In the last 6 weeks it seems that every client I visit is having a surge of flat, stressed, irritable employees.  Now I know that many people are juggling huge workloads and pressure from work and their personal lives but this surge seems to be different.

What I have also noticed this last week that with the better weather and the announcement that it was officially the start of Spring – people’s moods suddenly lifted!

Did you know that there are definite effects of the Autumn/Winter seasons?  Especially more so in a country that thrives on sunshine, beaches, longer daylight hours and the outdoors.  So is it any wonder that when Winter seems to drag on that peoples mood on the whole start flatlining?

The Winter blues or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people, your symptoms start in the latter part of Autumn and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, SAD continues into early Spring especially if the weather doesn’t seem to improve.

Don’t brush off that yearly feeling as simply a case of the “winter blues” that you have to tough out on your own. Take steps to keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the year but pay particular attention over the winter months.

In New Zealand, you are most likely to experience SAD from about May to September,

What are the causes of seasonal affective disorder?

The main theory is that a lack of sunlight might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus from working properly. This affects:

  • The production of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that makes you feel sleepy, and in people with SAD, your body may produce it in higher than normal levels.
  • The production of serotonin. Serotonin is a hormone that affects your mood, appetite and sleep. A lack of sunlight may lead to lower serotonin levels, which is linked to feelings of depression.
  • Your body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm). Your body uses sunlight to time various important functions, such as when you wake up. Lower light levels during the winter may disrupt your body clock and lead to symptoms of SAD.

You may have SAD if during the winter months you:

  • have a low mood most of the time
  • feel sad and you cry or feel like crying often
  • lose interest and pleasure in things you normally enjoy
  • feel despair, guilt or worthlessness
  • feel stressed or anxious
  • sleep and eat more or less than usual
  • don’t feel like seeing your friends and family.

So the best things to assist you through these months is to

  • Spend time outside each day, especially early in the day. Walking first thing even better.
  • Sit in the sunshine – feel it soaking in!
  • Keep moving, as exercise boosts your mood even though the tendency is to stay inside and hibernate!
  • Eat well, as healthy eating improves your energy and your outlook on life and remember food is for our brain too
  • Keep connected – stay in touch, visit, have fun with good friends, family and people who you enjoy the company of
  • Find fun things to do that don’t depend on good weather – inside games, movies, 10 pin bowling, dancing etc. There is so much to do indoors you might just have to think a bit harder.
  • Talk to others – know that many others are feeling like this too!