“We’ve got to have a delicate balance of carefully and prudently going towards normality and opening up at the same time that we contain and allow these surges. Staying shut down has economic, employment, health and other negative consequences…”– Dr. Anthony Fauci
Covid-19 is one of the most potent and aggressive ailments our society has seen in a long time. It’s initial spread, to its mutations, have all led to where we are now. In the United States, we’ve had lockdowns, and still have mask mandates, and vaccine boosters coming out to try and stem the tide of this ever-present threat.
While these methods of containment and trying to fight back against the virus are surely justified, they do have their implications. One major implication is economically, with many businesses having to adapt to the ever-shifting changes and government mandates or be crushed underneath them.
No other type of business is impacted more by this than small businesses. Small businesses within the service industry are even more impacted by this virus, as government mandates often limit how many people can be within the store at one time, on top of the recent staff shortages, it makes for a challenging time to operate, and work for one of these businesses.
For the most part, this economic impact has been looked at by most news outlets and reported fairly well. However, while economics are important, the spotlight is not often shone on those working and operating these businesses. How these turbulent times have not just impacted the people in these businesses financially, but on their health, especially their mental health.
In this article, we will be exploring the perspectives and stories of those working within these businesses.
The Small Business Owner
Small businesses were once considered the backbone of America, where anyone who put their mind to it could reach their goal of financial independence and a decent way of life. During the age of Covid-19, that dream is hampered substantially.
Trying to entice customers into the store, while offering a decent wage against larger corporate competitors is no easy task. With so many odds stacked against them, it is no wonder many small businesses have had to close their doors. That being said, not all small businesses have become dust in the wind.
Within the Lincoln Park area, there lies a bakery and café that has stood its ground during this turbulent time. We at TriWellness were fortunate enough to be able to get to talk to the business owners who operate the establishment, to get a glimpse into how it is running a small operation in the midst of a global pandemic, and the tole it takes on their mental fortitude.
The first topic we discussed was how covid-19 impacted their mental health. The owners talked about how it has forced them to become more resilient mentally, that they recently had a baby girl, and they need to not just be strong for themselves, but for their child as well.
The owners also spoke about the hiring difficulties, that trying to hire, and retain workers during this time has been more difficult than it has ever been. One of the owners even spoke to working over a hundred days straight, day and night, because no night cooks would be willing to come in and take a shift.
While we were on the topic of working long hours, the question was asked if the owners felt they can even relax when they are not in the store? The owners said that they had to adapt to the added strain, and that they have to often force themselves to take breaks and relax, just so they can keep functioning.
Now, this added strain and strife was not exclusive to the owners of this small business, but also the people who staffed it as well, who we were fortunately able to talk to some of the people who staffed this small café.
We started by asking the same question, “how has Covid-19 impacted your mental health?” The worker described that it has fluctuated, that every day brings a different feeling. The worker described the turbulence that working in the food industry has caused, being laid off from one food service job, and leading them to where they are now. The worker described this process as stressful, on top of the ambient threat of the virus in the back of their mind, worrying not so much for themselves, but their partner and coworkers as well.
This added stress and anxiety has even impacted this person’s ability to work as well, with dealing with customers, and the world around them, harder. The worker described this added weight when having a negative interaction with a customer, even as something small as a customer complaining that “you put onions on my sandwich when I asked for none.” The worker went on to state that working during this period has “made hard things harder.”
The worker was then asked as a follow up to the concept of working during this time, “is feeling safe at work a luxury?” To which the worker then said, with a definitive, “Yes!” The luxury of some people having the ability to feel safe by working from home is not available to someone who works in the service industry, and that as difficult as it can be, the worker must take the feelings of safety where they can get it.
The worker then reflected, and stated they have this dreadful feeling, that during this time, working and interacting with people who are not taking this pandemic seriously, and act so callously towards people just trying to work. The worker described this lack of common humanity, when customers refuse to wear masks, or when customers complain about just wanting things to go back to normal, all things that impact their ability to work, and their feelings of burnout.
The worker elaborated on this feeling of burnout, that they often feel that they go in this cycle of feeling better about working, then over time and so many negative interactions, it brings them back around to feeling burnt out, not just with work, but with everyday tasks as a whole.
We then switched gears a bit, and started talking about self-care, and being able to relax outside of work. The worker then chuckled slightly and stated, “I am good at relaxing.” The worker then went on to say that now more than ever, they take the time outside of work to relax, they take bubble baths, read, and do fun projects with their partner. All that to the goal of being able to keep functioning in the world they find themselves in.
So, what can we take from this?
For the many people working within this industry, it can often feel that there is no room to breathe, that one has to work so much that there is no time at the end of the day to relax.
One thing that we can glean from these interviews, is that it is important to carve out any amount of time for self-care, even if it is limited. Although this begs the question, even if we do set aside some valuable time for ourselves, how do we spend it?
A major part of self-care we can do for ourselves is to make sure that keeping on top of proper nutrition, and sleep. It can be easy to forget that our minds and bodies are so closely linked, and that they have so much influence over the other. When we stop and take the time to care for our bodies, we care for our mind as well
A tried-and-true method of self-care is exercise. Exercise is a multifaceted approach to helping our body and mind. Not only does a little bit of movement help build our muscle and endurance, but it also helps our brain as well. When we exercise, a neurotransmitter gets released, called an endorphin. Endorphins aid our brain release some stress and help us to feel a little happier. Research has also shown that exercise can be a factor to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, after stressful event or even during chronic stress (Tsatsoulis, Agathocles & Fountoulakis, Stelios; 2006). So, be it a nice run, lifting weights at the gym, or even a long walk, a little bit of exercise goes a long way.
Articles on Excercise!
The Protective Role of Exercise on Stress System Dysregulation and Comorbidities
Robinson, K., Jesner, L., Rapaport, L., Bedosky, L., Byrne, C., Millard, E., & Asp, K. (2022, February 18). 8 exercises that Relieve Stress – Women’s Guide to Stress Management – Everyday Health. EverydayHealth.com. Retrieved February 26, 2022, from https://www.everydayhealth.com/exercise-photos/exercises-that-relieve-stress.aspx
Howley, E. K. (2020, June 19). 12 Best Exercises to Ease Stress and Anxiety – US News Health. USNews. Retrieved February 26, 2022, from https://health.usnews.com/health-care/patient-advice/articles/best-exercises-to-ease-stress-and-anxiety
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2020, August 18). Exercise and stress: Get moving to manage stress. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved February 26, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/exercise-and-stress/art-20044469
Olpin M, et al. Healthy lifestyles. In: Stress Management for Life. 4th ed. Cengage Learning; 2016.
This month’s blog post was written by Christian Moresco. Christian is an intern and attends graduate school at DePaul University and aspires to be a counselor who specializes in health and wellness.