to look forward to but the natural sunlight is great for relieving stress and increasing serotonin levels.

Here are some other examples you can provide to your team to be proactive in avoiding SAD: 

  • Switch up music listening habits to happier, lighter music
  • Dog walking or walking with a friend
  • Using a light box, especially the ones that can plug right into a laptop for extra artificial sunlight
  • Pick up a new hobby or regularly practice an existing hobby

Although Seasonal Affective Disorder may not affect all team members, it’s a great idea to have a conversation to let them know you are there for support. This will also encourage them to be proactive during the early fall months to ensure they are setting themselves up for success. 

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