Seasonal Affective Disorder; SAD – How to cope with the Winter Blues

Post submitted by: Veronica Ford

September 21st 2018 in Edmonton, Alberta, today is the officially the first day of Fall but someone forgot to let Mother Nature know today is fall and not winter as the region was dumped with snow.  The stark reality of this snowfall is that the season is changing, the hours of sunlight will be shortening and many people suffer from SAD otherwise known as the Winter Blues, whether they know it or not.

Winter, for those who live far from the equator, means cooler temperatures, fewer daylight hours and occasional pangs of “winter blues”.  Did you know that ‘winter blues’ can affect you mentally and physically?  It is important for employers and employees to recognize the signs and work on ways to alleviate and cope with SAD.  The cause of SAD is unknown, but it has been hypothesized that the lack of sunlight disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm.  According to research published in the journal Nature by Johns Hopkins University neuroscientists, our eyes have special photoreceptors that monitor light levels. These could be linked to the “non-visual” ways we respond to light, such as setting the body’s circadian pacemaker and affecting mood and temperament.

Changes in light levels could explain why the majority of SAD sufferers, experience symptoms during winter. There are different spectrum levels of SAD. At one extreme are people with Sad, who struggle during the short dark days of winter, sometimes to a disabling degree. At the other are those who wake up cheerfully, rain or shine. In between are those with the winter blues. They manage with difficulty during the dark days but are less joyful, productive and creative than usual.

What’s the difference between Sad and winter blues? The degree of dysfunction is key. People with Sad suffer setbacks in their relationships and at work as they withdraw from friends and loved ones, as energy flags and concentration falters; and they are significantly unhappier. People with the winter blues tend to manage with life’s basic demands, albeit with difficulty.

But these two groups are by no means clearly demarcated. Pile the stress on to someone with the winter blues (longer work hours, tighter deadlines, a poor performance rating) and – hey presto! – the winter blues can turn into Sad. Or a person with Sad who retires – and can therefore sleep in and take it easy – may feel better, with just a mild case of the winter blues. In other words, seasonal vulnerability varies both from person to person (perhaps on a genetic basis) and from one situation to another.

The good news is that whether you have Sad or winter blues, it is possible to live a full and active life all year round. Here are eight tips for treating both conditions.

  1. Recognise the problem
  • Early signs can be subtle. Decreased energy, fatigue, wanting to sleep more, craving sweets and pasta, slacking off at work – all classical symptoms of Sad or the winter blues – can easily be attributed to other causes. Catch it early, and you’re ahead of the game.
  1. Get more light
  • Go for a walk on a bright winter day (morning is often best). Bring more light into your home and office space.
  • At home, trim the hedges around your windows and clean the panes of any grime that has accumulated since last winter. Make at least one room in your home the bright room to which you can retreat on a dark winter’s day. Put your bedside lamp on a timer that turns it on half an hour before you are due to wake up. Better still, get a dawn simulator (they make great gifts), which will gradually light up your bedroom in the morning.
  1. Invest in a light box
  • If these simple measures don’t work, consider getting a light fixture specially geared towards helping people with Sad. Here are a few things to remember in choosing a suitable light box. The best-researched boxes have fluorescent light bulbs behind a screen that filters out UV light, and an illuminated area of at least one square foot. Again, morning treatments are best – the earlier, the better. Like all active treatments, light therapy can have side effects including headaches and eye strain, irritability and insomnia (especially when used late at night).
  1. Get up early, keep busy …
  • … and be sure to plan pleasant events for yourself. Evidence shows that questioning and confronting negative thoughts and doing things that lift your spirits really do help.
  1. Get moving
  • Exercise can work wonders, especially if you combine it with bright light – like taking a brisk stroll in the morning or working out in front of a light fixture.
  1. Improve your diet
  • Avoid high-impact carbs such as pure sugars or white starches. You may crave them, and they may provide a temporary boost, but they’ll lead to the release of insulin, drops in blood sugar and therefore more cravings – a yo-yo pattern of unhealthy eating that causes weight gain and puts you at risk of diabetes and other metabolic problems. Low-impact carbs such as unprocessed oats, legumes, almonds and walnuts are better, as are high-protein foods, which help keep sweet cravings down.
  1. Meditate
  • While there are no published studies to support the value of meditation in Sad, there are too many anecdotal reports to ignore.
  1. Talk to a professional
  • There are limits to self-help. Consult a doctor if your winter symptoms are significantly disrupting your personal or work life, or you are very unhappy. There is a role for medication if symptoms become severe enough.

Every employer wants their employee to come to work, happy, healthy and be productive.  When an employee may be experiencing some Winter Blues, they may not have their ‘head’ in the task at hand and accidents could potentially happen.  Maybe ‘invest’ or adopt some of these strategies:

  • Plan fun and interactive events at work in a brightly lit area
  • Do ‘summer’ theme days in winter to alleviate some of the dreary winter days
  • Have Light boxes accessible to employees
  • Have a 5-minute meditation available

Working with your employees is always a win-win.

Information above is adopted and taken from Source 

Seasonal Affective Disorder; SAD – How to cope with the Winter Blues