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SAD at work? Five tips to boost your mood at your job this winter

(Photo credit: iStock/Andypott)

Winter marks the holidays and celebration, but there is a downside to these darker months. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, up to three per cent of Canadians will have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in their lifetime, and an additional 15 per cent of the population will experience a milder form of the fatigue, depression and low motivation as the sunlight wanes.

If you’re hoping to keep your spirits bright this winter, read on for five effective ways to boost your mood in the workplace.

1. Light up your life

Low seasonal light levels are thought to be the primary culprit behind the symptoms of SAD.  Scientists believe that the battle between your biological clock (which tells your brain to sleep when it’s dark outside) and your busy schedule throws your mood and sleep hormones off.

On the flip side, a 2015 Canadian study confirmed the powerful effects of therapeutic light: even patients with non-seasonal depression significantly improved their moods with just 30 minutes of light-box use per day.


  • Rearrange your office furniture to place your desk beside a window.
  • If your cubicle is windowless, use a light box to enjoy half an hour of serotonin-boosting rays each morning as close to your wake-up time as possible. 
  • Be sure to double up on daylight’s positive effects by bundling up and heading outside for a walk during your lunch break, as exercise is another proven mood lifter.

2. Avoid viruses

Aside from making you feel physically unwell, coming down with a cold can also torpedo your mood — possibly because the resulting inflammation mimics the negative effects of depression on your brain. In fact, a 2011 study from Denmark showed that prior infection with the common-cold or flu virus almost tripled the risk of a depression diagnosis. Add that to guilt over sick days and mounting deadlines, and you’ve got a recipe for the winter blues.

Keep your immune system and morale strong by paying special attention to the three pillars of health over these chillier months:

  • eating well
  • exercising regularly
  • seven to nine hours of sleep per night

3. Snack smart because junk food can make you blue

About 80 per cent of those affected with SAD admit to increased appetite and carbohydrate cravings, which makes that meeting treat tray extra tempting — and extra problematic for your mood.

Self-medicating with simple carbs temporarily increases levels of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin in your brain, but can lead to a dizzying crash afterwards. Not only that, but a 2015 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that the risk of new-onset depression steadily increased in women who had more junk food in their diets.

Avoiding carbohydrates altogether can backfire due to lowered serotonin, so opt for complex-carbohydrate-based foods instead such as whole grains, legumes, and vegetables.

4. Surround yourself with photos of things you love

Believe it or not, taking a photographic trip down memory lane can be even more effective than booze for improving your mood.

A 2012 study from the UK demonstrated that people who looked at personal photos enjoyed an 11 per cent boost in their happiness and a 22 per cent improvement in relaxation — significantly better than the one per cent mood improvement noted by those who were given chocolate or wine.


  • Plaster photos of loved ones wherever you might see them at work: on your phone, your computer screensaver, or framed on your desk. 
  • Consider choosing shots of your nearest and dearest on a forest hike or beach vacation — research indicates that viewing images of nature also reduces stress.

5. Book a trip

Planning time off work is paradoxically one of the best ways to increase your contentment on the job — most dramatically before you even leave.

A 2010 Dutch study showed that the positive mood effects of a vacation start an impressive eight weeks before departure due to happy anticipation, but fade within a week or two of returning.


  • Plan your winter getaway in a sunny spot for the most SAD-fighting effects. 
  • Opt for a relaxing itinerary instead of an action-packed one to maximize your post-vacation afterglow. 
  • Keep in mind that frequent mini breaks may result in more overall happiness than one long trip because of the anticipation effect.

Note: If the winter blues are affecting your work, health, or relationships, be sure to book an appointment with a health-care professional to discuss how to get your mood back on track.

This article was originally published December 20, 2016.