Combating Seasonal Affective Disorder in the Office

The days are getting shorter. If you work regular office hours and work in a windowless cubicle, you might only see the sun on weekends. Even then, if you live in one of the northern states and it is too cold to spend time outdoors, you will have less light, exercise, and fresh air.

Most people are affected by a lack of sunlight to some extent, but if your mood dips in the fall, you could have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that usually begins in the fall because there are fewer daylight hours. SAD tends to start to go away in the spring as the days get longer. It’s more than the winter blues, and there are steps you can take to prevent it or combat the sadness and lack of energy.


It is important to understand and monitor the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder in yourself, your coworkers, and your employees. Symptoms vary from person to person, but they are the same as in other types of clinical depression:

  • Bad mood
  • Lack of energy
  • Changes in appetite
  • Insomnia or too much sleep
  • Reduced interest in usual activities
  • Negative thoughts
  • Irritability

What companies can do

There are several things that businesses aware of the mood disorder can do to help people with the disorder and maintain morale. Increasing access to natural light and adding therapeutic light fixtures throughout the building can be extremely helpful. Encouraging everyone to recognize the symptoms and communicate what they are feeling leads to solutions and remedies. Increasing social and physical activity during the winter months can improve everyone’s mood.

Light therapy

SAD occurs when a lack of sunlight prevents absorption of vitamin D. Low levels of the vitamin can cause depression. Companies should try to provide employees with as much natural light as possible. It may not be practical to give everyone a window, but adding windows and skylights in break rooms, meeting rooms, and common areas to bring in sunlight can help people get a little more sun during their work day.

Businesses can also add therapeutic lights to workspaces. They are cheaper than before. A company could provide them to anyone who requests them or offer to reimburse individuals who buy them themselves. They could also add these light sources in supply rooms, washrooms, hallways, and meeting rooms to increase everyone’s daily exposure.


Sending a memo in October or November to remind everyone of SAD brings the issue to light, so no one feels uncomfortable acknowledging it. Talk openly about seasonal affective disorder. People tend to hide their symptoms, so speak up if you’re having issues and encourage employees and coworkers to communicate. Let everyone know what steps the company is taking to help those struggling with SAD.

Add activities and movements

Adding some social activities to the workplace, especially those that get people moving, improve cardiovascular health and boost everyone’s mood. If time permits, encourage walking during breaks or during lunchtime. Even just walking outside the building several times increases everyone’s vitamin D. Give everyone a watch that counts steps and organize a challenge or competition. If you have musicians, form a choir and do mini-concerts for the holidays. Host a door decorating contest or sleepover day to break up the monotony and keep everyone upbeat.

What individuals can do

Individuals can work from the same three angles as businesses: communication, light therapy and activity.

Communication– Recognizing symptoms, monitoring them and taking appropriate action can keep depression from getting out of hand. Be patient with yourself if you start to feel depressed. Know that there are things you can do. Seek professional help if you are feeling overwhelmed.

Light– Go outside during the day if possible. Work in rooms with outside light if you can. Add therapeutic light sources in your office and at home. Go out on weekends if possible.

Activity– Many people tend to do less during the winter. It’s great to stay warm at home while watching TV, but depression can feed on inactivity. Movement, on the other hand, can improve your mood. Join a yoga class or a bowling league. In addition to moving more, try adding some new inner activity to the mix. Get houseplants to grow and watch them grow. Learn to knit, paint or draw. Pick up an instrument or join a book club.

To keep track of these new activities, set up a personal schedule or involve a friend or family member. Share your goals and keep the other ‘on the job’. Do mindful activities, be engaged, and make the most of them to get the most out of them. Instead of sketching or painting for an hour because you planned it out, try to forget about everything else. Think about lines and colors and what a miracle your hands and brain are.

If your business doesn’t offer additional social activities during the workday, find ways to increase movement and social interactions at work. While you can’t normally have lunch with coworkers, doing so during the winter months allows everyone to get out and communicate. Suggest a covered lunch day. Challenge others to a step counting contest. Do whatever you can think of to keep people moving and engaged with each other.

Seasonal Affective Disorder can affect anyone and can be especially difficult for office workers who stay indoors during the day. If you live in the north and don’t go out much because of the cold, you are even more likely to be affected by the lack of sun. It is a manageable problem, however, when people are aware of it and take action to combat it.

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