Ask Merly: The Countertalk Problem Page 20.04.21

“I am due to go back to work next month and over the last few weeks I have found myself just worrying about how much my self-care is going to get neglected once I return back to kitchen. I have managed to look after myself better over lock-down and I am worried that this improvement will go down the drain. What can I do to help maintain it?”


I have listened to many clients who are overwhelmed with the thought of going back to work and feeling the old pattern of sacrificing all of their time and energy to ensure the satisfaction of customers and employers. I can whole-heartedly sympathise as working as a chef for several years, I know from experience how difficult it is to keep your wellbeing consistently in check.


But it’s only impossible if you say it is and allow it to be the last thing you make a priority. Self-care can feel out of our control, especially if we think it can only be practiced outside of work hours. But that’s not true. For example, making small changes such as getting outside for a short break, eating a little healthier and reducing your alcohol intake after work is doable if you make it happen.


There’s no denying that your quantity of time off will be significantly reduced compared to lockdown. Therefore, the quality of your time off is what’s going to make the difference. Your personal time is hugely important to your well-being so take stock of your needs, health and nurturing who you are. Here a few ideas to help you get off to a good start…


Know your Signs


Now is a good time to reflect on:


  • What areas of your self-care were neglected pre-pandemic?
  • What self-care rituals have worked for you during the pandemic?
  • What are your tell-tale signs that you are stressed and need to look after yourself?


Like a battery, consider what helps you to recharge from stress, exhaustion and preserves your energy. When we think of recharging and preservation, initially we think of sleep. But there are other ways that we need to recharge and feel like ourselves. Self-care is a combination of things working in sync and everyone is different, so it may help to break your wellbeing down into four pillars: physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual. Identify what you need from each pillar to function. Here are some examples:


Physical self-care. Nutritious food, plenty of water, sleep and exercise, taking time away from phones and other devices. Getting outside in the open air and nature.


Emotional self-care. Receiving love and support, setting boundaries around your time and energy. Spending time with people you care about and who care about you and having real human contact.


Psychological self-care. Making time for personal or professional development, or both. Take time for personal reflection and awareness such as therapy/ counselling / meditation. Give attention to things that are in your control instead of ruminating over the things that aren’t in your control.


Spiritual self-care. Spirituality is not exclusive to religion, prayer or meditation. It’s also about what is meaningful to you in your work and personal life. Being aware of the non-material aspects of your life that are important to you.


Accept that it won’t be perfect but something is definitely better than nothing


There is no denying that there will be days when you will be overworked and self-care goes out the window but we can all take responsibility and make small adjustments. It won’t be perfect but it can be good enough. 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 schedule.


Saying No is the New Yes.


After so much time indoors with not much opportunity for work or play, it can be rather tempting to throw yourself in to anything and everything. Understandably you may feel the need to take on as many shifts as possible to make up for the loss of earnings over the past year and attend every social event. But don’t ignore your gut instinct that you are over doing it. Ignoring that inner voice over and over again is what’s probably burnt you out in the past. If you want to push through, work overtime or you just want to let your hair down then there is nothing wrong with that, just make sure to factor time in for decent respite as soon as you can or at least take it easy over the next couple of days.


If you’re desperate for rest and your day off isn’t due anytime soon, then contemplate swapping your shift with a colleague or being honest with your manager and ask if they can help you to swap a day off. They would probably prefer trying to help you swap a shift rather than lose you altogether to a sick day. Many people find it really difficult to open up to others (let alone managers) regarding how their wellbeing has taken a hit, but could now be the time to do things a little different in order to preserve yourself?


If the elephant in the room is that your place of work is causing real detriment to your wellbeing and you are suffering then maybe a question has to be asked…is your place of work is worth suffering over? Choosing to leave a job because it isn’t good for you is in no way a sign of failure or weakness, it shows strength and a re-establishment of boundaries around your health and self-worth.


One thing I strongly advise is to invest in rest, as burnout is expensive. You always end up paying the price: financially (due to unpaid sick days), your state of mind or your relationships. But the truth is that nothing is more valuable than your health and those important people in your life. And usually, exhaustion and burnout could have been prevented one way or another.




Hi Counteralk community,


You know that we’ve got you right? When you’re dealing with those big issues, you want someone who really gets it. Merly is an ex-chef, therapist, stress reduction coach and founder of @me_myself_inmind, which provides workshops, one-to-one therapy and group therapy for you incredible, hard-working, hard-caring people in the hospitality industry. Their mission is built around educating others on stress reduction techniques, mental health awareness and the importance of learning coping skills, emotional resilience and self awareness. Maybe you are working right now, or maybe you are at home learning to adjust. Those skills are still sorely needed to boost our wellbeing whatever we are up to.


Each week Merly is on hand to answer some of our community’s problems. If you would like to submit a problem, please email merly@countertalk.co.uk. All questions are completely confidential and kept 100% anonymous, now and always.

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