The whole world is experiencing a mental health crisis post-pandemic. This has brought up a new era of openness and ending the stigma against mental health issues. At the International Caterers Association, we think this is an important shift in our societal narrative. Why? Because mental health struggles in our industry are nothing new. Event planning is consistently ranked in the top 10 most stressful careers, up there with firefighters and airline pilots. When you Google anxiety in the catering industry, you read article headlines like “The restaurant industry has a mental health crisis,” “The Dark Side of Food & Beverage,” and “Hospitality industry struggling with epidemic of anxiety.”
So, why is this? It’s a combination of factors. From erratic hours to high-pressure live execution, the physical demands and the competition, the list goes on. Oh, and never mind a global pandemic that altered our industry forever. At some point, when the stresses from these factors build up and boil over, anxiety can become a real issue.
All that said, May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so we want to share important insights and solutions for anxiety in the catering industry on this month’s webinar!
To build stronger teams, we must break these stigmas, build support systems, and be open with how we’re feeling. To help with expert advice, we welcomed Charessa Sawyer, LMSW, CEP, and event therapist from Event Therapy Network and Magazine. Services offered by Charessa include: group support for companies, one on one support and Self Care training.
The impact of anxiety on caterers & event professionals
The event industry is tough. Your job is lived out in real time in front of hundreds, maybe even thousands or more. There are no do-overs, and the hours are usually taxing to say the least. These factors make what we do incredibly rewarding, but also incredibly stressful.
But there’s a difference between healthy stress that motivates you to do better for your clients and anxiety disorders that impact your health. Healthy stress is what you feel when you have a major event and are running down all the little details. Anxiety looks different for everyone, but it could be you hyperventilating and gasping for air in the prep kitchen because you forgot the dessert.
Anxiety could lead to substance abuse, professionalism issues, inability to build and maintain relationships, loss of passion for a career and more. Now in some people, unmanaged anxiety may even lead to panic attacks. These are characterized by symptoms like a racing heart, nausea or chest pain. The first step to managing anxiety and panic is recognizing that you have an issue with it. Let’s talk about that next.
Eight ways to recognize your anxiety
Now, it’s important to figure out if the feelings you’re having are simply stress or if they’ve manifested into problematic anxiety issues that could impact your life and health negatively in the long term.
Here are a few ways you can identify if you’re experiencing anxiety:
- Feeling nervous, restless or tense
- Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
- Feeling weak or tired
- Rapid heartbeat
- Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
- Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
If you’re nodding your head up and down or visualizing a certain event you worked and where exactly you were on the floor when your heart started fluttering and your hands got clammy, it’s possible you may be suffering from anxiety or panic attacks.
The good news is that if you are experiencing these symptoms or have in the past, you aren’t alone. There are solutions so you can continue to thrive in life and work, despite that pesky anxiety.
How to treat your anxiety to continue to \thrive at \work and in life
So, what can you do to help yourself overcome these feelings? There are a few steps:
Identify your triggers
Pay attention to how you feel in any situations that make you happy, fearful, upset, etc. Which situations in your day-to-day cause some of the physical anxiety symptoms we addressed above? Write them down. Be aware of what situations cause you to go into this anxiety spiral.
Once you’re able to identify your triggers, you’ll be able to combat them with positive habits.
Implement positive habits & coping mechanisms
Not all solutions will work for everyone, as everyone’s anxiety manifests differently and for different reasons. But Charessa shared a few ways you can try to prevent anxiety, as well as reduce it in a situation where you may be experiencing panic or heightened physical anxiety symptoms. These are all tangible and actionable options to try, so start now!
Reduce your triggers
Since the first step you took was identifying your triggers, do this first. If your trigger is too many events in one week, hire an assistant to help you manage tasks and delegate some of your responsibilities to team members with a lighter load.
Develop a healthy eating plan
It can be difficult to eat healthy when you’re surrounded by decadent and indulgent meals prepared by professional chefs every day. We get it. But it’s important to nourish your body in a way that makes you feel like your best self!
Getting your body moving may be the last thing you want to do after a night of serving, but it’s essential to get those happy endorphins pumping serotonin!
Practice relaxation techniques
Try deep breathing exercises, get monthly massages or relax in a warm bath after a long shift. There are many things you can do to relax and infuse a sense of calm into your life.
Things like breathing exercises or meditation can also help during a panic attack.
Examine your values and live by them
When you’re not living authentically, anxiety can be ever-present. Maybe you’re serving the wrong industry—maybe you really want to serve solely vegan food. Ensure your goals and vision are in alignment with your actions.
Set realistic goals and expectations
This goes for you and your team. If goals aren’t attainable or reasonable, it will inevitably be a stressor. Use SMART goals to ensure you’re setting goals that will motivate, not induce anxiety.
Use positive self-talk
What you tell yourself matters. Charessa suggests creating a few “I statement” affirmations like “I am confident,” “I am creative and innovative” or “I am a sales master.” Then, repeat these during stressful situations that may induce anxiety.
Limit exposure to negativity
Negative energy is contagious. Limit the amount of negative people and content you allow into your life. Your number one goal needs to be to protect your own energy and the energy you allow into your space! Positivity breeds confidence, self-worth and happiness, all of which can combat feelings of anxiety.
Part of avoiding negativity is eliminating your own negativity. You can do this through reframing. When your client says they hate the floor plan you came up with or the dessert you proposed, rather than thinking you’re the worst caterer ever, use it as an opportunity to rise above a challenge and become the best version of your professional self!
As catering industry employers, how can you support your team’s mental health?
You want your team to feel strong, empowered, confident and passionate. They won’t feel those things if their days are veiled with constant pangs of anxiety. And while you may not be able to rid them of it, there are some things you can do to support them.
Provide mental health resources
Provide insurance that covers therapy or create a partnership for discounted sessions on an online therapy platform. Offer a monthly lunch and learn series featuring stress relief, anxiety management and other mental health-related issues. Provide memberships to apps like Calm or Headspace. Start a walking challenge. The list goes on!
Be a natural support
Charessa defines a natural support as an individual who provides a safe space for sharing. It can be so difficult to be vulnerable and share your struggles with your employer. Show empathy, be open about your own battles and practice what you preach. If you don’t feel you can be that person, hire an in-house mental health counselor or someone similar to be that go-to for your team to navigate uncomfortable situations.
By being open with one another about our mental health struggles, we can become stronger individually and as catering teams!
For more information on how to join the ICA and to be notified of future catering industry webinars and education opportunities—while also gaining access to our exclusive and valuable ICA Facebook Roundtable Group filled with other catering professionals dealing with the same struggles and triumphs as you—visit internationalcaterers.org.