As the COVID-19 pandemic has progressed, and millions have remained under quarantine, I have observed some unsettling trends in the virtual workplace. Many employees are reporting working a lot more hours & feeling burned out, a fair number are struggling to juggle family responsibilities & work demands, and a large amount are experiencing sleep disruption, loneliness, & isolation. Even as some states begin to open up, the reality is that remote work may be the new normal for a longer period of time than we imagined. Twitter recently announced that its employees can work remotely permanently, which may signal the future for some workplaces. While some employees have discussed enjoying this virtual workplace, the undeniable fact is that a large portion of the workforce is feeling increased levels of stress.
As we celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month in May, I believe that employers can introduce some simple strategies to help their employees better cope with this new reality, in order to maintain good mental health. Some of those strategies are stress reduction training and coaching. I have recently had the opportunity to collaborate with some companies to provide stress reduction training & coaching, as a means of supporting their employees during this increasingly difficult time. A brief group training followed by individual coaching can be effective tools in decreasing stress levels, and allowing employees to have a better experience under quarantine. Unfortunately, we are not taught how to best manage stress, and for many, we may believe that it is just something we need to accept, and therefore, we don’t seek ways to reduce it. Fortunately, that is not the case, you don’t have to accept high levels of stress, and you can, in fact, implement solutions to decrease your stress levels.
While the COVID-19 pandemic will result in more severe mental health challenges, especially for our essential workers who are experiencing a high degree of trauma & anxiety on a daily basis, which will require longer term mental health treatment, most employees can benefit from a shorter-term intervention like stress reduction training & coaching. Since stress and burnout can cause higher levels of absenteeism due to physical illness and can impact productivity & performance, it is critical for employers to leverage strategies to aid in their employees’ overall wellbeing. The following are ways that stress reduction training and coaching can assist employees in using healthier coping strategies to improve their mental health & their work functioning:
- Identification of Stress Levels– when people say they are stressed, and a good amount do not admit to being so, most do not understand the intensity of their stress. By rating your stress level, on a range from 1 -10 (“1” being “not stressed at all” to “10” being “severely stressed”), you can understand how to make progress in reducing your stress. If you are typically operating at a stress level of 8, we would then want to explore how to decrease it to a 5 or 6, by developing a Stress Reduction Action Plan.
- Recognition of Stressors & Triggers- when you say you are stressed, it might feel that everything is causing you stress. In actuality, there tends to be 2-3 primary stressors (e.g. lack of separation between work & home, greater work demands, longer work hours, interpersonal conflict, being unable to leave your home), which cause you the most distress. By recognizing these stressors and your triggers (e.g. an unplanned meeting, a new work demand), which can cause your stress levels to spike, you can develop a strategy to address them, in order to maintain lower stress levels.
- Signs of Stress-sometimes we may not even realize how stressed we are, because we ignore or don’t truly understand the signs. Common signs of stress are irritability, sleep disruption, somatic complaints (e.g. headaches, upset stomach), withdrawal, and difficulty concentrating. Once you know your signs of stress, it can enable you to take action to reduce it.
- Stress Reduction Action Plan-once you have identified your stress level, primary stressors, and usual signs of stress, it is now time to develop a Stress Reduction Action Plan, which entails reflecting on & implementing the most effective stress reduction strategies for yourself. Stress reduction coaching can help you to identify the best strategies for you. For some, it might mean developing a consistent exercise routine. For others it may involve greater boundary & time management. And finally, for another portion of individuals, it can include improving your sleep hygiene, instituting a meditation practice, and socially connecting more actively with others.
We are all dealing with higher levels of stress, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we may take that stress for granted, as it pertains to its impact on our general functioning. By providing stress management training & coaching, employers can provide a critical resource to help their employees manage the reality of working from home for a longer time period than expected, and for some, to deal with the anxiety of actually returning to the physical office space & the outside world. We will be dealing with the mental health fallout of this pandemic for years to come, but in the shorter term, we need to consider strategies that will improve the mental wellness & functioning of employees such as stress reduction training & coaching.