The Effects of Winter on Mental Health

15th October 2020

The warm spring and summer nights are long gone, and in their place, the cold winter months are fast approaching. Shorter days and longer nights are tough enough to handle, without the added pressure of the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions that come with it. Winter 2020 is set to be a challenging time for many of us…

We’ve seen cases of depression double during the pandemic so far, making mental health even more of a priority as we head into winter. In this blog, we’ll explore the effects that the colder months have on our mental health. So as a family member, friend or employer, it’s your job this year (more than ever) to be aware of who may be struggling with their mental health this winter, so that you can be there for those who need a little bit of extra support.

Why does winter affect our mental health?

If your own personal mental health isn’t affected by the time of the year (or perhaps, you’ve just not noticed the link before), one question you may have is “can the weather really affect your mental health?”. The answer is 100% yes. Winter months bring cold, wet and dark days, and with that comes staying inside more, less social plans and therefore more alone time. When this is combined with the current lockdown restrictions, it makes this time of year even more difficult with feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety heightened for many of us. But what is the science behind the ‘winter blues’ so many of us experience?

SAD (seasonal affective disorder)

The official condition responsible for the winter blues is SAD, otherwise known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. As many of 2 million people in the UK currently live with the disorder. Those suffering from SAD are affected by shorter days and less exposure to the sun. But how does it work? Exposure to light limits the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, therefore with limited sun exposure during the colder months, affected individuals produce higher levels of melatonin, leaving them feeling more lethargic and experiencing depressive symptoms.

Other symptoms associated with SAD include:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Change in eating habits, often overeating
  • Feeling more irritable
  • Generally feeling more down and unsociable

Lockdown restrictions

The winter blues and general mental health struggles will unfortunately only be heightened this year due to the COVID-19 restrictions that are in place. Many of us across the country are spending more time inside than ever before. Whether that’s due to working from home, having less social plans and for some of us no socialising with friends or family outside of our household. Tough times are ahead.

However, advances in technology really do have their benefits at this time. From social media, video calls or even a simple text message; technology allows us to keep up with friends, family and colleagues virtually. For so many of us, this will be what helps us to get through these next few months. Be mindful of those who may be struggling, and make sure to check in with them to see if they are doing ok.

Supporting employees’ mental health at work

When our mental health suffers, it has a knock-on effect on other areas of our life, including our work performance. As employers and managers, putting the mental health of your employees’ first should be a priority more than ever this year.

If you have employees working from home, they may be feeling more lonely and isolated than usual. Whilst it can be more difficult to spot the signs of those struggling with their mental health when you’re not with them in person, having regular catch-ups with them will help. It’s important to have open and regular conversions about mental health with your team, let them know it’s a challenging time for us all, and that you’re all in it together.

We’ve put together a handy blog on how to spot the signs of mental health at work; some of the common signs to look out for include:

  • A person is more withdrawn than usual
  • Their work quality/quantity is reduced
  • They appear more stressed, irritable and/or upset
  • They are taking increased time off work

Christmas during a pandemic…

Usually, the Christmas period is a time to unwind, be merry and spend time with loved ones. However, December will be very different for us all this year, which will negatively impact our mental health in one way or another. Be sensitive and mindful when speaking about Christmas, as everyone’s plans and experiences will be different.

Speaking out about your mental health issues can be daunting, but the more you do it and encourage others to do the same; the easier it’ll become. If you would like some further help and guidance on mental health at work or would like to see how you can put steps in place to look after your employees’ health and wellbeing and managing workplace absences this winter get in touch. Our team is here to help you through the COVID-19 pandemic.

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