Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a condition that occurs typically during the winter months when daylight hours are shorter and the temperatures have dropped. SAD primarily affects our mood and overall well-being, which can lead to a decrease in our productivity at work.
I have battled with this condition all my life. As soon as the clocks change, I start to feel a drop in my mood. To regain my sparkle, I have to habitually put things in place on a daily basis so that I’m not a ‘Debbie-downer’ to everyone in my professional circles. I mean, who wants to see a speaker who is low in energy?
Here are some ways in which SAD can affect our productivity at work and some insights I have learned over the years to turn it around.
Decreased energy levels
People with SAD often experience fatigue and low energy levels, making it more challenging to stay focused and engaged at work. This can lead to decreased productivity, procrastination and difficulty completing tasks efficiently.
ACTION: Engage in regular movement to boost your energy levels. Start your day with some kind of movement, even if it is just a gentle stretch routine for 5mins in your lounge room. Taking short walks outside during daylight hours is also helpful. Do a ‘blockey’ – a quick loop around the block between zoom calls.
SAD can impair concentration and cognitive function. You may have noticed that you are having trouble staying focused, processing information, and making decisions. This can hinder productivity, especially for tasks that require sustained attention or complex thinking.
ACTION: Break your tasks into smaller, manageable chunks and prioritise them accordingly. Minimise distractions in the work environment, such as noise or interruptions. Consider using productivity tools like time management apps or techniques like the Pomodoro Technique (working in focused intervals with short breaks) to enhance your concentration. Also, revert to the above action idea about movement. It really does help concentration levels.
Slowed work pace
The symptoms of SAD, such as sluggishness and a lack of motivation, can result in a slower work pace. Tasks that would typically be completed quickly may take longer, causing delays in project timelines and impacting overall productivity.
ACTION: Break your larger projects into smaller tasks with clear deadlines and milestones. Set realistic goals and establish a routine to maintain consistency and motivation. Seek support from your colleagues and delegate tasks if applicable.
SAD can also dampen creativity and innovation. The lack of motivation and decreased interest in activities can make it challenging to generate new ideas or find fresh solutions to your work problems and projects. This can become a real issue, particularly in roles that require creative thinking or problem-solving.
ACTION: Engage in the activities that you know promote inspiration and relaxation for yourself, such as listening to music, laughing, moving, practicing mindfulness or meditation, or pursuing hobbies outside of work. Collaborate and brainstorm with your colleagues to stimulate creativity through teamwork and varied perspectives.
Because SAD can cause us to feel unmotivated and overwhelmed, it can lead to an increased likelihood of taking time off from work. As you know, frequent absenteeism can disrupt workflow, affect team dynamics, and lead to a decrease in overall performance.
ACTION: If this starts to impact your credibility and performance at work, it is important to seek support from a healthcare professional and consider appropriate treatment options to manage your symptoms effectively, so you do not find yourself being ‘performance managed’. If possible, be open about your condition with your manager if you feel comfortable to do so and see if there is a way to adjust your schedule so you can continue to fulfill the expectations of your role.’
SAD may affect our interpersonal relationships, leading to difficulties in communication and collaboration with colleagues. The withdrawal and isolation that can accompany SAD may create barriers to effective teamwork, ultimately impacting the results you are wanting to achieve.
ACTION: Communicate openly with colleagues or supervisors about your SAD and its potential impact on your work. Educate your colleagues about it and its symptoms to foster understanding and empathy. Seek out opportunities for social interaction and support within your workplace, such as coffee catchups, attending events together with a colleague you like and trust and/or tap into the employee assistance programs that are offered.
It’s important to note that the severity of SAD symptoms can vary among individuals, and not everyone with SAD will experience the same level of impact on productivity. If you or someone you know is experiencing significant difficulties due to SAD, it is advisable to seek professional help from a mental health expert who can provide appropriate support and treatment options.