Mental Health in the Workplace

Employers can play a role in helping employees with anxiety, depression and burnout
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Provided by ISHN

Anxiety at work: A Q&A with Dr. Carlin Barnes

By Carlin Barnes, M.D.

Anxiety at work: A Q&A with Dr. Carlin Barnes

Is anxiety (GAD, panic attacks) a lifelong chronic disorder — or acute, situational, episodic?

Typically, anxiety disorders are chronic. Often, there is a waxing and waning course. The severity of the anxiety condition(s) depends upon several factors including adequate treatment, absence of precipitating factors, etc. On occasion, anxiety disorders may be acute and completely resolve after a period of time. This is more likely if there is situational component (e.g. recreational use of a substance which triggers anxiety symptoms, medication untoward effect that causes anxiety symptoms, and/or anxiety due to a medical condition which is treated).

Trauma-induced anxiety could be experienced by workers who witness a serious injury or fatality. Are some people more susceptible than others?

Yes, some people are more susceptible to an anxiety response to trauma than others. Some possible reasons include a prior history of trauma exposure and a family history of an anxiety disorder. A combined, or multi-modal, treatment approach is best and this includes cognitive behavioral therapy, individual therapy and/or group therapy, family therapy, and medications. Prognosis and duration of the condition vary depending on several factors including a person’s resilience, additional stressors, level of support, prior traumatic experience, and acuity and severity of the trauma. Trauma-induced anxiety can significantly improve. There are very effective treatments. Oftentimes, however, the treatment and recovery period are lengthy and the condition is chronic.

We all suffer anxiety at some time or times. Is that the same as being stressed out?

Anxiety is defined as an apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness, often over an anticipated situation. Evolutionarily, anxiety, in small doses, is helpful. For example, if you happen to find yourself with a flat tire in an unfamiliar neighborhood at night, you’d likely experience feelings of anxiety. This anxious state will heighten your alertness response and be helpful to navigate your way out of this situation.

It is when a person experiences chronic anxiety which negatively affects their ability to adequately function in important areas of life (e.g. relationships, work, interests) that anxiety becomes problematic. Most of us have times in our lives where we feel stressed out whether due to working late on a homework assignment or a heated discussion with a family member or friend. The definition of stressed out is being anxious, tired and irritable because of too much work or pressure. So, there is some overlap with feelings of anxiety and being stressed out. The key takeaway is that if a person experiences either one on a regular basis, seek professional help.

What are the signs of anxiety disorder that would show at work, either in an office or a factory?

In the workplace, people with an anxiety disorders may have problems with concentrating, managing excessive worry, interacting with coworkers (especially authority figures), and difficulty setting and meeting deadlines.

How many people deny their anxiety?

Stigma associated with mental illnesses such as anxiety disorders is a big reason why people may delay and deny getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. This stigma may also cause one to worry about disclosing an anxiety disorder at work. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health condition in the U.S.

How can anxiety affect job performance?

Anxiety disorders can affect job performance in several ways including turning down promotions due to the additional responsibilities, avoiding business travel, avoiding public speaking, avoiding work social events, inability to meet deadlines, difficulties with managing staff, and difficulty with participating in team meetings.

What can a person do If work pressures cause them anxiety or panic attacks?

Tips to manage anxiety symptoms due to work pressures:

  1. Tell a trusted coworker about your condition so that you have peer support in the workplace
  2. Educate yourself on your condition (including triggers)
  3. Use time management technique (e.g. to-do lists, calendars)
  4. Plan ahead, set mini-deadlines
  5. Ask for help from coworkers
  6. Avoid toxic coworkers
  7. Set boundaries (e.g. don’t take work home or routinely stay late hours)
  8. Take breaks to walk away from your work
  9. Take breaks to practice deep breathing and mindful meditation
  10. Make use of your paid time off
  11. Make use of your employer resources and benefits (e.g. EAP, gym discounts, skill-building courses).

How often should anti-anxiety medications be used?

It is best to follow the recommendations by your healthcare provider. Anxiety medications can be prescribed on a daily or as needed basis. While very effective, medication treatment without the use of additional treatment interventions is not best practices for the treatment of an anxiety disorder.

Can one be “cured” of anxiety?

Depending upon the causes, there are situations in which an anxiety disorder can be cured (e.g. treatment of a metabolic disturbance). There are very effective treatments for anxiety disorders. Oftentimes, however, the treatment and recovery period are lengthy.

Do you have any other comments about anxiety, particularly as a workplace mental health issue?

Employers can help facilitated supportive work environments for people living with anxiety disorders. Employees are advised to seek professional help, utilize workplace resources, and practice healthy self-care. Anxiety disorders are common and can be effectively managed.

You can learn more about anxiety disorders and other mental health conditions in our new book, “Understanding Mental Illness: A Comprehensive Guide to Mental Health Disorders for Family and Friends.”

Carlin Barnes, M.D. is a Board certified psychiatrist. For the past 15 years, she has practiced child, adolescent, and adult psychiatry. She is a Medical Director at a Fortune 100 managed care company. Additionally, she has a thriving, diverse boutique private practice. She earned her medical degree from Texas A&M College of Medicine. She trained in the specialty of psychiatry at programs affiliated with both Harvard University and Emory University Schools of Medicine.

 

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