Cora Gold is a freelance writer and the editor of women’s lifestyle magazine, Revivalist. She writes work-from-home and career advice for publications including Mediabistro and The Balanced CEO. Connect with Cora on LinkedIn and Twitter.
The changing seasons can affect people in many ways. Many people experience heightened loneliness and isolation during the winter, especially remote workers who might feel stuck in their homes.
When you work from home in the winter, you have the benefits of avoiding a cold morning commute to the office, but you miss out on important social interaction. If you are one of the many remote workers who experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), we’ve curated some strategies to combat those feelings of isolation this winter.
What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
Also known as “winter depression” or “winter blues,” SAD is a type of depression that occurs when seasons change. While the exact cause of SAD is unknown, it is linked to the decrease in the strength of sunlight, which results in lower vitamin D absorption in the body. It also affects the production of melatonin, which is responsible for timing the circadian rhythms and sleep.
Though experiences will vary for different individuals and locations, symptoms usually start in early August and worsen around November to February, tending to disappear in April. Some signs of SAD include:
- Feeling sad or down for the day
- Having low energy levels
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Indulging in overeating practices
- Feeling hopeless or guilty
- Having thoughts of not wanting to live
- Sleeping for longer hours than usual
With more severe SAD, symptoms include isolating oneself from social situations. The combination of work-from-home arrangements, shorter days and lack of opportunity to get outdoors may increase your risk of feeling winter blues.
Tips to Combat SAD and Isolation
Prioritizing your health while working from home is critical to keeping SAD and isolation at bay. Here are some actionable tips you can use to manage the symptoms of winter blues:
1. Create a Routine
While the daylight may change, try to keep your daily routine the same to maintain a sense of consistency. You might feel tempted to sleep later when it’s darker and colder in the morning, but try to resist the urge. Adopting a regular routine, including a nourishing breakfast, will give you the energy to face the day.
Keeping small things consistent helps you focus on your physical health and plan for the day ahead.
2. Make Time to Leave the House
The colder weather keeps many of us indoors during the winter. But when you already spend your whole workday in your house, it’s even more important to get yourself out of your work bubble. Here are some simple ideas to help ensure you leave your home at least once a day:
- Take a short walk, even just for 10 minutes before or after work.
- Treat yourself to a coffee or snack during your lunch break.
- Make dinner plans with a friend or relative once a week.
- Take your dog to the park.
- Volunteer your time to an organization you support.
Trying to incorporate different types of activities into your week will help you maintain your physical health, give you some extra social interaction and expose you to fresh air and sunlight. Perhaps most importantly, if you have something to look forward to each day, you won’t be prone to feeling cooped up at home.
3. Improve Your Quality of Sleep
Proper sleep at night is essential all year round. However, people with SAD are more likely to sleep more than usual. Also known as winter hypersomnia, having more extended hours of rest is just as much a problem as insomnia.
Try to set a regular sleep schedule if you are concerned about oversleeping. Go to bed and wake up at the same time daily. If you’re having trouble getting sleepy at night, make time for a relaxing routine such as yoga or breathing exercises.
Another thing to consider is your sleep environment — does it have excess light? Are noises keeping you awake? Get rid of distractions to help you get better rest at night.
4. Try Bright Light Therapy
Using a light therapy box can offer relief from SAD symptoms. This treatment involves exposing yourself to a box with around 10,000 lux for at least 30 minutes, providing a therapeutic dose of bright light. Light therapy also helps increase serotonin levels, a brain chemical that helps boost mood and overall mental state.
While you can use the box anytime, morning usage provides better results for your mental health. Before purchasing a device, ensure that it’s made specifically to help treat SAD. Some light therapy lamps emit UV rays to treat skin disorders, which could cause eye damage if misused.
5. Consider a Getaway Somewhere Warm
Maybe it’s time to unplug and unwind somewhere outside your usual environment?
If traveling is feasible for you, visiting a warm-weather destination might help relax your mind and open it to new experiences. Exploring a unique environment where you can bask in the sun’s warmth without shivering in the cold can help recharge your batteries.
But even if you can’t jet away to a white sandy beach, you might be able to find local indoor activities to warm you up, like a community yoga class or pickup basketball.
6. Prioritize an Active Lifestyle
One of the biggest challenges of working from home is inactivity. Some people skip exercise and go straight to their desks in the morning. They sit for hours and later realize they have not moved from the chair all day.
Prolonged sitting, especially this winter, can contribute to weight gain and depression. The act of sitting at a desk can become so ingrained among knowledge workers that they forget to stretch now and then. It’s essential to move frequently throughout the day to counter the harmful effects of inactivity.
Find an activity that you enjoy and schedule it into your day — treating it with the same priority as a client call. Go for a quick jog, stroll or hit the gym early in the morning before work. Take advantage of the natural daylight outside. When you move, your body releases endorphins, which help fight the harmful effects of SAD and isolation.
7. Remember to Make Time for Loved Ones
When you do feel the urge to hibernate this winter, consider connecting with your loved ones. Shoot a message to your childhood best friend, ask your sister to grab a hot coffee in her favorite cafe or create a hearty meal for your parents. You may not have the energy to party during weekends, but even short interactions with family and friends can make a difference.
Beat SAD and Loneliness This Winter
When waves of sadness, loneliness and isolation flood your head, remember there are various things you can do to help override them. Working from home during the darkest season of the year can be challenging for anyone, but with these simple lifestyle tweaks, you can thrive in the winter and emerge physically and mentally healthy in the spring!