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Lack of light affects work performance

Lack of light affects work performance

By Susan Chance, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner

The days of winter are passing, but in a month with so much cold, snow, and grey days, it can feel like we are stuck in Groundhog Day, just like the character Phil from the movie. Phil’s prediction for the weather, “It's gonna be cold, it's gonna be grey, and it's gonna last you for the rest of your life” has February written all over it. Some workers may be feeling the effects of these cold, gray days in this final stretch of winter.
With winter comes less daylight, which affects people in many ways.  In fact, a lack of light in the workplace can affect performance. 

A new study from Michigan State University revealed that spending too much time in dimly lit rooms and offices may actually change the brain’s structure and hurt our ability to remember and learn, researchers say.  The lack of light can literally affect our ability to learn.  “When we exposed the rats to dim light, mimicking the cloudy days of Midwestern winters or typical indoor lighting, the animals showed impairments in spatial learning,” said Antonio Nunez, psychology professor and co-investigator on the study.

While some feel the affects of reduced light more than others, for some it’s a serious issue and could affect their work performance.  Some people experience Season Affective Disorder, which is a form of depression that can lead to weight gain, social withdrawal, moodiness, and fatigue.  While it’s recommended that anyone who suspects they have this disorder seek professional assistance, below are some methods that can be used to combat the winter blues:

  • Get more light and exercise in your day. A preliminary study on the relation of light to seasonal affective disorder (SAD) symptoms found that women who exercised under bright light showed fewer symptoms of seasonal depression than those who exercised with a small amount of light. Exercise, even as little as 35 minutes a day, can help to improve the symptoms of mild to moderate depression. Add some bright light to that workout for better results. Light therapy, which is being exposed to light from a special box or lamp, which produces effects similar to natural light, can also help.

  • Go outside.  Getting outside, even in the cold, will help, so bundle up and go for a walk especially when the sun is out. Natural sunlight provides us with much needed vitamin D, and while we can get some of it from food, 80-90% of vitamin D comes to us from natural sunlight.

  • Make healthy food choices. Comfort foods filled with carbs and/or sugar can be a go to when feeling down, but the good feelings are short lived. The carb coma and potential weight gain will only exacerbate negative feelings. Opt for meals with more protein and less or no carbs for a positive effect. The good news is that chocolate, in moderation of course, can actually enhance mood.

  • Volunteer. When we give our time to help others, we reap the benefits. Volunteering helps us to connect socially, which alleviates loneliness and depression. It also improves mood and self-esteem, while reducing stress levels. Finding a way to volunteer for an organization that we deem to be a good cause, be it helping to feed the hungry, taking care of animals in a shelter, or building houses for those who are homeless, we enhance our sense of purpose in life while taking our minds off of ourselves.
It can be a challenge to get moving when our couches and warm fuzzy blankets call to us, but get up, get out, and get some light whenever you can to make surviving the rest of winter easier and improve your work performance.
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