ASK MERLY: Self-care in the Christmas period.

This week’s Toolkit comes from founder of Me, Myself in Mind and our resident stress reduction coach Merly Kammerling, and it’s loaded with the tools you need to look after yourself in the busy holiday season to keep that stress in check. She’s providing you with some easy-to-implement, small steps you can take to prioritise yourself – actions that truly make a difference with as little effort as possible, minimising that crushing pressure you already feel.

“The Christmas season in hospitality has just started and I already feel overwhelmed with fear that my wellbeing, which I try my best to keep in check the rest of the year, is going to go down the toilet…like it has done every other year. The pace, the double shifts, the lack of time to myself really affects every part of me. I would appreciate any small tips that you suggest that could make this year a little more bearable and less soul destroying.”

I hear you and I can vividly remember those feelings of dread and panic over the festive ramp-up. You are not alone as there are so many hospitality professionals feeling fearful of the looming festivities, especially with staff shortages across the industry, and dare I say there are a lot of folk feeling ‘triggered’ by previous holiday seasons.

Working the long festive hours can inherently be draining and stressful on so many levels but it is possible to implement small self-care tools that will make a difference for your self-preservation. Looking after yourself may feel like the last thing you have the energy for, but it’s important to fill up your own cup now more than ever. Being super aware of your self-care during this period is a good thing, because maintaining positive action always starts with self-awareness.

Shift work usually changes from one week to the next, so instead of setting unrealistic goals which only leads to feelings of guilt, failure, and demotivation, adapt a more flexible approach that suits your current rota. A mix of small things that you can do during work hours and in your personal time will make these steps feel more manageable and help you to have a more sustainable shift. Here are a few things that may help.


  • Stay self-aware and commit to positive action, no matter how drained you feel.
  • Small steps will feel more manageable and easier to accomplish.
  • Adapt your usual healthy habits to your festive season schedule.
  • Use your phone to set reminders for those healthy habits.
  • Note the emotional, mental, and behavioural signs that indicate that you’re feeling overwhelmed – along with what alleviates them.
  • Communicate with your loved ones for support.
  • Don’t hesitate to go to your managers to explore solutions that can help you cope.


Compromise is king

Think of the things that you are already doing to keep your wellbeing in check and assess which elements of your routine can be adjusted to work around your time, energy levels and capacity. Doing something is better than doing nothing at all. For example:
  • Do shorter exercise workouts or something less intensive such as yoga, walking or stretching.
  • Take healthy snacks in to work to maintain your energy levels rather than reaching for the sugary, processed ones which will lead to a crash.
  • Prioritise rest and make some time for enjoyment on days off rather than doing things that are draining or which feel trivial.

Use your phone as a memory buddy

When we’re super busy or stressed our brain goes into survival mode and our ability to access our memory centre becomes limited. It is very common to become forgetful and lose track of even our most basic human needs such as food, water and rest. Add that to the fact that hours can pass without you even glancing at the clock during service, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

One constant in our lives is our phones, so utilise your phone to become a tool of support and an external memory centre. Set yourself some reminders that can give you a gentle nudge to do the things that prevent you from mentally or physically crashing whilst at work. Here’s some examples of what those reminders could look like:
  • Drink water
  • Take a break
  • Time for a snack
  • Check-in with my breathing – take some breaths
  • Time to catch up/respond to friends
  • Time to Stretch/go for a walk
  • Time for lunch/ dinner
  • End of Shift – time to go home

A note to self

As mentioned above, in times of stress and overwhelm we can literally abandon the things that keep us healthy and we can forget those tell-tale signs of when we are experiencing high levels of distress and exhaustion, so keeping a list of those indicators easily accessible may be a helpful tool to keep you on track.

Step 1: 
Note down common red flags that signal that you are going downhill. Those signs are different for everyone, so carefully reflect on the signs specific to you. These could be particular feelings, thoughts, or behaviours such as tearfulness, shortness of breath, anger, feeling increasingly anxious, sad or depressed.

Step 2: 
Next, make a list of what helps you when you start to experience the red flags in step 1. Note down what helps you relax, what makes you laugh, exercises you like to do or healthy foods that you like to eat and friends you like to see.

Step 3: 
Stick this note in visible places at home and at work such as on a mirror, on your locker or as the screensaver on your phone.

Better out than in! … Keep communicating.

The irony of working in a team and yet often feeling loneliness is very real, and a lot of the stress we can feel during this time of year can be ‘anticipatory anxiety’; anticipating the overwhelm of the shift and the coming weeks. During this period, it’s very easy to go days and weeks without speaking to a loved one or having an opportunity to express your thoughts or feelings. Keeping in touch with your support network can really help you to stay resilient and reduce those feelings of being trapped at work or lonely during this busy period. If there is nobody that you can talk to in times of difficulty, then journaling can be an excellent way of helping you express how you’re feeling and emotionally regulate.


I’d like to remind you that even with the best of efforts and intentions, we can still find it incredibly difficult to be on our A-game and keep it up. This is because we’re human, not machines! If you’re really struggling with the workload, communicating with your manager/s and trying to negotiate swapping a shift or adjusting your hours in some way may give you the recuperation you need. Communicating your needs and working with your superiors to explore solutions is a much healthier action to take, rather than staying silent and struggling alone. Your manager would most probably prefer to help you find a solution rather than lose you to a sick day, or altogether to resignation.

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