Dark Days Having An Impact?

Everywhere on our planet, albeit at different times of the year depending on where you live, the elongated orbit we take around the sun brings us increased darkness as the sun takes a little longer to rise and sets earlier at the end of the day. Where I am in Canada, here I sit at 5:50 a.m. and outside is completely dark.

Now were this a couple of month’s ago, there’d be light outside. Our summer is waning and Autumn is moving in. While it’s many people’s favourite time of year, for others, this prevailing darkness which shortens our hours of daylight is of great concern. The darkness outside touches a darkness within; moods change, some cocoon themselves away, contact with others is restricted, it’s harder to get going in the morning and there can be a prevailing sense of anxiety, worry, stress and depression.

Some of us adapt to this change in light better than others. If your job is to record the attendance figures for your organization, you may note patterns of absenteeism, increased use of mental health days, and even when people are at work, there can be a drop in productivity for some individuals. This isn’t just a case of lazy workers, but may be attributed to this period of reduced natural light.

For many people, there will soon be days of commuting to work in the darkness and again commuting home in the dark. Not everyone has the benefit of sitting with a window out into the world around them, and so it’s possible that without making a conscious effort to get out for a walk at midday, one could travel to work in the dark, never see the light of day and then return home in the dark. Now if this goes on from Monday to Friday, that’s a huge block of time being deprived of daylight.

There’s a name for this condition which negatively impacts some people; seasonal affective disorder. (Isn’t there a name these days for everything?) It’s important to remember that such a condition is not someone voluntarily choosing to be so affected. This isn’t a conscious choice to be moody; it’s not something one can, ‘snap out of’. It’s a state of mental health.

Just like many other mental health conditions, it’s invisible to the eye though. I mean there’s no walking cast or arm in a sling that gives us a visual clue to someone’s condition. Those affected may actually do their best to compensate for their mood by forcing smiles, laughing along at things they don’t really find funny; in other words, doing their best to appear to be their normal self. They aren’t sick in the sense of having a virus nor is there a need to be walking around with a box of tissues at hand.

Now you and I who aren’t affected to the extent these people are might still find ourselves missing the sun. We all have an awareness of the lack of light in the morning and evening – all of us. However, those impacted to the point where it affects their mental health experience this lack of light differently. They may not know what the problem is defined as, they may just feel they aren’t themselves. Without knowing it’s the deprivation of natural sunlight, they may just brood more than normal wondering, “what’s wrong with me?”

Now take this condition and add to it unemployment. For many unemployed people, waking up and consciously realizing there’s no job to go to is in itself a depressing state. Looking for work as you know takes focus, energy, commitment, a strength to face the disappointments of outright rejection, being passed over for someone else or getting no feedback at all on jobs applied to. When you add in the negative impact of what we know to be Seasonal Affective Disorder, well, you’ve got someone who should be ramping up their job search but who is weighed down and not at their best. Worst of all, on the outside, they appear to be normal.

So, what can be done? Well, like many first steps, getting in touch with your physician is a good idea. A check up might be in order. Yes, and be honest when you see him or her. Even if you’ve got a 1 p.m. appointment on a sunny day and your mood has improved, it’s incumbent on you to share openly and honestly about how you experience your days. Many tend to downplay their mental health; wanting to appear ‘normal’, to come across as in good shape and in control; able to handle themselves. But if you conceal what you experience, you won’t get the help you need. Like the toothache that somehow disappears the day of the dental appointment, you’ll regret not being open and honest with your doctor who can’t treat what they don’t know.

Secondly, get out in the daylight. Go for a walk and clear your head. Make a point of looking out a window during the day if possible. Consider some vitamin tablets to compensate with what you miss from the sun.

Most of all, do your best to engage when your instincts tell you to withdraw and isolate yourself. Your thoughts will go to darker places if you’re alone. And finally, open up and share how you’re doing; this is a strength my friend.

We’re all in this together.

How Your Seating Sets Up Says A Lot

Have a peek at the office furniture where you work and pause to think about how you feel if you’re not the primary occupant of that space, but rather a visitor. Does the layout have you seated across whoever works in that space, separated by a desk? If so, do you think that’s because it’s the only layout that will work in that space or has it been set up like that on purpose and if so, why?

Typically, people who want to convey a sense of power and control often sit behind a desk, with visitors sitting directly across from them with a desk between. On their side they’ve got the computer monitors, keyboard, access to drawers, filing cabinets and if anything is needed during a meeting, it’s totally accessible from their side. On the side of the visitor, there’s the chair to be occupied and that’s it. Comfortable?

Now, there are alternatives. If the space is large enough, some people will have space for a second desk; this one might be off to the side and have a couple of chairs at it and the user of the office will routinely move to sit in one of these seats with open space between themselves and another. The message here is that both people have something to write on, put a drink down on, etc., but the open space sends the message, we are equals. This you can see, may be precisely why some would like it and others would refuse the very idea. Yes, for some, it is about communicating authority, power, control – any way and every way they can.

When space doesn’t permit a second desk or seating area, intelligent people can still move themselves into positions which communicate openness. You might find that upon entering an office for a meeting, the owner of that space will physically move their chair into a place off to the side of their desk, so they are removed from sitting directly across from you with the desk between. Sitting to the side changes the dynamic of the meeting, without ever having to say a word. It’s like the person is sending the message, “I have power and control, but I don’t need to use it here, so let’s get comfortable.”

This is an example of non-verbal communication and doesn’t happen by accident. Office arrangements are either dictated by the organization and standard designs to consistently send the same message to all employees and customers/clients, or where office furniture and layouts vary, it’s a clearer sign of the preference of the occupant.

Ever notice how some meetings are held in different spaces, even when the meeting may be just between two people? Every heard the phrases, “Come to my office”, or, “Can I see you in my office? There’s something I want to talk with you about.” The choice of seeing you in their space and advising you of that preference can – all by itself – get you anxious.

Sometimes of course that’s the point. There are some who love to wield with that sense of being the big boss, the enforcer. Sometimes people aspire to get their own office because it is for them a recognition of passage. They’ve gone from the office cubicle to their own space with a door. It’s their office, their desk, they’ve got walls to put up their certificates and achievements for all to see and perhaps shelves to personalize. They’ve arrived!

Now of course not all people are enforcers or love to wield the power and control just because they have a desk separating them from visitors. How the person sits and the posture they assume says a lot, as does the tone of their voice, the smile or lack of it. All these and more go into making a trip to that office a welcoming, comforting experience or one to be cautious of.

Oh and what about that door? Is it routinely left open or deliberately closed by the office occupant after you’ve entered? Maybe it’s only closed for certain types of conversations and left open for others? Having a door closed could be for your own privacy and benefit by a caring and thoughtful Supervisor. On the other hand, it could be yet another form of intimidation believe it or not; you’re physically cut-off from everyone else; it’s just you and them, one-on-one. That door doesn’t open again until the person who called you in chooses to open it and release you.

Now as an employee, we don’t often get to choose our furniture; its standard issue. Our seating arrangements are fixed, right down to the chair we sit on, the chair we offer visitors, the workspace we use and the table or desk we sit at.

You might not like the set up you’ve been assigned and the message it conveys to your own visitors. There might be something you could change for the asking but it’s probable there are financial considerations and limitations which will prevent change. If so, how you use the space you have and the atmosphere or mood you choose to create will need some thought and effort on your part.

Could be that you meet the public in specific areas beyond your personal desk. You and the others who may share that space may want to think about the tone that space sets.

Pay Attention To Home/Work Conditions

Calculate the number of hours in any given day when you’re at work. That number might be anywhere from 4 – 12 perhaps depending on whether you work full or part-time. To that number, add the number of hours you spend in your home, both before and after work. So what number did you arrive at?

These are the two places you are most likely putting in the bulk of your day. It only makes sense then that to the degree you are able, you create an atmosphere around you that you will find pleasing. Whatever your tastes, if you can be in settings which are to your liking, there is a greater chance the environment around you will have a positive influence on you.

If you work in a place where everyone has their own desk, you might find some folks have pictures of their family under their blotter, or maybe a small plant on their desk, a favourite mug or perhaps some meaningful quote by the phone. If that desk is in a cubicle or office, that personalization extends to the walls, the floor space and maybe the exterior of an overhead storage area. Wall hangings, coat racks, lighting, personalized calendars, floor plants, furniture – examples of what could be personalized.

In a factory setting where almost all the space is shared and there are restrictions for safety reasons on what could be personally modified, you’ll still see individuals personalizing their locker space, their personal protective equipment like their hard hats and maybe even the tools they use.

If you spend your days out in the car and on the road, you might have personal things hanging from the rear view mirror, your favourite music and pre-set radio stations etc. Even the colour of the car in your driveway might be your choice instead of just whatever the dealer gave you.

At home, whether it is in an apartment, townhouse, duplex, condo or free-standing, you’ll have it decorated to your liking to the extent you are able.

So what’s the point? The point is that you should pay attention to your surroundings and ensure that your living space wherever you find yourself spending the bulk of your time, is conducive to either working productively or relaxing comfortably.

Look, it’s been known for a long time now that colours for example can have a profound influence on our moods. Take someone who is agitated into a bright fire-engine red room or a pale green room and have them wait for 3-4 minutes until someone comes to see them. You might find more often than not that the person in the bright red room remains energized and agitated, while the individual in the pale green room has calmed down a little all on their own. Colours influence our moods.

I’ve noticed the working areas of some staff where I work with great interest. Some are minimalistic; their desks are clear of anything personal, all their papers put away and few items in the room are theirs personally. If they retired today, they’d have a single box to carry out as they left and be packed up in 5 minutes.

On the other hand, there are some workers who would have to make their exit with 6 trips out to their car and their desks routinely look like organized chaos. In both cases, the person is able to be productive but if the two shared a space, they might have to work out some kind of boundary issues.

Are there certain people in your working environment who you would really struggle with if you shared the same workspace in some kind of office realignment? While everyone might be pleasant to talk to in shared work areas, when they return to their own space, one persons clutter might adversely affect another persons ability to concentrate on being productive.

Home of course means different things to different people. You might look at home as your oasis; your bastion of relaxation and calm. Or your private domain at home might be the room in the basement or garage where you rock out on your guitar, bang away on your drums or it’s out to the workshop in the yard where the smell of wood stimulates your senses and you exercise your woodworking skills.

We are influenced by our surroundings. Ever had the itch to move the furniture around? Even in a small space, you might say, “What if I moved my desk against that wall or no, turned it to face the door?” You might do it to be more productive or safe in the case of visitors to your office, but you might do it too just to stimulate something inside you and gain a new perspective.

Supposing you worked in a setting where there was no new money in the budget for renovations or decorations. Would your employer go for you coming in on the weekend to paint your own office as long as they approved of your colour scheme? Would they agree if you became more productive? What would happen to office morale if you had a lounge with a television, a pool table, a solarium for readers, a small garden area for staff to retreat to?

Make your living space work for you and those around you. Be it at work or home, it has an influence on your mood and your productivity.





How Colourful Are You?

This morning dawned beautifully around me today. I was showered and dressed early enough to have 15 minutes outdoors and took the opportunity to give the vegetable garden and the flowers a drink. All around me there were shades of green from bright vivid new growth to darker variations of perennials with mature boughs. There was a blue sky emerging from hues of pinks and reds mixed with tinges of yellows.

As I looked around it was silent other than for the sound of the droplets of water that was falling on the earth and the leaves of plants and petals of flowers. I took in the dark earth where I had saturated the ground and noticed how in areas I’d yet to water things were beige in comparison. The grass a uniform green with no signs of the brown which will eventually come when the hot dry days of summer become more frequent.

Around me there was the black fireplace, the chocolate-brown gazebo, the bright pink geraniums in the flower boxes, the glistening green leaves of the orange and pear trees. Violet Iris petals are in the stage of emerging from their variegated leaves of greens and whites.

And I soaked it all up.

The effect of this 15 minute time span I afforded myself was that I started the day much more at ease, and I counted myself fortunate to enjoy the efforts of a lot of hours of labour. I was alone, there was no one to share it with at 6:15 a.m. in the morning, and it was mine alone. I was not okay with this, I relished it.

And moments later as I got in the car to start my 1 hour commute to work, I was still content and rolling along with a good feeling inside. Sitting here in my office as I write this (for its odd that I’m doing it here at all as it normally gets done at home between 5:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m.) that feeling is lingering on still, but I feel it diminishing. There’s other people drifting in and saying, “Good morning” as they pass.

Maybe I’m just more aware of the colours today because of the time outside this morning. It strikes me that being Friday, a number of my co-workers will say things like, “Happy Friday!” (just heard one as I wrote this ironically), and very few will be ‘blue’ today.

Ever notice when you’re healthy you might say you’re feeling in the pink? Have a bad day you want to forget and it’s a white wash? Ever been in a dark mood? And if you’re in that dark mood but someone else is joyful you get ‘green’ with envy?

Colour and colourful phrases are all around us. I’ve even heard someone refer to another person who is a little down but still functioning as experiencing a ‘blown-out’. That’s quite the opposite as going around as if you are walking on sunshine. And I must confess every now and then when wishing someone a good day at the end of an email, I’ll wish them a rainbowlicious day. Not really a word of course; kind of a Kelly invention I suppose. But the intent there is to have the best of it all, the whole colour spectrum at once.

And speaking of rainbows, there’s those in our society that have adopted that icon as their own and it’s associated with people who are gay, lesbian, transgendered, queer etc. It’s just inclusive of all things and I suppose that’s the reason it’s been adopted by that population.

As for the world of job searching and career exploration, one of the best books I read many years ago that I found very helpful was a book called, “What colour is your parachute?” Never heard of it? You should look for it and give it a read. It comes very highly recommended by myself and others, as a good tool for trying to plot out some career direction, get to know yourself and what would be a good fit.

Let’s not forget too that there’s an entire program called, “Personality Dimensions”. This program gets participants to find out what ‘colour’ they are; green, gold, orange or blue based on completing several self-assessments. Without going into great detail, it even summarizes the entire process with the conclusion that we’re all plaid – no kilts required by the way.

Just now as I’m writing this, I wonder to myself about those who are colour blind, and I can’t really imagine what the world must look light in various shades of light and dark but with no colour. While I wonder at this literal blindness, I’m thinking to about those who are ‘blind’ to the idea of respecting other people’s ‘colours’, or don’t quite get how to interact with those who on the surface seem to interpret things so differently from how we see the world. That’s a huge piece of Personality Dimensions. While I’m not plugging that program, it could be very useful to your team.

So whether you’re blue, in the pink, see the world with rose-coloured glasses, your finances are in the red, hair is greying, or hue are a kaleidoscope of colour, enjoy your day. Look around you and appreciate what you see, consider adding some colour to your day be it through flowers, clothes, paintings, or conversation. May you get your day off to a good start too!