Ways To Fight The Winter Blues

December 9, 2021 Nora Jenkins Townson

Isolation, particularly during the winter season, has been proven in psychological studies to have detrimental impacts on people's mental health, including insomnia, fear, tension, depressive symptoms, irritability and emotional tiredness. With all of this in mind, it's more crucial than ever for small business owners to take care of their mental health, and those of their employees. Should you be considering #MentalHealthMondays to help your team fight the winter blues?

Do you feel happier in spring and summer times?

For most people, the answer is a definite yes. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), casually known as the Winter Blues, can affect many people. The Mayo Clinic defines SAD as a type of depression related to changes in seasons which begins and ends around the same time every year. The impact of SAD on the workforce for small businesses with fewer employees might have major consequences during the winter months. Employees may turn up, but they might not be as productive.

Over the past two years, we've gained a number of stressors across almost all dimensions of our lives — job security and financial anxiety, racial injustice and political stress, continued child care issues, meeting fatigue and isolation angst — while simultaneously losing a lot of our normal coping strategies. 

As a small business owner, you're under a lot of pressure, too. Here's how to spot (and help with) winter blues in both yourself and your team.

Feeling the pressures of the busy season? Here are ways you can stay mentally healthy during busy periods.

'Tis the season: What to watch for?

When we're preoccupied with year-end planning and holiday parties, a change in behaviour can be hard to spot. Make sure you're having your regular employee check-ins and one-on-ones. Look out for folks who might seem gloomy most of the day (when they weren't before), seem like they're losing interest in activities or projects they used to enjoy or who mention low energy or sleeping issues.

Be sure to check in with yourself, too. A Canadian mental health study found that 62 percent (62%) of business owners felt depressed at least once a week. In the same study, 54 percent (54%) said that stress impacted their level of concentration at work. Mental wellness is essential to overcoming the three Fs: feeling fractured, fatigued, and frustrated, which all slow down our productivity.

How can you help prevent winter blues?

1. Create a workplace with realistic work-life boundaries.

Now that so many of us are working from home, employees may find it more difficult to strike a balance between work and life. Encourage your team to choose a specific time frame within which they'll be online and when they'll be off. Be sure to model this behaviour — no sending late-night Slack messages or emails! If you must, try using the 'send later' feature.

2. Work in meditation and mindfulness.

Meditation and mindfulness have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, improve focus and boost resiliency. Meditation improves focus and lowers mind wandering, which leads to better performance on task-related goals.

There are currently a variety of online platforms where those tools can be easily accessed. Calm and Headspace are the two most popular, with both reporting significant increases in downloads during the pandemic and an increasing number of corporations signing on to provide access to one or both as a perk to their staff. 

Apps aren't the only way to promote mindfulness right now, of course. Online group meditation or even a moment of mindfulness or breathing exercises at the start of a meeting may be highly helpful in terms of reducing nerves and setting the correct tone — as well as demonstrating that the whole team is focused on positive mental health.

3. Encourage movement.

The link between good physical and mental health is undeniable. For those who are feeling winter blues, those feel-good neurotransmitters are needed. 

Encourage your team to take walk breaks throughout the day, and if budget allows, you can consider a wellness and fitness perk for employees to spend on gym memberships, online classes or equipment.

4. Talk about it.

Our team at Bright + Early has a secret hack for fostering psychological safety and keeping an eye on mental health. We call it "out of 10s." 

At the beginning of our weekly team meeting, everyone shares their current work capacity and their current personal state on a scale of one to ten. A 10 capacity means you cannot possibly take on any more work, while a five and below means you have time to help others. On the personal scale, 10 means you feel amazing, and anything below a six or so is cause for concern. 

You don't need to share why or how you arrived at your personal "out of 10," but it lets coworkers know that you may not be feeling your best and allows us to potentially take some things off your plate. This practice also helps us normalize the fact that everyone experiences ups and downs in their life and moods.

Learn how investing in emotional intelligence can strengthen your small business.

5. Take breaks.

This is a big one. It may seem self-evident, but getting away from the office (or computer, as the case may be) for a few minutes, hours or days is often just what the doctor ordered. Anything from a 10-minute calendar block-off to actually using those paid time off (PTO) days you've accrued can help your mental health.

Even if it’s not taking a full vacation, managers should be encouraging their employees to block off break times or incorporate no-meeting times into the company calendar. For example, at Bright + Early, we provide four weeks (4) of vacation across the board, as well as spiritual days and paid sick days. In 2022, we're moving to a 4-day workweek, every other week.

6. Counselling and therapy.

While it may be a touchy issue to suggest an employee seek therapy, companies that make it easy to access benefit from having psychologically healthy, productive employees. While therapy can be covered cost-wise by your benefits and perks plan, it's also necessary to destigmatize therapy and counselling so that employees aren't embarrassed to use it.

Counselling has found a home in the digital world, with virtual treatment becoming more popular than ever. Apps like MapleDialogueTalkspaceGingerSiblyInkblot and more provide various types of therapy-on-demand by appointment.

People operations often involves heavy emotional lifting, so at Bright + Early we provide 16 hours of fully-paid-for therapy with Inkblot (eight (8) personal, eight (8) couples or family). This doesn't come out of the employee's benefits plan or health spending account. It's simply there for them to use.

7. Know when it's serious.

Not every bout of blues, winter or otherwise, can be tackled with time off and exercise. While everyone feels low sometimes, clinical depression is a real and serious medical issue that requires professional treatment. 

Know that employees may need to take a short or long term disability leave and are entitled to do so. Make sure you're familiar with your local provincial, territorial or state laws on leave. Whether someone is tackling a bit of common winter blues or something more serious, providing a work environment that supports and destigmatizes mental health will keep your team feeling and performing their best.

Find solutions that work for you and your team.

These seven suggestions are only the beginning. You can also try initiatives like an employee-led wellness committee or provide a wellness portal with services like healthy recipes, online fitness videos, and mental health tools. The more options you have, the better, as there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy to managing the blues. 

For more tips like these, check out these 10 happiness tips from the Wagepoint team!

About the Author

Nora Jenkins Townson

Nora, Founder of Bright + Early, is an unconventional HR expert with 10 years of experience in the design and technology industries. After helping some of the most successful Canadian startups grow, she has a unique view into building happy technical organizations. Nora believes that the best People strategies are human first and data informed, with a dash of design thinking.

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