April 29, 2020

Restaurants feel financial toll of COVID-19, but mental toll is heavy, too

The coronavirus is taking a toll on more than the nation’s financial health. It’s also affecting the way people maintain good mental health as they deal with increased feelings of anger, depression and anxiety. A recent webinar put the spotlight on the invisible impact the coronavirus has on those struggling to get through it.

Celebrity chef and TV personality Andrew Zimmern is one of the industry leaders offering support to those in need during this pandemic. Most concerning is alcohol and substance abuse.

Zimmern was one of three guests participating in the Unilever-sponsored webinar presented by the National Restaurant Association. Using a fireside chat format, Zimmern, Waffle House’s Leigh Rogers Slack, and psychologist Pamela Paresky, focused on how to maintain good mental health during the pandemic.

Zimmern shared his personal story about addiction and addressed this time in history as a moment of global trauma and anxiety. “We are living through some ambiguous days and weeks, and that is taking its toll on everyone. It’s bringing out the best in us at times — and also our character defects. I think it’s up to someone who’s struggled with these issues to address mental wellness in our industry.”

Slack said Waffle House is concerned about the feelings of isolation and anxiety its people are now facing. “Many tell us they feel disconnected, uncertain and anxious. We try to reach out to all associates regularly, and help them interact with others. If you don’t keep in touch with people, it can become a recipe for disaster.”

Paresky urged people to maintain some perspective even when life seems overwhelming and upsetting. “We all make the mistake of thinking our circumstances control our happiness, but it’s much more about how we interpret our situations and the attitudes we have toward them,” she explains. “The good news is we have a lot of say over what our lives look like, even when we don’t know what our circumstances will look like.”

The speakers offered suggestions for navigating the crisis.

  • Enhance your spiritual life or self-care. Do a small bit of yoga, needlepoint or a crossword puzzle. For some people, it’s just playing a game of catch that forces you to focus your body and brain on something else, an incredible stress reliever.
  • Do service work. Even if it’s just knocking on an elderly neighbor’s door to see if he or she is OK or needs something, dropping off a meal somewhere or volunteering, it will take you out of yourself and away from your own problems.
  • Start a journal. Write down what you’re grateful for. Focus on gratitude and kindness, and have compassion for yourself when you feel hopeless or upset. This is an unprecedented moment in history. Keeping a diary will be helpful as time goes forward, not just for our mental health but as a historical record.
  • Use technology to attend sobriety meetings. People in recovery, especially early recovery, rely on their interactions with other recovering people, whether it’s through 12-step meetings, cups of coffee, or regular contact. There is a whole network of Zoom meetings for recovery. Or, pick up the phone and do it the old-fashioned way. Avail yourselves of all tools to stay on top of your sobriety.

    Join the National Restaurant Association and Unilever April 30 for “Creating a Better Employee Morale Now and Moving Forward”, the next webinar in a three-part series. Register now