Frosted trees in the winter
Over the weekend, a friend who lives in southern Florida sent me a screenshot from his weather app: 84 degrees and sunny. What a friend, right?
Where I’m located, like in so many other areas of the country, it’s gray and cold outside. It’s the type of weather that makes you want to stay under the covers most of the day. When you do get out of bed, you just want to lounge around the house sipping on a warm beverage.
That’s normal from time to time. But for an estimated 10 million Americans, this is a recurring issue known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD for short. And it can wreak havoc on their productivity.
SAD, according to the Mayo Clinic, “is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year.” Most people who struggle with SAD grapple with sapped energy and mood swings.
The exact causes aren’t known, but it’s believed that SAD is related to hormonal changes. One theory is that less sunlight results in the brain making less serotonin, which regulates mood.
Because SAD is a type of depression, it shouldn’t be dismissed as the “winter blues” or a seasonal funk — it can lead to complications like anxiety, eating disorders, and social withdrawal.
And the same changes that result in feeling “blah” can also result in flagging productivity:
Poor mental and physical health
Because the most common symptoms of SAD include depressed mood, low self-esteem, irritability, stress, and unexplained aches and pains, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, when you aren’t feeling 100% mentally or physically, you’re not going to be at the top of your game. You may also be prone to injuries, accidents, and absenteeism, which costs businesses $51 billion annually.
In fact, according to a study by U.K.-based insurer Vitality Group in conjunction with Cambridge University and Charles University, “mental and/or physical health accounted for more than 84% of direct effects on productivity loss, as well as 93% of indirect influences.”
The solution? “Our analysis highlights that while physical and mental health are the ultimate determinants of employee productivity, healthy work environment and supportive management play an essential role in the process,” Martin Stepanek, study author and researcher at Charles University in Prague, said in a statement.
He added, “In addition to medical benefit packages and assistance programs, employers need to focus on building a supportive management culture and inclusive work atmosphere and bolstering employee job satisfaction.”
Other ways to encourage both yourself and your team to prioritize health and wellness include establishing more flexible work arrangements, offering unlimited vacation time, providing healthy snacks, and encouraging exercise and physical movement.
The best thing that you can do, though, is open up a dialogue. Be open about your struggles with SAD, and prioritize time with each team member so people feel comfortable talking to you about this.
Having low energy, feeling sluggish, and needing an entire weekend to recoup from the workweek are also common symptoms of SAD. Of course, when you’re experiencing these symptoms, it’s more difficult to find the stamina to be productive throughout the day. It can also prevent you from tuning up your average speed to complete tasks.
The solution? Many of the techniques used to help improve your mental and physical health can be used to overcome fatigue. You may also want to try working from a standing desk or going for a walk outside. Getting some natural light increases levels of serotonin, and the cold air can give you a boost, as well as help clear your mind and reduce stress.
Difficulty waking up in the morning
Is it a struggle for you to wake up during the colder months of the year? Are you even oversleeping some mornings? If so, that’s another symptom of SAD.
While it may seem harmless, this can interfere with your morning routine or even cause you to run late. As a result, the rest of your daily schedule may be thrown off.
The solution? Keep your routine, no matter what. I know you want to stay nice and cozy, but when it’s time to get up, get up. To make this a little easier, do something active (I do some stretching to get my blood flowing), hop in the shower, and look at your calendar to remember what needs to get done today.
Having trouble concentrating is yet another symptom of SAD. It goes without saying that this can influence your productivity. Instead of focusing on the task at hand, your mind is wandering, becoming preoccupied with less important issues.
The solution? Practicing mindfulness and eliminating distractions, like turning off your smartphone, are great places to start. However, don’t force it. If you really can’t focus on a task, take a break and go for a walk. Just remember to keep practicing on strengthening your focus; this isn’t something you can change overnight.
Apathy and a loss of passion
Do you find yourself in a slump, feeling like you no longer enjoy your work? As you’ve guessed, this is another result of SAD. And when you’re in this mindset, there’s just no way you’re getting much accomplished. You likely feel your motivation is gone.
The solution? Revisit the advice for improving your mental and physical health. I’d also suggest reviewing your business plan or reconnecting with your “why.” You may want to change up your routine, redesign your workplace (especially if you can add more natural light or lightboxes), or introduce a new product or service. These are simple ways to reignite your passion and help manage your seasonal affective disorder.
The most important takeaway, however, is to communicate your feelings. Talk to friends or family. If you feel extremely down or are battling suicidal thoughts, contact a mental health professional immediately. Seasonal affective disorder can impact people in different ways, and productivity can seem like both the worst — and the least — of your worries.