By Daniel Pozzebon and Dr. M Lee Freedman
In part one of our series surrounding anxiety and depression in the workplace, we addressed how you can recognize symptoms within yourself and in others. Building on these learnings, this blog will take us one step further and outline how you, as a leader, may respond to signs of anxiety and depression in the workplace.
The unfortunate reality is that employees are feeling stressed, anxious, and depressed largely due to the world around them. This trickles into the workplace with reports of fewer than one in four employees feeling like their employer cares about their well-being, the lowest percentage in nearly a decade. As a result, demand for anxiety management classes has risen as employees look for a solution to their day-to-day struggles. But it doesn’t have to be that way. A leader that is diligent in responding to signs of anxiety and depression in themselves and others will help foster a healthier team that can weather the storms ahead.
Here are some ways to respond to anxiety in the workplace and set your team up for long-term success.
Responding to signs of anxiety or depression in yourself:
- Contact a medical professional. We all have bad days and while they should be handled with care, they are not typically worth dwelling on or responding to. If you have been having symptoms of depression for longer than 2 weeks, however, make an appointment with your family physician. If you have had satisfactory mental health treatment in the past, recontact the same mental health professional. It may help to consult with your Employment Assistance Program and see what they can do for you as well. They may help to cover costs or point you in the direction of a trusted professional.
- Reach out to someone you trust. In addition to seeking the perspective of a medical professional, reaching out to someone you trust to let them know how you’re feeling can be helpful. This could be anyone from a friend, family member, co-worker, etc., but make sure it is someone who will make time for you and really listen to what you are going through.
- Evaluate your current lifestyle. Check in with yourself about lifestyle choices such as nutrition, sleep, exercise, and social connection, all of which are intimately related to mental health. Poor nutrition, insufficient sleep, lack of exercise and social isolation each may be a contributing factor to the onset of anxiety and depressive disorders. If you are feeling anxious and depressed and are skipping meals, try smaller yet more frequent high-protein snacks such as almonds, which may boost your appetite. If you are finding it difficult to sleep, winding down with a mindfulness or meditation practice before bed might help. If you are struggling to motivate yourself to exercise, finding a buddy to exercise with and hold you accountable might be something worth trying, and could also provide much-needed social support. Making changes to one’s lifestyle is often a great first step in feeling less anxious and depressed.
Responding to signs of anxiety or depression in others:
- Acknowledge the courage. If someone comes to you voicing their struggles, acknowledge that it was difficult for them to do so. Although there is less stigma than in the past, making the effort to speak up signals they are taking an important and often courageous first step. Show respect for their privacy and autonomy for whatever they choose to share, and listen more than you speak. Hold space for them and remind yourself that there is no other purpose than to be present with the other.
- Practice active listening. This means giving someone your full attention and listening with the intent to understand. Put the cell phone away and don’t rush the conversation. If you notice your attention is divided between listening and thinking about your response, then bring your full attention back to listening. Contribute to their perspective by asking questions to clarify what they are saying and reflect back what you hear to make sure that you understand. Do not dismiss concerns or challenge beliefs. The point is to really listen and then respond based on what you hear.
- Thoughtfully engage. Rather than offering solutions, engage with the other person by asking how you can help. Point to resources and make it clear that there is support. If someone asks for advice, it’s fine to give it your best shot but don’t offer advice if they don’t ask. If you as a manager need to initiate a discussion because you have concerns about an employee’s mental health, it is important that you be genuinely compassionate, respectful of that person’s privacy, autonomy, and dignity, and that you give thought to the optimal place and time allotment. If you cannot effectively respond, guide them to speak with their family doctor or a mental health professional (e.g., through your company’s employee assistance program). Show that you care through your actions, such as offering them reduced or flexible work hours to get the counsel they need and to take care of their mental health.
Ultimately, responding to signs of anxiety and depression must come out of genuine compassion. This applies to both you and others. Having this as your base and following some of the proven methods above should be a good start in building resilience against workplace anxiety and depression. Look out for our third and final instalment in this series, where we will outline how to create a workplace culture that helps prevent stress and anxiety and fosters a mentally well and open culture.
Anxiety and Depressive Disorders are medical conditions which are entirely treatable. However, they are only treatable if a tangible response is actually made. Anxiety and depressive disorders also involve distortions in thinking, so it is important to educate yourself before you are in the middle of an episode. Assessment tools, fact sheets, and information resources may be helpful.
To learn more about how we’re helping businesses beat burnout and build mentally healthier workplaces, visit our Headway page or email us at [email protected]