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5 Ways to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder In Your Office

5 Ways to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder In Your Office
Image credit: Unsplash

If you live in the north, you may find your productivity during the winter months hindered by feeling sluggish, difficulty concentrating and irritability. Approximately six percent of Americans suffer from a health condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), with another 14 percent suffering from a milder form of seasonal disorder called "the winter blues."

Dr. Norman Rosenthal, a leading expert in SAD research and author of "Winter Blues" (2012: The Guilford Press) says SAD is the strongest in January and February, when daylight hours are shortest. SAD can be a nemesis for entrepreneurs, but Rosenthal says there are easy remedies to prevent your business from getting the blues.

Follow these five tips to battle SAD in your office:

Reposition furniture to optimize natural light. SAD is triggered by a lack of sunlight. When sunlight enters the eyes it affects neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, also known as our "feel-good hormones." "If you don't get enough light, these neurotransmitters can be in short supply," says Rosenthal. The problem is most office buildings aren't designed with maximum illumination in mind. "Many have weather stripping on the windows to make them more thermally efficient, but they transmit less light," says Rosenthal. If possible, position your desk near a window to take advantage of as much natural light as possible.

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Install a light box. While windows can be of help, Rosenthal says natural light alone may not be enough to combat SAD. "The trouble with natural light is its unpredictable. One day can be very dark, another day can be very bright," says Rosenthal. SAD sufferers can benefit from light therapy. A light box with a surface area of about one foot square emits high-intensity light (2,500 to 10,000 lux, compared with 250 to 50 lux from normal light fixtures) and is positioned one to two feet away from the eyes. The light boxes are typically used in the early morning for about 30 minutes. Simply turning on overhead lights or task lighting won't be enough to counter the effects of SAD because the lights are too far away to have any effect. By contrast, a light box "floods the face and the eyes with light to stimulate the retinas, which in turn stimulates parts of the brain responsible for energy, appetite and mood," says Rosenthal.

Take light breaks. Forget sipping coffee at your desk. SAD sufferers need to take advantage of as much natural light as possible. Even a 10 minute walk outdoors can have a positive effect on countering SAD.

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Eat a "happy" diet. "There's a tendency to want to graze on carbohydrate-rich foods in the winter," says Rosenthal. Part of the reason people with SAD crave carbs may be due to decreased serotonin - the brain's feel-good chemical. Carbohydrates promote the production of serotonin, but be warned, not all carbs are created equal. Sweets and simple carbohydrates, such as donuts, muffins and white bread cause blood sugar to rise quickly and later a sudden drop in blood sugar -- aka the "sugar crash," which can cause fatigue and irritability -- not a great combination when you're already fighting SAD. Rosenthal recommends starting the day with complex carbohydrates, such as slow-cooked Irish steel-cut oatmeal. He has a recipe on his website which can be made into a batch to provide breakfast for the entire week. Since one of the effects of SAD is difficulty waking up in the morning, having breakfast at the ready is crucial for SAD sufferers to ensure they get a healthy start to their day.

Get moving. Exercise stimulates neurotransmitters to fire in the brain and can help counter the effects of SAD. Exercise not only improves mood, but also helps reduce stress, which often exacerbates feelings of depression brought on by the winter blues. Aerobic exercise such as brisk walking outdoors, running, skiing or even taking up salsa dancing can have a positive effect.

Related: Why You Should Never Eat Lunch at Your Desk

Lisa Evans is a health and lifestyle freelance journalist from Toronto.

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