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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!

Workplace Stress

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.

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.


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!

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:


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