Winter can be the 'busiest, most stressful' time at work—here are 3 strategies to cope

Young woman indoors working from home in lockdown, head in hands.
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Focusing at work right after the holiday season can be an almost impossible task. You might have hundreds of new emails to respond to, more meetings now that people have returned from vacation and the hours seem to tick by at a glacial pace.

It's also common to fall into a seasonal slump when you're coming down from a holiday high, facing colder temperatures and mounting responsibilities, Emily Ballesteros, a burnout management coach in Seattle, tells CNBC Make It

If you're feeling stressed or overwhelmed by your to-do list in the new year, you're not alone. Visier, a people analytics firm, recently surveyed 1,000 workers in the U.S. and found that 89% had experienced burnout in the past year, calling burnout "an epidemic" that demands our attention. 

"Winter can be one the busiest, most stressful seasons," Ballesteros says. "It's a time to re-focus on self-care – and have little pockets of light at the end of the tunnel, activities that you enjoy, to help you through the harder months."

Below, Ballesteros and Lauren McGoodwin, the CEO and founder of Career Contessa, share their best tips for staving off burnout at work.

Make time for walks 

Some of the world's most successful leaders – including Bill Gates and Jack Dorsey – swear that their best thinking happens during long walks.

Walking is great for your brain: it can boost your energy, stimulate your creativity and reduce anxiety, among other benefits, according to Psychology Today

McGoodwin goes for a 20-minute walk to her local Starbucks when she's hitting a wall at work. "Sometimes, your anxiety can turn into this pent energy, and doing a physical activity, like walking, can help release it," she says. "I always feel a deep sense of calm when I come back from a walk." 

Even a 10-minute stroll outside – or a couple laps around your apartment building – can help you tackle work with what McGoodwin calls "fresh brain space."

Find a motivational mantra 

Repeating positive affirmations can help you slip out of a funk and increase your confidence during a hectic work day. Research has shown that positive affirmations activate the brain's reward systems, which can reduce pain and improve self-worth.

These phrases can also help you turn your attention away from stressors and toward a goal, or a reminder to be kind to yourself. McGoodwin shares that her favorite mantra is "I'm doing my best." 

"A lot of times, we'll use self-criticism to motivate ourselves to pick our work up a notch – but beating yourself up won't make you work faster," she explains. "Self-compassion lingo is a lot more beneficial – it gives you a moment of appreciation and gratitude that you are human and you are doing as much as you can right now.

Career Contessa offers other mantras to cope with work stress including "Today is today, not every day" and "I can do anything, but I can't do everything." 

Try a brain dump 

If the end of the work day is near and you're still feeling anxious, Ballesteros suggests doing a "brain dump" to help eliminate overwhelm. On a blank piece of paper, write down your work and personal to-do list on the left side, and on the right, jot down what you're thinking and feeling. 

"Writing everything down gives me peace of mind, a clear list of what I need to do and it helps me better separate work and life – which I feel like a lot of people are still struggling with after working from home for almost two years," she says.

A brain dump can help declutter your mind and refocus your priorities. It can also help you unwind: Ballesteros says she saves her brain dump for 5:00 p.m., and once she's done journaling, she logs off from work. 

Building small, sustainable habits that help you relax and feel energized at work is a critical step to beat burnout. "Burnout isn't black and white – it's death by a thousand paper cuts," Ballesteros says. "The smallest actions make the biggest difference, and how you manage yourself will have a big impact on how you emerge from burnout."

Check out:

3 tricks for setting–and sticking to–your 2022 work goals, according to career coaches

This founder says quitting her corporate job didn't solve her burnout–here's why

The 5 best books to help you live a happier, more balanced life in 2022, according to a burnout coach

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