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Staff anxiety: A major coronavirus challenge for businesses

By Amber Cowburn, founder at Working Well and Mental Health First Aid Instructor

Anxiety is a powerful emotion. It’s a primal response of mind and body when we think we are in danger. Anxiety can manifest in a huge range of physical symptoms, including headaches, an upset stomach, feeling sick and many more. 

When we feel anxious, we sometimes enter unhealthy thought processes. ‘Catastrophising’ is common, where you irrationally imagine everything will have the worst possible outcome.

Anxiety is a normal emotion. Everybody experiences it at some point, and it can be a useful response to something that makes us feel uncomfortable. For example, feeling anxious about giving a presentation is not unusual, and afterwards we might feel a huge sense of relief or reward.

It’s also important to note that feeling heightened anxiety levels during the coronavirus outbreak is normal. This is a time of heightened uncertainty, fear and health worries. All these things can exacerbate feelings of anxiety.

Unfortunately, some people experience high levels of anxiety or consistently feel anxious. Unless proactively managed, this kind of anxiety can be debilitating. When anxiety interferes negatively with daily life or limits us, then it may be diagnosed as an anxiety disorder.

With that in mind, let’s explore effective coping mechanisms for helping ourselves, our colleagues and our teams manage anxiety.

To look after your own anxiety levels:

  • Acknowledge any anxious thoughts, but don’t allow them to overtake you.
  • Try to quiet anxious thoughts by taking time for relaxation. Use strategies like meditation, mindfulness, yoga, reading, or talking to friends or family.
  • Write down things you are worried about, to offload these feelings. If they persist, try challenging anxious thoughts with rational responses that you know are true.
  • To-do lists, schedules and day or week plans can also be useful. Routine is reassuring to an anxious brain.
  • Focus on your work and be sure to reflect on what you have achieved.
  • Look after your general well-being. Keep active with light exercise, go to bed earlier to get more rest, stay hydrated, get fresh air and keep in contact with friends and family.
  • Make time for self-care before going to sleep. Have a bath, listen to a guided meditation or read a book before bed. Sleep is crucial for good mental health, so put down the technology and take half an hour to calm your brain before going to bed.

If you are managing a team:

  • Be aware of varying anxiety levels amongst individuals.
  • Try to boost team morale by being a consistent and positive leader.
  • Check in on employee well-being via individual video calls. Allow them to vent and voice their worries. Acknowledge how they are feeling. It may be different to you, and listening is an invaluable skill.
  • Begin team calls with some light-hearted chat, to brighten the mood.
  • Develop wellness action plans with your employees and remind them that they can talk to you if they feel anxious.
  • Shut down any panic talk or unhelpful speculation within your team, as it could be harming somebody’s mental health.
  • Signpost to reputable mental health support in your country. Remind your team that you care about their mental health and well-being.

If you are supporting a colleague or teammate:

  • Check in with them daily and see how they are. Video-call when possible to make a stronger human connection.
  • Remind them that you are there for them and that you care.
  • Offer suggestions of things you’ve found useful. Share good online resources.
  • Avoid sending links to news articles, as they might find this overwhelming.
  • Be kind, nurture your connection to your teammate and show them you are there for them virtually.
  • Let your manager know if you are concerned about your teammate, or feel they need more support during this time.