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How to Beat the Winter Blues: Understanding and Overcoming Seasonal Stress at Work

Updated: Jan 12

How to Beat the Winter Blues

As the winter season descends, it brings more than just a drop in temperature and snow-covered landscapes. For many, it heralds a period of increased stress and vulnerability to burnout. From the moment the clock strikes 12 on the new year, accountants everywhere are stressing about the kick-off of their busy season. It can feel like a lot all at once, but its likely in late January or February where the stress compounds.

The cold, dark days of winter can have a profound impact on our mental health, often leading to a unique form of stress known as winter burnout. This phenomenon, while common, is frequently overlooked in discussions about workplace well-being and mental health.

Adding insult to injury, many billable-hour professionals start their busy season or continue their busy schedules going into work when it's dark and leaving when it's dark. After the joy of the holiday season is past us, this time of year can feel particularly challenging.

Understanding how to beat the winter blues is crucial for maintaining mental health during these colder months, and part of this understanding involves recognizing the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder and considering a seasonal affective disorder test if symptoms are persistent.

The Hidden Weight of Winter

Winter, with its shorter days and longer nights, often casts a shadow over our mental well-being. This season, characterized by cold weather and limited sunlight, can significantly amplify stress levels, leading to what is commonly known as winter burnout.

Unlike the burnout we experience in other seasons, winter burnout intertwines with the unique environmental and psychological changes that occur during these colder months. Learning how to beat the winter blues is essential in navigating these challenges, and part of this learning includes implementing burnout prevention strategies to maintain mental wellness.

How to Beat the Winter Blues

Unraveling Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

At the heart of winter burnout lies Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that emerges in seasonal patterns, predominantly in winter. The lack of sunlight disrupts our circadian rhythms, leading to decreased serotonin levels, a key neurotransmitter associated with mood regulation. Symptoms of SAD mirror those of general depression - lethargy, loss of interest in everyday activities, and a general sense of melancholy, all of which contribute to the feeling of being burnt out. Addressing SAD is a key step in learning how to beat the winter blues. For those concerned they might be experiencing SAD, taking a seasonal affective disorder test can be a helpful first step in identifying the condition and seeking appropriate treatment. A comprehensive resource for this is available at D'Amore Mental Health, offering insights and a detailed test for SAD.

Workplace Strategies for Winter Wellness

The workplace can be a significant contributor to winter burnout. Employers can mitigate this by ensuring adequate workplace lighting, promoting a supportive work environment, and offering flexible work hours. Simple measures like organizing indoor physical activities or providing resources for mental health support can make a substantial difference in helping employees learn how to beat the winter blues. Implementing burnout prevention strategies in the workplace, such as regular breaks, wellness programs, and mental health days, can also be highly effective.

Create a Cozy Space

On a personal level, acknowledging the impact of winter on mental health is crucial. Creating a warm and inviting living space, engaging in hobbies, and staying socially connected can help combat the isolation and monotony that often come with winter. In the winter, I'm all about hygge, which loosely translates to the "art of coziness". Having a place to relax and go inward is especially nourishing this time of year.

Other practices like mindfulness and meditation can also be effective in managing stress and preventing burnout, key strategies in beating the winter blues and essential components of personal burnout prevention strategies.

Get Adequate Sleep in Wintertime

How to Beat the Winter Blues

Sleep is particularly important during winter. The longer nights can disrupt our sleep patterns, leading to insomnia or excessive sleepiness, both of which can contribute to burnout. Establishing a regular sleep routine, reducing screen time before bed, and creating a comfortable sleep environment are essential steps in ensuring quality rest during winter and beating the winter blues.

If you find yourself constantly asking, "Why am I tired at work?" despite getting enough sleep, it could be a sign of underlying burnout. Acheloa Wellness addresses this common issue in their article, "Burnout Might Be Causing You to Ask: Why Am I Tired at Work?", offering insights into how burnout affects energy levels and productivity.

If you're reading this thinking, "Lauren, now's not the season for sleep", I invite you to reconsider. Every hour you're not sleeping is an hour of lost productivity. Focus on when you're sleeping if you're unable to focus on how much you're sleeping. However, if you're tight on sleep, here are a few recommendations:

  • Consider earlier bed times and earlier rise times - Every hour slept before 12pm has double efficacy. Meaning, if you sleep 10pm-6am, I bet you're feel more nourished than 1pm-9am. Even with the same amount of sleep, there are functions the body only performs in the earlier hours of the night that you miss out on by being a "late owl". Also, we're prone to wake up groggier every hour after 6am.

  • Keep to consistent sleep times - If you only sleep 5 hours/night, then see if you can keep it to the same 5 hours each night. Your body benefits from a rhythm, even if the quantity is reduced.

  • Make up for sleep on the weekends if necessary - There are many opinions about this, but the research I've found says that you can make up for short-term sleep deprivation on the weekends; however, it doesn't make up from years of sleep depletion. The point here is to make the most of the sleep in the moment rather then always being in a sleep deficit.

How to Beat the Winter Blues

Finding Moments of Joy

Despite its challenges, winter can also be a time of beauty and reflection. Embracing the season by enjoying winter activities, appreciating the unique aspects of the colder months, and finding joy in the small things can transform our perspective on winter and help alleviate stress, an important aspect of how to beat the winter blues.

If we're spending more time in the office, find ways to incorporate 15 minutes of joy. Activities like: decorating your space with a plant or basketball hoop, grabbing lunch with a co-worker or taking a walking break can balance the rest of the day.

Eat foods that ground you

According to Ayurveda, wintertime is congruent to "vata" dosha, which means we want to consume vata-balancing foods. Hone in on foods that are warm, wet, spiced and oily. Think about it: on a day like today, are you seeking soup or salad? Probably a soup, and that's perfect.

how to beat winter blues - winter foods

Diet plays a pivotal role in combating winter stress. Foods rich in Vitamin D, B-12, and Omega-3 fatty acids can counteract the effects of reduced sunlight exposure. For instance, incorporating fish, eggs, and fortified dairy products into your diet can help alleviate symptoms of SAD. Additionally, maintaining a balanced diet with reduced sugar intake can stabilize mood swings and boost overall energy levels, which is crucial in understanding how to beat the winter blues and in implementing effective burnout prevention strategies.

It's easy to skip meals when you're busy, but make time for lunch and dinner. Before your busy season goes into a full-swing, find a few restaurants that provide healthier options and have the options on the ready. That way you'll be less likely to order fast food and more likely to have a nourishing option.

Move Your Body

The cold and often harsh winter weather can lead to decreased physical activity, further exacerbating feelings of burnout. Regular exercise, however, is a potent antidote to stress. It not only boosts endorphin levels, which improve mood and energy, but also helps in maintaining a regular sleep cycle, crucial for combating the effects of SAD and beating the winter blues. Here are 27 destressing winter activities you can take advantage of.

Incorporating physical activity into daily routines is one of the effective burnout prevention strategies during winter. For many of us behind our desks, don't overthink it. Focus on 15-minute workouts, such as walks around the office or on a treadmill, YouTube barre exercise videos or grab a set of weights or a resistance band. 15 minutes might not feel like a lot of time, but done cumulatively, it builds up your resistance when things get tough at work.

For those already experiencing burnout, especially in the workplace, Acheloa Wellness provides a comprehensive guide on navigating these challenges. Their article, "I'm Burned Out at Work: Guide to Navigating Burnout and Stress", offers practical advice and strategies to manage and overcome burnout.

Seek Professional Help When Needed

how to beat winter blues - winter family

It's important to recognize when professional help is needed. If winter burnout or SAD symptoms become overwhelming, consulting a mental health professional can provide the necessary support and treatment, which may include light therapy, counseling, or medication, all part of the journey to beat the winter blues.

I'm personally guilty of waiting too long before I finally got the support I needed. I struggled in silence and spent years trying to figure it out on my own. It lost me a lot of time, a lot of joy and a lot of peace. The burnout coaching work I do with my clients helps reclaim the joy and peace that you so rightly deserve.

Beating the Winter Blues

Winter burnout, while challenging, is not insurmountable. By understanding its causes, such as SAD, and implementing strategies to address them, we can navigate the winter months with resilience and positivity. Whether through dietary changes, exercise, workplace adjustments, or personal coping mechanisms, there are numerous ways to combat the stress of the season and emerge stronger and more prepared for the warmer months ahead. Learning how to beat the winter blues is key to enjoying this introspective season to its fullest.

Burnout is a common challenge for the hardest-working women, particularly when grappling with the added pressures of winter stress and blues. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by balancing professional responsibilities with the seasonal demands, know that you are not alone. I have supported many talented Partners, VPs, Managers, and Experienced Associates like yourself in successfully navigating their careers, even through the challenging winter months, without succumbing to burnout.

Let's connect and develop a strategy to manage this period effectively. You can take the first step by scheduling a consultation call with me. Together, we'll work to make your career journey more enjoyable and manageable, especially during these winter months!

Burnout Coach



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