Anxiety levels have spiked in recent months for many Americans. This is due not only to the unique circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic, but also the increased awareness of racial injustice and the upcoming presidential election. 

To better understand anxiety and how we can help address it in the workplace, we recently hosted a webinar with licensed clinical social worker and Spring Health care provider Brenda Munroe. Find out what you missed in the recap of our webinar, Let’s Talk About Anxiety, below. 

Anxiety facts and figures

Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease and is typically related to an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. Most of us have experienced anxiety, and an occasional bout of symptoms are an expected part of life. But when anxious thoughts and behaviors occur at a frequent or recurring basis, this may be a sign of an anxiety disorder and a need for greater treatment.

Key signs and symptoms include:

  • Intrusive thoughts or concerns—one of the most common symptoms. 
  • Avoidance of certain situations
  • Excessive worry, agitation, restlessness—this may feel like an uncomfortable urge to move or being on edge
  • Fatigue, which often follows an anxiety attack
  • Difficulty concentrating

All the above symptoms may fluctuate depending on the severity of the anxiety, and will, of course, be different depending on the individual. Even if you experience one or more of these symptoms, you may not necessarily have an anxiety disorder. However, if you experience symptoms on a long-term basis—or feel these symptoms are starting to deeply impact your life—seeking professional help could be a good option. 

Anxiety is common in the U.S., where 40 million people suffer from anxiety disorders each year. Unfortunately, only 36.9% of those sufferers receive treatment. This could be due to a number of reasons. One of these is that many who experience anxiety disorders don’t recognize it as such, but instead consider it run of the mill fear and nervousness. 

Types of anxiety 

Not all anxiety is the same. Below are four common types of anxiety disorders. 

  • Generalized anxiety disorderthe most common type, GAD results in chronic, long lasting anxiety and worry about nonspecific people, life events, objects, and more. With GAD, some are unable to identify a specific cause for their anxiety. 
  • Panic disorderbrief or sudden attacks of apprehension characterize this disorder. Physical effects include difficulty breathing, dizziness, shaking, confusion, and nausea. Some attacks are caused by specific triggers, but others can’t identify an inciting incident.
  • Social anxiety disorderthis involves fear of negative judgement from others in a social setting, and is commonly manifested as stage fight, a fear of intimacy, and anxiety around humiliation and rejection. It can cause people to avoid human interaction and going out in public. 

Anxiety in 2020

Because the events of  2020 have been unprecedented,  many of us are experiencing negative effects on our mental health. Indeed, 80% of employees feel distracted, stressed, or anxious due to the pandemic. And 36% of Americans note that the pandemic has had serious mental health implications. 

In particular, systemic racism and the recent reckoning with it has impacted Black mental health. Among Black adults, 67% say that discrimination is a major source of stress. Four in 10 Black adults also reported experiencing anxiety or depression in July 2020. The cumulative effects of systemic racism cause real anxiety. 

The upcoming presidential election, too, is causing anxiety for many: for 68% of American adults it is a significant source of stress, and 78% of psychiatrists report that their patients are very concerned about the election. In addition, 55% of social media users are worn out by political discussion online. Regardless of political affiliation, stress and anxiety is high across the board. 

Best practices for managers 

As a manager, there are many actions you can take to address anxiety among your employees. Here are a few to consider: 

  1. Hold spaces for personal conversations. Whether it’s through direct reports, holding open “office hours” on Zoom, or just asking people how they are doing before or after work meetings, making yourself available to listen can provide comfort in an uncertain time. 
  1. Openly communicate about new policies and procedures. A new work environment brought on by the pandemic can cause anxiety, so ease worries with clarity on changed procedures at work. 
  1. Offer flexible and creative solutions. Consider working parents when setting meeting times. Destigmatize mental health concerns by offering mental health days to be taken as needed. 
  1. Plan virtual or safe in-person events. Build a community through online social events or spaces where you can safely gather. Provide opportunities for interaction outside of work-related matters. 
  1. Recognize the signs and symptoms, and respond appropriately. Because people don’t always feel comfortable opening up about mental health concerns, learn to recognize them in employees and respond respectfully. Increased nervousness, diminished productivity, and suffering interpersonal relationships could be signs of anxiety. Reach out proactively by asking how you can help support individuals showing signs of frequent anxiety.  
  1. Address racial injustice-related anxiety. Evaluate your current practices and when changes to become more inclusive are made, communicate these to your workers. Be clear about the concrete steps taken to create a more equitable workplace. It’s also a good idea to check in with those employees who are directly affected by racial injustice, and educate yourself to be a better ally. Show employees you are listening and learning. 
  1. Talk about voting and the election. Try to maintain a space for open, respectful dialogue. Ask people about their plans to vote and give time off for voting and volunteering at the polls. And, provide some programming that offers a break from the stress of the election. A weekly mindfulness session or other healthy distractions can be a welcome relief. 
  1. Don’t forget about yourself. Of course, make sure to address your own mental wellbeing, too. Try a daily routine that includes exercise, healthy eating, plenty of sleep, taking breaks from social media and the news, and maintaining connections to family and friends.  

For more details on managing anxiety in the workplace and beyond, watch the full webinar, Let’s Talk About Anxiety.

Spring Health is committed to removing barriers to mental health care through offering a comprehensive assessment to businesses. Upon screening, employees can determine a personalized care plan that best fits their needs through a variety of solutions. Contact us for a demo of Spring Health to see how we can support your workforce. 

Nora Hickey
Nora is a Spring Health staff writer.

October 29, 2020