Is it just the winter blues?

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After a few decades in the business of people we know there are definite trends in behaviour that happen at certain times of the year. The first sign of change we see is the shift in behaviour and thinking over the winter months and the second phase is leading up to Christmas.

According to the Mental Health Organisation of New Zealand, Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that’s related to the change of season from summer to winter, and which affects people through the winter months. For some, SAD may be mild and doesn’t interfere too much with their daily functioning. But for others SAD is seriously disabling and prevents them from functioning normally without continuous medical treatment.   Symptoms of SAD usually build up slowly through late autumn and winter months. Symptoms are usually the same as with other forms of depression and can include:

• A persistent low, sad or depressed mood. This is described in varying ways by people, especially if they are from non-European cultures. The person may describe feeling very sad, empty, having no feelings, or may complain of pain.

• Loss of interest and pleasure in usual activities. This is a reduced ability for enjoyment.

• Irritable mood. This may be the main mood change, especially in younger people, and in men.

• Change in sleeping patterns. Most commonly reduced sleep, with difficulty getting to sleep, disturbed sleep, and/or waking early and being unable to go back to sleep. Some people sleep too much. Most people with depression wake feeling unrefreshed by their sleep.

• Change in appetite. Most often people do not feel like eating and, as a result, will have lost weight. Some people have increased appetite, often without pleasure in eating. This is often seen in those who also sleep more.

• Decreased energy and tiredness. These feelings may be so severe that even the smallest task seems too difficult to finish.

• Reduced contact with others. As a result of feeling bad about themselves, people may withdraw from doing things and from contact with others.

• Thoughts of hopelessness and death. The person may feel there is no hope in life, wish they were dead or have thoughts of suicide.

• Difficulty thinking clearly. People may have difficulty in concentrating. They may not be able to read the paper or watch television. They may also have great difficulty making even simple everyday decisions.

So what does this mean for business owners? Firstly, you need to take time to recognise this could be a real and debilitating problem for some of your team – or even for you personally. `Perhaps look at ways to increase physical activities at work (yoga, stair walking), consider more team events over winter, offer support and external counselling for those who may need it and be open to staff requesting time off or longer weekends. Increase natural light and warmth where you can. The odd duvet day can work wonders to lift your spirits! In fact, encourage employees to take more regular breaks over the winter months as public holidays are few and far between after Easter. Consider working with each employee to agree a plan of meaningful rest over winter (your ski bunnies will love you even more!) – pencil in holidays early.

Secondly, the next phase of behavioural change we see occurs leading up to Christmas – yes, I appreciate it’s only July but the way this year is roaring along – it will be coming pretty soon! Much like SAD over winter, the lead up to Christmas and holidays can be exceptionally stressful for employees and employers alike.  Overall there are far greater levels of pressure on everyone and small matters can blow up like volcanoes. This is your second opportunity as a business leader to take a deep breath and look for ways to guide your employees through rough patches. Remember, your business is only as good as the team you’ve created. If your team are not performing their best, then ask yourself how can you create an environment that helps them shine.

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