How have you been feeling so far in 2020? Believe it or not, February can be one of the most difficult months for Michigan residents – it’s been cold for some time, spring is nowhere in sight, and we often ask ourselves, “where is the sun?”
These factors are among many that contribute to the development of seasonal depression. Trying to operate at peak performance while experiencing the winter blues can be draining, both physically and emotionally.
What are the winter blues?
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is the medical diagnosis for seasonal depression. SAD differs from ‘the winter blues’ which are deemed a milder, medically recognized version of SAD, according to Workforce.
The winter blues affects approximately 14% of the U.S. population. SAD occurs four times more often in women and 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.
- Feeling sad, grumpy, moody, or anxious
- Losing interest in usual activities
- Eating more (particularly carbohydrates) and weight gain
- Sleeping more but not feeling well-rested
- Difficulty concentrating
What causes winter blues?
It is not 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, says University of Michigan Medicine.
Incorporating vitamin D in your diet through foods or supplements can alleviate symptoms. Foods high in vitamin D include fish, egg yolks, cheese, and fortified foods (cereal, orange juice, and soy milk).
Workplace strategies for employers
As an employer, you won’t be able to avoid the winter blues altogether, but you can help minimize the effects felt by your teams. Workforce offers six strategies to combat the winter blues:
- Increase natural light in the office. There are several health benefits associated with this.
- Offer flexible hours. Having the option to come in late or take a personal day will be appreciated by those who need it.
- Promote your Employee Assistance Program. If you don’t have one, here’s why you should.
- Encourage employees to take breaks outside for fresh air and mental clarity.
- Establish an open dialog with employees so they feel comfortable expressing feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.
- Provide healthy snack options. A healthy diet has many benefits on emotional well–being.
The winter blues shouldn’t be a new concept for long-time Michigan residents. In fact, the blues are common among workers who experience long winter months says Rush University Medical Center. While employers can’t control the weather, they have the ability to alleviate symptoms in the workplace to cultivate a happier, more engaged environment.