Depending on where you’ve built your home base, the coldest season of the year can do more than require layers and space heaters. Instead, if can impact your energy levels to tolerate meetings that run long, your outlook at budget planning, and your ability to, well, make it to work in the middle of a snow storm.
Many people suffer from seasonal depression, especially in parts of the country (or planet) where days become shorter and temperatures drop below freezing. And even if you try your best to put on a positive, brave face when you’re clocked in, feelings of sadness don’t discriminate against your workplace, meaning you could experience these symptoms at any moment.
In fact, clinical psychologist Stephanie O’Leary, Psy.D. says your office could make it worse. “The impact of working may intensify further if you head into the office early before the sun is up and leave when it’s already dark. The lack of sunlight can impact certain vitamin levels, especially vitamin D, which can lead to fatigue. The fact that you don’t see the sun shining, particularly if you don’t have a window near your office, takes a toll on your mood,” she says.
The good news is a few simple tweaks can drastically improve the winter blues, far beyond your job and throughout your life.
Be upfront with your boss
If you’re already prone to anxiety or have managed anxiety in the past, it’s a smart idea to give your manager a head’s up. You want them to understand your work performance won’t be impacted, but that you might need to make changes to your schedule or you can ask them for a desk-side lamp that’s been proven to help with symptoms. This meeting doesn’t have to be long or complicated, but it is necessary, since it allows your boss to be mindful when they see you having an off day or acting unlike your typical cheerful, hard-working self.
Leave the office at least once a day
Need to pick up more wrapping paper? Or still haven’t monogrammed that gift for your partner and keep meaning to? Or are you just hungry mid-day? Frightful weather conditions may tempt you to call for delivery daily, but Dr. O’Leary says the fresh air will do wonders for your mental health and clarity. And yep, even if it’s snowing or raining outside.
“Finding time to sneak away and spend a few minutes outdoors can make a huge difference when it comes to lifting your mood. Leave the office for lunch or offer to run an errand that needs to be taken care. If the weather is cold and dreary, bundle up and plan ahead with an extra scarf or heavier jacket and know that you’ll return to your desk with a renewed sense of motivation and focus,” she says.
Plan a business trip
If your clients are scattered about the states or the world, you can be strategic about face-to-face meetings based on weather forecasts. Instead of visiting areas where it’s even colder in the winter (looking at you, Canada), Dr. O’Leary recommends turning your focus toward hotter climates. While — of course — it might not always be possible depending on your industry, if the opportunity arrives? Jump on it.
“If your job involves travel or you have the chance to attend a conference or networking event in a sunnier location, say ‘yes,’” she says. “Planning ahead to schedule such trips during the long, dark winter months will pay off in the long run as you’ll return to work feeling refreshed.”
Don’t snack because your co-worker is
If you’re lucky, you admire the people you work alongside. They’re hopefully creative, funny, talented, positive, and inspiring. But they also come with a slew of holiday traditions that might not be so healthy, like bulk cookie baking or stockings filled with candy. During this season, sweets and snacks abound all workplaces but practicing moderation will bring you — and your state of mind — more joy.
“The temporary sugar rush does not help your mood in the long run and can lead to increased fatigue, irritability, and frustration,” Dr. O’Leary says. “Making a point to indulge in moderation and keep healthy, balanced snacks and lunches on had is a great way to plan ahead. Green tea, walnuts and small servings of dark chocolate are great snacks that can boost mood and are easy to stash at work.”
Use smell to support mood
Have your own office? Or deskmates who aren’t too particular? Dr. O’Leary says a workplace-friendly way to balance your serotonin levels is to use comforting scents. Depending on your personal preference, florals, spices, or fruits may remind you of happy memories or times in your life where you pinched yourself full of gratitude. Use these aromas to take you to a better place when winter blues tempt you to the dark side.
“Some common mood-boosting scents include orange, lemon, lime, peppermint, cinnamon and jasmine. Keeping a small bottle of essential oil handy at work is a great way to use smell to improve your mood during the long winter months,” Dr. O’Leary says.