Personal Growth & Development

Managing Anxiety and Stress in the Wake of COVID-19

By Scott Addis, CEO

Stress is an emotional response to a perceived threat.  It generally has an identifiable cause and is a temporary problem caused by external pressures that fade away once the stressor is out of the picture. The main culprits of stress are dealing with difficult people, deadlines, interpersonal relationships, and handling issues/problems that arise. Chronic stress symptoms include headaches, high blood pressure, chest pains, heart palpitations, skin rashes, and loss of sleep.  

Anxiety differs from stress as it hangs around after the problem is resolved.   It is that awful "on-edge" feeling and nervousness that never seems to go away... a disorienting, overwhelming quality, a sense of being out of control, apprehensive and paralyzed at the same time. Typical symptoms include sweating, trembling, stomach upset, difficulty speaking, intense panic or fear, and constant unwanted thoughts.  Having an anxiety disorder is not a sign of weakness.  Instead, experts believe that anxiety disorders are caused by a combination of biological and environmental factors.

COVID-19 has elevated anxiety and stress like never before!

The State of Mental Health and Stress in the Workplace

Anxiety has become the number-one mental health issue in America. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIHM), anxiety disorders affect 18.1% of adults and cost a staggering $42 billion per year, almost one third of the $148 billion total mental health bill of the United States.  Workplace stress has reached epidemic proportions, according to new research conducted by HR.com's HR Research Institute through which 778 human resource professionals were interviewed.  Consider the following findings:

  • The HR professionals who were surveyed place anxiety disorders, depression, sleep disorders, substance abuse, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as the top five mental health issues most likely to be encountered in their organizations.
  • Only 11% of the respondents stated that their organization were good at helping employees address mental health issues.
  • 82% of HR professionals agree that stress is prevalent in their organization, but just 38% think that their organization is equipped at helping employees address stress.
  • Only 18% of HR professionals agree that their managers are well-trained to recognize employee stress.
  • The HR professionals agree that stress reduces employee engagement, negatively impacts employee performance, and adversely affects their company’s brand (39%).  The "brand issue" occurs when employees depart an organization due to a poor work experience and tell others.
  • 61% of HR professionals believe that stress levels are high as there is not enough commitment on the part of leadership.  However,  in defense of corporate leaders, many may not be aware of the magnitude of the issue.
  • Higher-performing organizations are more likely to establish a culture that thinks it's okay for employees to openly discuss stress compared with their lower-performing counterparts.

Today, employees are working harder and putting in longer hours for a variety of reasons including technological connectivity, multitasking, evolving roles and changing skill sets needed to be successful in times of workplace transformation.  Over the past 30 years, self-reported levels of stress continue to increase causing a wide array of illnesses, as evidenced by the following:

  • 57% of surveyed employees say that work gets in the way of their health (AHA CEO Round Table Survey)
  • Nearly 75% of workers average less than the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep (The National Sleep Foundation)
  • Close to 50% of employees have gained weight at their current job increasing the risk for poor health and missed workdays (cdc.gov).

Tips to Manage Stress and Anxiety in the Workplace

To effectively manage stress and anxiety in the workplace, it is important to recognize the symptoms and learn coping techniques. If stress and anxiety are  interfering with your job performance,  something needs to change.  While several stressors may be out of your control, below are six tips in designing a personal wellness plan to manage stress and anxiety at work:

Explore your triggers:  Keep a diary for one week to discover which situations increase your stress levels the most.  Record what exactly happened, what thoughts and emotions you had, and how you behaved in the situations.  As you explore your triggers, think about how best to deal with them.

Time Management:  Are you stressed and anxious because you are attempting to do too much?  Trying to juggle numerous tasks at once creates stress as it usually takes you longer to complete them.  Consider compiling a list of tasks that you need to complete, prioritize them, and then break the big tasks into smaller ones.  Wherever possible, complete the unpleasant tasks first so the rest of your day is more relaxing.

Share with a Trusted Coworker:  Put aside your worry and share your feelings with a trusted colleague.  Chances are that they have also experienced workplace stress and can relate.  Knowing that a coworker understands and accepts your condition can be comforting, and it may reduce anticipatory anxiety.

Setting Boundaries:  In today's fast-paced environment, it is easy to fall in the trap of being available 24/7.   Also, high achievers like you do not like to say no. That being said, it is imperative that you set boundaries so work is distanced from your personal life. Do not take on additional projects that can be competently handled by other members of your team.  And realize that "me time" is a necessary strategy to reduce stress and anxiety.  

Negative thoughts:  When you experience negative thoughts, challenge them with evidence that suggests that those thoughts are inconsistent with your capabilities and competencies.  Shift your focus from what your life lacks to the abundance that is already present.  Consider a mental gratitude list or a gratitude journal whereby you record things for which you are grateful. Your attitude of gratitude will reduce stress and anxiety. You may also wish to use your support system of family, friends, and colleagues to remind you of your wonderful qualities.

Nutrition, Sleep, and Exercise:  Research confirms that a healthy diet supported by a good night’s sleep and exercise reduces stress and anxiety.  There is a link between mental and physical health as evidenced by the release of endorphins that naturally increase mood, thus reducing stress.  Healthier habits are often a winning formula in your quest to combat anxiety.

Learn more about the author, Scott Addis.

You may also like…