Winter Blues? Sad & Mad Don’t Have to Hang Around

By Doris Helge, Ph.D. © 2009

Do you know anyone who fatigues more easily during the winter months? Is it ever more difficult to get motivated or reach your peak performance during the season of short daylight? Seasonal affective Disorder (SAD) is quite common, particularly in climates with frequent gray skies or short winter days. The surprise is that even people in sunny Florida are sometimes affected by the “Winter Blues” syndrome.

SAD is related to changes in environmental light, overcast days, or inadequate indoor lighting. SAD is not only related to blue moods. It can create health problems because common symptoms include daytime fatigue, sugar binges, carbohydrate craving, weight gain, lethargy, hopelessness, lack of interest in normal activities, and social withdrawal. Most SAD sufferers hate to get out of bed in the morning because they never feel rested.

None of this produces peak performance or joy on the job. The good news is that the condition can be corrected thoughtfully and fairly inexpensively.

Light therapy has long been considered the ideal treatment for SAD. Full-spectrum bulbs and bulbs with color temperatures between 3000 and 6500 degrees can blast the winter blahs. Some studies have indicated up to 86% of people affected by winter SAD completely overcame their symptoms when the light bulbs were used consistently.

Fluorescent lights have obtained a mixed review. Some people report that fluorescents assist with SAD, but ultraviolet light can damage eyes and skin. Fluorescents can also rob the body of B vitamins, which are essential to our sense of well-being.

I previously directed a national agency located in Washington State, an area with short winter days and overcast skies for months at a time. Staff who were affected by SAD talked openly about the tendency to feel lethargic and be susceptible to the winter blahs. Tardiness and absenteeism increased as winter drug on.

After installing full-spectrum bulbs, we noted a remarkable decrease in irritability and a significant increase in energy for a very minimal cost. Teamwork began to excel. People were much more enthusiastic and they arrived on time. Health care costs declined.

Although SAD is usually discussed with respect to depression, there are also SAD stories related to anger and aggression at work. How can exchanging a colored incandescent bulb for a low-watt light bulb transform a vicious temper into a state of serenity?

A pale purple incandescent bulb can create cheerfulness by mimicking daylight. Light works for and against us. When it’s direct, glaring, or ultra-bright, it can cause eyestrain and headaches.

Because SAD is related to daylight, it is also helpful to increase outdoor activity, especially on sunny days. Humans weren’t designed to spend all winter in enclosed buildings. Gaining additional natural exposure to sun can significantly elevate energy levels. For these reasons, I encouraged our employees to go outside during breaks and did the same thing myself. Eating a balanced diet can also be immensely helpful in counteracting the tendency toward SAD.

If you are a manager or team leader, observe what happens when you survey your staff before and after directly addressing the common problem of SAD in winter, particularly in northern climates. Increased productivity, teamwork, and greater morale will make you glad you did.

Doris Helge, Ph.D. is a certified coach and mentor coach, author of “Joy on the Job,” “Transforming Pain Into Power,” and other books published in many foreign languages. Discover more at and, where you can download more free tips, articles and sample book chapters. You’ll also hear podcasts about “Secrets of Happiness” and you can sign up for the only ezine that focuses on happiness at work, the “Joy on the Job Ezine.”

If sad and mad are hanging around you this winter, get coaching about the winter blues. Visit

You have permission to reprint the above article as long as it remains intact and proper attribution is given. © 2009.

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