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Seasonal Depression and the Generations

Spring is so close, but a long winter can most definitely take its toll. I was recently part of an executive study around seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and how it impacts the generations at work differently – and it does! The discussion was even more powerful when we were able to discern what leaders can do today.

Here are the highlights and top 4 tips…

While anyone can experience seasonal depression, research suggests that there may be some generational differences in its prevalence and how it is experienced.

Baby Boomers: Baby boomers, who were born between 1946 and 1964, may be less likely to experience seasonal depression than younger generations. This may be because they grew up in an era when spending time outside and being active was more common, and they may have developed stronger coping mechanisms for dealing with seasonal changes.

Generation X: Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980, may be more likely to experience seasonal depression than baby boomers. This may be due in part to the fact that they grew up during a time of greater societal stress and instability and may have fewer social supports to help them cope with the effects of seasonal depression. Gen Xers have always been more of a “loner” generation. However, they too remember a time when spending time outside and being active was more common and thus do benefit from this.

Where there is a big shift was when it comes to Millennials and Gen Z.

Millennials: Millennials, born between 1981 and 1994, are often described as being more vulnerable to mental health issues than previous generations, and seasonal depression is no exception. Research suggests that Millennials may be more likely to experience seasonal depression than Baby Boomers or Generation X, possibly due to a combination of factors including having experienced increased levels of stress during critical life stages at home and at the office. The biggest factor was that of all the generations, Millennials are the most collaborative and working at home and/or being in more desolate offices due to weather keeping people at home increases levels of social isolation resulting in more seasonal depression.

Generation Z: Generation Z, born 1995-2012, is the youngest generation and is still being studied in terms of its experience with seasonal depression. However, early research suggests that members of this generation may be more likely to experience depression and anxiety than previous generations, which could make them more vulnerable to seasonal depression as well. The biggest factor is that they are in the midst of trying to launch and grow careers and find themselves struggling to build social capital with the other generations opting to stay home where it is cozier during the winter months.

Here are some of the tips that were discussed to help manage seasonal depression on the job:

  1. Get employees outside: Even on cloudy days, being outside for a little while can help boost your mood. Try to get some sunlight every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
  2. Exercise: Exercise is a natural mood booster and can help reduce symptoms of depression. This is not a new trend, but helping employees focus on it during the long winter months can be a great strategy. From a short walk around the office or campus to an inhouse yoga session – it all helps get the blood flowing.
  3. Socialize: It’s important to maintain social connections, even if it’s just through virtual means. Reach out to coworkers or even consider starting a support group. Many think that they are the only one suffering or that experiencing SAD is unique. A support group can definitely let coworkers know they are not alone.
  4. Consider light therapy: Light therapy involves sitting in front of a light box that emits bright light to mimic natural outdoor light. This can be helpful in reducing symptoms of seasonal depression. The workplace has encouraged everything from a meditation to lactation room. Why not a room that can shed some light on SAD – literally.

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