A Stress Epidemic During a Pandemic
Are you feeling more anxious than usual? Here’s one reason why: reducing uncertainty is a fundamental, underlying motivation for human beings—and there’s certainly lots of unpredictability in the world right now. We worry about things we can’t control like how COVID-19 might spread or if there will be another wave.
There’s no question the coronavirus presents a serious public health risk. But while the implications to our physical health are obvious, mental health concerns are something to be taken seriously, too. By addressing workplace stress and burnout, we can become more productive, engaged, and overall happier with the work we’re doing.
Mental Health Awareness
When assessing the state of our mental health, we must consider the impact of work. After all, we spend about one third of our lives (or more!) working. The average person will spend 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime.
Signs of stress in employees and job seekers may include:
- Heart palpitations
- Gastrointestinal upset
- Muscular tension
- Fatigue and/or insomnia
As we become more aware of our own mental health and that of our coworkers, we can collectively create a better environment where we can do better work.
Common Workplace Stressors
What stresses you out about work? The answer differs for everyone, but here are some of the most common stressors:
- Heavy workloads
- Unrealistic expectations
- Long hours/not enough time off
- Role ambiguity
- Poor interpersonal relationships/workplace tension
On top of these, COVID-19 has introduced entirely new stressors, including coping with the passing of a loved one (or the prospect of it) and fears of becoming infected and sick ourselves. Some people have lost their jobs or are facing job insecurity, which weighs heavily on the mind. Others are struggling to adjust to the challenges of working from home and experiencing stress because they’re feeling isolated from their peers. Thankfully, video conferencing helps a lot.
Human Resources: One of the Most Stressful Professions
A study in the UK showed that HR is the most stressful professions—outranking teachers, lawyers and even healthcare workers. Why? HR professionals are constantly being asked to multitask and discuss negative issues when they arise at work. They’re under constant pressure to find solutions and care for the company culture and the workplace as a whole.
For this reason, HR professionals need to develop healthy coping skills so they can stay mentally well and resilient. In doing so, they can lead by example and make sound decisions—especially about those they choose the hire.
But what are the best ways to address stress?
How to Improve Mental Health at Work
Both employers and employees have roles to play in managing workplace stressors.
Employers have a vested interest in improving the mental health of its employees. Happy employees tend to work harder and stay longer. Stressed employees, on the other hand, can cost companies anywhere from $125 to $190 billion a year in healthcare costs.
Here’s how employers can help:
- Roll out helpful technologies such as video interviewing and automation tools.
- Reduce overtime by reorganizing responsibilities or hiring extra staff.
- Cross-train employees so nobody is the only one who can handle a certain task. This prevents people from taking the necessary time off to recharge.
- Roll out wellness programs at work that encourage mental (and physical) health.
- Offer flexibility and autonomy. Show you trust your employees and their decisions.
- Show empathy; you may be unaware of what employees are going through outside of work.
- Thank coworkers and recognize when people do an exceptionally good job.
In order to improve workplace wellness, employees must also take responsibility for their mental health.
Take care of yourself. Food is the most abused anxiety drug, while exercise is the most underutilized stress-buster. So, try to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. You may also consider meditation or yoga to help you relax. That way you can bring your all to your job.
Another way that employees can develop mental resilience is to create healthy habits and daily structure. This ensures everything to support mental health is done consistently, leaving the mind to focus entirely on work when it needs to.
A daily stress management to-do list might look like this:
- Get dressed
- Take medication (if needed)
- Connect with at least one person outside your home (virtually or safely in-person)
- Monitor your screen and media time for overuse
- Get some sunlight and fresh air
- Exercise to get your heart rate up
- Tidy or deep clean one thing/space
- Get a good night sleep
If you are feeling particularly mentally unwell, you may want to consider professional counselling. Many employee health plans offer robust treatment options, including self-directed and remote counselling services. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Safeguarding Our Mental Health
You’ve heard the expression “if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.” That applies to your mental health, too! Employers and employees alike must safeguard mental health—especially now. Chronic stress can weaken immune systems, so it’s more important than ever to take care of ourselves personally and professionally during this time.