Did you know that Blue Monday is not just an iconic 80s song, but an important reminder for us to look after our mental health? “Blue Monday” refers to a specific day – typically the third Monday of January- that has been dubbed “the most depressing day of the year”. However, as we move into the winter months and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) rears its head, it’s important to know that prevention is better than cure when it comes to winter-related mental health issues.
2 million people in the UK suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), a medically recognised depressive disorder which recurs each year throughout the winter months[i]. This is sometimes referred to as the social term “Winter Blues” because the lowering of mood is associated with the inclement weather and having fewer hours of daylight. This year the burden is even greater with the cost-of-living crisis causing concern over heating bills, with the ONS reporting that 24% of people who struggle to pay their energy bills experience symptoms of depression[ii].
S.A.D. is not simply feeling a bit low, it is something that deserves serious attention. Symptoms include an absence of joy, sleep disturbance, low mood, social retreat, a lack of enjoyment in life, and for many, higher levels of anxiety as well. This often results in unhealthy coping mechanisms like overeating and excessive alcohol consumption.
And it impacts organisations and individual performance in the workplace. Winter-related mental health issues cannot simply be left at the door when we arrive at work. People who experience S.A.D. struggle with brain fog, memory loss, difficulty focusing and other cognitive function challenges, reduced decision-making skills, decreased motivation and greater absenteeism. The resulting downturn in workplace engagement and productivity may deepen the sense of isolation and despondency that is central to S.A.D. symptoms.
Here we have provided a small selection of tips from Wellbeing Partners’ Beating the Winter Blues and S.A.D. wellbeing workshop for employees:
Positive Winter Mindset: Complaining about the winter weather is a collective activity, but one that undermines our ability to feel anything but negative about it. Whenever we bond with others about the grey skies, cold and damp, we reinforce feelings of low mood. An alternative approach is to consistently talk about the things we may enjoy over the months, emphasising that which boosts our mood. Saying to others “I feel ok after a brisk walk in the outdoors at this time of year” helps develop a mindset that is accepting and embracing the seasonal changes, boosting our mental resilience.
Get Active, Get Outside: Reduced daylight hours during winter can lower serotonin levels and therefore lower our mood, so it is essential to get outside every day in daylight hours. A daily brisk walk offers a much needed serotonin boost through exercise and exposure to daylight. Without taking this action, you are unlikely to proceed through winter with good mental health. No matter what the weather we should endeavour to get outside once a day. As the saying goes, “there’s no such things as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing!”. A warm waterproof coat and waterproof shoes or boots are a must.
Cold Water Exposure: By that we mean having your usual warm or hot shower, but letting it run cold for 60 seconds and letting your whole body feel the cold water, before reintroducing the much-needed warm water for the remainder. This might sound counterintuitive as the natural inclination during winter is to crave warmth, but the minute of cold water helps combat seasonal affective disorder. Controlled exposure to lower temperatures has been shown to boost dopamine concentration by 250% (dopamine is a chemical messenger in the brain which communicates feelings of motivation and reward) and help combat depressions symptoms, reduce inflammation and muscle soreness and improve immunity to the common cold.
For further tips and techniques for improving mental health over the winter months and a wider examination of Seasonal Affective Disorder, please enquire about our wellbeing workshop for employees – “Beating the Winter Blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)”