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    Stress. Anxiety.  Words we hear and read about with increasing regularity.  News reports and social media assault our senses with an endless barrage of mass shootings, sexual harassment, immigration issues, political dissension, and other stress-inducing stories.  Add workplace pressure and financial worries, and it’s no wonder that anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorder in the United States, affecting 40 million adults each year.  Nearly six in 10 American workers report anxiety impacts their workplace performance, according to a study published by the academic journal Wiley-Liss. The study says that the economic effects of this mental health condition are huge — costing employers almost $35 billion from lost or reduced workplace productivity.

    Nearly six in ten workers report anxiety impacts their workplace performance.   The cost to employers is almost $35 billion per year.

    How can employers help employees manage stress and minimize lost productivity?  Of course, your company’s EAP should be a go-to resource for employees, and employers should encourage employees to take advantage of their EAP.  But there are other self-help steps that are good to know.

    First, let’s define the terms as the media often uses stress and anxiety interchangeably.  They’re not the same.

    Stress is a response to a threat.  It’s a reaction to a trigger.  It’s usually short-term and can be positive or negative. We’re all born with innate response mechanisms for when we’re threatened, in distress, under pressure or fearful.

    Anxiety is a reaction to stress.  It’s a sustained mental health disorder.

    Chronic stress can affect your mental and physical health.  Emotional and physical disorders linked to chronic stress include anxiety, depression, headaches, high blood pressure, chest pains or heart palpitations, skin rashes, gastrointestinal distress, and sleep problems, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

    Coping with Stress

    At Espyr, we’ve gained extensive experience with clients whose employees work in highly stressful environments – first responders, military, law enforcement, and healthcare, to name a few.   Through our coaching and EAP solutions, we’ve learned there are many ways to cope with stress.  Research has shown that people who effectively manage the stress in their lives have three things in common:

    • They consider life a challenge, not a series of hassles.
    • They have a mission or purpose in life and are committed to fulfilling it.
    • They do not feel victimized by life. They have control over their lives, even with temporary setbacks.

    Katie Hurley, LCSW, in a recent article in Employer Benefit News gave several very good suggestions for coping with stress.

    • Relaxation breathing: The single best thing you can do when under stress is to engage in deep breathing. Practice this strategy when you’re calm so that you know how to use it when you’re under pressure. Inhale for a count of four, hold for four, and exhale for four. Repeat.
    • Practice mindfulness: Sure, there’s an app for that, but the best way to practice mindfulness is to disconnect from your digital world and reconnect with your natural world for a specific period of time each day. Take a walk outside and use the opportunity to notice your surroundings using all of your senses.
    • Get moving: Daily exercise releases feel-good chemicals in your brain. Making exercise a daily habit can buffer you from negative reactions to stressful events.
    • Keep a journal: Writing down your best and worst of the day helps you sort through the obstacles and focus on what went right. It’s normal to experience ups and downs on any given day.
    • Get creative: There’s a reason adult coloring books are so popular – they work. Whether you’re drawing, coloring, writing poetry, or throwing paint on a wall, engaging in a creative hobby gives your mind a chance to relax.
    • Crank up the tunes: Listening to slow, relaxing music decreases your stress response (just as fast-paced music pumps you up for a run.)

    Learning to cope with stress can require some trial and error. What works for someone else might not work for you. It’s important to build your own stress reduction toolkit so that you have more than one strategy to implement when stress kicks in.

    If you or one of your employees is having difficulty coping with stress and it’s impacting daily activities, seek professional help through your organization’s EAP or a physician.







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