How to Deal with Seasonal Depression in the Office

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a type of major depressive disorder that follows a seasonal pattern. While there are some cases of people experiencing SAD during the summer months, it is far more common for individuals to suffer throughout the long, dark and cold winter months, which is why it is sometimes called "the winter blues." According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, those affected by winter SAD tend to start feeling the symptoms in the late fall, as the days grow shorter, darker and colder, and it lasts throughout the winter months. There is no clearly determined cause reported for SAD, but most health professionals believe it may be caused by lack of sunlight.

In 2017, the Toronto Sun ran a story on SAD from Kevin Connor, reporting that Canadians are more at risk, being farther from the equator and enjoying a mere 10 hours of light or less during the winter months. This lack of sunlight and chilly temperatures translate to 15 percent of the population experience relatively mild forms of SAD, which include symptoms like low energy and apathy while another 6 percent of people will suffer from extreme SAD symptoms that can include suicidal thoughts or a major depressive episode.

Is Seasonal Depression in the Tech Industry a Concern?

Tech Republic released the results of a 2018 report from the anonymous workplace review service called Blind, which indicated that 39 percent of tech employees shared that they experience depression. A few of the reasons given for tech workers' depression included burnout, insomnia, high stress levels, and erratic and irregular work hours as suspected contributors to their feelings of depression. The demand for tech talent in Canada is high. As an ever-increasing number of businesses flock to Canada, the workload and stress continue to grow for current tech workers who are shouldering the burden of chronic under-staffing and high demand for productivity. There lies the foundation for general depression. Just add five months of greatly reduced sunlight, and dealing with seasonal depression as a software developer becomes a stark reality.

The Main Signs of Seasonal Depression

SAD can affect different people in different ways. However, people most often experience one, a few or several of the following signs of seasonal depression in the workforce and at home.

  • Extended bouts of depression, which often lasts throughout most of the day and nearly every day
  • Regular issues with daytime fatigue that often includes feelings of sluggishness, low energy and lethargy
  • Increased agitation and irritability
  • Lack of interest in social activities
  • Reduced sexual interest
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of unhappiness, hopelessness, guilt and unworthiness that sometimes lead to thoughts of death and suicide
  • Issues getting enough sleep or sleeping too much
  • Experiencing changes in appetite or weight

4 Tips to Combat and Ease Seasonal Depression in the Workforce

Since businesses ask a great deal of their software developers and engineers—in terms of volume and quality, particularly during the winter months—dealing with seasonal depression in the tech industry is vital to maintaining a healthy workplace environment for everyone, all throughout the year. We feel it is important to offer our team ideas on dealing with seasonal depression as a software developer.

Here are our four favorite strategies for managing SAD to help tech talent stay healthy, happy and productive during the winter months.

1. Focus on the Mind-Body Connection

Software engineering teams spend long days working under stressful conditions, performing intensive and detail-oriented tasks. It may help to take time out to focus on the mind-body connection through techniques like the following:

2. Get Plenty of Enjoyable Exercise

The human body needs breaks from the long stretches of sitting that sometimes accompanies software development. Regular exercise helps reduce anxiety and stress; both of which can compound the symptoms of the winter blues. A good brisk walk, a morning swim or an all-out run on the treadmill can lighten the mood, flooding the body with endorphins and the brain with fresh oxygen.

3. Go Outside and Get Fresh Air

Fresh air is a natural mood booster, even in the middle of a frigid winter. Simply escaping the office for a few minutes can be effective enough to switch out a bad mood for a better one.

4. Indulge In Treats Like More Socializing and Vacations

It is easy to withdraw and hunker down at home during bouts with SAD. Once employees leave the office feeling blue, they go right home and continue feeling lonely and sad. Employees may consider going out at least one night a week to spend time with friends, or they may look into taking a vacation to a warm destination. Even a few days of basking in the sun can make a big difference.

Additional things tech talent can do to stay ahead of SAD symptoms include investing in light therapy, sitting in a window-adjacent office or desk, getting plenty of rest and sleep, eating healthy foods and drinking plenty of water.

These tactics together can help your tech team successfully manage SAD better each winter while maintaining a good mood and high productivity.