Expert Guide To Stress management
Stress is something that very much exists in the bar industry and can be heightened during busy or uncertain times. Healthy Pour’s Laura Green, an expert in mental health, provides top stress-relieving tools which bartenders can easily put into practice.
Stress is something that everyone experiences and usually struggles with, so if you’re coming to this article feeling a little anxious or nervous, you’re likely not alone. Stress is also a word that’s thrown around a lot, so before we dive into how to address issues we might run into when experiencing stress, it’s important to understand what stress is, why we experience it, and why it starts to become a problem for us. Returning to work after a long hiatus, starting in a new job, changing industries, or changing personal circumstances can all be triggers for stress – therefore it’s important for people in the bar industry to be well-equipped with strategies for managing it.
What is Stress and What Causes it?
Stress is defined as the body and mind’s reaction to a change that requires an adjustment or response. Even further, psychologist Dr. Richard Lazarus wrote that “stress arises when individuals perceive that they cannot adequately cope with the demands being made on them or with threats to their well-being.” It’s important to note at this point that stress is personal and largely based on the perception of the individual. This means that what might be stressful to one person won’t necessarily be stressful to someone else. Additionally, both our perception and our worldview are dictated by our experiences and how we’ve moved through the world in the past.
Stress can come from many sources: relational and interpersonal stress (family stress, relationship struggles, conflict with a co-worker), situational stress, (threats to our personal safety, expectations, and tasks we don’t have the tools to overcome), and social stress (oppressive social structures like racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, as well as ostracism, social exclusion, etc.).
A Normal Human Experience
This is the moment where it’s important to share that stress is a normal and important experience. It’s an indication that something isn’t right and that we need to either confront the stressor and hopefully gain the skills to overcome that stressor in the future or retreat. In order for this to happen, there are cognitive and physical processes that kick into gear to help us do that. Essentially, what’s happening is all our resources are rushing to specific systems that help us to survive. These are our stress responses.
Cognitively, we experience hypervigilance, increased anxiety, loss of emotional control, mental slowness, difficulty concentrating, and sometimes dissociation.
Physically, we experience increased heart rate; shallow, quick breathing; perspiration; enhanced senses; enhanced strength; and eventually fatigue.
These processes generate a ton of energy, which is great when you’re running away from a lion, but not so great when you still need to complete complex or necessary tasks!
Stress, as I think we all know, is something of a beast in bars and restaurants and our mental health can be hard to manage. Drinks to make, guests to attend to, and a long list of other potential stressors we can run into while working. And while stress is completely normal to experience, one of the reasons that stress can become unmanageable is because bartenders who are working challenging and fast-paced shifts, often don’t think they have the time to complete and resolve the stress cycle.
The Stress Cycle: Top Tips to Manage Stress
Since stress generates so much energy in our bodies, in order to complete the stress cycle, it’s necessary to move that energy out. The stress cycle is the full completion of the circle of stress, from when we begin to feel stressed until the moment our bodies learn that we are safe from harm or danger. These are some ways you can complete the stress cycle effectively but conspicuously during your shift:
JUST BREATHE: It is something we do unconsciously but has tremendous power to help us complete the stress cycle and emotionally regulate. Did you know that by breathing quickly and shallowly, you can induce anxiety and stress? Well, the opposite is also true. By taking deep, controlled breaths deep into your abdomen, every exhale is releasing energy that will help you complete the stress cycle.
- TRY THIS: A great, simple exercise to use is square breathing: inhale on a count of four, hold your breath for four, fully exhale over four, and then hold without breath for four. Repeat as many times as necessary.
PMR: Stress balls aren’t just a kitschy bit of schwag that businesses and doctor’s offices give away with their logo on it—there’s actual science connecting the tightening and releasing of our muscles to stress relief. Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)is a method to bring focus and increased tension to muscles and then release that tension in connection with your breath. This expels energy (helping to complete the stress cycle) while also providing an opportunity to find where you hold tension in your body and release it. guided PMR recordings you can utilize after you shift, or whenever really, but you don’t have to complete the entire sequence to find benefits.
- TRY THIS: If you start to feel tension in your shoulders or jaw, breathe in deeply as you draw attention to those areas and increase the tension, then breathe out as you release. You can also do this with your fists, toes, thighs, or glutes. Note that this is only effective if you connect the tension and release it to your breath! Holding your breath while you build and release tension will only increase the energy, resulting in increased stress! So, let it go.
SHAKE IT OFF: Since the physical effects of experiencing stress create so much energy in our bodies, simply getting that energy out to complete the stress cycle will help alleviate those effects. Energy in, energy out. This can be achieved through exercise, but you don’t have to go for a 5k run to get that energy out!
- TRY THIS: Take a deep breath, and exhale as you shake your hands out. Think of it as if you’re flicking the energy out of your fingertips. Just a few shakes will help you feel more regulated. Pro-tip: if you’re feeling stressed, wash your hands and engage in some deep breathes as you lather up with soap. Then, flick the water into the sink as you exhale. Healthy, stealthy stress relief!
GET SOME SPACE: There is a reason so many people who work in restaurants find comfort in the escape of a walk-in refrigerator! While screaming in the walk-in isn’t ideal, taking some space to yourself for a moment can be helpful to regroup. Additionally, restaurants and bars can be very warm (hot) spaces, and when you’re running around shaking cocktails, feeling the cold on your skin can be refreshing and regulating.
- TRY THIS: Change your scenery a bit by stepping into the walk-in, liquor room, or taking a moment outside and engage in any or all of the above strategies!
REST UP: Bartending is hard work, and the hours (and after-hours…) can make sleep something of a commodity rather than a priority. The problem is that sleep is essential to not only being alive but helping us emotionally regulate—which includes managing our stress. Also consider how much your mood changes after a good night's sleep, and how challenging it can be to focus when you’re tired.
- TRY THIS: Check-in on your sleep hygiene! While it might take some time, behavioral changes, and self-compassion to ensure you have more time to sleep (though very much worth the effort, I assure you!), making sure your sleeping space is suitable to support your slumber can go a long way immediately. Spending at least 45 minutes winding down before sleeping will help you fall asleep faster; removing or turning off electronics like computers, TVs, and personal devices (*cough* your cell phone) will also help you to get that deep, quality sleep that really helps us recharge.
DIET & NUTRITION: The food we consume, and when we consume it, has a tremendous impact on our mood, energy, and ability to cope with the experiences we encounter. Hangry is the first word that comes to mind; that irritable feeling that comes with not having eaten. Likely, you’ve found yourself in a situation where you’re rushing into a shift having only eaten one meal knowing full well you may not have the opportunity to eat until close. That irritability makes it very challenging to navigate stressful situations which can result in more intense stress responses. This is also true when you consume food or other substances (like alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, etc.) that result in feeling unwell, fatigued, jittery, or otherwise impaired.
- TRY THIS: Ideally, it's best to listen to your body so you can eat intuitively—meaning being in touch with and prioritizing your body’s needs when choosing what and when to eat. There are a lot of socially imposed barriers to this (diet culture being one—which is stressful on its own!) and time constraints that come with working behind the bar. Remembering that consuming food is a process to provide energy, start taking note of how you feel when you eat certain foods and lean into those foods that help your body and mind feel balanced, healthy, and sharp when you eat them.
REGULAR EXERCISE: Exercise is often lauded as a wonderful way to relieve and be more prepared to manage stress, but if you’re not ready to break a sweat, engaging in any kind of movement is great - go to a gym, rock a peloton class, or go for a run, or you can keep it low-key and dance in your kitchen, practice some regenerative yoga, or go for a walk… The point is to move your body, get your heart rate up a bit, and build up some mental and physical energy to be able to confront your stressors head-on.
- TRY THIS: You might already have a routine you love, but if you don’t, start small! You don’t have to master exercise overnight (nor should you!) so give yourself some time and space to experiment with various activities at different times of the day. What’s important is that it works for you.
MANAGE YOUR TIME: Feeling rushed and underprepared all the time is so stressful. When you’re perpetually trying to catch up and already have that layer of stress weighing on you, it makes encountering other stressors especially challenging. Managing your time effectively will also give you more time to plan your nutrition, engage in some movement, and rest. This is likely the most challenging of all the strategies, but it has the most payoff.
- TRY THIS: Start small! Think of small things you can change that will save you time. There is no one way to figure out your needs and how to best manage your personal time but writing down how you want your day to look is a great first step. From there, you can start to work on how to make that happen: what needs to change, what you need to say goodbye to, and what you can welcome in.
Understanding your Stress
Ultimately, the best way to address stress issues and challenges is to get ahead of stress you’ll likely experience by processing stressful circumstances you’ve already run into. Understanding your stress triggers and responses will help you not only find ways to avoid stressors and explore ways to cope, but it will help you to better understand yourself, your emotional life, and your needs. These are some ways you can emotionally process your stress:
- Journaling: Journaling can take many forms—you can write about your day, make lists, or simply jot down a few notes on a scrap of receipt paper. If you like writing things down, explore different ways to put your stress on paper and build from there.
- Meditation: Meditation, like journaling, can take on quite a few forms. You can certainly find a yoga mat, sit in a cross-legged position, and “clear your mind,” but you can also find meditative moments when engaging in physical activity, cooking, spending time with your furry friends, in the shower, etc.
- Creating Art: Finding space to express yourself through making music, writing, painting, crafting, or engaging in any kind of creative pursuit will provide space to process your emotions and stress while feeding your soul. And remember, this is for you and while you might want to share your art with the world, you don’t have to.
- Talking with Loved Ones: This can look two different ways depending on your needs: venting or processing. Venting is really great to get things off your chest and release some of that emotional pressure that tends to build up and become unmanageable. Processing with someone looks like more of a back and forth, discussing the problem and giving and receiving feedback. It helps to be clear about your needs at the moment or letting them know you’re not sure what you need but feeling support from friends and family in stressful times is sure to be helpful.
Engaging in Therapy: It’s my hope and dream that therapy becomes accessible to anyone that needs it, and I’m painfully aware that sometimes there are barriers to therapy. That being said, if you have access to therapy or counseling, it is the ultimate way to work with someone to find out more about your stress, emotional life, and how you experience the world around you.
The reality is that learning how to manage your stress—be it behind the bar or in other areas of your life—is a process, but one that is so worthwhile. And look at it this way: experiencing stress is an opportunity to learn more about yourself and your needs. What a gift! Good luck, get curious and enjoy the ride.
Five Key Takeaways
-Stress can come from many sources and is a completely normal feeling
-Work on making time to complete the stress cycle, allowing the energy that builds up to be released
-Look at all aspects of your physical and mental health when it comes to dealing with stress; exercise, rest, and healthy eating are important
-Stress management is not just about relieving the symptoms, but about learning to adapt and overcome them
-The best way to manage stress is to get ahead of it – take time to understand your stress triggers and responses while exploring ways to cope with it