Those winter “blahs” are more real than you think. There is an inordinate amount of research that indicates that the less natural sunlight one is exposed to may translate into depressive symptoms. In its more severe cases, there is an actual diagnosis for the syndrome called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that is said to impact up to 500,000 people in the United States. Another milder form of the syndrome, subsyndromal seasonal affect disorder is said to impact up to 25-percent of the population. People who already have a coexisting condition such as depression or other mental health issues are more prone to the exacerbation of their symptoms because of the disorder.
However, what shines brightly through, is that even the average person may experience symptoms as a result of our draining daylight hours this time of year, including:
- feelings of “blues”
- loss of energy
- craving of foods high in carbohydrates
- weight gain
- difficulty concentrating
Much of the research points to the lack of exposure to sunlight having an effect on our melatonin and serotonin levels, as well as a deficiency in the production of natural vitamin-D in our systems. While the vast majority of people won’t experience the disorder in its more severe or debilitating forms, many people may notice one or more of the symptoms as our axis tilts away from the sun for a few months.
For most of us, there are some simple steps we can take to counter the effects, and maybe even come out in the spring in better shape than we entered the winter. As with most things health related, diet and exercise loom large. Cutting back on processed and junk foods will have almost an immediate effect, and when supplemented with foods rich in omega-3 like salmon, walnuts and kiwi; as well as folic acids like spinach and orange juice, it won’t take long to notice the decrease in the “blahs.” Especially when you mix in at least 30-minutes of a good brisk exercise such as a quick paced walk around the block, a trip to the YMCA or a lunchtime game of basketball with your colleagues.
Your boss will like the steps you’ve taken as well. Economists estimate that the loss of productivity associated with depression costs employers over $44 billion a year according to a 2003 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Business owners might think about that as the seasons change – perhaps by encouraging “healthy food” carry-in days, or doing some sort of activity at lunchtime.
Porter-Starke Services is a community mental health center headquartered in Valparaiso with offices in Portage and Knox. Our Employee Assistance Program is a low-cost, high-yield program that can be customized for your business to help you keep and improve on your most valuable resource. Health, balance, hope – at Porter-Starke Services, we’re working hard for every person every day.