Serving up great food and hospitality can be endlessly rewarding, but anyone who’s spent more than a week in the food service industry knows that it can also come with a hefty side of stress. With the holidays ahead promising longer hours, higher volumes, and increased demands on personal time, that stress load can quickly supersize.
While a little stress can be a good thing, too much can be toxic. High-stress food service jobs are known to correlate with levels of alcohol and drug abuse significantly higher than in most other industries, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics. Sustained stress can lead to other serious health issues, as well, ranging from headaches and difficulty sleeping to inability to concentrate, short temper, stomach problems and low morale. Left unchecked, these symptoms can lead to more serious health issues, including ulcers, depression, and heart disease.
Finding Calm: Eight Ways to Cope
Fortunately, managing stress can be relatively simple and there are plenty of proven strategies for doing so, both on the job and off. Here are eight quick, low- or no-cost things to try:
Keep it simple. Make a conscious decision to not over-stress during the holidays and set a plan for how to make it happen – i.e., shop early, spend less, take pride in your work, and focus on people not perfection.
Eat well. Start your day with a breakfast high in protein and complex carbs. Keep a water bottle handy, especially in hot kitchens, to stay hydrated. Avoid the temptation to over-indulge in holiday sweets and cocktails.
Walk. Even a 10-minute power walk away from the kitchen, office, or serving line is enough to clear your head, lower your heart rate, and improve your mood. Longer walks before or after work multiply the positive effects.
Breathe. Grab a minute while prepping, placing orders, doing inventory, or transitioning between meal periods to use simple, controlled breathing. Sit or stand in a relaxed position; slowly inhale through your nose while silently counting to five; slowly exhale through your mouth, silently counting to eight as it leaves your lungs. Repeat several times.
Do yoga. For many practitioners, yoga resonates because it delivers both stress relief and fitness. Yoga also helps chefs and other food service workers, who spend a lot of time on their feet twisting, turning, and doing repetitive motions ward off fatigue and back pain. Check out free online videos to learn simple stretches, poses, and breathing techniques to try at home or before or after a busy meal period at work.
Make time for your workout. Putting exercise on hold during the holidays is the wrong medicine for stress relief. Cardio and strength training are great ways to blow off steam, build up resistance to stress, and keep those extra holiday pounds off. If there’s a gym near your restaurant or operation, ask about opportunities for trades or discounts for you or your staff.
Listen to music. Load up your iPod with songs that soothe, energize, or just make you happy. Listen on your daily walk or during your commute. At work, upbeat music in the back-of-the-house during nonservice times can do wonders for morale.
Get help. If stress is really getting you down, find out if your operation offers a wellness or employee assistance program—many restaurant companies and noncommercial operations now do. If those aren’t options, talk with a supervisor, a trusted co-worker, or a friend, and seek help in finding positive solutions.