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How to Be Productive When You’d Rather Be Hibernating


Having trouble getting out of your own way at work since the days got shorter and colder? The bad news is that spring is a long way off. The good news is that at least you’re not alone. Lots of people find it harder to be productive and happy, both at work and at home, during the winter.


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“Six percent of the US population, primarily in northern climates, is affected by SAD in its most marked form,” writes Norman E. Rosenthal, MD, author of Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder, in the journal Psychiatry. “Another 14 percent of the adult US population suffers from a lesser form of seasonal mood changes, known as winter blues.”

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People with SAD, Dr. Rosenthal reports, sleep an average of 2.5 more hours a night than unaffected people. They also have a tendency to eat more, especially starchy food, and put on weight. Their energy levels might decline, and they might find it harder to concentrate at work and feel less passionate about the things they used to enjoy. All in all, SAD and the winter blues are bad news for anyone who was hoping to impress the boss at annual review time, which unfortunately often coincides with the darkest and coldest time of the year.

While anyone who is suffering symptoms of depression should consult with their doctor without delay, people who are just a little bit slower and less enthused about going to work during the winter months might find a few behavioral modifications helpful.

1. Light Therapy

No discussion of the winter blues is complete without mention of light therapy boxes, which are intended to mimic sunlight and create chemical changes in the brain that alleviate seasonal mood disorders. Users typically sit in front of their light boxes for 30 minutes a day.

The Mayo Clinic offers a complete guide to buying light boxes that’s worth a look, especially as the authors note that the FDA hasn’t approved light therapy to treat SAD or winter blues, and that not all light boxes are intended for use with those disorders.

Dr. Rosenthal estimates that 60 to 80 percent of SAD sufferers get relief from light therapy.

2. Exercise

“Exercise has proven to help people combat feeling of the blues in the winter,” writes John M. Grohol, Psy.D., ad Psych Central. “Not only does exercise improve mood, but it also has been shown to reduce stress, which often exacerbates feelings of depression brought on by the winter blues. Studies had pointed out that one hour doing aerobic exercise outside (even with a cloudy skies overhead) had the same benefits as 2.5 hours of light treatment indoors.”

So, if you can bundle up and get outdoors, you’ll be even better off than working out indoors — even if you do it near your light box.

3. Nutrition

It’s particularly unfair that the food we crave when we’re feeling blue — or even just blue with cold — are also the foods that are likely to make us feel crummy in the long run. Remember that to feel well, you have to take good care of yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for the occasional double-helping of carbs, but make sure you’re getting plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein, as well. And if you’re still feeling low, despite a healthy diet, ask your doctor to check your vitamin D. Low levels of this vitamin can mimic depression.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you have trouble motivating at work during the colder months? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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Every year I struggle with Winter Blues. I found that using a SunBox light for 20-30 minutes first thing in the morning has helped me get through the fall and winter. Exercise, like walking has also kept me from sinking into a depression. Thank you Dr. Rosenthal for writing the book Winter Blues, it has a lot of helpful information that has helped me and others.

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