Winter provides a tricky time for most people who like to live an active life or enjoy and value their time outdoors. While these activities are not stolen from us entirely during the winter period, it is challenged by the shorter days, inclement weather conditions and general dreary aesthetics of the average day. For many, it may simply be a time of year to wade through. You enjoy festivities and snowy adventures in lieu of the warm summer. These often gloss over a shift in motivation and mood for others. Like with most matters of mental health, there’s often an unspoken component of our frame of mind that discreetly suffers an impact. Likewise, many working environments experience a drop in motivation within their teams during the colder months.
The Canadian Mental Health Association believe that at least 15% of Canadians experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or the ‘winter blues’ this season. This number may not even fully represent the population who feel negative impacts as many cases naturally go unreported.
According to the Mayo Clinic the winter blues often manifest as:
Upon further research from the US National Institute of Health, there are scientific reasons for this shift correlating a dip in melatonin (affecting sleep patterns and mood) and serotonin (affects energy, mood and appetite) to the reduced exposure to sunlight, nature, exercise and fresh air. Both of these neuro-chemicals play into the circadian rhythm which is essentially the typical 24-hour cycle your body has become used to and expects. Unfortunately, the winter period can unbalance this, increasing the possibility of SAD.
In a study environment, it’s easier to counter as students can reorder their schedules and routines to serve their needs. Of course, that generally isn’t possible for the working world to simply reposition the work day around individual needs. Save for shifting the entire office to Hawaii for the winter, is there suggested fixes or remedies for the blues? Certainly!
As we are not physicians or doctors, we will not prescribe Vitamin D tablets although research does show positive effects. We are also not electricians but having bright artificial light that emulates the composition of sunlight, especially in the morning, have shown considerable promise, (Melrose, A; 2015). Further to this, architects are now factoring better use of daylight into designs and certain villages in Austria that receive no direct sunlight in winter due to surrounding mountains have built a series of giant mirrors to reflect the sun and ensure that residents receive natural light.
Areas where we do have credibility are exercise and time in nature. By forcing yourself to go for a walk or a run in the evening after work, you maintain a more balanced circadian rhythm and allow for the body to regulate serotonin levels along with brain tryptophan (positive endorphins – the reason you feel good after exercise) according to the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience.
Building healthy habits such as exercise and eating healthy help to counter the winter blues and other areas of life. Keystone habits like these tend to lead to the improvement of other habits, Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit.
While these are suggestions personalized for the individual, an entire office can contribute to positive mental health by introducing changes:
According to a University of Warwick study, workforces are more productive when they are happier. This certainly provides enough business incentive to invest in it. Happiness and mental health seem like unmeasurable entities but there is a societal shift to actively influence these positively.
Many tools for change exist and are available for you to employ at your workplace. Perhaps give that some thought and it may just make a huge difference to your team! If you have experienced or noticed this in your office, please leave a comment with how you counteract it.