Feeling SAD? Beat the Winter Blues and Boost Productivity


Fall ushers in shorter days and long, darker evenings.

For many it’s a great excuse to bundle up in front of the fire and enjoy the coziness of the indoors. For some it causes a depression known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD.

What are the symptoms of SAD?

The symptoms of SAD, according to WebMD include having less energy, trouble concentrating, fatigue, an increased desire to be alone and a greater need for sleep. Familydoctor.org recognizes that between 4% and 6% of people in the United States suffer from SAD.

What causes SAD?

The Mayo Clinic attributes SAD to the reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression. A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in SAD.

SAD and Diminished Productivity

Several studies have correlated low productivity with low sun exposure. A recent study compared two groups of people: one being exposed to daylight, the other to artificial light over the course of several work days. The results uncovered that people who were exposed to daylight were significantly more alert at the beginning of the evening compared to the afternoon. Subjects who were exposed to artificial light, on the other hand, were significantly sleepier at the end of the evening.

The Society of Human Resource Management says symptoms of SAD could individually or collectively affect employee productivity SAD can reduce morale and increase absenteeism, mistakes, and safety risks in environments like manufacturing or construction.

Alleviating the SAD effects

If you’re feeling the effects, there are a few things you can do to combat the blues and boost productivity.

1. Try a light box

A light therapy box can offer some relief in these dark months. The light from therapy boxes is designed to mimic that of sunlight – significantly brighter than that of regular light bulbs. It’s also provided in different wavelengths. Many experts agree that light therapy is effective in treating SAD.

2. Use a Dawn Simulator

Dawn Simulators are clever devices that trick your brain into thinking it’s still summer. They gradually light up your room in the morning as you wake up, simulating dawn.  Numerous studies have found that people waking up with dawn simulators have significantly higher levels of cortisol and feel more alert.

3. Experiment with Aromatherapy

Scent has a profound effect on the emotions. Teodor Postolache, a psychiatrist who has worked with SAD patients, found interesting evidence that odors play a role in seasonal depression. Postolache’s studies reveal that people with SAD have a more acute sense of smell than people who do not suffer from seasonal depression. Furthermore, science says certain scents can have beneficial effects on mood and stress. Axe recommends exploring Bergamot, Lavender, Roman Chamomile and Ylang Ylang for treating SAD.

4. Take more Vitamin D

A study from 2014 led by researchers from the University of Georgia associates low vitamin D levels with greater risk of seasonal affective disorder. Up to 42% of the adult population in the US has low vitamin D levels. A quick visit to the doctor’s office can help determine your vitamin D levels.  If necessary, your doctor can advise a supplement intake.

5. Get more exercise

Regular exercise seems like the right medicine for any ailment. Not only does exercise improve mood, it also reduces stress which can make winter depression worse. Engaging in a daily hour of aerobic exercise outside has the same benefits as 2.5 hours of light treatment indoors. So get off at the earlier stop on the bus or take a walk on your lunch break each day to keep the blues at bay!

Remember to visit your general practitioner if you have symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Effective treatments are available if you’re diagnosed with the condition.

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