A World Mental Health Day special by David Nguyen-Luu.
Mental health is not something we addressed nearly enough in the hospitality industry until very recently. This has been a particularly challenging year, and the realities we are faced with are by no stretch realities we imagined we would encounter in this lifetime. Now more than ever, it’s time to check in and take stock of our emotional health. In general, life gives you no guarantees but that uncertainty is compounded at a time like this.
On World Mental Health Day, David Nguyen-Luu pens down his thoughts on addressing mental health and tracking emotional health in an industry like ours. A 25-year veteran of Australia’s bar and restaurant scene, David notably helmed the operations of Barrelhouse Group, which included prestigious Sydney gin bar The Barber Shop, where he led the team to 3 consecutive years as Australia’s “Gin bar of the year” as well as “Bar of the Year”. Hand-picked in 2019 to take over the Manhattan Bar at the Regent Singapore, David led the team to this year’s Asia’s 50 Best Bars Michter’s Art of Hospitality Award 2020, as well as being the driving force behind Manhattan’s latest and exciting cocktail menu before his recent departure.
Read on as he shares some very useful insights on what one can do to alleviate the pressures of hospitality.
Safeguarding yourself against the perils of the industry
One rule of thumb to safeguard yourself against the perils of the industry which I live by, is to focus energy only on things which are in your control. Do not waste your energy on things that are out of control as this is how stress is easily increased. With stress such a big part of our industry due to the long hours and the late nights, it plays a huge factor in our mental well-being, and to help alleviate it in our industry, it is important to not stress on things to which you have no control over. Say for example your manager has told you your co-worker is sick and isn’t coming in, leaving you short for the evening service. Rather than stressing about the what may happen, focus on what you can do about it and what WILL happen based on your advanced prep.
Another factor of our industry is over working ourselves. The rule is to learn how to switch off. Know your work boundaries and personal life. In such a digital age – everything happens via our phones. Messaging services (Whatsapp/Messenger/WeChat etc.) and emails dominate our work lives. It is important to recognize your limits – what you can do, what you can’t do and what can wait until perhaps the next day to be responded to. The best way to do this is a daily digital disconnect. Set a schedule on your phone to turn off notifications at your preferred time of the day. This gives you a great routine of when you give yourself “ME” time. Most phones have a “Do not disturb” feature. Use it! If you have two numbers, dedicate one for work and one for personal life. Apps such as Whatsapp have the ability to run two programs at once with two different numbers (on Android). You can also use a great 3rd party messaging app called GBWhatsapp – this has great features to be able to block and limit your notifications as needed. And when you do get work messages or emails, prioritise their replies. Do you really need to reply to every single one immediately? Work out what’s important, what’s urgent, and what can wait.
Recognising the signs
We all get stressed – your levels of stress can easily be recognized by your peers so it’s important to be able to recognize the signs yourself. Increased agitation and lack of patience, decline in confidence and motivation are all signs of stress and mental health.
But in our industry in particular, increase in alcohol consumption and lack of sleep is a very realistic sign that you are struggling. If you notice any of these signs – then it’s imperative to take a step back and assess your lifestyle – what has changed recently to cause all the signs.
Another crucial sign is that if it is affecting your relationships with your friends or family – then it needs to be addressed immediately. Your friends. Your family. Your spouse. They are more important than any job – and the best leaders in the world understand this to have enough empathy to give you some time to yourself for personal matters.
Life is always about changing and evolving, and we all need to change and evolve – for the better to make necessary changes and/or to prevent mental health from affecting our every day lives.
Surrounding yourself with positive people is a proven method. Find someone you admire, find mentors and keep the positive energy in your life. Keep learning, and learn from your mentors. Change your environment as necessary. This could be your home environment or work environment. Make changes so that when you come home or go to work – you are excited to be in that environment. This could be something as simple as décor in your home or rearrangements in your bar. Aim for something new and different each day to keep your mind stimulated.
Also previously mentioned above, switch off! Give yourself quality time to do the things you enjoy. Binge watching your favourite show, watching your favourite sports, exercise, socializing, or starting a new hobby – these are all important factors in maintaining mental wellbeing. Making yourself happy with whatever you want.
And of course, go easy on the booze. We are in the bar industry – that doesn’t mean we abuse the booze. We respect our profession and the fact that beverages are a celebration – so make sure you celebrate your booze – not the other way around.
The absolute answer to address any mental health concerns is to acknowledge it and share it with others. Confide in someone close to you, your spouse, your family, your friends. Confide with your co-workers. Confide in your mentors. Communicate, talk. Talk out loud. Talk publicly. There is no shame to acknowledge that you are struggling, and the number one step is to talk about it. From there, you will feel great knowing you have support and to know that people are listening and people are there to help. Don’t keep it in. Let it go!
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