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The third Monday in January is officially the most depressing day of the year, otherwise known as ‘blue Monday’. British psychologist Dr Cliff Arnall explained why with the formula: [W+(D-d)]xTQ/MxNA, which translates to the perfect storm of cold weather, post-Christmas debt, enough time since the festive season for the warm fuzzy feelings – and your enthusiasm for New Year’s resolutions – to have waned, and low levels of motivation. It’s a recipe for low productivity, sick days and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – a type of depression that the NHS estimates affects 1 in 15 people and only differs from major depressive disorder (MDD) in its timing. It might seem like a stretch to imagine that your office design could overcome this, but there are in fact three simple things you can do to help make 21 January – and in fact every Monday – a little happier.*
Natural daylight encourages a reduction in melatonin (the hormone that helps you sleep) and increases serotonin (a mood improver). Both are known to play a part in SAD and ‘the winter blues’ – its milder counterpart, which affects between a quarter and a half of all UK adults. Daylight has also been shown to reduce fatigue and eye strain, so lighting is crucial. Adding windows and skylights is the most effective approach, but you can also refresh your office design. Simply review your layout to maximise natural light, arranging desks closer to existing windows, removing unnecessary blinds and curtains or even just give the windows a good clean – it’s amazing how much light dirt blocks out. ‘A dark and gloomy space won’t help,’ says interior designer Emma Morley of Trifle, who Peldon Rose collaborated with on the office design and fit out of London’s Moo.com. ‘Individual desk lamps mean that each person can choose to brighten up their own space.’ The colour ‘temperature’ of natural light changes throughout the day, starting off cool or blue-tinged, suppressing melatonin and promoting wakefulness and getting warmer or more yellow-tinged throughout the day to encourage sleep as night draws in. Advanced full spectrum lighting systems can mimic these changes helping workers feel at their best all day even in the winter. And for those suffering from SAD, light therapy boxes can provide an extra boost – find one that emits at least 2,500 lux*.
The NHS says that ‘regular exercise is especially useful for people with mild to moderate depression,’ so encouraging your teams to move is vital in combatting the winter blues. Office design can incorporate subtle ‘nudge’ behaviour – signage that points out the stairs, showers and cycle storage, standing desks for meetings, and exercise balls instead of office chairs all encourage ‘micro-movements’ that add up throughout the day. But the most important thing is for people to leave the building. ‘Try to get outside during daylight hours whenever possible,’ says Morley. ‘Wrap up warm and try a walking meeting – or just go off-site for lunch.’
There’s a reason it’s called Blue Monday. Although there has been little clinical research into how colour affects mood and it is believed that much of our response to colour is culturally driven rather than biological, anecdotal evidence supports what artists and interior designers have long believed and some studies have shown the colour can affect performance. While blue and green are often used in office design because of their association with stability and focus, warm colours such as red, yellow and orange are linked with optimism, creativity and excitement – just what is needed to overcome those blues. You don’t even need to get the paintbrush out – just introduce warm colours in artwork. But the most important colour is green. ‘A connection to nature is a long-proven reducer of stress, plus plants help freshen the air by producing oxygen,’ says Morley. ‘Anthuriums, Kimberly ferns, Chinese Evergreens, Golden Pothos and Mother-in-law's tongue or ‘snake plant’ are particularly good mood boosters.’ Install a living wall, or simply gift every employee a pot plant on 21 January.
*The advice in this article may offer benefits for those with mild symptoms, but if you think you might be suffering from depression, seasonal or otherwise, please consult your GP and seek professional support.