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Shedding light on SAD

Shedding light on SAD

Been feeling blue since winter set in? Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression caused by lack of sunlight. In areas of the country like Wisconsin where winter days are cold and short and leave little opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, SAD is not uncommon. It affects up to 20 percent of the population, mostly women in their 20s and 30s. Learn to recognize the signs of SAD in your workplace so you can prevent productivity from dropping with the temps.

SAD Facts
“Lack of sunlight interrupts the sleep-wake cycle – called circadian rhythms – and it can also drain the body’s levels of serotonin, a brain chemical affecting mood,” says Daniel Neunaber, PhD, psychologist with Affinity Health System. SAD is often treated with light therapy. “For half an hour a day, sufferers can sit in front of a special light box that mimics the sun and signals the brain to produce more serotonin, lifting mood and relieving symptoms of SAD,” says Dr. Neunaber.
SAD Symptoms
SAD usually occurs between November and February, winter’s darkest months. Symptoms start to ease when spring weather returns in March or April. Common complaints include:
  • grumpy, anxious or irritable mood
  • loss of interest in usual activities
  • daytime drowsiness
  • changes in appetite, weight or sleep habits

As with other forms of depression, these symptoms appear in the workplace in the form of poor job performance, calling in sick or squabbling with co-workers. How can you help?

Use Your EAP
If you suspect an employee is suffering from seasonal affective disorder, encourage him to get help. “Counselors can offer coping strategies for people struggling with seasonal depression and its related effects,” says Donna Schmitz, EAP counselor for Affinity Health System. If further support or treatment is needed, your EAP can connect SAD sufferers with more resources.

Create a Bright Spot
If possible, provide places for employees to soak in some natural light. It’s best if lunch rooms and break areas have windows, but if that’s not an option, try adding more lights to the space. “Dimly lit rooms only compound the problem,” says Dr. Neunaber.  

Break the Cabin Fever
It may be cold outside, but you don’t have to cease all outdoor activities until spring. Start a winter walking club and venture out for brisk strolls on milder days. The natural light and exercise can be therapeutic.

For more information, visit http://www.affinityhealth.org/page/services-specialty-occupational

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