Most of us are familiar with the term Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. For those of you who are not, SAD is cyclical pattern of depression that correlates closely to the time of year. Sometimes referred to as ‘winter depression’, SAD tends to be more apparent and severe during the winter months, with the sun rising later and setting earlier, meaning we are exposed to significantly less sunlight than the summer months.
We are forever looking at our social media feeds and seeing those staged photos of some idiot sat posing on a sun lounger on the beach, with their MacBook open, sipping on some form of diabetes inducing chemical monstrosity, followed by ‘How I ditched my 9-5 office job and now work remotely for 4 minutes a day from a beach in Dubai’ …yeah, sure.
What makes it worse is 90% of the time we come across these types of photos, we proceed to look out of the nearest window to yet another day of grey skies and torrential down rain, and that’s if we’re lucky enough to even have windows in the office! The reality is that a large percentage of the UK workforce have to navigate a 3-4 month period of pretty miserable weather, less daylight hours, and the low moods and lack of motivation that come with both.
In a pre-covid Forbes article published in 2020 it was estimated that 10,000,000 Americans suffered from a number of symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, which we can only imagine were made worse once lockdown measures were enforced. Now, in a post covid business climate of hybrid working models and teams being less connected, it is important to understand how to deal with the potential low moods and short tempers that come this time of year as the days continue to get shorter and shorter.
Symptoms of SAD can vary person to person, some of the most common ones are:
- Persistent low mood
- A decrease in engagement with activities that usually bring fulfilment
- Increasingly irritability
- Feelings of despair, guilt or worthlessness
- Lethargy (lacking in energy) and wanting to sleep through the day
- Sleeping for longer than normal
- Increased sugar/carbohydrate cravings
- Loss of concentration
- Lack of sex drive
For some individuals, a number of these symptoms can present themselves very severely and impact day to day life, this includes workplace productivity and the ability to engage with daily tasks (NHS 2022).
The exact science behind what causes SAD is up for debate, but it is commonly thought that our hormones play a big part on whether or not we suffer from it. As we are getting less sunlight in the winter months our bodies produce less serotonin which is our mood, apetite and sleep regulating hormone. We may also begin to produce excess serotonin, which is the sleep hormone, making us feel more sleepy and lethargic than normal. It is important not to disregard SAD, and it should be treated the same way as any other mental illness, as it can lead to further complications including acute anxiety, eating disorders and social withdrawal.