The changing of the seasons can be beautiful, but it can also impact mental health. Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that only occurs part of the year, during colder, darker winter months. While it may not be as constant or severe as typical depression, SAD can still make the workday challenging for those who suffer from it.
SAD is estimated to affect about 5% of the population every year, with a higher prevalence in women than men. Symptoms of the disorder can include feelings of anxiety or sadness, lack of motivation and energy, difficulty focusing, weight gain, and changes in sleep patterns. SAD is caused by lower levels of sunlight during the winter months. This leads to a lack of serotonin, which stabilizes moods, and an increase in melatonin, which regulates sleepiness.
Luckily, there are some easy solutions for those who suffer from SAD at work, as well as office managers who want to help. Seasonal office design can go a long way toward helping to combat the symptoms and effects of SAD.
Lighting plays a critical role in mitigating the effects of SAD since the disorder is caused at least in part by changes in sunlight. Offices tend to feature standard overhead lighting alongside task lights at desks and workstations. Creating an office that is designed to combat SAD requires more innovative solutions, though.
One of the key aspects to consider in a SAD-beneficial lighting design is light brightness and distribution throughout the office space. For example, lightboxes are a popular remedy for the lack of natural light that increases SAD symptoms. This is different from a regular task light because it has a much bigger surface area that can give off bright, refreshing rays in a way that simulates real sunlight.
Similarly, dimmable lights may be helpful for those with seasonal affective disorder. Disruptions in normal sleep patterns are one of the symptoms of SAD that can be most frustrating, leaving people feeling tired on and off. Dimmable lights can help mimic the body’s natural circadian rhythm, which can help stabilize energy levels throughout the day.
The type of furniture and how it is oriented can affect symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. For example, moving around once in a while throughout the day is a great way to relieve SAD symptoms, so standing desks may be helpful. Additionally, comfortable, relaxing furniture can help ease depression-related stress and anxiety.
Even if you can’t buy new furniture to add to the office, you can simply shuffle what you already have. Try to arrange as many desks as possible near sources of natural light. South-facing windows will be best for people with SAD since they will get the most sunlight throughout the day.
Color and decor
Office color scheme and decor can be a fun way to help create a better workspace for employees with SAD. Color has a significant impact on mood, and science has proven that specific shades trigger various emotions. While red may seem like an exciting color for office decor, it can actually increase anxiety and stress.
Make sure to research the emotional connections of colors before painting office spaces. Tones that are mellow and neutral tend to be more relaxing, especially for people coping with seasonal affective disorder. Remember to consider color schemes when choosing furniture, as well. A new sofa that’s meant to be cozy and relaxing could come off as stressful instead if it is the wrong color.
Another office addition that will give an excellent boost to mood is indoor plants. The color green has been proven to inspire feelings of calm and motivation as well as association with nature, which many find relaxing. Plants are great for improving the overall quality of life in offices because they add a positive touch and add oxygen to the air, enhancing productivity and concentration while helping reduce stress.
Many offices feature various areas for employees to use. Communal break rooms or collaboration spaces complement private workspaces or cubicles. A good variety of rooms around the office, with the right features, can make a big difference for people suffering from seasonal affective disorder.
Depression affects everyone differently, and it is important to keep this in mind when creating a seasonal-based office design. Some people benefit from increased social interaction when experiencing symptoms of SAD, but others may find open floor plans stressful after a while.
A beneficial mix of office spaces might include private, distraction-free zones and a comfortable area with plants, comfortable furniture, window light, games, and other stress-reducing elements. It may also be a good idea to increase space for making meals. One of the top tips for people with SAD is to maintain a healthy diet, which emphasizes reducing carbs during the workday. Foods like salad, fruit, and proteins often need to be refrigerated, so having easy, convenient access to prep and storage spaces could encourage better eating habits.
The first step toward helping people with SAD or coping with it yourself is to remember that it is a common, highly treatable illness and not something to be embarrassed about. Seasonal affective disorder can make work-life frustrating and difficult to manage. Still, simple tweaks to your office’s design can go a long way toward improving productivity, mood, and overall health.
About the Author:
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, an online magazine showing how technology is innovating different industries.