Seasonal Depression: 5 Ways Employers Can Help Remote Staff

Hope McManus

December 16 2020

The bleak and dreary weather in winter does affect everyone's mood, though it may not impact your functionality. The winter cold and shorter days, however, are much harder on those who experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that follows a seasonal pattern. It usually appears in late fall and lasts through the winter months. Less commonly, some people experience it in summer.

What causes SAD and what are its symptoms?

The exact cause for Seasonal Affective Disorder is not known. It is believed that lack of sunlight causes SAD in winter. Reduced daylight hours disturb the body's biological clock and serotonin levels.

Common symptoms include changes in appetite, sleep patterns, social withdrawal, fatigue, and trouble concentrating.  

How can I help my employees manage seasonal depression?

It is a double whammy this winter for people with SAD. The stress and isolation created by the pandemic may make managing seasonal depression harder.

Here are some suggestions on how you can help your employees cope better:

Create awareness about seasonal depression

It is important that you create an environment where your employees feel comfortable reaching out to you if they are struggling with a mental health challenge. Given that most workplaces are currently operating remotely, you could send out informational emails and flyers to start a conversation.

You could also invite a mental health professional to give a virtual talk on SAD to your staff. You may want to consider training your managers and team leads to recognize symptoms of SAD and help an employee affected by it.

Educate employees on coping strategies

Given that we’ll be indoors and isolated more than usual this winter, practising self-care becomes important for everyone. Even more so for those employees who experience a major depressive disorder this time of the year. It is crucial that they seek professional help. Untreated, SAD can lead to thoughts of self-harm and should not be taken lightly. Treatment for SAD includes light therapy, psychotherapy and – when needed – medication. Alongside treatment, the following tips may help:

  • Stick to a routine. As far as possible, try and go to bed and wake up at a fixed time.
  • Eat a balanced and nutritious diet. Avoid too much takeout or junk food.
  • Create and follow a regular exercise routine. Research shows regular exercise improves depression and anxiety.
  • Strive for a work-life balance. Take short breaks to stretch or take a walk.
  • Stay connected (virtually) with family, friends, and co-workers.
  • Sign up for an online activity or volunteering role that can be done remotely.

Organize virtual socials 

Besides regularly checking in with your remote staff, organizing weekly or monthly virtual socials may help your remote team stay connected during this crisis. This measure would benefit all your employees, especially those who live alone and may be feeling socially isolated. For ideas on remote team bonding activities, read our blog on COVID-19 & Remote Work: 10 Team Bonding Games to Play.

Offer flexible work hours

If the nature of your business allows it, you could offer flexible work hours to your employees affected by SAD. This would help them spend more time outside in the sun and complete their errands or follow exercise routines in daylight.

Connect employees to available mental health resources

Whether your staff is struggling with seasonal depression or anxiety caused by the pandemic, it is important that you inform them about the existing mental health resources. If your company offers an Employee Assistance Program, remind your staff about its benefits and how they can access it.

Do you need help with employee management during the COVID-19 pandemic?

For advice on HR and health and safety policies, call an expert today: 1 (833) 247-3652.

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