The coronavirus pandemic and its effect on society have been without precedence in my life. The only reference point I have for the disruption and stress to independent retailers’ mental health is from 2009, the year of the last global flu pandemic.

The flu had no affect on my business or the community we served, but the final three months of the year were the most horrid I experienced in my career.

We suffered a burglary that caused the store to close for three days and deeply affected the way that my wife and I viewed our personal safety.

In December, and again in January 2010, our village was cut off for several days by heavy snow. The only vehicles that managed to get into the village were the newspaper delivery van from Smiths News and the Spar lorry.

As in the current crisis the reaction of our community brought a huge and immediate increase in demand that lasted for the few days until it became safe for people to use their cars again.

Read more: Managing retailers’ mental health in the workplace

Our period of crisis lasted for three months and while each episode of it was unexpected, my wife and I could plan how to resolve the issues. The Covid 19 virus is novel and most governments around the world are still trying to find the right solutions for their people.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced the first step towards bringing society out of the lockdown. For food retailers, particularly the independent sector, that lockdown has brought huge challenges in managing the dramatic increase in demand and to their own health and well-being – and that of their employees.

It is impressive to see the way that stores have adapted to keep their customers and staff safe, with taped floors to aid separation and protective equipment to keep the virus at bay. Personal well-being is a bigger challenge, as stress is much more difficult to manage.

A retailer who has an elderly customer base told me that “it’s horrible” trying to serve them well and keep them safe. Other retailers have shared the daily challenge of meeting the massive increase in demand for both for their regular product range and items that customers are asking for.

Read more: Coronavirus: What comes next for independent retailers?

The initial response from store owners, their managers and store teams was to work more hours with many working more than 100 hours a week to begin with. While the body may be able to take the extra activity, the brain reacts differently, and the constant pressure on retailers created by the pandemic has the potential to affect your mental health. 

Here are some things you can do to manage your own and your employees’ mental well-being:

  1. Find time to talk with your colleagues – both in store and your friends in the industry. A group of retailers including Amrit Singh, Sandeep Bains, Atul Sodha and Jai Singh meet up on Houseparty to share a drink, compare experiences and chill out in each other’s company
  2. Eat regular meals and stick to a well-balanced diet. Both your body and brain need to be properly nourished
  3. Drink water regularly, hydration is important: a healthy human body is 70% water
  4. Make time to exercise away from the business
  5. Drink alcohol in moderation
  6. Understand the symptoms of stress, the NHS website has a useful guide
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