Today (the third Monday in January) is often called “Blue Monday” or the “saddest day of the year,” although there isn’t any evidence to suggest that it’s any more sad than any other day of the month. So, what can we do at work to debunk this myth and combat the so-called “winter blues”?
First, it’s important to note that this time of year is associated with an increased risk of depression for some. Although feeling blue occasionally is normal for us all, this is not the same as SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder, a diagnosed mental health disorder. SAD is one type of depression, and re-occurs cyclically, seemingly associated with a lack of natural light.
If you or your employees are feeling slightly less motivated or less energetic during the heart of winter, here are just a few of the steps we can all take to boost mood:
- Avoid “the post-holiday harried state”: Mental health professionals often talk about holiday stress leading up to special celebrations like the winter holiday season. We can call work to reduce that stress by completing key projects before we leave on holiday (which boosts feelings of pride and accomplishment). We also need to work hard to set reasonable expectations, commit to enjoying simplicity during the season, and limiting expenses so we don’t feel debt-riddled as we kick off the new year. But the same advice should also apply to returning to work – do what you can to avoid coming back from winter break or a tropical vacation to feelings of overwhelm. Before you leave, document outstanding projects and tasks that need to be addressed when you return, and delegate crucial, time-sensitive items to colleagues. Often called a “vacation passover” document, this can alleviate unwanted surprises in your absence, and help you foster important feelings of control and confidence when you return. You may also wish to consider spending an hour or two the day prior to your return to the office to go through email, voicemail, and get re-acclimated to your work schedule. The goal: no surprises to shake the start of your day!
- Get outside: Even if it’s bitterly cold and overcast/cloudy, natural light is still 11 times more powerful than indoor light. Commit to a 20 to 30-minute brisk walk over your lunch and you’ll find that you’ll illuminate your day.
- Exercise: Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural mood boosters. Even though it may be the last thing you want to do on a cold and dark January evening, push yourself to do it, and enjoy the benefits, which include increased energy and better-quality sleep.
- If you’re a business owner or manager, lead by example: Encourage your team to practice positive mental health and prevention-oriented behaviours. Consider organizing a workplace campaign leveraging the de-stigmatizing effects of Bell’s Let’s Talk Day (January 29, 2020). Offer physical fitness subsidies, workplace health benefits including an employee assistance program, or host walking meetings to get everyone moving! And remember to have fun.
- Finally, take breaks in your workplace: If you’re a business leader, set the tone by taking breaks and using your vacation time yourself. We all need time to switch gears, rest the brain, have more casual conversations with co-workers, and recharge. If you don’t set the example, who will?