Ask Merly: The Countertalk Problem Page 20.07.21

I’m working loads of extra hours at the moment (due to a shortage of staff) and I’m starting to struggle with its toll. Everyone is talking about looking after yourself but how do you do that when your place of work doesn’t place any consideration on your rota? I’m really hating being at work and I don’t know what part of my self care routine I should be prioritising first. It all seems totally unachievable.

This is a tricky topic to answer as I can sympathise from experience, it’s not just a matter of ‘you can make it happen.’ The reality is that if someone else is deciding the fate of your rota and how many extra hours / shifts you will do, then that is going to impact how you’re going to feel mentally, physically and what time you have to counterbalance the bad with the good. It’s great that you have started to notice the signs that you’re wavering (awareness is the first crucial step right?!) this is an opportune time to start leaning into a couple of things that may help you get through the long hours. Here are a few things to ponder…


You’re only human


There is no denying that there will be days when you will be overworked and your self-care will go out the window. It may save you a little mental energy going forward if you accept that you won’t be able to look after yourself as well as before on each and every day, but something is always better than nothing… it all adds up. Instead of setting unrealistic goals which only leads to feelings of guilt, failure and demotivation, adapt a more flexible approach and be a little more forgiving during these hard times. You can get back on the healthy horse properly when things aren’t so hectic.


Back to basics


It can feel like there’s this pressure to do loads of things with your time off and tick a load of self-care boxes. And most articles on self-care say similar things: eat and sleep well, exercise and so on. The reason for this is because they are the fundamental things we need to keep going sustainably, yet the fundamentals are always the first to go out the window when we are busy. Instead of harping on about all the self-care tips (we already know what things make us feel heathier and happier), I’d just like to remind you to strip it back to the basics. Don’t get overwhelmed with a whole selection box of self-care rituals, just pick what is realistic with the time you have and what you think you need the most that day particular day. And don’t beat yourself up for not doing much with your time off. If you just need to sleep and hang out at home then that’s OKAY. If you don’t want to see anyone because you’ve been with people all week then that’s OKAY. We’re animals and sometimes we just need to hide under a rock for a bit. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous then cool, if not then it’s not the end of the world.

Most of us don’t actually start to take real care of ourselves until fatigue hits and low mood has gotten it’s claws in. This just makes it longer and harder to get back on the road to feeling ourselves again. Instead, remember that instigating self-care from a place where you feel less tired and more stable, is the best place to proactively prevent burnout. If burnout has already hit hard then it’s not too late to turn it around. Remember that symptoms of stress and burnout is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. So, don’t berate yourself for not withstanding the harsh conditions as well as you wish you could. Your mind and body is trying you give you signals that ‘THIS ISN’T NORMAL AND SOMETHING HAS TO CHANGE’.


You may never ‘feel like it’.


Tiredness and low mood can tell us something quite different and it doesn’t necessarily have our best interest at heart. There’ll be things that you know will be good for you to do but ‘you don’t feel like it’, especially when you’ve been working so hard and feel crap. The truth is that those things will probably sit on shelf for a LONG TIME because you may never ‘feel like it’. Especially when you’re burnt out. Instead, use your good old memory to recall how those things make you feel AFTER doing them. So many things can be applied to this but exercise is the perfect example as it can be such a mind over matter challenge to feel motivated to do it when you don’t feel like it, yet exercise is one of those things which would be actually really beneficial to keep up during busy/ stressful times as it relieves stress and may help you to cope better at work. So if you were to recall how you feel after an exercise class, the answer would be something along the lines of… “it feels really good”… “or I’ve forgotten how much I needed that!”. Remembering the after effect of such experiences is more likely to motivate you in to doing it again, rather than telling yourself you’ll do it only when you feel like it.


Make Time for Fun… ESPECIALLY when you’re working so hard


Errrrm yes, we all need to have fun. Especially during the hard times. Many people faced with having to work crazy hours may think that they shouldn’t have fun as that will burn you out completely but it may actually be what you need. Just going to work, coming home, sleeping, going back to work, coming back home again and sleeping can’t be your only reality otherwise you’ll be very sad and go slightly nuts. You have to fit some pleasure into your week or you will become miserable and detached. This will affect you and your performance at work. Find some time to do something you enjoy. If you don’t, you could come to resent your job quicker and life itself. It is possible to be responsible, have a bit of fun and get to work the next day. Ironically, it can give you energy…more of the type for the soul and a sense of freedom which you’re gonna need.


Is this temporary or is there an elephant in the kitchen?


There is something to be said for leaning into situations in life and just accepting that sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do, such as work extra shifts and hours. Getting angry, resentful and wishing you weren’t at work for hours on end can be more internally exhausting and soul destroying than just getting on with it.


Don’t be afraid to speak up at work if it really is going beyond a ‘temporary period of harder slog for now’ and more in to the realms of absolutely taking the biscuit. We need to get out of this industry habit of just suffering in silence and not feeling like we’re worthy of humane treatment at work. Stand up for your wellbeing and be transparent with your manager, ask if you can move your day off forward, swap an early shift for a late shift so you can get some space and sleep. They may want to try and help you out rather than lose you to a sick day.


But if the elephant in the room is that your place of work is causing real detriment to your wellbeing, there’s never any room for compromise and you are suffering then maybe a question has to be asked…is your place of work 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. Getting an outside opinion can really help us all to gain perspective. When we are living in a environment that is bad for us for too long then that can become our tiny, abnormal reality. Chat to people outside of work, friends, therapists, strangers… you know who they are, they might give you a different spin on it. You may learn that it’s not normal or actually that it’s not that bad after all. Either way, it’s good to hear it.


All the best. x




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 askmerly@countertalk.co.uk. All questions are completely confidential and kept 100% anonymous, now and always.

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