SAD Left Unchecked can Reduce Productivity

29 Nov, 2021 Nancy Grover


Sarasota, FL ( – Employees already feeling the emotional effects of the pandemic now have additional stressors with which to contend. While many may suffer from the winter blues, others may have more serious impairments.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can impact a worker’s ability to do his job. However, knowing the signs and taking simple steps can prevent someone from getting SAD or mitigating the effects of it. Employers can help by reaching out to employees more than they typically do during the winter months, especially those living in northern climates.

“We’re all experiencing a big shift in daylight and temperatures, but also holidays stress. So I want to normalize reaching out to people a little bit now more than ever,” said Autumn Brennan, communications director for Axiom Medical. “The lack of daylight really affects our pineal gland and how we regulate our serotonin and melatonin. At night we’re producing melatonin and in the morning we should switch over to making serotonin – the happy drug that our body produces naturally. When we have a lack of daylight we’re waking up and it's still dark. We still feel kind of foggy and groggy. That’s part of the natural cycle of all of this.”

During a recent webinar, Brennan and other speakers discussed winter blues compared to SAD, and how and when workers can lessen the effects of both.

Winter Blues vs. SAD

The winter blues and SAD have many of the same symptoms. The difference is the impact to functioning.  

“The winter blues are meant to be kind of a mild diluted form of SAD, where you’re kind of down and out but still able to really meet all your expectations at work and in your personal life,” said Scott Cherry, DO, chief Medical Officer at Axiom. “Just to contrast that, if you start having low energy, sadness, significant weight changes; if the symptoms you’re feeling actually are significantly impairing getting to work on time, productivity, being able to exercise, engagement with family and friends, hobbies, then that’s where a professional would start considering this becoming a mental health diagnosis vs. just kind of winter blues.”

SAD is actually a subtype of major depressive disorder, Cherry explained. It includes a variety of potential symptoms that are also seen in those with depression.

Significant unintended weight gain or loss

  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Depressive mood
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Inability to focus or decide
  • Decrease in energy level

“Two major symptoms would be depressed mood and/or diminished activity,” Cherry said. “Lastly, one of them can be a focus on either death or suicide, whether it’s planned, intentional or general thoughts. A diagnosis criterion requires five of [the symptoms] over two weeks.”


Light, vitamin D and self-help strategies can go a long way in easing the effects of the winter blues and SAD. Getting sunlight in an unfiltered environment helps the body to "wake up" serotonin in the morning, for example.

“The only part of the central nervous system outside [of our skulls or spine] is our eyes. The retina is a cranial nerve. When you receive sunlight, it’s a huge stimulation to our circadian rhythms to start our day,” Cherry said. “I think we’re also seeing people exposed to different forms of light late at night from devices. That throws off the sleep-wake cycle. It’s the actual intense sunlight needed in the morning to start all our processes and metabolism that are stimulated through our circadian rhythm.”

“When people say ‘sunshine makes me happy,’ it’s real,” Brennan added.

Artificial light therapy that can be turned on for about half an hour in the morning can also help, in the absence of sunlight. However, the speakers cautioned that these should be those available without dangerous UV rays.

Vitamin D deficiency is another contributor to winter blues and SAD. Past beliefs that too much of it can be potentially toxic are being discounted.

“We’re recognizing there’s been a huge vitamin D deficiency in many people. Now primary doctors are screening their patients for that,” Cherry said. “Vitamin D is relatively safe. … There’s this huge potential benefit of vitamin D supplements for mental health and even other physical diseases.”

While over-the-counter remedies such as melatonin or other, stronger prescription medications may help alleviate symptoms of SAD, Cherry advises a conservative approach first.

“One of the best mood elevators is exercise,” Cherry said. “I’ve seen mental health specialists say exercise is the most powerful anti-depressants and will also help you sleep better.”

Workers should not shy away from seeking professional help if needed. Workers who start feeling a change are advised to speak to a medical provider or have some way of checking in with someone, to ensure they are not dipping into depression.

“There are huge amounts of negative consequences of not dealing with it quickly. It can affect your family, your professional life or your quality of life,” Cherry said. “Studies are showing most people are waiting or never getting treatment for mental health. I’d like to see a paradigm shift about mental health in our country.”

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    About The Author

    • Nancy Grover

      Nancy Grover is a freelance writer having recently retired as the Director, Media Services for She comes to our company with more than 35 years as a broadcast journalist and communications consultant. Grover’s specialties include insurance, workers’ compensation, financial services, substance abuse, healthcare and disability. For 12 years she served as the Program Chair of the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. A journalism/speech graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University, Grover also holds an MBA from Palm Beach Atlantic University.

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