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How to Cope with Professional Stress

It’s lonely at the top. Mix in the pressure of leading through a global pandemic and you’ve got a recipe for a large batch of professional stress.

If you have noticed a shift in your mood or felt the pressure of anxiety over the last several months, you are not alone. A survey from the U.S. Census found one-third of Americans are showing signs of clinical anxiety or depression amid the pandemic.

These mood disorders are rising. In 2014, 25% of Americans experienced a depressed mood. In the middle of the pandemic, 50% of Americans reported having a depressed mood.

NBC News reported, “Vibrant Emotional Health, the company that administers the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, also runs a Disaster Distress Helpline. The company said calls to the hotline increased by 338 percent in March as states began issuing isolation guidelines and the pandemic became a national emergency.”

Americans are tense thanks to social isolation and the looming virus fears. Executives have this stress, in addition to managing remote teams, providing support to their employees, and conducting business through a sudden recession.

Saying we have a lot on our plates is an understatement.

Maurizio Fava, MD, psychiatrist-in-chief, at the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, said, “It’s quite understandable the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to cause significant stress and psychological distress for a large proportion of the population. And we know the rates are progressively increasing.”

You must make your mental health and your employee’s mental health a priority, especially when life is as uncertain as it is now.

Origins of Angst

Within a matter of weeks, our lives changed dramatically. And with that change came a whole host of new worries.

Personal stress came in all-new forms:

  • Grief over losing loved ones
  • Fear over getting ill or loved ones getting sick
  • Social distancing for months
  • Loss of community
  • Limited access to family, friends, and caregivers
  • Loss or fear of losing jobs
  • Financial strains
  • Lack of childcare

Unfortunately, the new worries also translated into our working lives.

Professional stress multiplied overnight. Employees worried they might lose their jobs. Leaders needed to show strength and resiliency to keep their people motivated while still driving growth. In many fields, employees wondered how to make themselves recession-proof as the American economy took a massive dip.

These are not carefree days. The opportunities for anxiety are plentiful.

Red Flags

How do you know if this stress is impacting your day-to-day life?

Start with a self-assessment. The CDC identified several indicators of elevated professional and personal anxiety. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you more afraid about your own health or the health of your loved ones?
  • Do you notice any changes in your eating habits?
  • Are you having trouble sleeping or concentrating?
  • Do you notice chronic health problems worsening?
  • Do you notice your mental health conditions worsening?
  • Have you increased usage of tobacco, alcohol or other substances?

These are the signs that stress is more prevalent in your everyday life.

Get Help

If you took this self-assessment and observed several negative impacts, it’s time to think about ways to get relief.

Dr. Fava from Massachusetts General offers these suggestions to start, “try to get a good night’s sleep, maintain good nutrition habits, and stick with exercise routines to try to relax. There are also mindfulness apps like Evermind and Headspace that can help.”

If these apps are not providing you the support you need, maybe it is time to seek professional help. For example, if feelings of fatigue or anxiety overwhelm you, think about finding a therapist. You can talk to a professional from the comfort of your own home. Many therapists are providing telehealth services to their patients.

Mass General reported that since March 2020, 97% of their mental health providers see patients online. This is a common practice that can help ease your personal and professional stress immensely.

There are virtual therapists that can help you quickly. Try Betterhelp or Psychology Today’s search function to find the right support system for you. The first step is to interview therapists and decide who is most equipped to help you navigate your situation and needs. You should feel quickly at ease with the therapist.

You Are Not Alone

In times of social distancing, it is easy to feel isolated and lonely. It does not have to be this way. There are ways to be in touch with loved ones while maintaining distance (take a walk, sit together in a driveway or backyard). But if you find yourself struggling to overcome stress at work or feeling depressed, it’s time to seek help. Get help in a crisis by using one of these resources:

Take care of your mental health. If you decide not to go the therapy route, make time for self-care. Exercise, eating healthy, meditating, and stretching are all ways to give yourself a break. When the professional stress eases, we bet you’ll work smarter and be more present in your personal life.