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Five Ways to Help Workers with Seasonal Affective Disorder During the Pandemic

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Advice by David Price – workplace wellbeing expert and CEO at Health Assured

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is more than just the ‘winter blues’ or, ironically, a feeling of sadness. It’s a major depressive disorder brought about by the lengthening periods of darkness. It causes lethargy, low energy, difficulty waking up in the mornings and decreased concentration. It’s a serious issue and one that can have drastic effects on productivity in the winter months.

This year, it’s likely that SAD will have even more of an effect than usual. 2020 has been fairly dark—in a metaphorical sense—and adding long periods of literal darkness on top of this may lead to some serious mental ill-health among workers. Compounding this are the restrictions on movement—loneliness is often worse even during a typical winter.

It’s a good idea for employers to be on top of things that can affect people’s wellbeing so seriously. Happier employees are better at their work, and you only have to make small changes to accommodate those with seasonal depression.

Here are a few ways to help cope with the encroaching evening darkness:

More light: some workplaces are rather dark and unexciting places, especially when the sun starts setting earlier and earlier. And some people find themselves seated at desks and cubicles situated far from the nearest source of natural light. Try rearranging your floor plan to maximise the natural light available, and consider moving people suffering SAD closer to windows.

Remote work assistance: a lot of people will be working from home this winter. Remote work has its own challenges and pitfalls, which will be felt even more keenly as the darkness sets in. Encourage good habits, and make sure to communicate with people—get them to make the most of the sunlit hours with regular breaks and walks.

Encourage more outdoor time: employees should be taking lunch away from their desks and home workspaces. Time away from your desk helps clear the mind, reset and means you can attack the afternoon’s tasks afresh. But try encouraging people to go further than just the kitchen. Assuming the winter weather isn’t too harsh, lunchtime can be well-spent going for a quick walk around the block. It’s about getting as much sunlight and positivity into the workday as possible.

Help out with health: SAD can wreak havoc on appetite, and this causes weight gain, and this can make the associated depression harder to deal with. Try providing guidance on healthier snacking options during the winter months. Sending out gift boxes to remote staff, filled with healthy alternatives, will be much appreciated.

Even more light: A lot of people suffering SAD benefit greatly from a SAD lamp or light box. A light box is a form of light therapy which uses fluorescent lights to simulate natural sun. It’s effective and recommended by the NHS. Look into subsidising the cost of these, especially for employees staying at home this winter.

Follow these tips, and hopefully, the people you know who suffer during the winter will have their problems lessened.