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No matter what profession you work in, it’s likely you’ll experience stress from time to time. In the bar industry, late shifts, large orders and staff shortages can all be triggers. Laura Green, qualified counsellor and founder of Healthy Pour, takes a deep dive into top tools for managing stress in a healthy way.

Stress is a normal human experience

Everyone struggles with stress, so if you’re reading this article feeling a little anxious or nervous, you’re not alone. While experiencing stress is completely normal, one of the reasons it can become unmanageable is because bartenders working fast-paced shifts, often don’t think they have the time to complete the stress cycle. Let’s dive into top stress-busting techniques that’ll help you bring that cycle full circle and improve your mental health.

The stress cycle: top tips to manage

A graphic showing a woman practicing square breathing

Since stress generates so much energy in our bodies, we need to move that energy back out. The stress cycle is the completed journey from when we begin to feel stressed until the moment our bodies realise that we are safe and we can relax. Here are some ways you can complete that cycle during your shift:

JUST BREATHE: It is something we do unconsciously but has the amazing power to help us complete the stress cycle and emotionally regulate. By taking deep, controlled breaths deep into your abdomen (also known as belly breathing), 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 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 used to bring increased tension to muscles to then be released in connection with your breath. This releases energy while also helping you find where you hold tension in your body. You can listen to guided PMR recordings after your shift to help you do this, but don’t worry about finishing the full sequence to reap the benefits!

SHAKE IT OFF: Since the physical effects of experiencing stress create so much energy in our bodies, simply getting that energy out will help alleviate those effects. This can be achieved through exercise, but you don’t have to go for a 5k run to do this!

GET SOME SPACE: There is a reason so many people who work in hospitality 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 spaces, so after 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. 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 sleep, and how challenging it can be to focus when you’re tired.

DIET & NUTRITION: Likely, you’ve found yourself in a situation where you’re rushing into a shift having only eaten one meal knowing 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 can result in feeling unwell, fatigued, jittery etc.

REGULAR EXERCISE: Exercise is often lauded as one of the best ways to relieve stress – go to the gym, rock a peloton class, or go for a run, or you can keep it low-key and dance in your kitchen, practice yoga, go for a walk… The point is to move your body, get your heartrate up a little, and build up some mental and physical energy to be able to confront those stressors.

Woman running in a city

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 other stressors even more challenging. Managing your time effectively will also give you more time to do things that combat stress and bring you joy. This is likely the most challenging of all the strategies but has the most payoff.

Ways to emotionally process your stress:

Journaling, meditating, creating and talking with loved ones that you trust can all be great emotional outlets. It’s my hope and dream that therapy becomes accessible to anyone that needs it, and I’m painfully aware that there can be barriers to therapy. That being said, if you have access to therapy or counselling, it is the ultimate way to work with someone to find out more about your stress, emotional life, and how you experience the world.

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’s 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.

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