The Coronavirus pandemic, or COVID-19 has created truly stressful and anxiety inducing times for many employees! There’s worry for one’s own health and for loved ones, plus economic issues to contend with. Many companies have already had to furlough or downsize their teams. This means that people are dealing with the stress and anxiety of joblessness. Even if they’re still employed, they are likely dealing with strong emotions. They may be upset about their coworkers being let go, experiencing stress over their partners employment status, dealing with the new stresses of working from home, and worried that the company will need to downsize further and they’ll be next on the list. These fears and difficulties can deeply impact the mental health of employees, and it’s important to help your team cope with stress, fear and worry before it impacts their ability to work.
Stress and Anxiety During COVID-19
Your employees usual support systems are also likely not in place right now. Because of COVID-19, social distancing means that employees don’t have their usual outlets and support. While social distancing is important for the collective good, and can help to slow the spread of coronavirus, it does have some challenging consequences. Social distancing can mean staff likely aren’t seeing their close friends or coworkers, they may not be able to engage in their usual activities, and they may be feeling isolated and lonely. People need healthy outlets to cope with stress and fear, but because of the nature of the coronavirus pandemic, many of those usual outlets aren’t available to them!
Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations, but everyone can also benefit from learning healthy ways to cope with their feelings, and talking to someone who can help process their emotions. That’s why it’s important for companies to provide help and support to their teams — even if they aren’t sure if their staff is experiencing the detrimental effects of stress. Some employees may withdraw, while others might become especially outspoken. Some might begin to miss work, while others will be hyper focused and put in excessive overtime. Providing anonymous, easy-to-access support means that no matter how stress is experienced by your team, they’ll have the support they need to work through it, and start feeling better.
What Stress Can Cause:
- Fear and worry: Experiencing stress can amplify feelings of fear and worry, making things seem worse than reality.
- Decreased levels of activity: Stress can take so much mental energy, that those experiencing high levels of stress may not want to do as many activities as they normally do.
- A decrease in efficiency or productivity: Another result of stress is that it can distract from work, and takes away the ability to focus as well as they might otherwise.
- Irritability or anger: For some people, stress can result in angry outbursts or irritability. This is caused by feeling like too many triggers are piling up, and there’s no other outlet besides anger.
- Sleep changes: Stress can keep you up at night! When stress is occupying the mind, it can be difficult to quiet those thoughts before bed, leading to lack of sleep.
- Eating changes: Some people react to stress by eating more, and others react by eating less. Stress causes the body to send out cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, which can cause cravings for sugary, salty and fatty foods, due to the brain believing it needs energy to fight the threat that is causing the stress. Under eating is typically caused by the mind being so consumed by worry and fear, that appetite isn’t thought about.
- Headaches or muscle aches: Mental stress can produce physical reactions like headaches, and muscle tightness or soreness. Tension in the neck, shoulders and jaw is very common, and can be a painful effect of stress.
- Worsening chronic health problems: Prolonged periods of high stress are not healthy for the body, and can take a toll on any other health issues that exist, making them worse.
- Social withdrawal: Stress can make your team less sociable. This is especially challenging with remote work, as it can be harder to tell if your teammates are experiencing feelings of withdrawal as an effect of stress.
- Increased use of tobacco and or alcohol or drugs: For some people, they may turn to alcohol or drugs as a way to distract from their feelings of stress and anxiety.
Who Are Those Who Will Respond More Strongly to Pandemic Stress?
- Those of higher risk: For those with preexisting conditions, who are elderly and especially at risk for contracting COVID-19, or who have immediate family that fit into these groups, the pandemic can cause a higher level of stress and worry because they’re more likely to experience the worst of the virus.
- Children: Because it can be harder to understand what is going on for children, the pandemic can deeply affect children’s stress levels. They may not grasp why they can’t see their friends, or go to school, and this disruption of their normal lives can be really stressful.
- Caregivers: For those who take care of the elderly, sick, disabled or with chronic conditions, the pandemic may bring additional stress. This is already a difficult job to take on, and added worry and fear can impact caregivers’ mental health.
- Healthcare providers: Healthcare providers are working day in and day out with those impacted by COVID-19, and are more likely to experience pandemic stress because it is constantly present in their life.
- Those with mental health issues: If mental health issues are already present, the added stress from the pandemic is more likely to impact individuals.
- Those who have lost their job: Unemployment is very stressful, especially when the economy is in a state of uncertainty during the pandemic. Those who have lost their jobs (or are at companies that are furloughed, or have had to lay off many employees) are likely to experience high levels of stress.
- Substance abusers: For those who abuse substances, the risks of pandemic stress may be higher due to already living in a high stress state.
- Essential workers: Essential workers are more likely to be exposed to the virus because they are often in high touch locations, and this may cause extra stress and anxiety.
- People who live alone: Isolation and loneliness can lead to higher levels of stress, and with social distancing making it difficult for those who live alone to interact with their loved ones this can lead to higher levels of stress.
- Minority groups: Some minority groups may be at higher risk for stress due to the pandemic because of systemic health and social inequalities. This can lead to additional fears and stress for people in these minority groups.
- The homeless: Those without homes to shelter-in-place may experience more stress due to the pandemic.
- People living in group homes: Group homes for the elderly, dorms, or large apartment complexes mean interaction with other people is necessary, and this can lead to higher levels of stress for those living in these settings because it can mean they are at higher risk of contracting the coronavirus.
How to Help Your Staff Cope
We know the COVID-19 pandemic has left much of the workforce stressed out. Even if you don’t fall into one of these higher risk categories, you have likely felt more stress than usual. In fact, a shocking third of Americans show signs of clinical anxiety or depression, according to a recent survey by the Census Bureau. This indicates a big increase from before the pandemic to current levels. Nearly half of Americans have said that the coronavirus is having a negative impact on their mental health. These answers show us our country’s mental state, and the damaging effect that stress, fear, anxiety and isolation can have. But, on a brighter note, more people are talking about their mental health too, and many companies are taking the mental health crisis caused by the pandemic seriously.
For companies looking to better support staff experiencing pandemic related stress and anxiety, EAPs can be a great answer. Providing support that staff can access free of charge, anonymously and easily is a great way to address the current crisis. Counseling and therapy can also mean that staff are better able to cope with their stress and anxiety levels, so that it never impacts their productivity or ability to work. However, many EAPs don’t provide the level of care your staff likely needs during these trying times. And, most aren’t set up for remote services. We have a solution to all that though!
Try out the #unEAP
Here at Zenovate, we’ll provide your staff with live, remote access to counselors and immediate support whenever your staff needs it. Our trained and certified staff can help your team cope with the mental health challenges they are facing due to COVID-19. Plus, we have additional services for those who are doing okay — but could still use support! We’re not just for when your team is in crisis. We’re also here to help create normalcy and routine through weekly virtual yoga, guided meditation, guided massage instruction, personal training sessions and so much more! These sessions are all available as one-on-one or group experiences, so you can add connection and engagement to the list of positives we can provide. Plus, even if your team is too busy for live sessions, our library of pre-recorded sessions are available anytime, anywhere.