The winter doldrums, the blahs, the winter blues - they're all terms to describe what many experience at this time of year as cold temperatures and fewer hours of daylight start to wear on many people.
While activities like exercise can help combat these temporary blues, that can be difficult if someone's job involves sitting behind a desk nine hours a day or working in a confined space with gray skies as the only view outside the nearest window.
Barbara Santay, an employee assistance program therapist at Franciscan Hammond Clinic in Munster, said there are several things employees can do in the work place to help lift their mood—from exercising during short breaks to sprucing up the work space.
Avoid the vending machine
Stay away from those carb-loaded cravings in the vending machine, Santay said. That short-term gratification will quickly turn to regret and a sugar crash.
"Bring in fresh fruit or eat a handful of nuts instead," she said.
Exercise at work
Use every opportunity at work to exercise.
"Exercise raises serotonin levels, so take the stairs instead of the elevator," Santay said.
Find a place to walk indoors before or after work as well, such as community centers, an indoor mall or a local gym.
"Some workplace sites are even large enough to accommodate taking a brisk walk within the building," Santay said. "Utilize break times and recruit another person to do this with you for purposes of accountability and momentum."
If you're allowed two 15-minute breaks, use those breaks to walk around your workplace and get the recommended 30 minutes of exercise per day, said Diane Meader Schenk, exercise physiologist coordinator in the cardiopulmonary rehabilitation department at Advocate South Suburban Hospital.
"Getting away from that desk and from that department at least twice a day is a strong recommendation for winter doldrums," she said.
Take advantage of programs
Tami Janda, wellness coordinator with Centier Bank, said taking advantage of on-site classes and programs also might help.
"In January, we hold free trial classes to encourage associates to try them," she said.
Centier also offers associates and their spouses an opportunity to participate in a pedometer program, as well as massage therapy and reflexology on-site to help work out the winter blues, Janda said.
"We hold various challenges to help keep things going, especially during these cold months," she said.
Meader Schenk said a program called the Worksite Wellness Walking Program at Advocate South Suburban Hospital encourages sedentary employees to take a walk to improve their health.
Guided by information provided by the American Heart Association, Advocate South Suburban Hospital created a similar program - aiming to help those whose jobs are mostly sedentary or without much movement despite standing.
Another program promoted within the hospital is "Take the Stairs! Burn Calories, Not Electricity!"
"In many of our stairwells, you'll see pictures of our vice presidents taking the stairs," Meader Schenk said. "It started when we had a lot of construction going on that necessitated closing some stairwells, and it just stayed in vogue."
Create a space
Bring a vase of flowers to put on your desk, or keep a calendar nearby that includes dates you're looking forward to down the road.
"Remembering the trip you planned or a special three-day weekend that you have scheduled will put a smile on your face even on the dreariest winter day," Santay said.
Know the signs
While it's common to experience the winter blues, Santay said it's important to know when those blues might be more serious in nature.
"When someone experiences a down mood for days at a time and are unable to shake it, it's probably time to see the doctor," she said.
No longer finding pleasure in activities once enjoyed is another marker that someone might be experiencing a form of depression.
"If sleep patterns and appetite changes are also evident, and if there are feelings of hopelessness, thoughts of suicide or turning to alcohol for comfort, seek help," Santay said.