Managing Anxiety/Depression in the Industry

Discussion in 'Professional Chefs' started by chefsing, Jul 24, 2017.

  1. chefsing

    chefsing

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    Greetings-
    Long time reader of the forum, I have learned and progressed my career a lot from your postings and respect all of your professional feedback. I have dug through the webpage and have not found much useful information on how professional chefs manage there anxiety/depression/massive amounts of stress from the industry beyond pointing out the fact that substance abuse is quite a common trait seen. For background, I have 12 years of professional experience- 5 as at the Executive Chef level. High anxiety and depression has always been a common factor in my life, but cooking in restaurants was something that allowed my brain to maintain focus on something else to keep those demons at bay mostly while doing something I enjoyed (very much still do) and am quite good at. However, the daily grind and stressors of restaurant work is having its toll on those demons again and becoming increasingly difficult to personally manage and control and affecting my day to day life immensely- I'm just increasingly tired, agitated, and simply running out of care. I still greatly enjoy cooking food and feeding people, but my love for the restaurant industry is simply vanishing. It is not the restaurant I work for and a change of scenery will not fix the uneasy feelings (have tried that). For the industry we are in, I know that I am quite fortunate to have a decent salary, vacation and PTO and benefits- the works- but the burnout feeling is persistent (I figured this would come at some point in the career but I am not even 30 yet.) So mainly, I am coming for your feedback as I contemplate what other options there are for me if I leave the industry out there where I can still have a comfortable living and get all the joys out of cooking, while finding a way to minimize the stress of the industry. I am looking to get married and start a family soon and my immediate family is already upset at me for rarely seeing them (late nights and weekends you know the works) and I have always been curious how I could live a good life in a 9-5 setting where my entire life did not surround work (even though my entire life regardless will be involved in some form of a food setting). I have an Associates in Culinary and Business, not interested in being a food rep, teaching is an option but I don't feel confident enough in skill set quite enough to be effective. So thanks for making it this far- suggestions on work outside of the restaurant work while still being in the industry? And how do you not bring work home with you and unwind in healthy ways besides the obvious not drinking a 5th of bourbon or the overstated doing yoga and healthy diet and such?
     
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  2. don rich

    don rich

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    How about open a small place for yourself and include your your family?
     
  3. chefwriter

    chefwriter

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    I'll make a few suggestions while disagreeing with a couple of things you said.
    First, stop looking through the microscope. Focusing too tightly on your negative thoughts is the equivalent of looking through a microscope. Take a step back from yourself and recognize that there is more to your life and the arc of your life than your current situation. Take a few moments to count your blessings and I mean to literally say out loud to yourself those people and things in your life you can be grateful for. Do this as often as you think about the negative.
    Recognize your situation is not unique in any way. If it was, every cook I know, including me several times, would not have gone through the exact same thing.
    General anxiety and depression are common to everyone. So if you experience these things outside of work, you should sign up with a counselor/therapist/whatever for at least a session or two. Getting a professional outside perspective can be a huge help.
    Third, your negative feelings related to work are most definitely related to your current job. That doesn't mean there is anything wrong with the job. It may however mean that you've psychologically outgrown it. It may no longer challenge you in the same way it once did. So that's a good thing, not a source of anxiety but the recognition of an opportunity to grow.
    Having worked in many different types of foodservice, I can tell you that much has to do with the people, not the place. Fast food, country clubs,fine dining and institutional foodservice can all offer a positive or negative experience depending on those involved and the management style. A hotel, school or hospital setting may offer you the right combination of factors to have a more balanced life for a family.
    Speaking of family, make the time for them. There are always more hungry mouths to feed. You only have one family.
    The importance of diet and exercise can not be overstated. While the drinking, drugging behaviors of kitchen workers may get more notoriety, those in it for the long haul learn to take care of themselves and find healthy, stress relieving behaviors. Yoga, biking, running and other forms of physical exercise not only relieve stress but better enable you to handle it. Keeping a healthy weight is vital as well. Which healthy activity you choose is which ever one you will remain most committed to. Getting a good night's sleep every night is also crucial.
    Make the time to experience food in non-work environments. Visit ethnic markets of every kind, travel to an orchard, a farm, a dairy, a cheese maker, a local slaughterhouse, a farmers' market, a good bakery, not to see what can be done for your job but simply to expand your horizons and learn. Just for yourself. Take yourself out to a new kind of restaurant. If you haven't bought that cookbook you've been admiring, do it now. Just because.
    Get started canning with pick your own fruits and vegetables. Make some bread from scratch. Go get some fresh grain and make your own flour. Do something with food you've never done before.
    Where ever you live, look in to what wild things are available in your area but typically ignored. While foraging is a hip trend now, the process of discovery and learning you will encounter is invaluable and psychologically refreshing.
    Find a community kitchen (formerly called soup kitchens) and help out for a few days. Experience the challenge of preparing meals with what is on hand and serving it to people who are truly grateful for your efforts.
    I'm telling you all this because over the past thirty years, I've experienced what you wrote many times. At one point I went back to school to pursue a writing degree, something I had long desired. I worked my way through school in various capacities in food service, not all in restaurants and I had other non food jobs as well. During and after all that, I have found I always have and always will love food and discovering all the various ways it is grown, prepared and served. The world of food extends way beyond restaurants and takes more than a life time to discover.
    Food in all its' forms is what my life is about, not the job I have.
     
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  4. pete

    pete Moderator Staff Member

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    Chefwriter makes a lot of great points in the post above, and he is right, many, many people deal with depression and anxiety, both in and out of the business. As someone that feels your pain, and knows where you are coming from I can totally empathize. I've battled depression, on and off, for years and have tried many avenues to both alleviate and mask those feelings. I've used alcohol and drugs (illegal), both of which can seem to make it go away, but there is always a price to pay eventually, if you go this route. I've bottled up my emotions and feelings. Again, it's great, in the short term, but eventually you snap, and it can get really ugly when you finally do. But, I've eventually found the solution, which really isn't one single thing, but a variety of things. First of all, I found a loving wife, that totally understood my crazy work schedule. I can't emphasize this enough. Having a partner that doesn't understand the demands of this business just creates more stress. Listening to someone harp about the fact that you are always working the weekends and nights just adds to the pressure. Secondly, find things in your life that don't involve food. Find some hobbies, whether it is art, photography, biking, etc., get out and do something that doesn't involve food. Next, realize that our society tends to put too much emphasis on "happiness." You are supposed to be happy all the time, and if you're not it's because you don't look the right way, dress the right way, eat the right food, or buy the right products. I'm not saying to revel in your misery (I certainly did for a time) but realize that it is often a part of the human condition and it doesn't make you bad or any less of a person. Consider a career move (kind of as you stated). After many years in the restaurant business, I was burnt out and very unhappy. I took a job feeding inmates. The job is not glamorous and it doesn't fulfill my passion (food wise) but it has allowed me to spend more time with my wife and daughter, and, at the time, it was just what I needed. There are all sorts of things you can do; consult, become a sales rep, work in production, go into institutional foodservice, leverage your management experience to go into something completely non food related. You can leave the restaurant business and still find ways of taking care of that "itch." I wrote a food blog for a number of years. It didn't make me much money, but it was an outlet for me, and my wife loved that fact that I cooked for her, at home. Finally, if this is a reoccurring issue with you, I highly suggest you see a doctor and consider taking medication. I have been on antidepressants a number of times in my life. I happen to find that I don't need them permanently, but I go through periods, every couple of years, that I find them very helpful. I know that our society tends to look down on people who take them, but that mind set of "well, if you were just stronger or had more will power you won't need them" is a bunch of BS.
     
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  5. icanburnanythin

    icanburnanythin

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    i hear ya.. same issues.. i drink daily.. moreso to help me sleep.. but i cant sleep regardless... i would smoke weed at night if it were legal here. thats my main issue.. sleep deprivation screws up my mental outlook for sure... my body doesnt recover physically... then mentally.....the world sucks and i feel like shit...

    i like cooking but i dont... at some point every night on the line i tell myself to quit, f this shat... but i wont quit...because i realize i have tickets, that id let everyone down and then i focus... my mind goes to that place.. free from all my wandering thoughts --focused on food.. and in those moments im free.. though im slaving away.. its when the tickets stop and its time to break things down that the suck creeps back in.. my bottle awaits.. i cant sleep.. life sucks.. hahahaa.. lets go do it again tomorrow..

    i think im going to ask my doc about xanax or the equivalent.. im so tired of drinking..

    gl
     
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2017
  6. foodpump

    foodpump

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    Whoa there! Booze and /or weed won't help you sleep better. For booze, yah, it puts you to sleep, but you wake up a few hours later and almost never get back to sleep. Can't comment on weed, hate that stuff.

    Xanax and otber sleeping aids are crap. Yes they put you to sleep, but you wake up feeling like someone whacked you over the head with a baseball bat. Over the long term they loose their effect, aren't cheap, and are addictive. In other words, a drug company's wet dream...

    Don't ask me how I know all this...


    Melatonin does help, your body naturally produces it, but don't use it long term, its good for a few days at a time. If you go this route get the time release type, and don't do it more than 4 to 5 nights in a row. Take a few days off of it, then resume.

    You need to work on "sleep hygiene" too. Basically bed is for sleeping and sex only--no reading, no tv, no eating. Lights off, no screen of any kind an hour before bedtime. It will take a month or two for your body to adjust. It sounds tough and it us, but the payoff is worth it.

    Hope this helps....
     
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  7. chefbuba

    chefbuba

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    I agree with foodpump on no smoking or drinking. I don't suffer from depression but take a low dose antidepressant called Trazadone for sleep.
    Dr put me on some other sleep aid but made me stupid for several hours in the morning. I have no side affects from the trazadone.

    Go home, have "a" beer, unwind, don't stay up playing video games, watching the idiot box till the wee hours of the morning get a good nights sleep, if you stick with it you will get a good nights sleep after you adjust.
     
  8. pete

    pete Moderator Staff Member

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    Foodpump, I disagree about sleep aids being crap. I have a script for Ambien that I use occasionally. I agree that at higher doses it can cause problems in the morning that's why it's important to work with your doctor to get the lowest dosage that works. I also don't take it every time I have a little bit of trouble going to sleep, but for those times when depression starts to get the better of me it is a godsend. Last thing you need when depression starts to hit is some sleepless nights. It only compounds the problem. When I have a sleepless night, when not also dealing with the depression, I find that taking a Zen approach to it works fine, for me. As long as I don't get worked up about not being able to sleep and can relax, I can feel almost as rested as if I got a good nigbts sleep.
     
  9. chefjess606

    chefjess606

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    I feel like a traitor, but I've been applying for corporate management recently. The pay is good, benefits are good, and I would actually be able to enjoy my life. But I don't know if that is what I really want. My happiest is when I'm making an army of cupcakes or knee deep in the weeds on a Friday night. It is complete and utter bliss for me. The rest of the time? Ehhhhhhhhh. I go through a roller-coaster of emotions. Lately I've found peace in the fact that it's okay to have a bad day. It's okay to not be happy sometimes. But that is only when I am thinking clearly enough to realize it. It is comforting to know that other people in the industry feel the same as I do at times. That in itself helps.
     
  10. icanburnanythin

    icanburnanythin

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    ive tried melatonin, does nothing for me. ive had sleep issues since a head to concrete incident as a kid. the only thing that has worked for me as an adult were specific strains of weed. but at times it didnt work, its just been the best numbers game of them all.. some weed gets me hyper etc.. different strains for different moods.. but its not legal here and i grew into following the law unfortunately..

    i did a 12 hr shift yesterday off of two hours sleep.. thats normal for me..

    even when i wasn't cooking, i couldnt sleep. this issue has caused a lot of problems in my life.. i mean going 4-5 days on 10-15 hrs sleep total is normal at times.. it varies.. sometimes my body/brain resets and i can sleep decent for a few days, but its short lived.. however, if i get drunk enough, at least i know ill pass out..

    tried various head meds.. f that.. maybe xanax.. have an appointment tomorrow with my doc. i was never in to those.. so hopefully itll work sum and help me on closing to opening shifts transitions.... just tired of drinking..

    cheers