SAD days at Work – The impact of Seasonal Affective Disorder on All of us

By Emily Beeckmans, B.A., B.S.W., M.S.W., RSW, CHRP

Do you ever notice that as the Fall days get shorter, your mood and energy changes? Less sunlight and colder weather have a huge impact on our bodies and mind. We are less capable of dealing with stress, we lack concentration and fall short in task completion. You may find it harder to perform at your best level.

As an employer you will see a fall in productivity in your workforce and an increase in absences.  As well, your clients and customers or network may also be edgy and more reactive than usual.

This is compounded by the stress and demands of the holiday season. Although many of us look forward to celebrating in December, more people than you know are triggered by this time of year by a lack of family and supports idealized on social media.

It also impacts people economically and makes them reflect and grieve their losses and disappointments for the year. The global impact of Covid will heighten this yearly emotional cycle.

Often organizations are also trying to wrap up loose ends before the holidays and require focus and innovation at the most draining time of the year. So, how can you most effectively manage your personal and work world in the last months of the year?

Instead of looking at this change in mood as a performance issue, it is important to unite your workforce by acknowledging the normal impact of seasonal change. Offering support by educating your workforce about how to manage their moods themselves in combination with having empathetic and realistic expectations will increase resilience and productivity.

Here are the symptoms to look out for in yourself, the workforce and your network of clients/customers and contacts:

1. Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day

2. Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed

3. Having low energy

4. Having problems with sleeping

5. Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight

6. Feeling sluggish or agitated

7. Having difficulty concentrating

8. Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty

9. Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

What is the solution?

Personally encourage your workforce to engage in self care. You set the tone by showing people through your actions that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can be managed effectively.

Here are some ideas that may help yourself and your workforce:

1. Be mindful of your diet

You may crave lots of carbs and junk food, or what we often term “comfort foods”; these foods can make your mood and sluggishness worse. Try to eat your emotions in moderation.

2. Try to get moving

Try to get active for 15-20 minutes a day. Partner with a local work out facility or program to get your workforce a reduced group rate, then allow flexibility in their schedule to participate. Encourage your workforce to go outside at lunch and walk.  

3. Drink water and reduce alcohol and drug use

Discover a favorite beverage that can increase your energy instead of looking for substances like alcohol, caffeine, sugar and marijuana that are depressants. There are so many interesting options. As an employer bring in a healthy drink for everyone, like flavored bubbly water.

4. Encourage your employees to use their benefits

Provide easily accessible information on your EAP services. Send out contact information and develop a policy that lets people access self-care safely. Develop a culture that views benefits as a form of self-care that benefits the individual and organization.

5. Encourage employees to use “sun lamps”

Sun lamps can help replace the vitamin D individuals may be lacking due to the reduced hours of natural sunlight.

6. Be realistic

Be patient and understand people’s behaviors before jumping to conclusions. We never know what is happening in people’s lives and remember that SAD affects everyone to varying degrees.

Everyone is affected by mental health challenges. The first step in managing the impact of mental health on your organization is to practice your own self-care while inspiring employees to be resilient and helping them to develop the behaviours that will contribute to their success at work and at home.