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Strategies for Addressing Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Published in News on by Jayne Schmitz, MPH and MIIA Wellness Project Manager

It’s that time of year when we turn back the clocks and seemingly turn off the lights. And while Dec. 21 – the winter solstice and the shortest day of the year – is not too far off, it will be mid-March before we get back to an even split of daylight and darkness.

For some, the lack of daylight leads to Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. This year, the shorter, darker days come at a time when many are already struggling with the challenges of life during a pandemic. A June survey published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a surge in mental health issues across the country, with at least 40% of Americans reporting that they are struggling with mental health or substance use.

In an Aug. 21 article published by the Cleveland Clinic, psychologist Scott Bea says the upcoming months might be even tougher for those who have been experiencing SAD year after year, which he attributes to spending less time outdoors or not having as many occasions to get out of the house.

“People are already experiencing low-grade depression – we’re already feeling some helplessness, hopelessness, irritability, confinement and soon, the winter months will be added to all of it,” he says in the article. “With shorter daylight hours and limited exposure to daylight, those who experience seasonal affective disorder are going to really be challenged.”

SAD is diagnosed four times more often in women than men, and it is far more prevalent in people who live far north or south of the equator, according to the National Institute of Mental Health’s Information Resource Center. Just 1% of those who live in Florida suffer with SAD, but the number increases to 9% of those who live in New England or Alaska.

Other risk factors for SAD include having depression or bipolar disorder, or a family history of SAD or other types of depression.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, SAD is a type of depression displaying a recurring seasonal pattern, not a separate disorder.

Symptoms include a lack of energy, excessive daytime sleepiness, overeating, weight gain, craving carbohydrates, and social withdrawal (feeling like “hibernating”), according to the Johns Hopkins Health System.

Staff members experiencing the symptoms of SAD or other mental health issues related to dealing with the pandemic may be more irritable, lack motivation, be unable to concentrate, and be less productive.

 

Easing the symptoms

The good news is that there are several ways to help ease the symptoms of SAD:

  • Get more sunlight. Spending time outside or near a window can help.
  • Try light therapy. With a 10,000-lux light box, light therapy typically involves daily sessions of about 20 to 30 minutes, according to the Mayo Clinic. For most people, light therapy is most effective when it’s done early in the morning, right after waking up. Check with your doctor for what might work best for you.
  • Get regular exercise. If the weather permits, try to head outdoors during mid-day.
  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals, particularly those rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes and favoring plant fats over animal fats.
  • Refrain from using alcohol and other drugs, which can worsen depression.
  • Take Vitamin D. Ask a registered dietitian or your doctor about the appropriate dose.
  • Try mindfulness practice. There are many books, apps, and YouTube videos to help you get started, such as “Wherever You Go, There You Are” and “Full Catastrophe Living” by Jon Kabat Zinn, “Peace Is Every Step” by Thich Nhat Hanh and “10% Happier” by Dan Harris.
  • Maintain social connections. Even with social distancing you can remain connected with family and friends through video chats, telephone calls, and socially distanced outdoor visits.
  • Get help. If you think you may be depressed, reach out to your employee assistance program or see a health care provider as soon as possible. He or she may prescribe antidepressants or therapy.

Once you start working on your symptoms, expect your mood to get better slowly, not right away. Feeling better takes time.

Employers can also help by taking the following actions:

  • Raise awareness among employees about the symptoms of SAD.
  • Encourage employees to get outside mid-day for some sunshine and exercise.
  • Allow employees who have come back to the office to use their special light boxes if their doctor prescribes it.
  • Remind employees of current well-being offerings.
  • Encourage staff to take breaks and unplug.
  • Promote work-life balance.

(For more, see “9 Ways to Help Alleviate Seasonal Affective Disorder in the Workplace,” published by OneDigital.)

 

8 Best Practices for Protecting Facilities in Winter

By Stephen Batchelder, MIIA Vice President for Claims and Risk Management.

The cold weather has returned, and many municipal and school buildings remain closed. While it is easy to focus on more pressing matters, these buildings need continued vigilance to avoid costly repairs and property claims.

Typical sources of property-related losses during winter closures are frozen and burst pipes; unit ventilators that are not working properly; mechanical failure of circulator pumps, boilers and sump pumps; and corrosion or other failure of water feed connections. Unfortunately, these risks of loss are heightened during periods of extended closure as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

MIIA has identified the following eight best practices to prevent property damage during winter facility closures:

Cleaning and sanitizing: Develop a plan for proper cleaning and sanitizing of buildings to prevent the spread of viruses. This will be dependent on the occupancy and frequency of use of each building.

Staff walk-throughs: Prepare a plan to have staff perform regular walk-throughs during any closure period. These checks should go through every part of the building, looking for signs of security vulnerabilities, water leakage or intrusion or other physical damage, cold areas, or pest or vermin intrusion. Staff should have a list or map of key shut-offs, such as water lines and gas, as well as copies of building response plans, with key vendors and contacts.

Heat setbacks: Set heat setbacks to an appropriate level to prevent freezing. This could vary by zone, depending on the building, insulation levels, air circulation, number of heating vents/radiators, etc. Generally, 55-58 degrees would be acceptable. Vestibules and cold spots may need to be set higher or have supplemental (and safe) heat sources brought in. Do not add additional tripping or electrical hazards with supplemental heat.

Doors and windows: Properly close and secure all doors and windows, particularly exterior doors and windows and fire doors. Some interior doors may be left open if it helps to circulate heat into unheated areas. These areas should be documented on a building closure plan to ensure that everyone is aware of which doors are to remain open and which are required to be closed.

Water line inspections: While conducting walk-throughs, pay attention to water connections: sinks, toilets, water heaters, refrigerator lines, water fountain lines, and washing machines. Consider shutting water down from non-essential areas if feasible until normal activities resume. (Some water lines must be drained after being shut down.) Look for loose, corroded, frayed, cracked, or otherwise damaged connections and replace prior to shutdown. Periodically run water in sinks and flush toilets.

Sump pumps: Test sump pumps at least monthly during shutdowns. Pour approximately five gallons of water into the pump and watch the float valve rise. As the float valve rises, the pump should turn on, and the water should discharge through the outlet pipe. Go outside and inspect the outlet pipe; water should be flowing from the pipe and away from the building.

Boilers and other HVAC systems: Check unit ventilators to make sure they are properly closing and opening. Check boilers, circulator pumps, furnaces, and HVAC systems to verify they are properly working.

Remote sensor technology: Make sure that any remote detection devices (burglar, temperature, water sensors) have a full battery charge, and that alert numbers and emails are up-to-date and people on the lists understand their duties should they receive an alert.

Implementing these eight simple steps now and during the winter months can save both time and valuable dollars.

 

 

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