5 tips to defeat Seasonal Affective Disorder

David McCrae | 6th December 2019

It doesn’t take a trained psychiatrist to tell us that the weather can affect our mood. If it’s rainy and cold then our mood can suffer, and if it’s sunny we may have an extra spring in our step.

As the days get increasingly darker, our moods often follow suit. For some people, the darker months can be more than just a struggle – people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

SAD is linked to the reduced sunlight in the winter. It can be characterised by feelings of social anxiety, fatigue, sadness, decreased concentration and an increased appetite.  Many business leaders disregard it and label it as grumpiness, this must stop. SAD is a real form of depression and needs be taken seriously.

There are many ways to tackle it – here are a few techniques you can implement to ensure your workplace is just as happy as it was during the hotter months.

Let there be light

SAD is brought on by reduced exposure to sunlight. Therefore, logic would tell us that one of the most effective ways to counter it is to pay careful attention to office design, and bathe your people in light.

So, brighten your walls, keep the curtains open, purchase light-coloured furniture and upholstery. Keep it light, bright and happy!

If your office has no windows and you crave natural light, then all is not lost. There is a way you can achieve this without knocking a huge hole in the side of your office! Have you considered installing full-spectrum lights? They are specially designed lights that replicate the full range of colours that are found in natural daylight. Having some (almost) natural light in the office will massively heighten your teams’ morale – especially those affected by SAD.

If your people have flexi-time, or you have remote workers, then you should encourage them to adjust their working hours to incorporate more sun exposure. If this isn’t an option, then try to promote people leaving the office for lunch, or going for walks.

Put exercise on the agenda

Exercise is one of the most potent natural mood boosters we have. Moderate to high-intensity exercise ensures our bodies are brimming with endorphins and serotonin. Endorphin is short for “endogenous morphine” – this is the same substrate that is found in medicinal morphine. When we exercise, we gain the same type of “high” that is experienced when taking this substance. Low serotonin levels are associated with low mood, and exercise raises our serotonin levels and combats this. The combination of these two chemical effects gives us a natural remedy to the feelings of depression and lethargy associated with SAD.

By encouraging exercise programs and activity at work, you will help to alleviate feelings of depression and anxiety within your team. A Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School shows the effects of exercise on depression – it highlights how an exercise program can help to tackle depression and improve the moods of people with mild to moderate depression.

To keep people active, you can install some standing desks, introduce a company sports league, or even schedule in a monthly team walk. Whatever you decide is up to you, but it is advisable to get your people moving – preferably outdoors.


If I have a sleepless night then I am noticeably more grumpy, sensitive and susceptible to stress and anxiety.  Many studies have shown that even partial sleep deprivation has a significant effect on mood – so it’s not just me!

There is often a desire for longer sleep in the winter. This is because when the sun sets,  our melatonin levels rise, which makes us sleepy. However, our work schedules rarely provide us the luxury of afternoon naps or longer lie-ins. If we can’t alter the quantity of sleep, then we can at least address the quality.

There is a particular spectrum of light that has an influence on Melatonin – blue light. This is the light that comes from the screens on our computers, phones and TVs. When our melatonin detects blue light, it thinks its daytime, so our body starts to wake us up. If you are lucky enough to be able to sleep after being exposed to blue light, then your sleep will be shallower and less restful.

The remedy for this is to have what’s called the “digital sunset”, or technology blackout. At least an hour before you try to go to sleep, preferably two, you shut down all your tech. Shut the lid on the laptop and turn your phone off.

Make efforts to ensure you are getting enough sleep and encourage your team to do the same. You will be rewarded with productivity and results.


One of the commonly reported symptoms of SAD is increased appetite, particularly a craving for sugar and carbohydrates. This can lead to blood sugar spikes and crashes, which doesn’t help with optimising energy and concentration levels. A measure against this is to consume more servings of food containing fat; as fat molecules bind to carbohydrate molecules and slow down how quickly they are processed. This isn’t an excuse to set up camp in KFC or Burger King! Instead, eat nuts, oily fish such as mackerel or salmon and avocados to help reduce cravings.

You could also eat foods that are direct “mood boosters” to combat the sadness and irritability associated with SAD. Foods high in tryptophan will encourage natural calming effects, fight anxiety and help to induce sleep. By chowing down on pumpkin seeds, parmesan, cheddar, beef, pork and finally the seasonal favourite turkey, you will be getting your share. Now you have a genuine case to get the biggest helping of turkey this Christmas!

For your part, it can be as simple as providing complimentary snacks that are high in tryptophan, educating your people about the benefits of proper nutrition and encouraging everyone to eat together to encourage unity and camaraderie. This will combat feelings of loneliness, which are typical for people who suffer from SAD.

Talk away your troubles

Many people become socially withdrawn when suffering from SAD, which ironically (and cruelly) increases their feelings of depression. Make an effort to talk with your team during the winter months, so they have an opportunity to vent and discuss things other than work-related issues.

By gathering insights through regular pulse surveys you will provide your people with an anonymous platform to voice how they are feeling. Communication is the cornerstone of business, and the implementation of these real-time surveys will help you to communicate more effectively and get your finger on the pulse of how everyone is feeling. This could be a release for people who suffer from SAD.

If you notice that some of your people are particularly down in the winter months and you feel under-qualified to deal with them, then it’s advisable to suggest support groups that can help. These groups will provide a platform to bond and share experiences with others who can empathise and offer practical guidance.

By taking immediate action, you will turn a sad stretch into a happy and productive winter season.


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