Behind the Bar To Your Health

7 Tips for Beating the Winter Bartending Blues

Seasonal affective disorder is real.

Illustration of a bartender with SAD
Image: / Alex Testere 

If you’re feeling especially moody, lethargic and sad this winter, seasonal depression may be the culprit. According to Psychology Today, more than 10 million Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). As Jacob Briars, the global advocacy director at Bacardi, experienced firsthand when he relocated from his native New Zealand to New York City in the mid-2000s, beverage professionals can be particularly susceptible to the winter blues.

“The city’s cold weather and longer hours of darkness definitely affected my mood and routines I took for granted in warmer places, like running outdoors,” says Briars. “Plus the long nights mean late waking hours, meaning you miss a lot of what little daylight there is.” 

Compound that lack of sunshine with working indoors, a generally slow season for hospitality, and guests dealing with their own seasonal issues, and winter can feel extremely bleak. From identifying the symptoms to getting regular exercise and moderating alcohol consumption, Briars and other pros share their strategies for getting over the seasonal slump. 

1. Recognize the Symptoms

For Briars, signs that the blues have set in include lethargy, sleeping in, “lowered motivation for exercise, making poorer food and drink choices and, for some, full-on depression.” 

Larisa Yanicak, the bar manager at Charlotte, N.C.'s  O-Ku and Indaco, also says recognizing the symptoms of SAD helps her better manage them. “Some people try to ignore the warning signs or get mad at themselves when they have a hard time during winter, but I’ve learned to work on changing what I can and accepting what I can’t.”

2. Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

One of the best changes to make? Cleaning up your diet. Briars says he loads up on fruits and vegetables to offset the lack of sunlight and improve his overall mood. “This year, I did the ‘Veganuary’ challenge to start the year off right and get lots of vitamins while treading a little more lightly on the planet,” he says.

3. Opt for Outside

For Yanicak, going outside first thing in the morning is key. “My apartment is a studio and only has one window, so it gets really dark,” she says. “I make sure I get up early, walk my dog or take her to the park, and just get moving to shake that mood.” 

Yanicak is also a big proponent of walking to work every day and regular outdoor hikes, while New York City bartender Liza Brink recommends walking outside to and from errands instead of relying on delivery services like Amazon Prime. “If you bundle up, the crisp air is actually nice and energizing,” she says.

4. Get Moving

From meeting friends for a bike ride or run, joining a gym, signing up for hot yoga or learning to box with the Cazadores Bar Spar program, Briars stresses the importance of establishing and maintaining healthy routines “when you feel like it the least.”

Heather Rodkey, the director of operations for Sojourn Philly, also finds that regular exercise and meditation help her better manage SAD. “With YouTube and meditation apps, it’s easier than ever to reset your body and mind without spending money on a pricey gym membership or new gear,” she says. Her go-tos are free workouts on the PopSugar fitness channel and Simply Being, a timed meditation app.

Yanicak goes for regular runs and also meets friends for indoor rock climbing a few times a month. 

5. Moderate Your Consumption

While Rodkey says it’s tempting to reach for a post-shift drink, she advises against it. “Not only does this perpetuate a cycle of using a depressant to decompress and fall asleep, it also leads to sleeping in and missing critical daylight hours the next morning to nurse a hangover,” she says. 

Kaleb Cribb, an Atlanta brand consultant for Diageo, agrees. “Find an activity to do with friends that doesn’t involve alcohol or bars, like a movie or game night or binge-watching a TV show together,” he says. “During a period of gloom, I find it’s best to try and limit your alcohol intake.” 

6. Take Time to Recharge

In a profession that demands being “on,” sometimes “recharging your batteries happens best in solitude,” says Cribb.

“We live in a culture that pushes us to keep moving and be productive all the time,” says Brink, who uses coloring, puzzles or just hanging out at home with her cat to relax and reset.

Cribb enjoys solo drives and listening to music, while Briars recommends using quieter winter days to read a book, learn a new hobby or just catch up on much-needed sleep. 

7. Ask for Help

All the self-care in the world can’t replace professional help. Yanicak visits a therapist regularly, as does Brink, who also takes medication and gets bodywork to alleviate symptoms of seasonal depression. 

For bartenders on a budget or without insurance, Rodkey recommends looking for therapists who offer sliding-scale pricing or local colleges with students offering free services as part of their training. 

And if a professional isn’t available, reach out to a trusted loved one. “Never shy away from having the difficult conversations with your closest friends and family if you can’t see through bad times,” says Cribb. “We have to start with treating one another with love and care before we can extend that to the guests we serve.”