Chances are good your employees are seeking out anxiety management techniques as a way to cope with the challenges of returning to work during a pandemic.
Even if they aren’t, they may be quietly suffering from extreme anxiety or fear.
The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed mental health into the wellness spotlight along with a need to learn self-care. In particular, anxiety about going to work has many employees on edge about returning to the workplace.
As of late June, 31% of adults were dealing with anxiety and depression symptoms.
If employers don’t address anxiety and help their employees learn how to manage their mental health, many will find it difficult to return to the same productivity levels prior to the pandemic.
Luckily, there are simple techniques that can be used anywhere to squash anxious thoughts.
That’s why we’ve rounded up expert advice from psychologists, CEOs, social workers, meditation instructors, and mindfulness coaches down below.
Here’s what they are doing right now to help reduce COVID-19-related anxiety in their clients, employees, and themselves.
23 Anxiety Management Techniques to Try From the Experts
- Learn Breathing Techniques for Stressful Moments
When you start feeling anxious where your heart starts racing and you feel dizzy, do a deep breathing exercise. Breathe in for four seconds, hold it for four seconds, and breathe out for eight seconds. Do this at least five times or however long it takes to feel better. This focuses your attention on your breath and takes your mind away from your anxious thoughts.
- Plan Out Your Day for a Greater Sense of Control
Even planning out what you're going to wear the next day and what you're eating for breakfast can give you a better sense of control over your situation. This can help you relieve some anxiety that comes from the uncertainty you feel from returning to work.
- Have Positive Affirmations Ready
Positive self-talk can help you handle anxious thoughts or stressful moments at work. You may have favorite quotes or poems about being strong and overcoming difficult times that you can print out and frame on your desk. Look at the quotes and poems when you are feeling anxious and you may feel encouraged.
— Dr. Brian Wind, Chief Clinical Officer, Clinical Psychologist at JourneyPure
4. Create a Calming Workspace
Think about what you might want at your desk that helps you feel more calm: pictures of family, Post-It notes of your favorite mantras, or fidget toys. When we can keep things that help us feel better on hand, and create easy access to those items, it will help reduce stress and anxiety.
5. Stay Structured
Keep your day structured to help you focus on what you can control. We might not know when and how we will all move through this, but if you can look at your calendar and see you have a meeting at 10am, a walk break at 1pm, and laundry in the evening, that helps focus on the day rather than the uncertainty.
6. Lean into Self-Care
Ask yourself each morning how you want to tend to yourself. This makes you a priority and will help you manage all the stress and anxiety that may be with you as you return to work, school, or whatever might be causing you stress. One day you might decide to FaceTime a friend after work, step outside the office just to get some air, or get your favorite takeout meal. It can be anything you want. Each day might be a different self-care skill, and the idea is if you can focus on taking care of yourself while you are stressed and anxious, your stress and anxiety will decrease!
— Angela Ficken, Psychotherapist at Progress Wellness, LLC
- Focus on What You Can Control (Not What You Can't Control)
You can control how many times you wash your hands and if you choose to wear your mask. You can't control what is going on in the building and what you hear or see. Stay present in the moment; be mindful. Don't get lost in the past or worried about the future, practice mindfulness, or gratitude to help you feel calm and secure.
- Pay Attention to the Positive Events Happening Every Day
Research shows we have three times more positive than negative events every day. But we pay attention to the negative. Our brain lingers in the positive. Notice what you are paying attention to. Challenge yourself to write down three good things that happened today, no matter how small they are. It is the little things that count.
- Just Breathe
When people get anxious they may feel their chest tighten or they get nauseous. Just breathe. Think about your breathing. Do you feel the air get down into your diaphragm? Everyone's optimal breath rate is between 4- 7 breaths per minute. If you slow your breath rate down, you can slow your heart rate. If you can get those two to dance together, you have created heart rate variability, a sign of wellness.
— Leigh Richardson, Founder/Clinical Director of The Brain Performance Center, MS, NCC, LPC, BCN, BCB, CCTP
- Use Physical Coping Strategies
Coping strategies such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) are both helpful for reducing the symptoms of anxiety, stress, and panic attacks. Both of these strategies work through increased activation of the parasympathetic nervous system which, if the skill is practiced correctly, helps suppress the sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for the physiological effects of panic and anxiety.
Progressive muscle relaxation builds upon this mechanism and also works towards systematically relaxing our muscle groups (which are often tense due to panic or anxiety) by systematically tensing and releasing our muscles, which helps override motor control signals which also stem from the sympathetic nervous system.
— Dr. Benson Munyan, Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Director of Neurocove Behavioral Health, LLC
- Remember Anxiety is Normal
Don't condemn yourself. Anxiety cannot be quelled with harshness, strictness, or rigidity; these responses will only escalate it further. Anxiety causes us to live in tomorrow's worries or yesterday's regrets rather than in today's opportunities. Remind yourself of the things that are in your control and the things that aren't and put your focus on the things you can control such as wearing a mask, sanitizing your workspace, washing your hands, etc.
- Attend With Curiosity
Where in your body are you experiencing/feeling the anxiety? Practice noticing your body and the signals it is sending you. Do you experience anxiety as racing thoughts? Breathe deeply into that place.
- Attune With Compassion
How does what you're feeling make sense? (e.g. it makes sense to have some anxiety over a dangerous virus I can't control.)
- Contain With Gentleness
Containment is like a lid that allows emotions to be experienced without becoming unmanageable. Breathing exercises are some of the most helpful containment strategies.
- Pick Your Tools
Select one or two tools that will help recenter you and bring you back to the present. Practice them daily to form the habit and get on the preventative side of anxiety. Other great strategies are running, exercise, meditation, prayer, journaling, painting, gardening, cooking, coloring, etc.
— Dr. Jeremy Bedenbaugh, Founder, Mindfulness Expert and Leadership/Performance Coach at ReCreate Solutions
- Be Intentional With Mindfulness
Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and psychotherapist, famously said the following: "Between stimulus and response there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."
In my view, this quote perfectly captures one of the key benefits of mindfulness. When we are not being mindful, our days are consumed by reacting to events occurring around us without being very thoughtful about them. This can cause us to react poorly and to be less-than-ideal colleagues, mothers, fathers, sisters or brothers.
When we practice mindfulness, we open up the space between stimulus and response and give ourselves the opportunity to reflect on the stimulus and choose how we respond, which, on reflection, should be the positive response. When we respond positively, we can diffuse situations and live a more content and happy life.
— Lisa Davis, Mindfulness and Meditation Expert, Manager at Shanti Bowl
- Do a Digital Detox
Getting off the grid is something that most employees desire but fail to do because they don't know how. Tech-free experiences can have huge benefits to one's mental health and I've done it many times. From getting a weekend meditation in a secluded beach to spa treatments while being surrounded by nature, the advantages of a digital diet are clear: lessens your anxiety and stress; improves your focus and well-being; helps you achieve sound sleep, and helps achieve work-life balance.
— Finn Cardiff, CEO and Founder of Beachgoer
- Connect and Be Social
As the head of my firm, I've made it necessary to implement better employee engagement practices among our employees this time around. We often have end-of-the-week team building activities including Pictionary, bucket list challenges, and charades. These don't require close contact so it's better for social distancing observance.
And before the end of each weekly meeting, I also try to ask each staff how they are coping with the "new normal" changes taking place in our society. I've noticed that although times have been tough, we're cooperating in terms of maintaining our positive workplace culture using this new business model.
There's more focus on employees' mental health this time considering the stress that the ongoing pandemic is bringing to our lives.
— Michael Hammelburger, CEO of Expense Reduction Group
- Take Action
The opposite of anxiety and depression is action. When our brains feel like we have a response — something we can DO — we are able to override that anxiety. One major action is having a plan to mitigate risks of transmission.
- Have a Sense of Control
One of the strongest social threats to our brain is the feeling of not being in control. If things are not predictable, our brains get prepared to go into fight-flight-or-freeze. Find ways to give yourself that sense of control through routine.
— Donna Volpitta,Ed.D., Founder & Education Director of Pathways to Empower
- Pick Relaxation Cues
Choose one cue for relaxation that you'll notice at least three times a day. For example, it might be whenever you open a certain drawer in your desk, or return from the restroom, or refill your water bottle or cup of coffee. Each time you notice this cue, take a deep breath, exhale, and say to yourself, "I am calm, clear, and creative." Repeat for one minute.
Choose a second cue to notice for movement. When you finish a call, for example, or stand up, notice that you've noticed your cue, and then take a minute to do some form of movement that energizes you. Depending on our workplace, it could be a plank pose on the floor, squats, jumping jacks, or toe raises — breathing deeply as you move.
Choose a third cue for fun. Find creative ways to inject joy into your day. For example, whenever you notice the superhero figure on your shelf, pick it up and fly it over your desk, saying, "I am conquering lethargy and vanquishing my to-do list!" or "I am slaying my inbox and destroying all resistance!" Bonus points if you do this with a co-worker and share the moment of lightness.
— Maya Frost, Mindfulness Trainer at MayaFrost.com
- Be Prepared
Make sure you have a thorough understanding of how your workplace is taking COVID-19 precautions. If you have concerns, voice them, and suggest possible solutions.
- Be Assertive
If others in your workplace are not taking precautions, politely ask them to do so. For instance, "Please put your mask back on." Or, "I'm not comfortable with handshakes right now because of COVID," etc.
— Rebecca Ogle, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Therapist at Grounded Counseling
How One Dentist Reduced Anxiety in His Staff and Customers
“This global pandemic has created large amounts of anxiety and stress, both to the general public and those of us who have returned to work. This is especially true for healthcare workers like ourselves,” explains Dr. J Salim, DMD, Owner and founder of Sutton Place Dental Associates. “The most common symptoms we have encountered is fear of infection and possibly even death as a result of exposure to the virus, and loss of potential income and job security.
As a practicing dentist, we have incorporated several techniques to combat this issue. We were closed for 11 weeks and reopened on June 1. We knew several patents and staff members had fear and anxiety regarding the pandemic, as expressed by their emails and phone calls.”
Stay in Communication With Customers and Employees
“By establishing a direct communication channel with our patients and our employees, we have continuously informed them of the latest steps to remedy this issue.
We have increased our appointment lengths by 10 minutes, allowing our staff to properly sanitize the office and treatment rooms before and after each patient. We have covered all surfaces with disposable wrappings that get changed after each patient. We have added air filtration systems to every room and use UV light and fumigators to disinfect the office continuously.
We offer all our patients and staff free masks and hand sanitizers, take the temperature of all patients, and our staff, and screen everyone daily. We have also done this to allow less traffic within the office at a given time, and constantly send patients text messages as to when it is safe to enter the office. We have been open for nearly three months, and so far have not had any COVID-19 infections within our office and our patients.”
Remind Employees of Precautions
“The media has undoubtedly contributed to the general level of fear and anxiety by constantly renewing fear and anxiety. We continuously remind our patients and staff that they can reduce the chance of spreading COVID-19 dramatically. To do this, they must observe proper social distancing methods, wash their hands and/or sanitize them frequently, and wear proper masks. If they take all these aforementioned and straightforward steps, the chances of infection from COVID-19 will be less than the common cold and flu.
We keep reminding everyone of these facts throughout the day. This approach has certainly helped the morale of our employees and of our patients. Every staff member has shown up to work, and all patients have kept their appointments. We also send electronic newsletters to both patients and employees, keeping them abreast of the latest developments regarding the global pandemic, effective methods to combat it, what to do, and what not to do.”
Offer Full Benefits During Closures
“We offered employees full benefits throughout the office closure and beyond. We have also informed them that any sick-leave as a result of COVID-19, whether it is physical or psychological in nature, will be fully paid. Also, we told them that we would offer assistance towards any potential medical bills due to it.
Thus far, no such thing has happened, but it has brought a sense of assurance to our staff. They know that they will be fully supported and covered in case of the unforeseen.
I have also made myself available beyond office hours, both in-person and through phone or email, to discuss any potential issues or concerns any employee may have as it pertains to COVID-19 and related matters. This has also brought peace of mind to all our staff members and boosted their confidence in job security, financial well-being, and mental and emotional support.”
Help Your Employees Learn Anxiety Management Techniques
As you can see from the experts’ insights from above, right now is the time to enhance your mental health policies, remote work strategies, and expectations for your workforce.
It’s also the perfect time to continuously share wellness and mental health resources with them.
As you know, if your employees aren’t well — physically or mentally — they won’t do their best work. Keeping their mental health a top priority right now will help reassure them that they aren’t just a number.
That means giving them mental health resources, being flexible, and connecting often.
Since mid-March the USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research has polled U.S. adults about their mental health status. One in three people reported feeling lonely, up from one in five people feeling that way prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Additionally, many Americans are anxious about getting the virus or a loved one getting it.
Because COVID-19 is impacting the mental well-being of all ages, it’s important for employers to encourage self-care, including anxiety management techniques. This roundup of expert advice is one way to share valuable information.
You may also want to try:
- Inviting an expert into your workplace - Consider hosting a lunch and learn either in-person or on a Zoom call with an expert like the ones above. Any topic in the self-care realm — from stress management tips to anxiety management techniques — will help your workers learn how to keep calm.
- Daily or weekly check-ins - Find creative ways to check-in with your team. Have a mid-week call or gathering to unwind, reconnect, and just chat. It’s good for everyone’s mental health to have that interaction and lighthearted conversation.
- Having more social events - Because of social distancing and isolation requirements, many workers are feeling the impact of disconnection from their social circles. As often as possible, gather in-person for coffee breaks, happy hours, and team-building exercises — even over Zoom.
- Meditating together - There’s a growing body of evidence of how helpful meditation is for stress management and anxiety. Whether your team is remote or in-house, considering starting each day with a mindfulness or meditation section.
- Sharing well-being and self-care content - Make it a habit to share content — podcasts, videos, blogs, etc. — around wellness and self-care.
Lastly, if one of your employees has a mental health disorder, remember they have certain rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They may need to request accommodations at work, so it might be worthwhile to reread the ADA information on mental health, especially anxiety and depression.
How are you keeping anxiety levels low in your workplace? If you’re in need of some more powerful anxiety-reducing resources, check out our free guides: Power of Positivity at Work and Tap the Power of Mindfulness.
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