Winter provides a tricky time for most people who like to live an active life or enjoy and value their time outdoors. While these activities are not stolen from us entirely during the winter period, it is challenged by the shorter days, inclement weather conditions and general dreary aesthetics of the average day. For many, it may simply be a time of year to wade through, enjoy the festivities and occasional snowy adventures in lieu of the warm summer days but that can tend to gloss over a real shift in motivation and mood in winter. Like with most matters of mental health, there’s often an unspoken component of our frame of mind that discreetly suffers an impact. Likewise, many working environments experience a drop in motivation within their teams during the colder months.
Reasons for Motivational Dips...
The Canadian Mental Health Association believes that at least 15% of Canadians will experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or the 'winter blues’ this season. This number, while not insignificant, may not fully represent the population who do feel some negative impacts as many cases naturally go unreported.
The winter blues often manifest as:
- Reduced energy
- Sleep disruption
- Lack of motivation
- Appetite changes
- Sluggishness or agitation
- Difficulty concentrating
Upon further research, there are scientific reasons for this shift correlating a dip in melatonin (affecting sleep patterns and mood) and serotonin (affects energy, mood and appetite) to the reduced exposure to sunlight, nature, exercise and fresh air. Both of these neuro-chemicals play into the circadian rhythm which is essentially the typical 24-hour cycle your body has become used to and expects. Unfortunately, the winter period can unbalance this, increasing the possibility of SAD.
How Others Counteract This?
In a study environment, this is easier to counter as students can reorder their schedules and routines to better serve their productivity levels. Of course, that generally isn’t possible for the working world to simply reposition the work day around individual needs. Save for shifting the entire office to Hawaii for the winter, is there suggested fixes or remedies for the blues? Certainly!
As we are not physicians or doctors of any description, we will not be prescribing Vitamin D tablets although research does show positive effects. We are also not electricians but having bright artificial light that emulates the composition of sunlight, especially in the morning, have shown considerable promise, (Melrose, A; 2015). Further to this, architects are now factoring better use of daylight into designs and certain villages in Austria that receive no direct sunlight in winter due to surrounding mountains have built a series of giant mirrors to reflect the sun and ensure that residents receive natural light.
Could You Help Your Team?
Areas where we do have credibility are exercise and time in nature. By forcing yourself to go for a walk or a run in the evening after work, you maintain a more balanced circadian rhythm and allow for the body to regulate serotonin levels along with brain tryptophan (positive endorphins - the reason you feel good after exercise) according to the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience.
Building healthy habits such as exercise and eating healthy will both help to counter the winter blues and assist with other areas of life. Keystone habits such as these tend to lead to the improvement of other habits as per Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit.
While these are suggestions personalised for the individual, an entire office can contribute to positive mental health by introducing positive changes:
- Bring your team outside for a walk during the week
- Have a team retreat during the winter for connection and outdoor time
- Bring outdoor elements inside such as plants, flowers or the occasional office dog
- Bring an exercise instructor in / Assist with gym or exercise classes costs
According to a University of Warwick study, workforces are more productive when they are happier which provides enough business incentive to invest in it. While happiness and mental health seem like unmeasurable entities, there is a societal shift in the direction of actively influencing these positively.
Many tools for change exist and are available for you to employ at your workplace. Perhaps give that some thought and it may just make a huge difference to your team! If you have experienced this or noticed it in your office, please leave us a comment with how you counteract it.