Working in restaurants is a lot of things to a lot of people. It's a large degree of freedom to craft your own schedule, it's quick and sometimes easy money, and it's a wonderful way to make friends (and occasionally enemies) with great speed.
It's also an incredibly taxing prospect, and it's no surprise that many people's experience with restaurant work is relegated to that summer or two during college, maybe a year after, while trying to catch the elusive prize of a steady job and the mythic benefits it entails.
There has recently been a very welcome focus on the darker side of the service industry world, with a hard look at mental and physical health, especially how it affects the "lifers". With this has come a seemingly endless train of articles advocating for healthy activities such as yoga, biking, abstention from substance as well as combating the specter of depression. By this point everyone has at least one yoga or Crossfit zealot in their life.
While these remedies are certainly potent, they can be more than a little daunting.
There is time and often money involved in these pursuits, and tales of not making a pilates membership "count" happen all too often. With this in mind, here's some simple baby steps towards a healthy life for those of us who are literally finding it hard to get out of bed, let alone brave the elements and submit to three yoga classes a week.
1. Drink Tea.
Whatever your preferred flavor may be, hot or cold. A cheap plastic pitcher and six bags of green in the fridge left over night works just as well as a slightly more expensive electric kettle by the bed and a few tea bags in the bedside table. Neither require much effort, if any, and the benefits of tea are numerous, from antioxidants, to a metabolism boost to strengthening your bones and more.
Great news! You don't actually start dying after birth. It's not until age 26 that your body stops producing a majority of new cells. In order to not completely fall apart before 30, a couple of simple stretches for five minutes when you wake up, before you clock in or even before you go to bed will do wonders for your circulation, joints and muscles, all of which take a brutal beating on a daily basis in the kitchen and on the floor.
Healthline has five simple stretches you can do daily to get you started.
It can be almost impossible sometimes to manage to get a decent meal fit into a day, which only helps along the effects of the punishment your double clopen is laying on you. Proper nutrition can be tough, and the thought of meal prep and packing lunches can be an insurmountable task. Vitamins can be your frontline defense for avoiding the trip to the doctor you don't have insurance for. Vitamin D can help you get through the gray winter days, while supplements like fish oil can work wonders on depression.
Not all vitamins have been proven to have effects on your health, so do your research! Harvard Medical School's article on evidence-based supplements is a good place to start. A couple of clicks on Amazon, and for the price of a few rounds at a cheap bar, you've got the next best thing to actual insurance.
4. Engage your mind
There's a lot of downtime commuting to and from work, and a lot of us in the industry really treasure every second in bed. Using that time to read, write or actively listen keeps your mind working. Like any other muscle, it needs to be stretched. Whatever your interests are, follow them. Whether it's a dream journal in the morning, a quick blog post, a doodle in a sketchbook, a TED talk in the car, or a chapter or two of a book before bed, that's 15 minutes of your day that you've staked a hard claim on and invested in yourself.
Money is without a doubt the leading stressor in the restaurant world and just about every where else. Whole books have been written on the subject of financial security for a reason. Some of the best advice I've almost never seen taken is to have three months' worth of bills and expenses saved up. It seems like a lot. Luckily, there are apps like Acorns, which does the work of depositing your spare change in the bank for you. An automated low dollar transfer into a savings account, even if it's only $5-$10 can also works wonders. After a year of forgetting you did it, you'll have a couple hundred bucks socked away.
You won't change your life overnight, but a few small steps every day can change your life greatly for the better, and make you happier and healthier at work.
J. is a retired bartender and expatriate living in Cuenca, Ecuador. He works as a freelance writer and is a contributing editor of the lifestyle and travel blog Two by Tour.