Fighting Seasonal Affective Disorder in the Workplace

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a well-documented, specific form of depression described in 1984. SAD, also known as winter depression, is a subtype of depression characterized by a marked mood change that coincides with the change of seasons. As days get shorter and the trees start to lose their leaves, you might find yourself feeling sad, low or more irritable than usual for extended periods of time.Despite being formally listed in the DSM and affecting over 10 million Americans, SAD is often misunderstood or not taken seriously. After all, who doesn't get a little "depressed" in the winter? Winter sucks. One of the worst parts of SAD is how difficult it can be to identify or even talk about. This is especially troublesome because, and this can't be stressed enough: SAD is a very real thing that can have a huge, negative impact on your work and personal life.Luckily, the fact that SAD has been categorized means there's plenty of info out there to help you if you suspect you may be at risk. Here are the symptoms of SAD, what SAD is caused by and most importantly, how you can treat it. Never convince yourself that your feelings aren't real or you need to "toughen up" if you're feeling sad or low. It takes courage to solve a problem like this, and doing so could make a big difference in your life this winter.


SAD, like any form of depression, affects everyone differently. That means these symptoms are just general signifiers; just because you have some of them doesn't mean you have SAD, and just because you don't have all them doesn't mean you don't. Also keep in mind that SAD comes in several degrees of severity. Even if you don't think you feel THAT bad, it doesn't mean you aren't suffering from a minor form of SAD. Pay attention to your body and feelings, be honest with yourself and don't brush off your symptoms as "not a big deal."
You might have SAD if you are experiencing any of all of the following:

  • Persistent sadness, lasting several hours or days
  • Heightened feelings of guilt
  • Loss of self esteem
  • Loss of interest in activities that usually bring you happiness
  • Apathy at work and/or in your personal life
  • Feelings of despair, fatalism or hopelessness
  • Heightened anxiety or paranoia
  • Unexplained mood changes, sudden or gradual
  • Problems sleeping
  • Lethargy or feeling very tired
  • Overeating or oversleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty getting up in the morning
  • Social problems; changes in how you feel about friends; impulse to avoid socialization
  • Irritability
  • Loss of sexual libido
  • Thoughts of suicide or death. Remember, if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or thinking of hurting yourself, stop what you are doing and get help. Take this seriously! Please call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255 anytime you need it, or chat online with CrisisChat. If these feelings are overwhelming you right now, visit the suicide prevention hotline's safe space for help coming down. Do not wait for these thoughts to go away on their own and do not hide them from your loved ones. Suicidal thoughts are nothing to be ashamed of, and there's no reason whatsoever you should feel like you can't talk about them. You have people here for you.
Again, these symptoms are not absolute evidence that you are suffering from SAD or another form of depression. If you found yourself relating to one or more as you scanned the list, however, ask yourself if these feelings are normal for you, or if they seem different than usual. Be honest with yourself; trying to sweep your problem under the rug won't help.


Another common misconception concerning SAD and, unfortunately, depression generally is that it's "all in your head." For whatever reason, the notion that depressed people could simply "turn off" their depression if they really wanted to is still weirdly prevalent in society. Not only could this not be more false, it is dangerous and irresponsible.
Case in point: although the exact causes of SAD are not known with absolute certainty, it's proven to be closely associated with two brain chemicals--Serotonin and Melatonin. Serotonin affects mood, and lowered levels are linked with depression. Exposure to sunlight affects serotonin; as you are exposed to less sunlight, your brain might produce less serotonin.
In other words, less sunlight=less serotonin=lowered mood=seasonal depression. Ok, we know we're not experts, and that equation looks like something a fourth grader would come up with.
The other chemical that contributes to SAD, melatonin, regulates sleep cycles. Melatonin is also affected by light--your body produces more of it as you're exposed to more darkness. Fluctuations in your melatonin will affect your circadian rhythm, which will make it hard to sleep at night, cause you to feel tired during the day and adversely affect your mood and ability to focus.
As has been proven time and time again, the causes of mood disorders and mental illness are chemical. That means good news and bad news: aren't your fault and you can't just wish them away with willpower. Ok, here's more good news: just because your mood disorder is "real" doesn't mean there isn't anything you can do about it.


First, it's important to note: if you've been experiencing severe versions of the symptoms described above, it's a very good idea to talk to your doctor. A medical professional can not only prescribe medication (if you both agree that's the right course of action for you), they can give you better and more personalized advice than any article on the internet ever could--Even an article written by the geniuses at CBS, hard as that may be to believe. Again, SAD affects millions of Americans, so there's absolutely no reason to avoid bringing it up at your next doctor appointment.
If you're looking for some home remedies to supplement your doctor's treatment or to try before you take the next step, there are a couple of strategies that have worked for others. First of all: try to get outside during the day. This can be hard, especially when it's really freaking cold out. If you can get some sunlight every day, however, you might find yourself feeling a lot better. If you can't get outside as much as you'd like, do your best to enhance the amount of natural light in your working and living places. There are even light therapy boxes and special types of lamps designed to give off a pleasant light that will trigger the production of Serotonin the way sunlight does. Your milage may vary with this particular treatment, however, so before you spend your money it's a good idea to discuss the option with your doctor.
Like with so many other maladies, exercise can do a lot of good. Not only does physical exercise release Serotonin, it will tire you out to make sleep easier and you can do it outside or in a well-lit location to get sunlight, as well. Plus, you'll get diesel, which will make you feel awesome about yourself. Remember Gaston from Beauty and the Beast? You think he ever had SAD? (Actually he might've--remember, SAD can affect anyone and it's not your fault).

Now for the after-school special segment of the blog. We've had a lot of fun here today, but we'd like to reiterate one last time: mental illness is real. It is not something to be dismissed, taken lightly or avoided. If you or someone you know finds themselves feeling low for periods of time longer than a day this winter, we urge you to consider reaching out to someone. Better mental health care and awareness starts with you. Feeling depressed is not your fault, it is not the product of weakness and there are things you can do about it. Don't let winter get you down this season; be the proactive, responsible adult you are and fight back!
Woof, that was a serious blog huh. We'll try to be twice as goofy in the next one to make up for it. In the meantime, if you want some more ways to make working conditions better for you and your co-workers, check out any number of the blogs we've written on the subject. And, as always, if you need business technology solutions, supplies or document management, Coordinated has you covered.