The winter blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) are nothing new. Many of us have had to manage symptoms like anxiety, stress, and depression over the winter months of years past. But this winter and holiday season is going to look and feel very different. In many ways, it could be harder on our mental health. As such, we’ve gotten an early start developing and sharing tools and ideas for promoting two critical components of mental wellness – connectivity and purpose. And today we’re sharing our work with fellow leaders looking to do the same.
First, it’s important that we take a moment to talk about exactly what we’re dealing with here.
As cases in the U.S. soar only weeks before the holidays, many Americans will opt to forego festivities and gatherings and find new ways to spread tidings of comfort and joy from a distance.
THE SOCIAL & POLITICAL CLIMATE
In addition to heightened stress around the pandemic – including its impact on the economy and job security – the social and political climates here in the U.S. have been turbulent at best and perhaps equally divisive as the virus itself.
SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER
Many who historically suffer from SAD or other forms of seasonal or holiday depression worry about the toll these increased demands for distance may take on their ability to cope. Even those who haven’t struggled in the past are wondering if and how they should prepare for battle against the feared winter blues. The leading contributor to the winter blues and SAD is the drop in hours of natural sunlight and the most common symptom is a general sense of lethargy, but it goes much deeper.
Now, what to do about it.
We’ve long been believers in helping people to develop a well-rounded outlook on health and wellness. In addition to competitive benefits plans, we’ve built and offered meditation workshops, acupuncture workshops, martial arts classes, and even essential oil workshops… to name a few. This year, in a largely virtual environment, we quickly began to see different issues become more prevalent – or in other words, new opportunities to help people.
Just recently, Rachel Shifreen shared some insight on some of our efforts in the financial space over the last several months. But as the cold and dark winter months approach, we’re looking to ramp things up in the “feel good” space with some simple (and still fiscally responsible!) ideas.
Here’s a sneak peek at a handful of recommendations we’ve been sharing with the workplaces we support. I’ve saved my personal favorite for last.
USE THAT PTO & GET OUTSIDE
This one almost seems too obvious, but it needs to be said. People are tired. With fewer or no boundaries between work and home life, burnout is becoming a bigger threat. And soon, we’ll tack on the stress of the holiday season. If your team can afford to take a beat, you should encourage them to as the chances of them taking it on their own are slimmer these days. And on the other hand, the consequences of them not taking it are perhaps bigger than ever.
Consider taking it another step further. Rather than just giving an extra 8 hours to take whenever they want, choose a specific day for everyone to silence the sounds of the daily grind. You could even go as far as to discourage any meetings or calls from being held on that day so that people truly have the opportunity to unplug guilt-free. Just imagine peace and quiet in place of all those chimes, chirps, buzzes, and bells ringing from our devices.
And while we don’t recommend giving people free time and then telling them what they should do with it, it’s worth pointing out to your team the value of using whatever quiet time we can find to connect with something other than a device – even with ourselves. Meditation again, is a great recommendation in that case. Pointing out the opportunity to connect with nature is another good idea and an easy way to up the return on this time off for your people. According to Rush University Medical Center, “The primary culprit of both the winter blues and SAD is the lower level of natural sunlight we are exposed to in the fall and winter.” This lack of sunlight can lead to problems in serotonin levels that regulate mood changes, disruptions in circadian rhythms which affect sleep-wake cycles, and alternations in melatonin levels which affect both mood and sleep (R.U.S.H.)
VIRTUAL WORKOUTS… & GET OUTSIDE!
If your folks are or have become more interested in self-care during the pandemic, they’ve likely found ways to workout at home while the pandemic continues to deter people from gyms and studios. The good news is that they’re getting a healthy boost of serotonin and endorphins. But more than likely, they’re alone. Consider a virtual or socially distant group workout. If a member of your team is a certified instructor or someone on the team is willing to step up and make a workout, use them to instill a sense of pride and camaraderie. And again, if weather permits, encourage people to participate from outside.
MAKE IT EASY FOR EMPLOYEES TO GIVE BACK
It’s not unusual for us to associate the holidays with giving. Office clothing and food drives have been commonplace for decades. But oftentimes, people don’t know why they should be inclined to give or where to start. Introducing your people to local communities and organizations in need of their service or support is an easy way to broaden their sense of both connectivity and purpose outside of the work environment. Be sure to do your research and find organizations that align with your culture and values. And when you communicate about opportunities to support them, be sure to lead with details on what the charity does, who or what it benefits… then introduce how employees can give back and where they can go to do it. This requires a little bit of leg work on your part, but the outcome is worth it.
GET A PEN PAL
While a lot of people have the technological means and social networks to find ways to avoid or manage loneliness, large portions of certain populations aren’t so lucky – namely young children and the elderly. We reached out to a senior care facility and a pediatric hospital partner in an effort to connect with residents or patients. Both organizations were quick to respond and glad to get on board.
What I love most about this are the vast benefits on both ends of the effort. We’ve even seen some groups encourage people to get family members or children involved. And a letter-writing program is not only easy to start up for small or large groups, it’s moldable, manageable, and essentially free.
DON’T LOSE FOCUS OF THE “WHY?”
Full disclosure here – this one is easier said than done. But, in my opinion, it’s also the best recommendation we can offer.
Take a step back and take a look at how you’re communicating with your people about your business and their place in it. Look at the frequency, subject matter, and objective behind your communications. Then look for your mission and purpose. Again, a lot of folks are spending more hours per day working than they ever have. And with the loss of daily human-to-human connections with colleagues and workplaces, people are focusing more on the question “why?” when it comes to their work. If you’re not making the answer to that question clear to them or reinforcing it regularly, folks will come up with their own answer. Perhaps they’ll come up with something you agree with – perhaps they won’t. That disconnect is a very real risk. The good news is that the end of the year is a popular time for reflection, both personally and professionally. Now is not only a natural time but an important time to weave your mission and purpose into your narrative more regularly.
Rather than close this out with a “hope this was helpful,” I have a favor to ask… please report back. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know what you’re doing to promote wellness over the winter, how and why you’re doing it, and whether it’s working. We’ll be pushing more and more of these ideas through the 14 West social media channels (connect below) over the next several weeks. So, as the old saying goes… the more, the merrier.