Seasonal depression is an annual challenge for many business professionals. Approximately 10 million Americans struggle with seasonal depression each year; mental health experts suggest another 66 million experience mild symptoms, according to Psychology Today. Colder temperatures and limited sunlight make regular outdoor activity difficult for some, while holiday stress and end-of-year deadlines contribute to feelings of overwhelm. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to worsen seasonal depression symptoms. In addition to managing annual seasonal depression, employees will also have to navigate the stress of living amid a global pandemic.
What is seasonal depression?
The medical diagnosis for seasonal depression is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It is not entirely clear what directly causes seasonal depression, but experts say a lack of sunlight may be involved. Insufficient exposure to light affects the body’s internal clock, disrupting sleep cycles and circadian rhythms. Lack of light can also impact serotonin levels in the brain which affects our mood, according to University of Michigan Medicine.
- SAD occurs four times more often in women.
- The age of diagnosis is usually between 18 and 30.
The chances of developing SAD increase the further away you are from the equator, according to the National Institutes of Health.
The ‘winter blues’ are a milder version of SAD. During a typical year, around 14 percent of the U.S. workforce experiences related symptoms. Trying to operate at peak performance while experiencing the winter blues can be draining, both physically and emotionally.
This year, holiday festivities and family gatherings will be limited, so it is especially important to watch for symptoms of seasonal depression in coworkers and offer support remotely.
- A coworker or loved one may be struggling with seasonal depression or the winter blues if they are:
- Feeling sad, grumpy, moody, or anxious.
- Losing interest in usual activities.
- Eating more (particularly carbohydrates) and experiencing weight gain.
- Sleeping more but not feeling well-rested.
- Having difficulty concentrating and lacking energy.
- Feeling sluggish or irritated.
- Experiencing hopelessness, worthlessness, or guilt.
How to provide support
First, be understanding if a coworker or loved one is more irritable or grumpy than usual. If needed, initiate an open and honest conversation about your concerns. Actively listen to what they have to say. Are they acknowledging their behavior/energy has changed or brushing it off? Explain that seasonal depression is common this time of year. It is not a personal flaw or weakness. If necessary, encourage them to seek professional help. You can offer to help them find a mental health provider, prepare a list of questions for their first appointment.
This year has been tough on everyone. As the months get colder, sunlight becomes limited, and holiday festivities are cancelled, be mindful of seasonal depression symptoms and ways to support those in your life who may be struggling.
Next steps for protecting your team’s health
To help you prioritize employee health and well-being, Wellness Works developed a digital guide, Protecting Employee Health and Well-Being Amid COVID-19, outlining key elements that contribute to employee mental, emotional, and physical health.
Download your complimentary guide for helpful tips on having meaningful discussions with your employees and coworkers about the importance of maintaining health and well-being in the coming months.