The summer sun has disappeared, and winter has returned. For many of us, leaving work in the dark only to return in the dark can take its toll on our mood and energy. The lack of sun results in depleting levels of vitamin D, something we can’t derive from food alone. Vitamin D is essential in promoting healthy cell and bone growth, as well as enhancing our physical resilience and combatting Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Yet, as we approach the dark days, so will many of us experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Research has found that as many as one in three Brits display symptoms of it each year. But what exactly is it, what are the symptoms, and how can we combat it in our workplace?
What is SAD?
SAD is essentially a depression triggered by lack of sunlight. 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.
There are many symptoms, including:
- Sleeping issues — normally oversleeping and struggling to stay awake
- Weakened immune system
- Being lethargic
- Lack of interest in activities which were previously enjoyable
- Loss of motivation
- A persistent low mood
- Social issues, including withdrawal from social situations
- Increased anxiety
- Overeating — particularly carbohydrates and sweet foods
Negative Effects at Work
Admittedly, it isn’t just winter when we love to complain about work, but the dark days definitely don’t help. 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.
Research by CharlieHR, a software firm, found that January is the month home to the most sick days in Britain. Staggeringly, the number of sick days recorded in the first month of the year is 53 per cent above the average of the other 11 months. 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 isn’t just work absence that is a consequence 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.
Alleviating Symptoms at Work
To help combat SAD, workplaces can contribute to making the winter months easier to bear. 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”.
Providing health supplements can be a positive step in boosting employee 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 lack vitamin D3, a statistic that drops further in winter due to lack of sunlight. 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.
Allowing flexible working hours and working from home can also help employees fight off SAD symptoms. 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. By offering flexible shifts or remote working, people may benefit from being able to get out when it is still light.
Make sure to help those suffering from SAD this winter. If you think you suffer from this and it is disrupting your daily life, seek medical advice.