Seasonal Affective Disorder and the Workplace


For many, the end of the year holiday season is a great time for celebration, delicious food and family gatherings. But for others it’s a time wrought with stress, worry, anger and sadness.

The holiday season can tend to put a magnifying glass on a myriad of already taxing hurdles that we face in our everyday life. Finances are stretched too thin as we struggle to keep up with the newest trends and making everyone happy. Familial stress increases as we work outside our personal schedules and comfort zones to include those awkward interactions (‘Who are you dating these days?’ ‘When are you going to have kids?’ ‘You’re pregnant again?’ ‘You’re still a Barista at Starbucks?’ and the list goes on…).

The stress of deadlines and year end projects at work can become even more overwhelming as your schedule fills with expectations of parties, gift exchanges and dinners. Or maybe this is the first (or the next in a line of many) holidays that you will spend alone or without someone who has left or passed.

And then after the hustle and bustle and confetti of New Year’s has settled, we are left with often dreary weather and a litany of resolutions that we aren’t sure we can ever accomplish.

Here’s the good news: you’re not alone. This roller coaster of emotion is rooted in scientific fact; Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is defined as ‘a type of depression that can cause increased anxiety, sadness and stress, lack of enjoyment in regular activities, feelings of isolation, mood swings, and several other symptoms that can take over your life’ brought on by ‘cooler weather and shorter days which can have a negative impact on your mental health.’

While there are many articles on how someone could deal with these issues outside of their work environment, we know in real life that what happens outside our office is hard to check at the door.

Below are some tips that have been modified for the workplace that may help throughout this season:

  1. Exercise/Stretch: While many companies and organization now have workout facilities on site for employee use, even if equipment is not available to you, it’s important to get moving. Have a walking meeting, take the stairs to your next appointment, stand up and stretch while you are reading your email, just find something that shakes up your desk routine and it may help cut some of the monotony out of your day. When you exercise, endorphins are released into your body, bringing forth positive feelings and increasing your energy. You’ll also reap the benefits of regular exercise—increasing your strength, cutting down your body fat, and feeling good and healthy overall. And of course, couple regular exercise with eating well and your whole body will feel better.
  2. Make lunch plans: We are often tempted to skip our lunch break because the pressure of looming deadlines is pushing us to do more but often this can have just the opposite effect on our productivity that we expect. Skipping meals only leads to sluggish mental performance. It’s also a great idea to take the time to connect with others in your office. Get out of the [office] at least once a week, if not more. Even meeting a friend for a cup of coffee could lift your spirits. [It] could also help you adjust better to the fall and winter months, and make things feel a little less doom and gloom by preventing the seasonal changes from affecting your social life.
  3. Soak up the sun as often as possible: We know most of our working day usually comes during the majority of the sunshine which makes this a little more complicated, but by making this a plan and priority, your body will get the sunlight that it craves. You’re skin creates Vitamin D for your body when exposed to sunlight and a lack of D can lead to general lethargy, only exacerbating the spiral of not wanting to get out and about. So make a plan to venture outside and soak up some rays. It’s also a good idea to let as much natural light into your workspace as possible: open up the blinds and the let the sunshine in. Accepting and embracing the daylight you’re given could help you get past some of the symptoms you experience from Seasonal Affective Disorder.
  4. Make time for yourself: Just as with lunch time, many of us tend to skip company offered breaks but even just 5 minutes of decompression could drastically improve your mood and re-inject life into your work. Read a few pages in that book you’ve been meaning to pick up, listen to your favorite song, work on a crossword, or anything that brings you a smile; if you make it a habit, it also becomes something you look forward to. Don’t push this one off: yes, you deserve this. Don’t make excuses, make a plan.
  5. Stock up on healthy midday snacks: We all know that one co-worker who has a great stash of snacks in their drawer or fridge but be careful how many carbs you are taking in during this season. Foods filled with carbohydrates sit heavily in your stomach… While it isn’t necessary to cut out carbs completely from your diet, having too much can worsen your symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Carbs can make you cathartic, directly affecting your mood with the spike—and inevitable drop—in your glucose level. Instead, eat a healthy, balanced diet rich in fruit, vegetables, protein and fiber. Get as much of the good stuff as you can and cut back on the carbs if you’re feeling sleepy and lazy a lot throughout the winter.
  6. Consider a professional: Ok, so this doesn’t necessarily happen in the office environment but remember, if you are experiencing ongoing or worsening emotional state, it may be time to visit a professional who can help talk through a game plan for improvement. You never have to figure this out alone. Sometimes the best treatment is talking it out with a therapist, or using a combination of therapy and lifestyle changes. If you experience moderate to severe winter depression, meaning it affects several areas of your life and prevents you from doing things, seeing a therapist could help. Sometimes small lifestyle changes are enough to pick someone up when they’re feeling low… Seeing a therapist can get you to address negative feelings and learn how to change your perspective and behavior accordingly. It may also help prevent you from falling into the same cycle in the years to come.

Lastly, if you are fortunate to not fall into this category, be sure you can still recall some of the resources and ideas to share with you peers and associates. Many people attempt to ‘hold it together’ while a work but often a friendly gesture or listening ear can bring important opportunities to present someone with helpful information.

How about you? Do you have any great ways to combat ‘the winter blues’ while on the job? Use the comments below to add your thoughts.

Kellen Sweny is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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David Kuehn

I need to remember to get outside and walk during the middle of the day in winter when the weather in nice. It covers 1 and 3. If I go with someone, 2 as well.


I use a small “goLITE” or Happy Light at my desk 10 minutes every morning. Natural Spectrum Energy Lamps can help you fight fatigue, regain focus, and improve your mood

Kellen Sweny

Yes, light boxes can be a great alternative if getting out just can’t happen (or there is no sun…). Thanks for the suggestion and thanks for reading. Happy Holidays!