Stress isn’t a Workplace Problem — It’s an Everyone Problem

As the chief medical officer at Ginger.io, I talk to employers every day about employee health and wellness. What’s interesting is that every single one of them understands that workplace stress is a problem. It’s common knowledge. Workplace stress is also a challenge commonly cited by Ginger.io members. In fact, stress is actually what brings many of our members to our product.

Of the Ginger.io members who report suffering from stress, 73 percent cite work-related stress and anxiety as a challenge. You can find more data and a summary of the ways people manage workplace stress in the infographic we’ve shared below.

Organizations want to solve this issue for employees, but many lack the resources. Whether I’m talking to a 500 or 100,000-person company, I never have to make the case that at anytime, a segment of their workforce will be feeling stress. Yet, mental health programs for workers, like EAP, too often go underutilized. People who are feeling a “little bit of stress or anxiety,” might not feel like they need the help of a mental health program.

But even a little bit of stress — like any health condition — can quickly grow into a larger problem when left untreated.

This May, Mental Health America (MHA) is campaigning to raise awareness about the dangers of “risky behaviors.” Their campaign shows how people turn to dangerous distractions, like alcohol or compulsive shopping, as a way to cope with stress. This is especially the case when people try to deal with stress on their own.

It’s in individuals’ and companies’ best interest not to let stress get to this point.

Instead, people need to set up a support network of people that they can turn to before they start feeling stressed. This network can include friends, family or even a counselor. Like any medical condition, taking proactive, preventative measures helps people thrive. It’s what leads to better health in the long run — mental and physical.

Everyone experiences stress throughout their lives.

Stress is completely normal. We all experience it at different points throughout our lives. But how we handle it can have an enormous impact on whether we are successful in our personal and professional lives. But as researchers from Stanford University told the New York Times, many people aren’t great at acknowledging stress. Their research showed that about 1 in 6 people regularly repress feelings of stress instead of getting help.

For this reason, I don’t differentiate between work stress and personal stress. When an employee gets to the office Monday morning, they might be feeling stressed about what they need to do that day. But they could also just as easily be feeling down about something that happened over the weekend, like an argument with their significant other.

Life happens to all of us.

Our personal and professional lives are constantly colliding, especially in today’s connected environment. There’s no line between personal and professional stress and anxiety — but our success in both arenas is dependent on how well we handle stress.

Most people repress stress, they deny it altogether.

When it comes to stress, the majority of people don’t do anything. They ignore it. That’s me. That’s what I’ve done for decades. I try to ignore it. But we know that when you ignore and suppress things, they build up and it’s not healthy. It manifests in conflicts and “bad moods.”

When this happens, people come into work already carrying a huge weight on their shoulders from the weekend, already forecasting how much work they have to do that morning. Other employees start to see them as being difficult to work with, but the reality is that they don’t have a healthy outlet for stress.

Other people find ways to distract themselves from stress.

When people use distraction to avoid dealing with stress, they simply mask the problem and this can result in making their stress worse over time.

As MHA shows in their data, these risky behaviors can include alcohol, shopping, online gaming and gambling, prescription medications, and over-exercise. To deal with stress, people binge on these substances or behaviors.

For example, a behavior, like binge-drinking, can start to become the only way someone knows how to “blow off steam.” But we know the perils of that and how addictive self-medication can become, it’s a slippery slope. Plus, these actions often compound the problems people are already facing. When a distraction becomes a problem, like an internet addiction, people become less productive and effective in their personal and professional lives.

Build awareness to interrupt a negative cycle.

Everyone has the ability to interrupt a cycle of stress that’s becoming destructive. Being aware of stress and acknowledging it is the first step toward overcoming stress.

Yet, most individuals are unaware that stress is an indication that they need help. If someone regularly parties and consumes a lot of alcohol after a hard, stressful week, a lot of people see that as normal. They don’t think it’s normal to reach out and talk to someone about their week.

Normalizing stress is a big part of changing this dynamic. It’s crucial for people to be able to recognize how they’re feeling and look into getting help without feeling like there’s something wrong with them.

Beat stress by being proactive.

Whether you’re an employee at a desk, a remote worker, a senior executive or the CEO, everyone feels symptoms of stress. No one is immune to it. Everybody’s job is hard. When office politics, competition and personal-life stress are added into the mix, things get even harder. We’re not equipped to deal with this alone. Plus, it’s different for everyone. There are common cues, but it can surface in a variety of ways. It’s anything where you don’t feel like yourself.

My best advice is to think proactively about stress and set up a support system to turn to before you feel stressed. Talk to a significant other, friends, family or a colleague about stress. Communication is fundamental to who we are as human beings. If people know that there is someone they can trust who’s not going to judge them and keep their worries confidential, they’ll talk to them. That’s how we can break the stress cycle.

Dr. Omar Dawood is the Chief Medical Officer at Ginger.io — 24/7 emotional support for when you’re stressed, anxious or just feeling down. Follow him on Medium.