Winter can make you sad. That is SAD, as in Seasonal Affective Disorder and it is a real thing. You know that feeling when you leave home in the dark and return after dark?

SAD is caused by a lack of sunlight which could stop the part of the brain called the hypothalamus from working properly. This can increase the production of melatonin, a hormone that makes you feel sleepy, and decrease serotonin, which affects your mood, appetite and sleep.

Sunlight also regulates your body’s internal clock (the circadian rhythm), like when you wake up. Winter can disrupt this clock and lead to SAD. Although countries with higher latitudes are affected more by winter, we are as well and we should take steps to mitigate the effects.

How to counter the effects of SAD

Try and get as much sunlight as possible, even a short lunchtime walk or sitting in a sunny corner will help. Cape Town’s wet winters and the dry, icy cold of the Highveld tend to try and stop you, but ten minutes of real sunshine can work wonders.

Make sure your work and home areas light and airy as possible. We tend to close the curtains or blinds in miserable weather, but the light is your friend.

Get some regular exercise. Going to the gym is great, but if time or costs are issues, at least go for a brisk 20 – 30-minute walk every day. Walk fast and swing your arms – you will notice the improvement almost immediately.

At the very least, try and eat a healthy, balanced diet. When it is chilly outside, we tend to go for greasy fast food, but that will only exacerbate the symptoms of SAD. Rather opt for a good soup or hearty pasta.

Explain SAD to your staff and encourage them to take steps to counter it. It will make your business a better and more efficient place.

Other ways to counter winter

You have to look after yourself, your staff and your customers. Keep your business warm to the point of cosiness, not stuffy. It is unhealthy to work in an overly warm environment and your customers, bundled up against the cold, will immediately feel uncomfortable.

Let the lights shine. A cheerfully lit business will be an attractive destination on a grey and grumpy day, so use enough warm white light to spill from the windows and doors and invite them in.

Cape Town winters are often wet, so have a rack to hang raincoats and stand umbrellas. Keep a couple of office umbrellas and get a staff member to walk a client back to the car.

Keep an urn and offer hot chocolate, coffee or tea. Very little cost will go a long way to foster goodwill on a cold day.

Keep yourself and your staff in shape and make your business an attractive place to be, and you can turn winter from a misery into an opportunity.

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