With winter here, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can impact on many people. Roughly, 20% of us feel the effects of the winter blues. However around 3% of Britons are estimated to suffer from SAD, preventing them from functioning normally.
What is seasonal affective disorder?
SAD is a depression due to underexposure to 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 symptoms are associated with SAD?
Here are some of the most common symptoms you should be aware of:
- Being lethargic
- Weakened immune system
- Loss of motivation
- Lack of interest in activities which were previously enjoyable
- Sleep issues — normally oversleeping and struggling to stay awake
- Overeating — particularly carbohydrates and sweet foods
- Increased anxiety
- Social issues, including withdrawal from social situations
- A persistent low mood
How may it be affecting us at work?
As a nation, we sure do love to complain about our work all year round. 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.
Analysis of employee data from 706 organisations found that sick days in January are 53 per cent higher than the rest of the year. Unsurprisingly, sick days were the highest from January–March than any other months in the year, illustrating that the dark and colds nights certainly have an impact on our mental and physical health. 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.
It’s not just sick days that are a result of 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 to combat SAD in the workplace
Although it’s the employee’s responsibility to seek treatment if this disorder is disrupting their daily life, there are small changes the workplace can make to become more sensitive to the issue as well as supporting our peers.
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”.
Health supplements are also effective in improving vitamin intake. 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.”
One in five Brits suffer from low levels of vitamin D3 in our diet, which drops further in winter. 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.
Waking up at 6am to pitch black can be extremely disheartening for the most of us. But for someone with SAD, it’s a whole challenge in itself. Having flexible working hours is a positive start — allowing people to come to work earlier or later can allow them to spend some time in the sunlight. 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.
SAD is a serious condition that can affect our lives for a good chunk of the year. Understanding and trying to reduce the effect it can have on people is a positive step to helping.
This article appears under the terms of the DB Direct service