A doctor writes: keeping employees well and positive as the days get shorter

Winter is coming. The clocks in the UK have just changed, and the long, dark nights are starting. There are still only a few weekends to Christmas, and some employees may be thinking, “How am I supposed to get through the winter? How am I going to stay productive and positive?”. Is it possible that some of your staff may be experiencing seasonal affective disorder (SAD), more commonly known as the winter blues?

SAD is common, and it can affect people from all walks of life. As the days get darker, and the more your employees wake up before the sun even rises, they might start feeling a persistent low mood or lack of energy. They may be struggling to concentrate at meetings or achieve deadlines, and it’s possible they may even find less pleasure in doing their usual activities.

Sleeping longer is another major issue on those cold mornings. Some employees may be feeling a little worthless amongst their colleagues who all seem to be coping perfectly well in this dreary winter. These symptoms could mean they are suffering with SAD.

Fortunately, there are some simple tips and tricks you can encourage your employees to follow, to help them beat the winter blues.

Foods you can try

Carb craving is a major problem in winter. Eating healthily, aiming for all food groups and those that release energy slowly will cause less carb cravings and sluggishness. Limit your sugar intake and do not rely on caffeine. Eat foods rich in folic acid such as leafy greens. There is some evidence we use it to make serotonin which is a happy hormone. Eat berries! There is some evidence they prevent us releasing cortisol which is responsible for stress. Indulge if you must but make it dark chocolate. Antioxidants and polyphenols in them can significantly elevate your mood.

Keep active

Exercising regularly helps release those happy hormones. It also beats sluggishness and warms those muscles. If you find you are little demotivated at work, do some deskercise or even go out for a brisk walk at lunch time.

Open those curtains

Even on a cloudy day, we need natural light to reset our circadian clock. Not only that, light therapy is an effective treatment for SAD. You can use a light box, which is ten times more powerful than office lighting. Sitting in front of it for 30 minutes can boost your mood. There are also lighting devices available on the market which mimic a bright summer morning sunrise and create natural light in your room in the morning. By mimicking a natural sunlight, your body is tricked into feeling good and energetic for a busy day at the office.

Stock up on vitamin D

Vitamin D is very important to maintain good mood. We get it naturally from sunlight and store it in our skin. Unfortunately, on cloudy days, we make less of it and deplete our stores quickly. this not only affects our mood, it also causes general aches and pains further adding to woes. Taking good quality over the counter supplements in the form of sprays or tablets would help.

Seek help

If you are trying really hard but are still finding those winter days a struggle, consider speaking to your GP or even your friends and family. Counselling, psychotherapy and medication can also be used to treat SAD. If you’re stretched for time at work, some private GPs offer video consultations, so there’s no excuse to struggle in silence – get the help you need.

Image: from Picasso’s Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto


Preethi Daniel is clinical director at private GP chain, London Doctors Clinic