In the Northern Hemisphere, today (December 21, 2016) is Winter Solstice, which is the shortest day of the year. For many small business owners and staff, this is also the time of year that brings on a form of winter depression called “Seasonal Affective Disorder” (SAD). The condition can range from “the blahs” to a serious mental health condition. Therefore, it’s important to take it seriously and seek medical help if the winter causes you to have a deep dip in energy and emotion.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the symptoms of “winter-onset SAD” include:
- Sad, anxious or “empty” feelings
- Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
- Irritability, restlessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
- Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
- Changes in weight
Winter-related disorders are still a mystery to the scientists who study them. Many things, including brain chemicals, ions in the air and genetics, seem to be involved.
Despite the mystery of its cause, there is a general agreement about one form of treatment: Light! Or more precisely, let there be more light.
Opening the blinds to let the sunshine in the office might do more than raise your spirits. Research shows it may also boost your bottom line. According to a study (PDF) by the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., employees seated near windows during winter months were more productive than those in interior offices.
The Whole Building Design Group (a program of the National Institute of Building Sciences) recommends that employees work more effectively in spaces where attention has been paid to the quality of light and color. You don’t have to build a new office to incorporate some of these ideas. A few tweaks can make your office more conducive to a positive work environment for you and your employees. Consider reconfiguring your current space, keeping these tips in mind:
- Allow sunlight to penetrate as far into a room as possible.
- Avoid placing furniture or cubicles in places that block light to interior spaces.
- To control glare and filter daylight at different times of the day, use shades or blinds inside and trees or overhangs outside.
- Avoid sunlight beaming directly into continuously occupied spaces, but having a few “sun spots” in shared or public venues are psychologically beneficial.
Suggestions for keeping away general winter blahs
For those with milder forms of seasonal mood swings, here are additional suggestions for coping:
- Stay active. Exercise helps everything.
- Get outside. The inactivity of “cabin fever” can add to the problems caused by lack of light.
- Avoid alcohol and don’t overeat. You already have enough to cope with from the cold, darkness and inactivity. Don’t throw a match onto that gasoline.