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    Taking back to work anxiety off the menu in hospitality

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    There’s plenty of information out there at the moment about looking after our mental health in lockdown and trying to maintain a normal and healthy lifestyle, but what about after lockdown? Back to work anxiety was bad enough for some of us on Sunday nights after a weekend of leisure time and lie ins.

    But emerging from months of strict lockdown regulation, working from home, or on furlough, the thought of returning to work for some of us is a cause of mental health disruption, bringing a sense of unease, worry, and anxiety.

    Initially, the thought of losing our freedom and summer plans caused anxiety in itself, but once we got used to our new life it subsided. While some are eagerly anticipating a return to work and normality, others are genuinely distressed by it — whether this is facilitated by concerns of the virus or facing our colleagues, there’s a real issue that needs addressing.

    Here, we’ll take a look at back to work anxiety in hospitality, as well as helpful tips to deal with feeling anxious.

    What is back to work anxiety?

    Extended leave can affect a person’s feelings regarding work, whether it’s the workload or challenging colleagues. Some of us have time to mull over our skills and put ourselves down over our abilities, knocking down our confidence. According to research by YouGov, two in five are anxious about returning to work and the threat the virus has to our health and wellbeing.

    Back to work anxiety can cause physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach issues, trouble sleeping, and behavioural changes like feeling irritable and isolated. If your job was stressful to begin with, it’s likely that returning can be even more difficult. Although anxiety is a normal emotion, there are many self-help methods to help you manage these feelings, especially when working in hospitality. You should always consider seeking medical and therapeutic care if this severely interrupts your days.

    Host-ality

    Hospitality is an industry that will experience a surge when lockdown restrictions ease, with workers claiming they feel anxious and stressed about returning.

    The hospitality industry has been long recognised for its strain on workers — the intense, long hours with minimal rest, unsociable hours, and having to work holidays, causing physical and mentally duress. Research conducted by Mind reported that 45 per cent of employees claimed that they feel they are expected to cope with stress at work and suffer in silence, with 31 per cent saying that they don’t feel like they can talk to or seek help from their manager.

    Although there will be social distancing measures in place, especially those in customer-facing roles are worried about becoming infected with Covid-19 and returning to the worries, long hours, and short-tempered customers they used to dread.

    How to handle back to work anxiety

    Try to make the transition easier and consider these steps. It’s also helpful to identify the source of your worries to come up with solutions. myGP, a smartphone app for online NHS services including specialist areas like mental health suggested the following.

    Prepare yourself

    Getting into the routine of work life can be a daunting feeling, however preparing yourself can make it easier. Whether this is preparing your lunches for your break, or dinners in advance for when you get home late and are too tired to cook, what may seem like minor preparations can actually relieve your mind of things you need to do for yourself. Because remember, you and your needs should come first.

    If you’ve been spending lockdown not getting out much and waking up late, try to get into a good routine to prepare yourself for when you’ll be on your feet again. Spending time outdoors whether it’s walking through nature or laid out in your garden can help to calm you down and keep you grounded in the present moment.

    Speak with your manager

    Shifts with hardly any notice and weekly rotas with little room for planning our leisure time come part and parcel of working in the hospitality industry, which can be a huge source of stress in itself. It is worth politely bringing up your concerns with your employer to find a solution if you’re worried about notice and being able to plan your schedule around anyone you might come into contact with who is high risk.

    Asking for more notice and a more organised rota could help you to feel less anxious about going back, as well as checking what sort of social distancing and safety measures are in place to protect yourself. Try not to take on more than you can manage and have a conversation with your manager or staff if you are feeling overwhelmed.

    You can use this conversation to let them know how you are feeling, and they may be able to reduce some of your concerns or make plans to help your return to work. Find out what will have changed in the workplace. You could even arrange a visit prior to your first day back to reassure you about the measures that have been put in place to keep you and your colleagues safe.

    Speak with your colleagues

    Solidarity can be helpful in alleviating feelings of anxiety — try speaking to your colleagues to comfort each other and provide support. Recognising that others feel the same can help you feel like you’re not alone.

    Avoid unhealthy habits

    Hospitality workers have higher rates of problem drinking and substance abuse than the general population. One study reported that 80 per cent of surveyed male employees and 64 per cent of female employees showed dangerous alcohol use patterns. Avoid unhealthy habits such as reaching for alcohol, cigarettes, or caffeine when you are feeling stressed or anxious. Try to think of healthy treats for yourself instead.

    A positive note

    Although there are legitimate concerns over the virus, social distancing measures will likely allow fewer people into your place of work at once, so it won’t be as busy as you’re used to. This will allow you to ease into work when restrictions are gradually eased over the weeks or months and you won’t be thrown into the deep end headfirst.

    Words of wisdom…

    Research mindfulness and breathing exercises you can practice to improve your mental state. Meditation can be helpful as often when we feel anxious about things, we try to distract ourselves or might spend hours scrolling through our phones to avoid the pressing issue. Writing down your problems to face them can also be extremely helpful.

    Many organisations have mental health or counselling information that you are eligible to use if you are an employee. If not, there are lots of useful resources online that provide techniques for reducing anxiety.

    Be active, keeping active and incorporating movement during the day definitely helps to improve anxiety. Maybe you could go on a walk in your lunch break or even walk or cycle in to work. And remember — try to get a good night’s sleep, drink plenty of water, and eat healthy meals to keep your energy up.

    If you feel like the back to work anxiety is debilitating and could be something serious, consider getting medical advice from your GP for an expert opinion, or book an online doctor appointment if you’re concerned about the virus.

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    AUTHOR

    Stuart O'Brien

    All stories by: Stuart O'Brien