Mental Health in the hospitality industry

“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. Retrieved February 26, 2022, from

Howley, E. K. (2020, June 19). 12 Best Exercises to Ease Stress and Anxiety – US News Health. USNews. Retrieved February 26, 2022, from

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

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.

When “Just Breathe” Isn’t Enough

It seems almost everyone is struggling right now in some way. I think it is safe to assume the COVID-19 global pandemic has brought major change to pretty much everyone in one aspect or another. For some the disruption is mere inconvenience, but for many the changes represent a major trauma. Wherever you fall on this spectrum, conditions are ripe for mental health challenges. Some of those challenges may bring intense emotions, intrusive thoughts, bodily discomfort, and possibly traumatic memories.  We’ve all been told to “just breathe” at one point or another. It can come across as diminishing or making light of the distressing feelings, as if it is a magic eraser or cure-all. While diaphragmatic breathing with mindfulness and intention can be quite effective, for some kinds of distress, it is not enough. The following are some exercises that can address disturbing thoughts, feelings, memories and bodily sensations/discomfort.

ENERGY SWIRL (Shapiro 2012)

Here is a technique that anyone can use.  It is from Francine Shapiro’s book, Getting Past Your Past:  Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy.  It is called the Spiral Technique (found on page 108).

 If you are experiencing upset or discomfort, try the following:

  1. Bring up an image that represents your discomfort.
  2. As you think of the image that represents it, notice where you feel the disturbance in your body.
  3. Now pretend that the feeling is “energy.”  If it was a spiral of energy, which direction is it moving in:  clockwise or counterclockwise?
  4. Now, with your mind, gently change the direction of the spiral in your body.  For instance, if it was originally moving clockwise, gently change it to counterclockwise.

Notice what happens to the feelings in your body.  For many people, their feelings will lessen as they change the direction of the spiral.  If one direction didn’t work, try the other direction and see if it lessens the disturbance.  If this has been helpful, practice this regularly so it becomes a stronger coping skill for you!

LIGHT STREAM (Shapiro 2012)

  1. Bring up some disturbing thought, feeling, memory or sensation and concentrate on the body sensations that accompany the disturbance. 
  2. Next bring a disturbing memory, situation, feeling, or sensation to mind and notice the resulting changes in the body sensations. 
  3. Now concentrate on the feeling in your body…. If the feeling had a shape what would it be? 
  4. And if it had a size, color, temperature, texture (exp. prickly), and sound (high or low pitch), what would it be?
  5. Which of your favorite colors might you associate with healing? 
  6. Imagine that this favorite colored light is coming in through the top of your head and directing itself at the shape in your body. Let’s pretend that the source of this light is the cosmos: The more you see, the more you have available. The light directs itself at the shape and penetrates it, resonating and vibrating in and around it. As it does, what happens to the shape, size, or color?
  7. As the light continues to direct itself to that area, you can allow the light to come in gently and easily fill your entire head. Now allow it to descend through your neck, into your shoulders, and down your arms into your hands and out your fingertips. Now allow it to come down your neck and into the trunk, fill your body, easily and gently. Now allow it to descend through your buttocks into your legs, streaming down your legs and flowing out through your heel. 
  8. Lastly, I’d like to ask you to become awake and aware on the count of five, four, three, two, one…


The following is an exercise that can help regulate the nervous system, which can either become underactive (depression) or overactive (fight/flight/freeze) during times of distress. Toning the vagus nerve also activates the “social engagement” reward center in the brain, which we can all use right now.

  1. Lie down or sit upright comfortably in a chair with support.
  2. Gently roll your head and stretch your neck side to side, noticing and tension or pain.
  3. Interlock your fingers and cradle the back of your head at the base of your skull, supporting it as you remain facing forward.
  4. Moving only your eyes, look up and to the right as far as you can (may be some mild discomfort) and hold this position 30-60 seconds at a minimum, until you notice a sigh, yawn or swallow. This is a release of tension. You may feel a sensation of calm trickle down from your head like a waterfall.
  5. Once you notice this shift, come back to center.
  6. Repeat on the left side until you notice this same shift.
  7. Come back to center, take a deep cleansing breath. 
  8. Rotate your head and stretch your neck, noticing how it feels differently than it felt in the beginning.

(If you feel slightly dizzy, this is normal. It means you fully relaxed and your blood pressure dropped. Take a moment for this to subside before standing)


This guided meditation script is a popular Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) exercise designed to diffuse negative thoughts. 

Leaves on a stream Guided Meditation Script

Imagine you are sitting or standing in the middle of a stream. 

The water is flowing away in front of you. 

Notice if there is any sound from the running water.

Notice if there are any trees, etc. on the banks of the stream.

Now see leaves floating down the stream away from you.

They can be any shape, color, or size. 

As the negative thoughts come into your mind, 

be aware of what the thought is, 

and then place it on a leaf.

Now watch it float away down the stream.

Do this with each thought as you notice it and for as long you like until you feel better.

As you acknowledge each of your thoughts,

you do not need to hang onto them. 

There is no need to become attached to the thought. 

Just acknowledge it and then place it on a leaf.
By watching it float away, it loses its hold on you and its intensity.

For more information on these techniques and others please check out:

  • Shapiro, F. (2012). Getting past your past: Take control of your life with self-help techniques from EMDR therapy. Emmaus, Pa: Rodale Books.
  • Rosenberg, S. (2017). Accessing the healing power of the Vagus Nerve. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
  • Walser PhD, R. (2007). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for the Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Trauma Related Problems. New Harbinger Publications.

If you find that your symptoms are unmanageable through these or other exercises, perhaps seeking the assistance of a licensed professional may be necessary. Most mental health professionals are offering telehealth services due to social distancing. TriWellness clinicians continue to offer services utilizing HIPAA compliant teletherapy services, contact us to schedule a free brief phone consultation today.

This article was written by Tonya Nowlin, MA, LPC. To learn more about Tonya please visit her bio.

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Staying Well in the Time of Social Distancing Part V

In this final installment of the Wellness Series, I wanted to focus on family and the community. Here in Illinois, Governor Pritzker issued a “Shelter in Place” order that will take effect on Saturday, March 21st. The Shelter in the Place order limits individuals to essentials (grocery shopping, pharmacy trips, outdoor activities, essential healthcare, and essential public services) while maintaining the six-foot distance between individuals. If this has already occurred where you live or it may occur in the future, it is imperative that we support each other.

Individuals who are at high risk of developing severe illness may be in need of assistance for the aforementioned tasks, as the social distancing may not be sufficient to prevent illness. Furthermore social distancing does not have to force isolation; utilizing applications or web-resources (FaceTime, Google Duo, Whatsapp, Skype, etc.) often to check in with friends and family could alleviate some isolation.

For families that live together, now may be a good time to do some activities together that may promote cohesion and familial check-ins. Below are some resources that may be fun for the family or spark some ideas:

  1. Real Simple Magazine: 14 Fun Things to Do on a Rainy Day
  2. My Kids Time: 50 Super Fun Rainy Day Activities for Kids of All Ages
  3. Mommy Poppins: Corona Virus Guide for Parents: 100s of Activities and Resources

Please also consult our earlier blogs (Part II, Part III, Part IV) to find more resources.

As a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in Chicago, I and the TriWellness team are here to support our community. We offer HIPPA-compliant Telehealth services to assist individuals in Illinois navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic at the safety of their homes.

To learn more about skills for staying well or to schedule an appointment with a clinician please visit our Contact Us page or call the office.

This article was written by Aarti S. Felder, MA, LCPC, to learn more about her you can find her bio here.

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Staying Well in the Time of Social Distancing

A Wellness series part I

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) the COVID-19 has been spreading in an exponential manner and has urged action amongst the communities in Illinois to reduce the communal spread by following the Center of Disease Control (CDC) recommendations to protect you and your community:

  1. Make sure your hands are clean by washing your hands with soap for 20 seconds or sanitizing your hands with hand sanitizer containing a minimum of 60% alcohol when soap and water is not readily available.
  2. Social distancing by keeping at least 6 feet between you and others. This is especially important to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in your community and to protect individuals who are at high risk.
  3. Stay home if you are feeling ill.
  4. Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your elbow, then dispose of used tissues in the proper receptacle. Wash your hands afterwards using the aforementioned procedures.
  5. Clean and disinfect surfaces.

Social distancing can feel particularly difficult and can cause anxiety and stress, an article from the CDC describes some ways to manage stress here. As a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in Chicago, I and the TriWellness team are here to support our community. We offer HIPPA-compliant Telehealth services to assist individuals in Illinois navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic at the safety of their homes.

Please check our blog everyday, as we will be providing resources to promote wellness in the time of social distancing in this week-long Wellness Series.

This post was written by Aarti S. Felder, MA, LCPC. To learn more about Aarti please visit Meet our Team page. To learn more about our services please visit Counseling Services page.