Understanding anxiety in the workplace
On World Mental Health Day, five Priory experts tell us the one thing they wished bosses – and their employees – knew about anxiety and stress
Some 300,000 people with a long-term mental health problem lose their jobs each year. So the personal cost is significant. But the financial cost of this to business is also huge – analysis by Deloitte puts it at between £33bn and £42bn.
Companies who step in to try and provide support to their employees reap the rewards – workplace interventions show a return to business of between £1.50 and £9 for every £1 invested.
So what do the experts think bosses – and their employees – should know to help them take the right approach?
Dr Niall Campbell is a psychiatrist at the Priory’s Hospital in Roehampton, SouthWest London, and a leading expert on addictions:
“Many people mistake stress for a heart attack,” he says. “Any junior doctor working in casualty will tell you that every day at least 2 or 3 patients, of all ages, come in, usually thinking they are having a heart attack. Examinations and investigations prove normal and a panic attack is often diagnosed.
“Some degree of anxiety is an everyday experience for most of us. More intense anxiety comes in the form of panic attacks. Sudden overwhelming anxiety episodes are also common, and can be very frightening.
“The good news is they are treatable. The worst thing to do is suffer in silence. Tell your GP. Treatment is hardly ever medication. It is usually Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which is quick, effective and such a relief.”
Dr Paul McLaren is medical director of Priory’s Hayes Grove Hospital in Kent runs mental health workshops in the City:
He says people often think they have failed or are to blame if they need medication for their anxiety or depression. They haven’t.
“Stress is in the eye of the beholder. One man’s thrill and stimulation is another man’s terror. What makes the same situation scary or exciting is how we think about it, how we appraise it and if we think we can deal with it. These assessments are fast and automatic, but not fixed. They can be altered with psychological help and practice.
“But while most people who have anxiety as an illness can be helped with psychological treatment, for some the anxiety is so severe that medication is necessary. Anxiety as an illness is not just feeling ‘a bit stressed’. It can be deeply distressing.”
Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Priory’s Woodbourne Hospital in Birmingham:
The effect of anxiety or stress on a family can be pervasive, she explains.
“If a parent is anxious, a child struggles more.
“I often see young people’s mental health mirroring that of their parents. It is so important that a ‘whole family’ approach is taken when tackling stress and anxiety. Little changes in a family ‘system’ can benefit everyone.
“Anxiety disorders, including generalised anxiety, panic attacks, social phobia, obsessive compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder – they are all treatable. The earlier people access help the better, as response to treatment may be quicker. The right therapies can help people recover and stay well within a relatively short period; often it takes only 2-3 months to have people feeling so much better and functioning really well.”
Alexia Dempsey is an eating disorders specialist at the Priory’s Roehampton Hospital:
Sometimes stress, depression or anxiety can cause other issues including over-eating.
“If you comfort eat to manage stress or anxiety, find a way of distracting yourself – and remember that dehydration is often confused with hunger,” she says.
“Take time to identify your triggers so you can identify when you are vulnerable to this behaviour. Try some mindfulness, this could be on an App on your phone, and make sure you are drinking plenty of water. Sometimes your body just needs fluids. If you don’t like plain water, try it with a slice of fresh fruit as a healthy alternative. Find other pleasurable activities – painting your nails, playing sport, take a long bath or a long walk, meet friends and family.”
Dr Liam Parsonage is consultant psychiatrist at Priory’s North London Hospital:
Some anxiety can improve performance but you need to keep it in check, he explains.
“Anxiety is a normal physiological reaction and we all experience it from time to time. It’s the basis of the fight or flight response and in fact anxiety can be a useful emotion; it causes the release of adrenaline which puts us into a state of alertness, and the right amount of anxiety actually helps improve performance.
“It’s when that anxiety gets too much, or out of proportion to the situation, and when it’s being triggered at inappropriate times that I would always advise seeking professional help. You can speak to your GP, call a support line or look into private healthcare. This will enable you to learn ways of coping with your anxiety and depression and allow you to manage your working life.”
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