Back in the early days of the COVID pandemic, we released a series of blogs that had a community focus. While they weren’t business or tech based, we wanted to share positive news stories, our favorite takeout restaurants, and how to stay connected  because we felt it was important to use our platform to help in any way we could. 

And now a year and a half later, we’re in a somewhat new world. The world has started to try and get back to ‘normal,’ but the memories of the last few months still linger. All of this means that the usual happenings are now intensified.

Which leads us to seasonal burnout and seasonal depression: mental stresses that happen when the days get shorter. Thanks to the global pandemic, chances are it’s more intense than in previous years.

And this brings us all the way back to our first point: we want to share some information that may not be Slingshot-specific, but we feel can help. Today, we’ll be discussing why seasonal burnout happens, potential causes, the signs and symptoms to look out for, why it’s even more likely this year, and treatments. 

It’s *super* important to note that we’re not medical professionals, and we’re wanting to share some information on something millions of people (silently) experience each year. The purpose of this blog is not to self-diagnose, but to raise awareness and help where we can. 

On to the content! 

Why the seasonal shift?

Seasonal depression and burnout, more formally known as Seasonal Affective Disorder aka SAD (Yes, that’s the actual acronym), is a kind of depression that pops up at around the same time each year. Most people suffering from SAD have their symptoms begin in the fall and last through the entirety of winter. 

SAD was first mentioned in a medical paper in 1984, making it relatively new and under-studied. It’s estimated that around 25 million Americans are affected by some form of seasonal mental shift, with 11 million suffering from chronic SAD. 

Causes

So why exactly does this happen? As we mentioned above, there haven’t been many studies into the root causes of seasonal depression. Even though the specific causes of SAD are unknown, doctors have identified factors that may contribute to the issues. These are:

Your biological clock

Serotonin levels

Melatonin levels

SAD may be caused by the decreasing amount of sunshine in the autumn and winter. The lack of sunshine may cause your body’s internal clock and circadian rhythm to be disrupted, resulting in feelings of depression. SAD may be caused by a decrease in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that helps regulate your mood. Reduced sunshine can lead to a decline in serotonin levels, which can lead to depression. The changing seasons can throw off the body’s melatonin balance, which affects your sleep and mood.

Seasonal burnout is also a factor at play. While burnout can happen all year long, it’s more likely to occur during the winter months. Some causes of burnout include:

Time pressure

Too much work

Lack of contact

Unsure on tasks

No control

Employees who have enough time to complete their tasks are 70% less likely to get burned out. Burnout is more likely among people who can’t get extra time to get their stuff done. When you have a workload that isn’t manageable, it won’t take long to take a toll on your mental health. Overloaded and overwhelmed, you’ll slowly start to resent clocking in.  Support from your team and management helps fight against stress. If you have a supportive manager, you’re 70% less likely to feel burnout. But if you don’t feel encouraged by your work-community, you won’t be able to support yourself.  It’s estimated that just 60% of employees know what they’re expected to get done. When you don’t know what’s next or what you need to get done, you’re more likely to get exhausted and burned out.  It’s draining to feel that you don’t have enough autonomy, resources, or trust from your company can lead to a feeling of hopelessness; if I can’t control the things around me, how am I supposed to grow?

You’re not alone

1 in 10 adults are dealing with some form of extra mental stress in the colder months. If you’re feeling different, chances are you know someone else that is as well. But how do you know what’s SAD and what’s… well, sad? Here are a list of potential signs and symptoms of Seasonal Depression and Seasonal Burnout: 

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed and your work
  • Feeling like you have low energy (sluggish or agitated)
  • Having problems with sleeping, including trouble falling asleep and/or oversleeping
  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Having physical symptoms, including headaches, stomachaches, or intestinal issues.
  • Having difficulty concentrating or being creative
  • Feelings of hopeless, worthless or guilty
  • TW: Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
  • Declining quality in your work that’s hard to pinpoint
  • Losing confidence in your work and ability to reach goals
  • Avoiding work-related tasks and ‘necessary’ activities such as showering or laundry

But it’s different now more than ever 

While seasonal depression affects people every year, chances are it’s much more prevalent in our pandemic-laden world. No matter how hard people push, we’re certainly not ‘back to normal.’ 

There’s the Delta and Omicron variants, booster shots rolling out, and spikes across the country. Herd immunity is expected to be reached when 70% of the population (or more than 200 million people) is fully vaccinated. As of 12/08/21, only 60.3% are. 

And it’s uncertain if we’ll ever get back to a pre-COVID society. That uncertainty leads to added mental pressure, leaving you susceptible to mental illnesses. 

So chances are, even if you’ve never felt different when it gets colder outside, you may be more susceptible to seasonal depression and burnout. 

How to address it

There are things you can do if you feel you have SAD. Even if you think it may be just a funky feeling, you can try these treatments to feel better.

Light therapy or phototherapy is the most popular combatant against seasonal depression and burnout. Since light affects our circadian rhythm, it’s important to try and keep your exposure to natural or full-spectrum light the same all year round. If possible, try and get outside early in the morning to get more natural light. If that’s not possible because it’s just too damn cold, there are several 10,000-lux light boxes and lamps on the market. 

Don’t be hard on yourself; don’t just brush off your sad feelings as simply a case of the “winter blues.” You shouldn’t have to tough it out on your own. Take mental notes on how you’re feeling, and try to keep track of your mood and motivation.

Eat a well-balanced diet. Of course it feels better to only eat Christmas cookies and Thanksgiving pies. However, you want to make sure you’re balancing those sweets with the nutrients your body needs.  Eating a nutritious diet helps you have more energy.

Stay involved in what you like to do. This can be very hard, especially if your mental health wants to keep you in bed all day. It’s even harder when it’s freezing outside. However, try your best to keep doing the things you enjoy doing. Stay involved with your friends and activities. Keeping up socially can help jumpstart your mental wellbeing. 

Establish good self-care. It’s important to take care of yourself, not just for your physical but mental health. This means keeping up with exercise, limiting your consumption of ‘bad things’ (like alcohol or nicotine), and setting boundaries. And those boundaries should be through all aspects of your life: set aside alone time if needed, and give yourself breaks at work to stave off feeling overworked. 

Conclusion

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a silent but very-real issue in the winter. With less light outside and the craziness of our current world, you need to focus on keeping your mental health healthy. Check in with yourself and see if you’re facing any of the SAD symptoms. And if you are, give yourself time to look into possible treatments.   

We hope this has helped at least one person conquer their own seasonal depression and burnout. However, if you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

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