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Joe Szynkowski: Improving mental health at work
Column | WorkHappy

Joe Szynkowski: Improving mental health at work

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The coronavirus pandemic has rattled us all. Fear and anxiety about this new disease — along with changing restrictions on businesses trying to survive 2020 — have left many dealing with immense stress.

How we deal with this extra pressure can make a big difference on our ongoing mental health. And with remote work causing many of our professional lives to spill into our personal time, the effects on our families and friends can be magnified.

Many peers and friends have shared with me some pretty heavy struggles recently. Local health care workers are constantly on edge about potential staff shortages coupled with patient increases. This is costing them sleep and leaving them drained for their very taxing workdays.

Local educators are bouncing back and forth between remote and in-class students, trying to keep their heads above water on assignments, student development and their own mental health. I’m hearing first-hand stories about teachers sobbing with each other before they leave the classroom for the day.

The impact of this pandemic on our mental and social lives will be felt for years to come. I fully believe that. But with the right daily habits, we can improve our mental health and be a positive light to others, especially in the workplace.

Common stressors

First things first, let’s walk through some of the warning signs of mental health on the decline. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies these COVID-related stressors:

• Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones, your financial situation or job, or loss of support services you rely on.

• Changes in sleep or eating patterns.

• Difficulty sleeping or concentrating.

• Worsening of chronic health problems.

• Worsening of mental health conditions. 

• Increased use of tobacco, and/or alcohol and other substances.

Tips for employees

Not every job is requiring its employees to work from home. In fact, some of the most stressful jobs in health care are being filled by nurses, doctors, techs and administrative staff actually braving the pandemic to treat patients in hospitals and clinics.

How can employees take mental health matters into their own hands? Here are some additional tips from the CDC:

• Encourage employers to offer mental health and stress management education and programs that meet their needs and interests, if they are not already in place. 

• Participate in employer-sponsored programs and activities to learn skills and get the support they need to improve their mental health.

• Serve as dedicated wellness champions and participate in trainings on topics such as financial planning and how to manage unacceptable behaviors and attitudes in the workplace as a way to help others, when appropriate.

• Share personal experiences with others to help reduce stigma, when appropriate.

There are many local and online resources available to help you get through these difficult days. The most important thing to remember in a stressful, anxious moment is that you’re not alone.

Joe Szynkowski is a Sr. Director for NuVinAir Global, a Dallas-based company disrupting the automotive industry. Thanks to technology, he does so happily from his home east of Marion. Check out www.workhappiest.com for his WorkHappy Spotlights or email Joe@TheUpWriteGroup.com for more guidance on finding career joy.

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