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Autumn Anxiety and How to Cope

Shawna Westmoreland

Shawna Westmoreland

September 1, 2022

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With summer BBQs, increased daylight hours, and long walks on the beach winding down, it can bring on sadness as warmer weather and unadulterated fun comes to a close and the thought of the monotonous cycle of going to and from work in darkness becomes more of a reality. And while fall is a favorite for many (In a YouGov survey, 29% of Americans said autumn was their favorite season), one that brings football season, cozy sweaters, and pumpkin spice, many people can also become anxious and even mildly depressed because of all the changes that come with the turning of the season. This is called “autumn anxiety” and was coined by Psychologist Gillian Scully in 2005, who said experiencing feelings of anxiety and dread as the season changes from summer to autumn is not uncommon. Experts say this type of anxiety may be caused by school starting, the holiday season approaching, or regret from not reaching summer goals. Additionally, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern, affecting approximately 10 million Americans. Leading into fall and winter, employers may start to see a drop in energy and enthusiasm among employees, while employees may not even know they are being affected by it. The good news is, that managing seasonal change is easier if you prepare and know how to cope with it both as an employee and a company leader. Take a look at these tips to get ready for the season!

Get Some Sunlight

Many experts attribute SAD to an imbalance of two chemicals in the brain, melatonin, and serotonin, due to less sunlight available during the colder months. So, make it a priority to spend more time outdoors and take advantage of the daylight hours. You can walk between meetings or during your lunch break or sit closer to a window to get more sun. You can also add a lightbox to your desk that mimics outdoor light. Using a lightbox can boost your mood and ease other SAD symptoms. Researchers found that 50% and 80% of people who get the winter blues can get partial or complete relief from bright light therapy if they sit near a box for 30 minutes a day or a full day through autumn and winter. It’s also important to use ultraviolet-filtered light units, as using normal light can be harmful. Researchers found that light boxes containing blue light are even more beneficial because blue light suppresses hormones and makes it easier to fall asleep. Employers can provide this for employees who work at home and in the office, which may positively affect the mental health of employees and increase productivity, especially since SAD can negatively impact mood and performance.

Exercise Daily

One way to feel happier and more confident is when you take steps to care for yourself. Once surefire way to do this is through exercise as it’s proven that exercise reduces depression risk, improves health status, and makes people happier. As you exercise, your body releases chemicals that boost your mood and suppress stress hormones. Neurotransmitters like endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine are released, which are all related to pain and depression. Offering team-building fitness classes like yoga, dance, indoor cycling, Zumba and so much more during the colder months is a great way to keep your employees active. Cater2.me curates and customize virtual experiences so your distributed staff can come together as a team no matter where they are. According to studies, regular exercise works as well as medication for some people to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and the effects can be long-lasting. Including exercise in your daily routine is a necessary step towards fighting depression and coping with the colder months. Let’s also not forget about the positive ways it impacts your physical self too!

Make Your Diet More Exciting

Mental health also includes eating right (while still enjoying a little sweetness in moderation), especially with the holidays just around the corner. With our catered meals program, your team can pick from a wide range of fall seasonal dishes, whether it’s a tasty butternut squash soup or a mashed sweet potato that melts in your mouth. As the holidays approach, it’s important to keep healthy eating habits, especially since SAD is associated with weight gain and increased appetite. The good news is, that there are a lot of healthy food options to choose from that can help with SAD symptoms. A few foods that may help boost moods are good carbs such as fruits, vegetables, and foods with high fiber such as brown rice or oatmeal, which have been shown to increase serotonin levels in the brain. Foods with omega 3 can also help manage depression and improve brain function. Some of these foods include fish, nuts, flaxseed oil, canola oil, and dark leafy greens. In addition to getting vitamin D from the sun, you can also get it from food. When you don’t get enough vitamin D, you’re more likely to get depression-related symptoms, so eat tofu, milk, tuna fish, cod liver oil, eggs, and drink orange juice. Furthermore, eating the equivalent of one average-sized dark chocolate candy bar (1.4 oz) each day for two weeks reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol and catecholamines among highly stressed people. Including all of these in your diet can improve your mood and make you healthier…plus who can turn down dark chocolate?!

Connect With Friends and Family

Spending too much time alone can lead to overthinking, loneliness, and stress, so it’s important to stay connected with friends and family, especially in the fall and winter months. The University of Chicago Psychologist John Cacioppo found loneliness increases stress hormones, blood pressure, and sleep quality. You can prevent this by having dinner with your family or lunch with your coworkers. At the same time, you can get to know one another and build stronger relationships. Stress levels can go up during the holiday season, with end of year deadlines looming at work and having plan, prepare, and run around at home. If you’d like to put your employees at ease, throwing corporate holiday parties can be great for them because it gives them something to look forward to, creates a stress-free environment, and gets everyone in the holiday spirit! Catering these holiday parties can bring your team together and make your employees feel appreciated and valued for their contributions to your company.

Create a Culture of Mental Wellness

An average of one in five adults in the U.S. suffers from mental illness each year, but only one in three will get help. As a result, people may miss work or be unproductive. However, a mental health-friendly work environment can help prevent unmotivated and unengaged workers. Create a space for employees to talk about how they feel and encourage them to reach out if they need inspiration. Assessing their work needs or just being a listening ear can also help reduce stress. If you want to take things a step further, you can offer your employees an Employee Assistance Program to talk about health, finances, and social problems. Having a safe place where your employees can talk about concerns increases employee retention and makes them feel cared for. When autumn anxiety is affecting your whole life and you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s best to get professional help to determine what solution works best.

Identifying The Signs of SAD

By knowing the signs of SAD in your employees, you can intervene earlier and be supportive, so pay attention to changes in their behaviors and performance. It’s okay if they’re having a bad day, but if it persists for longer than two weeks, you should talk to them privately. The next step would be to suggest they see a health care professional and help them find one. If they don’t want to go that route, just listen and maybe check back later. When your employees are showing signs of depression like being moody, fatigued, feeling worthless, oversleeping, having trouble concentrating, or making decisions, they might be going through SAD. Another factor contributing to SAD is anxiety, which can lead to worry, irritability, and hyperventilation. By knowing these warning signs, you can help your employees and get them the help they need.

Seasonal anxiety can really mess with your mental health, but thankfully there are plenty of ways to treat it and be able to enjoy the beauty that is the Autumn season. If employers are aware of behavioral changes and work performance in their employees, they’ll be able to guide them. As a result, you’ll have happy, engaged, and high-performing employees all year long.

Would you like to provide team-building activities or fitness sessions for your employees? Take a look at our virtual experiences or book a demo to learn more about all of our meal solutions to implement in the workplace this fall and winter!

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“Cater2.me has been able to get our employees from all different departments together, to get away from our desks, recharge, and be able to return to our work, happy and full.”

—Ellen K., Employee Experience Specialist, Frame.io