How to handle feelings of anxiety and depression at work

TORONTO — As COVID-19 cases surge across Canada and a “second wave” looms, some people may feel worsening mental health. 

Throughout the pandemic, Canadians have reported that they are experiencing depression and loneliness, even as anxiety and worry lessened around the disease itself, according to national surveys by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CAMH) and research technology company Delvinia. These mental health difficulties may be particularly challenging for people who have a predisposition to depression, which can be triggered when coupled with stress such as an unprecedented pandemic.

“It presents with an unusual amount of uncertainty and unpredictability,” said Dr. David Dozois, a psychology professor at Western University, who helped design a survey earlier in the pandemic about rising rates of anxiety and depression. “We want predictability, we want control. In a time like COVID, we certainly can’t control all the variables… For people who are vulnerable to depression, the more socially isolated they are, the less behaviourally active they are, that’s just a recipe for worse depression.”

Here are some tips from human resources and psychology experts about mental health and the workplace, and how to manage it. This article is not intended to act as medical advice for people with clinical depression and anxiety.

TALKING TO THE BOSS

Some employees may not feel comfortable approaching their manager about their personal mental health. In that case, Dozois suggests employees go through a union representative or the human resources department to find a solution. Canadians experiencing mental illness have the right to certain accommodations under the law. If uncomfortable in person, CAMH suggests that written accommodation requests are also appropriate. Many workplaces have built-in resources and policies, but not all do.

“Sadly, it’s really variable,” said Dozois. “Most workplaces have employee assistance programs. With the reduced stigma of anxiety and depression and the increased awareness, I think there’s been a lot more that’s been done recently.”

In 2016, Starbucks Canada boosted mental health benefits for its employees to $5,000 annually, which Dozois says is in line with the amount health experts expect for many mental health therapies.

But there are personal steps that Canadians can take, too, in managing their mental health during this time.

ACKNOWLEDGE AND LABEL

One of the first steps in addressing your mental health situation is to acknowledge and label it, says Nita Chhinzer, a professor in the Department of Management at the University of Guelph. 

“We’re very comfortable labelling our happiness, our enthusiasm, our optimism,” she told CTVNews.ca over the phone on Wednesday. “But we need to be equally comfortable labelling our anxiety, our fear, our sadness. We need to stop saying that ‘we’re fine.’” 

The approach depends on how severe ones anxiety or depression is, adds Dozois, but acknowledgement can play a vital role in normalizing feelings.

“It’s important to validate your feelings and recognize those feelings of depression and anxiety are not uncommon, especially now,” he told CTVNews.ca over the phone on Wednesday. 

UNDERSTAND AND IDENTIFY TRIGGERS

Before moving to act and manage difficult emotions at work, it might be useful to evaluate the feelings, suggests Chhinzer: What was it that caused me to pivot from one emotional state to another? Did I fall behind on a work project? Was it another day alone at the home office without human contact? Did I have to encounter a large number of customers coming into my workplace without masks? 

“Was [the trigger] something that’s going to cause us to continue to be in an undesirable mental state for a prolonged period of time?” she said. That way, we can come armed with strategies to act and manage the problem.

ACT AND MANAGE

After acknowledging and understanding what’s going on, it’s important for employees to advocate for themselves, said Chhinzer, who calls the issue of mental health a “shared responsibility” between employers and employees. 

There are three key types of interventions to manage a mental health issue, she said:

  • Active interventions: This might be asking your manager for a new deadline, requesting assistance putting up physical barriers in the workplace, or sending email reminders about physical distancing.
  • Calming interventions: This is the use of strategies that promote de-stressing. Go for a walk, brew some tea, call up a friend.
  • Thinking interventions: This is a more long-term strategy to work at being more positive every day, said Chhinzer. “Recognize what’s within our control and what’s outside of our control.”

WORRY ‘APPOINTMENTS’

In a time when anxiety can be fuelled by the news and reality of pandemic life, it may be useful to reserve time for worry, or as Dozois puts it: “make an appointment with worry.”

“If you’re finding that you’re consumed by worry throughout the day, try to schedule worry time,” he said. “Rather than your worries consuming you all day long, I’m going to shove that off over to my worry time.” 


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