For painfully obvious reasons, there is anxiety among the ranks right now. Ellen Manning passes on some sound advice about how we process what has happened and move forward
For any bar owner, opening your doors, welcoming people with open arms, serving them drinks and watching them enjoy themselves is the name of the game. It’s the reason you do what you do. And when you have to stop doing that, it usually means something didn’t quite work out. Yet that’s the exact situation bar owners across the country have found themselves in courtesy of the coronavirus outbreak.
The consequences of shuttering your business are huge, despite financial help from the government and a much-welcomed package of support, with many jobs already lost and others still at risk. But perhaps one of the worst effects is the crushing impact on the mental health of those who just watched their dreams quite literally shut down.
For Stephen Pennack, general manager of Jim’s Cafe in Clapton, the “sheer brute force” of closing down businesses and seeing people’s livelihoods lost is like nothing he has experienced in 20 years of working in service and hospitality. “Our fears as a business are of closing for an indefinite amount of time, and not being able to secure the jobs of our staff or work with our suppliers who are now struggling too,” he says. There’s also the wider issue, says Pennack, of people in the hospitality sector who are used to being around others all the time suddenly being in isolation. “For hospitality workers, going from a busy, active environment surrounded by people to being at home, possibly living alone with minimal human interaction, is incredibly risky for morale, mood and mental health. Couple job and industry uncertainty and low physical activity with rent and bills looming overhead, and it’s going to prove to be a big challenge for all.”
Katie Rouse, co-founder of Couch in Stirchley, Birmingham, and owner of drinks agency Crushed & Cubed, has felt the situation take its toll as she faces an uncertain future for her bar, her staff and her own drinks agency. “Probably like everyone, it’s pure anxiety. It’s a moral responsibility – I care more about being a good person to the masses than about making our business work, which is terrifying because if our business doesn’t work it has a huge effect on all of us.” Despite paying themselves the minimum to survive, Rouse says they still employed two salaried bartenders and with no idea how long they’ll be closed for, they can’t predict the financial effects. “I’m probably the calmer of the four of us at the bar and I’m definitely in panic mode, which says a lot.”
Anxiety and stress are to be expected, says psychologist Natasha Tiwari, founder of education and tutoring group Veda, and for each individual the effect on their mental health will vary. “For each person, it will depend on their own health, their loved ones who rely on them, and their own financial situation as to how these mixed and complicated feelings of anxiety, hopelessness, anger, sadness and guilt manifest,” she says. Her advice? “The important thing is to know that whatever you’re feeling is acceptable and normal. Don’t make an already difficult situation worse by punishing yourself for your emotions. This will only make it more difficult for you to shift into peak performance mode to be able to do what you need to do.” Rouse agrees: “In hospitality it’s our job and mentality to look after others before ourselves. But let yourself be anxious and let yourself panic – don’t hold it in.”
Tiwari’s advice is to make time to appreciate the simple things in life, such as spending time with loved ones or getting fresh air. “Talk about your anxieties and stresses with someone you trust. Just giving a voice to your feelings will help to manage the extent to which these feelings take over your ability to think straight and operate your business to the best of your ability.” There are also practical things you can do, she says, such as finding out about what financial support is available. “Also, exercise during this time, physical wellness is vital to maintaining a calm mind during stressful times. Doing these practical things will lead your body to use the cortisol – a hormone which is released into the body when we are stressed – in a positive way. If that cortisol is not used, it will build up in the bloodstream and lead to chronic anxiety.”
There’s no denying these are difficult times. But if there’s one thing this nation’s bar owners and fellow small business owners are capable of doing, it’s rising to a challenge. The level of support within the industry already has been both heartwarming and constructive and it’s what will get us through this. One thing is for sure: after all this is over, people will most definitely need a drink in their favourite bar.