Health and wellbeing – 5 ways to cope during lockdown
“Last week, I was chatting with some old friends and colleagues from my days in hospitality and we said it’s crazy how much things can change in just a week. Now the change is daily, and the changes are big and life altering,” said Tim Etherington-Judge from mental health charity, Healthy Hospo.
“To work in hospitality at the moment is to work in an industry that has seen several huge challenges over the last few years: rising costs, difficulties attracting and retaining talent, Brexit – which everyone thought was going to be the nail in the coffin – and now COVID-19. The impact of the corona virus on the industry, on top of everything before it, will undoubtedly increase the recovery period.”
Yet hospitality is also an industry that has always shown strength, resilience, adaptability and ingenuity. It is an industry that is built on close ties and strong relationships with fellow workers and loyal customers. To be a hospitality worker takes incredible resolve. Not everyone can pull 60 hour weeks, week in week out, constantly under intense pressure and all the time with a smile on their face.
Our mental wellbeing provides the foundations for how well we can cope with the changes we face collectively and on our own. By protecting our mental health we can look forward to emerging from these testing times with a greater sense of community and compassion.
“When the world feels full of threats, it’s important that we take care of ourselves as well as others” explains Sarah Taylor, a wellbeing specialist at online training provider, High Speed Training. She has been working closely with Tim to provide support for those experiencing anxiety as a result of change and uncertainty. She continues:
“It’s really encouraging to see people taking proactive steps to protect their mental health and the wellbeing of those around them. We’ve seen a major uptake in people taking mental health awareness training this year, with sign-ups increasing by nearly a third (29%) in March 2020 compared to March 2019.
“For many of us, employment is an area of life that has seen massive changes this year. Sales of our Stress Awareness in the Workplace course have nearly tripled in March this year (up 192%) compared to March 2019 as people seek out the tools they need to cope.”
For our hospitality heroes we appreciate that many of you are facing some very tough times ahead, and we all must adhere to government guidance regarding the virus to keep each other safe. We want to help you stay mentally healthy, so we have written this guidance to help you cope better. Together, we will get through these challenges.
Sarah and Tim have shared their top five tips for coping with change:
Restrict your news feed
Social media often gets a bad rep when talked about alongside mental health, but if we use it well, it can have a positive impact. Instead of deleting all your social media apps in one go, just limit your news feed.
Tim, the founder of HealthyHospo, says “News anxiety is a very real thing, particularly when it’s so scary a lot of the time.”
He encourages you to avoid the hyped up headlines and focus on trusted official sources, such as the NHS or the government website, to stay abreast of factual news.
To improve your news feed, look at the positive stories in the media. For example, the BBC has begun a live stream of all the good news stories that are flying in from all over the world as people come together. My favourite so far has been the Scottish distillery that has halted production of its gin, vodka and rum to instead produce hand sanitiser, for free. Leith Spirits, based in Edinburgh, has been giving LeithAL C-19 hand sanitiser to care homes, healthcare providers, elderly residents and police officers in the community.
When self isolating, social media can be a lifeline and is a key way to stay in touch with the outside world. Just remember to value the good it can bring you, but watch out for antagonistic posts, and make sure you steer yourself and your news feed away from the negativity.
Connect with each other – virtually
It is really important that we maintain our relationships with those we care about during these difficult times. Sharing your worries will not only lessen the weight on your shoulders, but also offering a shoulder for someone else to lean on will make you feel less alone, and will lighten the load for a friend.
However, it is essential we do this as safely as possible. We must follow government guidance, and that means self isolation, or social distancing for those essential workers.
Luckily, we are a nation of social media users and have been gearing up for this for most of our lives! We have free reign to use social media to our hearts content, so let’s use it to connect to those we can no longer physically see.
There have been stories already of friends having dinner together, dubbed AperiTV, via apps like HouseParty, playing games like Drawful and Cards Against Humanity remotely on Google Hangouts or joining local community groups to offer help and support to the vulnerable. However you choose to remotely connect, use the online world to bring community and support into your home.
Sitting on the couch endlessly scrolling through instagram will not improve your mood. Get up and do something. You are hospitality workers and you are used to being mentally stimulated. If you don’t stimulate your brain, your mental wellbeing will struggle.
The new phrase future worried is circulating at the moment and is when you are feeling ok now in the present, but worried that you in the future will struggle to cope, so that makes you worry in the present. Yes the situation is terrible and yes life is uncertain, but can you do anything about it? Well actually yes you can, you can stay safe and you can stay healthy.
Use your spare time to do the things you always complained you never had time for. Finish that woodwork project, learn to play an instrument, watch and join in with a virtual cocktail master class, read all those cookery books on your shelf (and actually try cooking from them!), take up yoga, boxercise, or if you live with loved ones, enjoy spending time with them.
Colin Butler, Manager at Friends of Ham in Ilkley, explains what he and his staff are now doing.
“One of the main concerns has to be is how we are going to keep ourselves occupied through this time with no clear end in sight, and with such massive restrictions on what we can do.
Luckily, I have a resourceful, creative team, so they are coming up with plans to keep themselves busy at home. One member of staff is going to build a bar in his shed – something he’s been wanting to do for a while. One is an artist who is making art-based care packages to send people, and another is a food blogger who is making and sharing recipes using just bare-essential ingredients.
For me, it’s about taking a day or two at a time. I have jobs and projects to work on – things I’ve not had time to do before – but I’m conscious of not doing them all at once. I’m just trying to slow myself down and really live in the present as much as possible – if we all look too far ahead and wonder what we are going to do with ourselves, it could potentially become very difficult to manage.
I know this isn’t going to be easy for anyone and I’m grateful that I do work with a team who all get along and work well with each other. We will be checking in on each other and making sure we are all ok. I think it’s really important that we continue as a team and support each other as much as possible through this and hopefully we’ll all come out ok at the other end.”
There are lots of places giving out free online resources at the moment to help people combat boredom and the stress of isolation, so if self education is your thing, get busy! The recently rebranded app Let’s Day In is encouraging you to sign up for online experiences, where you can ‘meet’ like minded people and join group experiences such as art classes and book clubs. Musicians are continuing to produce music and putting on free concerts from their homes, and if you fancy dipping a toe in classical culture, you can live stream opera and classical concerts in your home.
A side benefit of taking up a new hobby, or practicing your existing one, is that it can open you to an online world of new people. Whether it be a local personal trainer doing an online workout for free in their front room, or a YouTube tutorial on playing the trumpet. There are communities out there that you can join for free.
Get busy, extend your network by connecting with new people and challenge yourself – these actions will bolster your mental health.
Sleep is essential
Being a hospitality worker, you’re probably used to working late, starting early and not getting much downtime, so here is a chance for you to get a proper sleep pattern in place. Getting a ‘good night’s sleep’ has been shown to drastically improve your physical health, and it is essential in allowing your brain, body and immune system to repair itself. This is something we all need to encourage as much as possible right now. Joe Rogan’s podcast with Dr. Matthew Walker talks in depth about the importance of sleep, and has some great tips for improving it.
Most of us will have experienced a drop in the quality of our sleep when we are stressed and anxious. In a survey carried out by Inpulse recently, the dominant emotions employees are feeling in the current times are anxious (28%), distracted (22%) and stressed (11%). That is almost two thirds of employees feeling this way, so getting a good night’s sleep may be challenging for many.
Matt Stephens, CEO of Inpulse, said:
“We have never seen these levels of anxiety and stress in ‘normal’ times, it is unprecedented and shows the impact COVID-19 has had on employees’ wellbeing. This is a catastrophic shift in the emotional landscape of the workplace, and it’s only happened in a matter of days.”
To help yourself get a better night’s sleep, there are some steps you can take, they may seem obvious and simple, but they really do help you wind down before sleep.
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. This will encourage your body into a routine which will help improve sleep quality.
- Make your bedroom a sleep zone, think hibernation cave. It needs to be dark, quiet and cool. Take out any electronics such as TVs and laptops, and if possible turn your phone off. Check things like alarm clocks – these can be really bright and distracting. See if you can lower the brightness of the clock face or angle it away from your face. The brain also cools before sleep so having a hot bath or shower before bed will encourage your body to unleash heat away from your core.
- Eat at least 90 minutes before you go to bed and avoid sugary food before bed. When you’re asleep, your brain works on repairing itself, it shouldn’t be wasting energy on digesting food. Also with caffeine, you might not think it has an effect on you, but you can guarantee your brain disagrees. If you need a coffee before bed, drink decaf.
- Get in the zone. Hopefully, by the time you go to bed, you will have spent some part of the day exercising and stimulating your mind so that you are tired. However, your mind is likely still stressed and running at a million miles an hour. For those who have meditated before, you will understand how it can help. For those who have never meditated in their lives before, just try breathing exercises. Apps such as Headspace can really help focus your mind and slow your heart rate. Clearing out your mind of clutter before bed will ensure you get to sleep quicker, spend less time stressing out, and get better sleep quality.
Getting a good night’s sleep takes practice, and can be difficult to achieve, particularly if you have children, or share your bed. But it is one of the best ways the body repairs itself –
As Dr Matthew Walker says “Sleep is the greatest legal performance enhancing drug that most people are probably neglecting” – so don’t give up!
Change your routine up – but stick to it
When all normality goes out the window and your days are suddenly empty of focus, it can be a real challenge adapting to a new routine. Take some time to think about what you want to do and schedule a daily, or weekly, plan.
You don’t have to allocate every minute of the day, but small steps can give you structure and focus. Try eating your breakfast and lunch at the same time everyday, or perhaps set yourself goals of 20 minutes of exercise at 10am and again at 5pm on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On Thursdays you could practice a new hobby and face-time with a friend. Having the structure of a routine will also give you something to look forward to throughout the week.
You may also have the opportunity to volunteer within your community, if you are able to do so safely whilst following government guidance. Many people are reliant on others such as for delivering food to vulnerable neighbours, volunteering at homeless shelters, food banks and hospitals. If you are able to do this, it can be a rewarding way to implement a new routine, and will also help you connect with more people. Giving back will help you focus your efforts on other people, and can be a welcome distraction if you are struggling with your own mental health.
Tim says: “While I’ve been on lockdown, I have had to rely on the kindness of others, delivering food to me. One of the good things to come from all this is the kindness people are showing to one another.”
There is no doubt that the last few weeks have been incredibly stressful, not only for hospitality workers, but for everyone around the world. Our lives now and the situations we find ourselves in give us immense challenges, and will continue to be challenging for the weeks to come. And whilst we are not suggesting that life will get back to normal if you sleep in a dark room and take up a new hobby, the tips we’ve suggested above will give you focus and strength to cope with the changes and challenges we face daily.
Remember, even if you feel generally alright, it is still important to look after yourselves so that you can better look after others. Keep a stern eye on your news feed, take advantage of the opportunity to sleep well, connect with others, keep busy, and stick with your new routine. These will all help you look after your mental wellbeing. When you feel good, you are more likely to be able to support others who are going through the same thing.
If there is one message we have all learnt over the last few weeks it is that our actions have great impact, so let’s try to make our impact be for the good of everyone. When there is so much emphasis on what you can’t do, focus on what you can.