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3 Tips for Dealing with the Holiday Blues

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(illustration: Lauren Rebbeck)

Between family gatherings, financial worries and the pressures of creating perfect Instagram memories, it’s no surprise that 38% of those recently surveyed by the American Psychological Association reported increased stress during the holiday season. For bartenders, that anxiety is often augmented by pulling extra shifts, dealing with their guests’ seasonal emotional baggage and being unable to travel to celebrate with their loved ones.

“The holidays are typically high stress and short recovery,” says Morgan Sullivan, a bartender at Cure in New Orleans. “It can seem almost impossible to do everything, please everyone and take care of both your physical and mental health.”

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Here, Sullivan and other beverage professionals share their strategies for coping with the holiday blues.

1. Prioritize Self-Care

According to Sharon Yeung, the bar manager at The Roosevelt Room in Austin, “Working in the service industry, we give so much of ourselves to curate the best experiences for our guests. It can take a lot out of us mentally and physically, and it’s easy to forget about self-care.”

Her favorite indulgence is “a bubble bath with candles, music, a rubber ducky, beer and a neat pour of something.” Sullivan recommends taking B12 vitamins and being extra-selective with your time and commitments outside of work to avoid getting sick or overwhelmed.

Matthew Gibbons, the beverage director at Atlanta’s AIX and Tin Tin, agrees. “This is an impossible time of year to get sick, so I focus on keeping myself healthy so I can work long days,” he says. “I strongly recommend not drinking too much, drinking plenty of water and exercising. While it’s tempting to get off shift and grab a drink, it totally affects your energy the next day.”

Ashlea Latham, a bartender at The Roosevelt Room and The Eleanor in Austin, suggests taking a break from booze entirely, especially “if you have anxiety or trouble sleeping, are chronically tired and stressed out about work or suffer from mild depression,” she says, noting that alcohol can exacerbate feelings of sadness and isolation.

Devin Kennedy, the head bartender at Pouring Ribbons in New York City, also suggests staying active and being mindful of alcohol and food consumption to stave off the blues. “This is the time of year when our diets are at their worst,” he says. “Make sure you’re staying active, whether that’s jogging or maybe trying a yoga or spin class.”

2. Indulge in New Hobbies or Rituals

Josh Decolongon, a certified sommelier and the co-founder of Endless West, admits that when others go home for the holidays “it can get a little lonely, especially in the queer community.” He combats that loneliness with a bit of something old, like watching a “classic childhood-era Disney Channel movie, which is instant nostalgic comfort,” and something new, like learning how to cook a new dish or experimenting with a new cocktail ingredient.

Yeung also cooks when she gets homesick by making one of her mother’s favorite dishes, “Hainan chicken and rice, eggplant stuffed with fish paste, and steamed fish with ginger and scallion, which instantly makes me feel that much closer to home,” she says.

Even cooking for others and hosting your own celebration can “get you in the holiday spirit,” says Kennedy, who often hosts small dinner parties with friends who can’t travel home to celebrate with their own families.

3. Plan a Future Celebration

“It’s really hard to be in a business that has the opposite schedule of everyone else,” says Kennedy. “If people are enjoying the pool in summer, you’re on the rooftop making money. When people are out doing Christmas stuff or celebrating New Year’s Eve, you’re working because those are usually the more lucrative shifts.” He combats the holiday blues by planning a trip somewhere warm in the winter and knowing the money he makes this time of year will cover it.

Scott Stroemer, the head bartender at Pacific Standard Time and The Laurel Room in Chicago, agrees. “Chicago really suffers in the winter, so take your holiday money, pay next month’s rent and then go somewhere warm in January or February with the rest,” he says.

Even if a vacation isn’t in the budget, Patrick Schultz, a bartender at Atlanta’s Ticonderoga Club, recommends planning ahead and “talking to your significant other or family long before the holiday season to make alternative plans to celebrate,” so everyone is clear on your schedule and expectations.

While Gibbons admits missing out on family events and seeing others partying when you’re working can be a “bit of a bummer,” he copes by focusing on the positives. “I make 20% to 30% of my annual income between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. During the holidays, I choose to focus on work and my health and stay present and practice gratitude in the moment.” It’s an attitude worth celebrating 365 days a year.

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