Feeling SAD over the Holidays?
Winter is here. The days are shorter, which means that we have less sunlight, which gives us less time to socialize – and that’s under normal circumstances. For an estimated 10 million Americans, of which 80% are women, these conditions have been known to cause Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of recurring major depression.
Symptoms and Causes
Although they vary from one person to another, SAD symptoms generally include prolonged depression, low energy, sleep disorders, feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, lack of motivation, weight gain or loss, irritability, difficulty focusing, and feelings of isolation during the fall and winter months.
Although the exact cause of SAD is not known, doctors generally agree that during these months:
- Serotonin levels decrease– The reduced number of hours ofsunlight in the fall and winter may cause a decrease in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that regulates feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Lower levels of serotonin may disrupt the body’s internal clock and lead to depression.
- Melatonin levels increase –The change in seasons can disrupt the balance of the body’s melatonin level, a hormone that responds to darkness by causing sleepiness.
SAD During the Pandemic
This year, the impact of COVID-19 and all of the precautions we are taking to limit our in-person contact can make SAD more pronounced and harder to overcome, especially during the holidays.
SAD in the Workplace
Because the symptoms of SAD can greatly impact productivity, absenteeism, focus, mood, engagement, and creativity, it is important that employers learn to recognize it and employ strategies to overcome its challenges. For example:
- Be Culturally Conscious – Create an environment where people feel safe to ask questions and know how to seek help when they need it.
- Go Outdoors – Urge your staff to go outdoors during a lunch break or take an afternoon walk to increase their exposure to natural light, which causes a chemical change in the brain, potentially easing symptoms and creating a sense of wellbeing.
- Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle – Encourage everyone in your workplace to maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly; just one way to ward off weight fluctuations and low energy that accompanies SAD.
SAD is much more than the “Winter Blues.” Employers, co-workers, family members, friends, and neighbors can help those afflicted by recognizing the signs and understanding how best to respond.
The information contained in this article is intended to introduce the topic of Seasonal Affective Disorder. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a health care professional. For more in-depth coverage of SAD, please refer to the following sources:
- National Institute of Mental Health
- American Psychiatric Association
- American Psychological Association
- National Alliance on Mental Illness
Linda Cassell, M.Ed, CPCC, is an independent certified neuro leadership coach at Management Concepts and president of Quantum Leap Coaching and Training, LLC. An expert in leadership development, crisis management, and culture transformation, Linda works with executives in the commercial, non-profit, and public sectors. She holds a Bachelor of Science and Master’s degrees in Education from Kent State University and is a graduate of the Coaches Training Institute. Linda also holds a Neuro Leadership Coach certification from the Mark Waldman program.