How to Stay Healthy During Busy Season

It’s 2 a.m. and you’re seriously contemplating laying out the sleeping bag on the office floor ... again. You ate takeout for breakfast and lunch, and probably would have done the same for dinner – if you’d actually remembered to stop and eat at all.

This is the office culture during busy season – long hours, greasy takeout, being over-caffeinated, and getting very little rest or exercise. The company doesn’t encourage this behavior, but it happens, and if you’re not careful, you’ll end up burned out, depressed and 15 pounds heavier once the tax deadline arrives.

Here are a few ways to stay mentally and physically healthy through the busy season:

Create a Meal Plan

Don’t let convenience dictate how you spend your day. It’s easy to order takeout instead of packing your lunch, and to take the elevator instead of the stairs. But, don’t do things just because they are easy. Instead, plan your days for efficiency and keep your health in mind. 

Start by meal planning once a week. According to registered dietician Elle Penner, it’s one of the easiest things you can do to set yourself up for success. On MyFitnessPal.com, she suggests starting by determining the logistics: how many meals do you need to plan for, and what’s your grocery budget?

Write down what type of foods you want to eat and what types you want to avoid. Visualizing your plan will help you execute it. In addition to grocery shopping for meals, make sure you stock your desk and office fridge with healthy snacks – seeds, jerky, nuts, protein bars, hard-boiled eggs, veggies and Greek yogurt.

Don’t overcommit yourself. Just because you’re meal planning doesn’t mean you can’t ever eat out again. It’s busy season after all! A couple times a week (or month), allow yourself to order out or pick up food on the way home. When you do, opt for something healthy, such as salad with lean protein.

Get Moving

How many hours a day do you spend sitting at your desk, in the car or at home? For most healthy adults, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 2 1/2 hours of moderate aerobic exercise a week, as well as strength training at least two days each week. So, get moving! Start and end your day by stretching. If you have the option, bike to work. If not, pick the farther parking spot and walk a little longer. Set a reminder on your phone or computer to get up once every hour. 

Take a bathroom break, jog around the parking lot, or climb a few flights of stairs to revive your energy and get your blood pumping. If possible, consider taking a midday break and heading to the gym for a cycling or yoga class. Doing so will give you the boost you need to carry on well into the night.

Celebrate Small Successes

When you’re overloaded, it’s easy to let smaller accomplishments slip by without acknowledgement. Take time – even just a minute or two – to bask in the feeling of a job well done.

According to Dr. David Burns, it can save your mental health. In his book, “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy,” Burns highlights the importance of keeping track of, reflecting on and celebrating small wins.

In extreme cases, this can even reduce depressive symptoms. Harvard Business School research shows that people often become disheartened, unless they can point to some type of meaningful advancement or achievement in their day – even if it is minor, and even if it is simply finding insight from the day’s failures.

So, celebrate the small successes. If you finish a report early or meet an engagement on schedule, acknowledge it and reward yourself. Take a five-minute mental break. Tweet about it. Call your mom. Give yourself a pat on the back. Get others on board and start celebrating their successes as well. It’ll make all the difference.