With the temperature dropping and fewer sunlight hours, many of us are really feeling the need to succumb into hibernation mode. So at acework we have decided to share our experiences with seasonal depression as remote workers. You are not alone.
What is SAD?
Seasonal Affective Disorder, seasonal depression, or SAD, is a form of depression to do with seasonal changes. Symptoms are similar to those of depression, such as low interest and low energy, feelings of despair, sluggishness and worthlessness. These can further lead to lack of sleep, becoming less sociable and less desire to go outside and do things you previously enjoyed. However, unlike regular depression the symptoms of seasonal depression occur from autumn/winter time till spring.
The effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and winter blues within the workplace is not often recognised as a medical disorder by employers, especially if it shows in milder forms that can be misread as laziness. Studies show that 6% of the U.S population have Seasonal Affective Disorder whilst more than double have winter blues (14%).
What are the winter blues?
Winter blues are a milder form of Seasonal Affective Disorder that’s not recognised as a medical condition. It can mean feeling less motivated to do things or socialise, or just feeling sluggish and gloomy. For many people, it does not last as long as SAD and often occurs after the end of the holidays and all the festivities around them.
For remote workers, most decide to work from home during the cold winter months. Even so, it’s not just the cold weather leaving everyone down in the dumps at this time of year. Renée, our Director of Candidate Experience, calls Maine, USA her home. She adds,
“It’s also the outrageously high heating bills. It’s the inconvenient winter parking ban on my street. It’s the dreaded 4pm sunsets. It’s watching our lush, plant-filled summer backyard oasis decay and sit unused for half the year. It’s the lack of social activities since our region is so summer-tourism focused. It’s unplanned school cancellations which make working remotely from home less productive.”
How to tackle the lack of sun
At acework, we are all work remotely in less than tropical countries. All of us have experienced seasonal depression in different intensities and forms. Fareen, our Director of Talent, lived in India for 30 years. Last year, her remote working journey took her to Berlin, which is now her home base. She says that the positive aspects about moving away from India are the better standard of living and better quality of air. On the downside, she mentions the weather, which is an important factor for her.
“The sun has a drastic effect on my mood, I noticed that I’m a lot more energetic, motivated and happier on sunny days compared to gloomy, grey days. I’ve never had to take Vitamin D tablets to make sure my immune system stays strong, but since I moved to Berlin, it’s part of my life.”
It’s not just people who grew up with a lot of sunlight that need to figure out how to combat seasonal depression. It affects people born and raised in colder, darker countries as well. Here are a few tactics we use and have come across.
The top recommendation (the list is in no particular order) by our team is Vitamin D! Just a simple lack of sunlight can lead to Vitamin D deficiency as well as SAD. Taking supplements has been said to improve immunity, tiredness, bone pain and depression. All of which increase with the shorter, colder days in the Northern Hemisphere. Vitamin D supplements are available without a prescription with the most common one being D3.
2. Light Therapy
Due to the lack of sun, a rather obvious solution is light therapy. It is popular fix, with 50-80% of people with winter blues attaining partial or complete relief. However, it’s important to use a special, ultraviolet light, since normal light doesn’t work in the same way.
As a remote worker, you have the opportunity to work from wherever you want. Whether that is because of comfort, family life, productivity or the weather, it is your choice. But you don’t have to be a digital nomad to temporarily work from a sunnier location. How about a workation in Southern Hemisphere during the colder European months. Our partners GoGo Places and Remote Year both provide options for those looking to escape the cold. What better way to beat the winter blues than with some sunny, tropical scenery?
Angelina says, “Remote working has really changed the way I deal with seasonal depression. On one hand, it allows me to change location and work from a sunnier place for a while. Last winter I spent two months in Australia, during which I was working, but it felt like a vacation at the same time.”
4. Get out and about
Even if it’s just a walk to the nearest park, supermarket or cafe, getting out of the house that involves leaving your pyjamas at home is important to fight seasonal depression. A great way is by reaching out to family and friends to grab some lunch. It’s easy to get used to being alone when you’re always working alone. Not only does it get some in-person interaction going, but meeting with someone regularly will also improve your overall mood. Organising a weekly catch-up with a friend or hosting a movie night will give your mind a much needed break and help you enjoy these winter months.
5. Create a routine
Just as important is creating a routine. This includes both daily and weekly. Waking up at the same time everyday helps your body adjust to the later sunrise. Make sure you have your meals at roughly the same time every day. A weekly routine can include meeting a friend, going to the gym, grocery shopping and less important tasks you only do when you remember.
However, Renee also adds that a routine doesn’t necessarily need a time frame but can be more of a tradition; “I focus on the small joys of the season. Unearthing my winter wardrobe from the attic to find a scarf I’d forgotten about. Giving daily thanks for a mudroom that collects all the slush and salt so it doesn’t ruin our historic wood floors. Safely “commuting” from my bedroom upstairs to my cozy home office downstairs. Going out for a relaxing soak in the hot tub after spending all day working at home. Dressing our dog in a warm coat to watch her blissfully jump around in the fresh snow. Simple meal prep with perpetual homemade soup simmering in the Instant Pot. Vicariously recalling my own childhood glee for snow days packed with sledding, hot chocolate, and Christmas movies.”
6. Eat well
Even more important if experiencing SAD or the winter blues is eating healthy. Takeout and junk food lacks the extra vitamins needed during the colder months so making sure to eat balanced meals is extra important. Jess acquired a winter habit that helps her with this. “I enjoy cooking things I’ve never tried before such as dumplings from scratch, different desserts like eclairs, empanadas from scratch, bread… and the list goes on. Time consuming and not often correct but similar to a form of meditation. It helps me to clear my mind even if it can take hours.”
Exercise is not just great for your physical health but also your mental health. It releases serotonin and endorphins; feel good chemicals in the brain encouraging a calmer more positive mindset. Both Jess and Fareen try to hit the gym at least thrice a week, agreeing that a good workout can always help uplift your mood. Research shows that SAD is manageable and avoidable with 20 to 60 minutes of exercise and an added 20 minutes of sunlight exposure each day. If only summer wouldn’t leave us so soon and then outdoor workouts would kill two birds with one stone.
8. Clearer space, clearer mind
Fareen added some great pointers for a more balanced environment such as setting up her home, which she says has been an ongoing task, “ This winter I’m going to add some more plants and colourful art around the house.” A great idea to bring the outdoors in, when being outdoors is cold and less than desirable. Not only does transforming the space around you help but also avoiding work from home; she adds “When fall sets in I work out of coworking spaces 5 days a week. This way I get my blood pumping and breathe some fresh air.”
Lastly, a transforming a space improves the mind that’s often fogged up from the gloom of winter. Fareen likes to attend workshops & meetups in the winter to motivate her and to get out of the house. On our team, she’s not the only one. Angelina says, “I choose where I want to work, and I can easily switch between co-working, my home office and cafés to be stimulated by a change of scenery. In addition, I use the daylight hours more wisely. For example, when the sun is out I’m happy to take a two hour lunch break to soak in some sun outside. Then I continue working, often until later in the evening.”
Making sure the mind is healthy is key to overcoming the dreaded SAD and winter blues. Meditation or taking a much needed breather is important to help focus the mind when dealing with mental health.
At acework, we are warriors for greater flexibility and happiness at work. We are here to support you on your way to a remote career. Get Remote Ready with us here, or directly sign up to match with opportunities. If you have any questions, comments or ideas get in touch directly (firstname.lastname@example.org).