HB Exclusive: Evolving Hospitality and Emotional Wellbeing

NEW YORK—NEXT Events, in partnership with ICD Publications’ Hotel Business and InspireDesign, presented a virtual panel discussion, “Evolving Hospitality and Emotional Wellbeing.” Sponsored by DAC Art Consulting and Innovative Carpets, the conversation featured leaders in both the hospitality and wellness spaces, who each offered their own perspective during this uncertain time.

The webinar went beyond the obvious financial and operational challenges brought on by COVID-19 and addressed its mental health implications. Throughout the discussion, panelists offered tips on how to cope with these unusual circumstances and focus on one’s wellbeing—something critical now more than ever. So much so, that moderator Cheryl Heisterberg, SVP/partner of DAC Art Consulting, began the conversation by reciting a phrase we haven’t heard in quite some time, but one that all travelers are familiar with: “Please put your own mask on first before assisting others.”

“Between normal and usual, if you stop and think about it, change is what’s normal,” said Gregg Sentenn, a psychiatrist specializing in child, adolescent and adult psychiatry. “If we look at all the things we had gone through in our lives and the way that we developed, it’s through changes. What I think we’re missing is what’s usual.”

This time is, without question, very unusual, and Sentenn added that because our goals and purposes have changed rapidly, we need to find ways to adapt.

“I think if anyone—or any industry—can do it, it’s definitely ours,” Heisterberg said. “Innovation and creativity come out of this type of change.”

So, what is normal or usual? The current crisis is affecting all, but people every day are faced with these rapid shifts in reality, and one of the panelists reminded us of this.

“My normal changed 11 months ago after my diagnosis. I was going about life, everything was status quo, and then I received those words, ‘You have Cancer,’’ said Kathryn Pol, president of Hospitality Cares and project director at Benjamin West. “Everything shifted in my life. My whole world seemed to crash around me. I was shocked, I was in denial and probably biggest of all—I was really, really scared.”

A personal crisis of her own, Pol is facing this shift once again, along with the rest of the country. Being scared in her case is not only normal but an appropriate response, which Ryan Soave, clinical director for Telehealth Services at All Points North Lodge, relayed.

“If you weren’t stressed out by this in some way, that’s a different problem; we need to acknowledge that,” Soave said. “Right now though, the perception of this danger, hearing it on the news and all the things going on, is ramping that up [stress] and we need to recognize it’s OK. It’s normal. It’s normal in an abnormal time.”

Pol also recognized that the skills she uses during her professional work are not unlike the ones she acquired during her health journey.

“The funny thing about it is, in project management, it’s something that I deal with every day on projects. Sometimes, things don’t go as planned and you can only manage those things that are within your control,” Pol said. “That shifted my perspective. I began to look at things not only [as] they were, but also the way that I wanted to see them. I chose to see it as a journey rather than the destination and to really be more present in my life.”

Pol added, “It sounds crazy, but since my cancer diagnosis, I feel like I’ve just become a better version of me.”

Soave made this personal-professional connection as well, relating emotional wellbeing to that of design.

“Design is a way to solve a problem. We’re solving something that needs to be a certain way, how other people interact or how the workflow goes—or whatever it is. There’s a lot of creativity there, but that creativity and that design that we see when we walk into a building, it’s not that great if the foundation is shaky. It might be the most beautiful design, but if the building’s going to fall down, it’s not worth it,” Soave said.

In order to tackle everything else right now—finances, careers, relationships, etc.—it goes back to the mask analogy; we need to take care of ourselves, our foundations, first.

“Everybody’s anxiety levels right now are really high because there’s so much uncertainty, and I feel like it’s an opportunity for us to really take a step back and reassess our foundations,” said Carla Hammond, founder/CEO of Be Time Practice. “What’s really serving us in our life? What is not serving us as well, and how we can best manage it? And, if possible, let it go.”

Hammond, along with the other leaders, recommended focusing on not only nutrition, fitness and sleep, but on breath. Soave even said to think about it the way smokers take smoking breaks: to take breathing breaks throughout the day, really being mindful of your body.

“An old Indian Yogi man that I trained under for many years always says, ‘The breath is the mind made visible,’” Soave said.

Sentenn, agreed, noting how something as simple as breath can alter mood and force us to focus on reality.

“If you want to change your mind first, change your breath,” Sentenn said. “It can allow us to gain a new perspective different from the automatic perspective that we’ve gotten because of some real or perceived threat.”

The panelists remained hopeful that the industry and our lives will return to “business as usual.” We just may need to alter our routines and perspectives.

“We’re going to find a way, we’re going to innovate,” Soave said. “It’s just challenging because we have to reorient to a new way of life in order to step into the innovation, and we will probably have to let go of some things that we were used to, which is challenging but not always bad.”