Maintaining mental health is both more challenging and more important in these unprecedented times. SevenFifty Daily, a US-based hospo and beverage resource site spoke with experts and industry professionals based in the United States to learn some critical tools and strategies for coping:
Accept the loss of direction
The hospitality industry’s high-stress work environment puts professionals at higher risk for mental health issues—even in normal times, says Townsend. “It’s expected that [restaurant and beverage professionals] work long, strenuous hours without breaks, and there’s high pressure to perform well,” she says.
“Because of this, many restaurant workers’ lives and identities are completely built around their art and their work, which is now just completely demolished by the state of our communities,” Townsend adds.
This loss of purpose can cause hospitality workers to feel increased levels of anxiety or depression. “Many people in our society over-function as a way to fill the gaps,” says Maryann Sheridan, a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Fairfax, Virginia, “but there’s no way to over-function right now.”
Create a routine
“Maintain as much normalcy as possible, which is really hard nowadays,” says Christina Frank, a licensed marriage and family therapist with Fairfax Integrative Therapy in Fairfax, Virginia. “Our minds like consistency and predictability.” Waking up at a consistent hour, eating healthy meals, and going to bed at a set time can all help the mind and body adjust to a new normal.
The industry’s uncertain future can also create or exacerbate anxiety. “People are wired in a way that our brains are uncomfortable with not knowing,” says Sheridan. “Be confident in what you do know.” The act of beginning and completing projects helps satisfy that need, from simple tasks like making the bed and getting dressed, to larger ones like planting a garden or rearranging a room in the house. Colleen Vincent, the New York-based director of community for the James Beard Foundation, suggests writing down a list of things to do for the day—whether it’s five items or one—in order to have a tangible record of things accomplished.
Assess how you’re feeling—and what you’re reading.
While industry members may be craving information about when they will be able to get back to work, Frank encourages people to set boundaries when it comes to news media. “Too much media consumption will really increase that feeling of powerlessness,” she says, adding that checking the news shouldn’t be the first or last thing you do in a day.
But there’s no formula for maintaining mental health during this pandemic, and everyone’s experience will be different, so take time to assess how you’re feeling. “People cope with things differently,” says Frank. “Make space for whatever feelings might come. Acknowledge the feeling first, and then choose what to do with that emotion.”
This may be difficult for those who may have relied on the fast-paced work of their hospitality and beverage jobs to bury unpleasant emotions. “When you take away that sense of go-go-go, things like depression become more apparent,” says Vincent; “it can no longer be covered up.” Giving yourself permission to feel those uncomfortable feelings is essential.
“I’ve encouraged my clients to grieve,” says Sheridan. “There is a tremendous sense of loss, and even subtle changes really impact us.”
Battling Isolation and Loneliness
Find your community
Social distancing and stay-at-home orders are particularly hard on jobless hospitality workers, who spend much of their time in a socially interactive workplace. “A lot of people drawn to this industry are more extroverted,” says Frank. They crave and thrive in social situations, not only with guests but with coworkers, she adds: “This was so abrupt. One day you’re working, and the next day you’re home by yourself.”
Virtual communication doesn’t fill this void. “You can call friends, video chat, drink, party online, but the connection is just not the same,” says Matt Lundquist, a psychotherapist and the founder and clinical director of Tribeca Therapy in Manhattan. In fact, new research shows how draining Zoom can be.
Maintaining the camaraderie of a restaurant staff can be a lifeline. “It’s important to have people that clearly understand what you’re facing firsthand, and maintain that support system as time goes on,” says Toni Coleman, a Washington, D.C.-based psychotherapist with many hospitality industry patients. Evan Abrams, the beverage director at Marta in Manhattan, keeps up group text threads with the restaurant’s managers and sommelier team, and other wine directors of Union Square Hospitality Group (the group Marta is part of), which has been critical to his sense of connectedness and community, he reports.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to your social network beyond restaurants as well, says Dr. Vaile Wright, a clinical psychologist and the director of clinical research and quality for the American Psychological Association. “What stops you from reaching out is your own guilt—not wanting to be a burden,” she says. “Asking for help is hard.”
In addition to Zoom, Vincent suggests bringing back to the simple phone call. “We talk to the same circle of people all the time because the people we work with become our friends,” she says. “Now’s the time to talk to more people.”
Support your team
It’s also important for those in charge to spearhead communication efforts in order to combat depression and loneliness. “It’s very important that owners keep in contact with their workers,” says Vincent. “Being part of a community keeps people engaged in this industry.”
Paul Grieco, the owner of Terroir in Manhattan, maintains a sense of community among team members by communicating with them about business updates as regularly as possible. Grieco committed to paying his staff for five weeks after Terroir closed mid-March, and has promised them that the restaurant will reopen and will rehire all employees; assurances that have been essential in bolstering the mental health of his team.
“How you treat your people every single day that you’re with them creates an environment for how they can go on about their lives,” Grieco says. “The decisions I make on a daily basis prioritize them as number one. I think my staff had the impression that I was going to take care of them in some way.”
Make a list of resources
Low wages and lack of health benefits already prevents many from seeking out formal mental health resources, and this may be made worse by coronavirus-related job loss. “The industry as a whole has become more sensitive to [mental health] in the past three to four years,” says Vincent. “But do I think all restaurant workers have ready access to mental health resources? No, I do not. We don’t have a standardized social safety net to give everyone access to formal resources.”
Organizations like I Got Your Back, a California-based mental health peer support group with a crisis support hotline, and Chefs With Issues, a platform for food and beverage workers to share personal stories and resources, work to bridge the gap on a day-to-day basis.
During this crisis, more resources have emerged. In Philadelphia, A Better Life Therapy launched five complimentary virtual health workshops on April 20 for the city’s hospitality community. In partnership with High Street Hospitality Group and Foxglove Communications, the workshops are in memory of an employee at High Street’s Fork restaurant who died of an overdose shortly after the restaurant closed in March.
Read the full article by SevenFifty online here.
To hear from industry and mental health specialists based in Australia, tune in to Worksmith's Facebook Live at 10 am on Thursday, May 7th.