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Struggling with Depression? These self-care tips are here to help chefs and restaurant workers suffering from poor mental health during their careers.

Global research has shown foodservice workers to be at greater risk than most for depression, substance abuse and anxiety. With long working hours, a fast-paced environment and having to deal with tricky customers - all coupled with the uncertainty brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic – it can get stressful.

What’s important to note is that while everyone experiences these "blues" from time to time, these feelings need to be acknowledged and more importantly dealt with.

Let’s take a look at what mental health is and how we can deal with depression, anxiety or stress together.

What is mental health? 

Mental health is the wellness of your mind and emotional well-being. According to the Western Cape Department of Health, mental health 

"... is not merely about the absence of mental illness, but rather the presence of mental health and well-being. Mental health is about how you feel about yourself, how you relate to others and how you deal with the opportunities, difficulties and challenges of everyday life."

Perhaps you have an aching back, occasional headaches or suffer from seasonal allergies? Similarly, you could have mental health issues that can affect your mood and how you react to situations in your daily life. Some may be milder, like anxiety at work when there’s a lot of pressure, while others can affect you more severely, like depression.

What does mental health look like in the restaurant industry? 

Anyone who has worked in a restaurant or hotel will tell you about the physical health problems that can come from working long shifts. Standing for hours, lifting heavy items, straining your body and working with sharp equipment can all lead to accidents or injuries.  Similarly, other workplace dangers could be affecting your mental health and you may not even be aware of them.

The #FairKitchens has put together practical self-help tips to help you cope better in your everyday life. 

1. Share your feelings.

Trying to deal with your pain on your own can only make it worse. It helps to talk to someone about your concerns or worries. Maybe a friend, family member, someone at work, or the 24/7 FairKitchens Helpline, can help you see your problem in a different light. Knowing when to ask for help may avoid more serious problems later.

2. Don’t be alone.

Although you may want to be alone, you may feel better if you try to take part in some activities you previously enjoyed with your family and friends. 

3. Routine helps! Set achievable goals! 

Set yourself a daily routine and try as much as possible to maintain that routine. Trying to take care of everything at once can seem overwhelming, and, as a result, you may not accomplish anything. Instead, make a small list of tasks and goals that you can reach, then do them one at a time, checking them off as they are completed. 

4. Avoid making big decisions.

For example, changing jobs or ending a relationship, are decisions you shouldn’t make until you are feeling better. 

5. Know your limits and change your lifestyle. 

Most people suffering from depression have been found to be perfectionists and who drive themselves too hard. You may need to learn to lower impossible standards. Try and reduce your workload in order to live your life at a slower pace.

Make sure to get enough rest and eat well. If you are irritable and tense from lack of sleep or if you are not eating correctly, you will be less capable to deal with stressful situations. If stress repeatedly keeps you from sleeping, you should ask your doctor for help.

6. Exercise and focus on your diet.

Depression often makes you feel tired and lack of motivation. Despite this, any form of physical exercise, however small, will be good for you. If some exercise can be taken in the fresh air, this can add to the benefit. Go for a walk or play soccer with your friends! 

Under- or over-eating are symptoms of depression. It is essential to have a well-balanced diet that prevents tiredness and feeling run down. 

7. Make time for fun! 

Seems a bit obvious but why not try schedule time for play as well as work. Play can be just as important to your well-being as work; you need a break from your daily routine to just relax and have fun. Try picking up a new hobby like reading, painting or sewing – all of these activities help relieve stress.

8. Avoid bad habits.  

Things like smoking, drinking or taking drugs. Alcohol in particular is a depressant and it can make you feel better in the beginning, but you will feel worse afterwards.

Consider joining an online support group if you struggle with these habits. A support group is the first place you can go where everyone understands and no one judges. Knowing that someone else truly understands by having ‘been there’ brings a sense of relief. 

Always remember … Seeking treatment is a sign of strength, and is the first step to feeling better. Don’t expect too much from yourself right away, it will take time to feel better. 

Call the #FairKitchens Helpline

Our professional counsellors listen.  At the other end of the phone day and night, they won’t judge or tell you what to do.  

Run in partnership with the Unilever Employee Assistance Program, this service is free to all foodservice professionals across Gulf. Available 24hrs and toll-free, the #FairKitchens helpline is set up to help address your personal or work-related challenges.

All calls are confidential and there’s no need to tell us your name.