Workers in hospitality often struggle to set clear boundaries between their work and home lives - restaurant and bar staff frequently stay long after their shift for a drink or a meal to wind down. Whilst ‘off-time’ with your co-workers can both benefit team morale and logs ‘social hours’ for workers juggling a hectic routine - time spent in the workplace after work only complicates the relationship between work and home. Ultimately, time spent at work whilst ‘off work’ is not free time - workers are not free from work stresses, and they are also not free to ‘be themselves’ whilst around colleagues and superiors who may judge them on their professionalism. But time away from work is essential for our mental well being, without time off from work we will soon become exhausted - and exhaustion leads to much more serious health conditions and a guaranteed drop off in work performance.
Due to the pandemic, more people than ever are reporting poor health from overwork and exhaustion - a 2020 study reports a 184% increase in the U.K. of workers becoming seriously burnt out. Therefore, it is essential to establish clear boundaries between our work and home lives in order to avoid the pitfalls of becoming ‘burnout’. Setting clear boundaries allows the worker to remove themselves from their employment - and this means shedding the title of ‘worker’, too! Established boundaries ensure time where we can enjoy being ourselves again - time for family, for hobbies and - crucially - time to work on ourselves and work on our mental health.
So, how can we practice better mental health once our working days have ended? The first step is making sure the working day has ended! We’ve already outlined the importance of leaving the workplace, but we can still be in ‘work mode’ long after we’ve left. If you’re at home checking your inbox for emails from your boss, you’ve not left work. If you’re logging next week’s orders, skimming CVs or job advertisements - you’ve not left work! If you are out with friends and the only topic of conversation you talk about is work, then - you guessed it - you’ve not left work. You see, being ‘at work’ is a mindset as much as physically being somewhere, and as long as work is on the mind, then you’ve not completely left work - and if you’re thinking about work, then you’re definitely still holding on to the stresses of the working day. Leaving work also means leaving that mindset behind - it means forgetting about work entirely and being present in your free time.
For the workaholics among us, the idea of ‘forgetting’ work once we’ve left the office and ‘leaving our jobs at the door’ is harder said than done. We’re better connected than ever before - and this means the temptation to keep on working once we’re through the door is also easier than ever. For some people, work is always on the mind - and this can be for a number of reasons. The hospitality industry is full of passionate people who would work 24/7 if they had the energy, and this makes ‘switching off’ an impossible task. However, this is where practising mindfulness can help.
Mindfulness has become immensely popular in the last decade as we’ve finally begun to take mental health seriously. But mindfulness shouldn’t be treated as a trend or a buzzword - the practice is not only for spiritual or meditation enthusiasts - it is a simple set of skills that can vastly improve our mental health, especially those of us struggling to switch off from work.
The essence of mindfulness is in teaching ourselves to be more mindful - or ‘present’ - in the moment. This means forgetting the past, forgetting the future and embracing the now. For workers, this means forgetting about the stressful shift we’ve just worked - it is in the past, and therefore it has passed. It also means forgetting about tomorrow - those tasks can wait! It means forgetting about work entirely and embracing the free time you have now. Once we embrace the now, we are free to enjoy our time - this means being more involved in conversations with our friends and family, it gives us the motivation to take up our hobbies - or it might just make us more invested in a movie. Regardless, once we embrace the moment, we are free from the stresses of the working day and a better mental state follows.
Practising mindfulness normally means following exercises - both physical and mental. There is a whole world of exercises that teach us to be more present, meaning there is something for everyone. For the energetic type, you can still practice mindfulness whilst being active - mindfulness doesn’t necessarily mean peaceful meditation, it can be practised at the gym and even in a swimming pool. For those of us averse to exercise, mindfulness can be practised in the bath, it can be practised in front of the T.V. Once you memorize half a dozen exercises, you can practice mindfulness anywhere, even at work!
For beginners, there are many free apps that you can download to begin practising. Just a few examples are Insight Timer, an app loaded with thousands of guided meditations, and advice on how to better handle stress, sleep, creativity and more. UCLA Mindful is an app developed by the University of California, and is packed full of exercises as short as 3 minutes long - perfect for those of us on the go. Healthy Minds Program is great for those who don’t want to follow the traditional forms of guided meditations - the app is developed to increase mental focus, meaning we can practice focusing on the now and leaving our work behind! If these apps aren’t for you, then do some research online - there are thousands upon thousands more online, for free!
Over the years we have begun to take mental health seriously, but we still have so much further to go. If you’re struggling with stress from work, or you’re finding it difficult to switch off once you’re home, try practising mindfulness today and take a step to begin improving your mental wellbeing.
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