Stress management

Stress is a fact of the modern work-place. In some cases, employees may
require some form of behavioral health treatment, since a healthy work-force includes good behavioral health.

Christopher McGowan, director of Psychiatric Services and of the Partial Hospitalization Program at Akron General
Medical Center, says that what’s important
is knowing how stress affects you and then
relieving it. “Going to the gym, taking a
walk or enrolling in an art class is certainly
better for you than going to the bar,” he
says. “Drinking alcohol does nothing more
than zap your mind and body of energy
causing you to fatigue and then feel
stressed.” He encourages people to look at
each situation separately and ask themselves how much mental energy they want
to give to a situation.

Smart Business spoke to McGowan
about keeping stress from becoming a

What is stress, in layman’s terms?

Stress is apparent when you are ‘not
yourself.’ You’re forgetful, moody, or argumentative. You can’t sleep or you want to
sleep all the time and you feel you never
have enough time. I call stress the seed of
depression, because, left to continue without relief, it can grow into depression.

Webster says it best: ‘Stress: a physical,
chemical, or emotional factor that causes
bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation.’

What causes stress?

Stress occurs when we feel we have no
control, or we feel out of control. Stress
can occur as a result of good events as well
as bad. A marriage, a birth, a promotion —
all can cause stress, just as we would
expect when we experience a death of a
loved one, being laid-off from work, or
experiencing a divorce. It’s when we can’t
or don’t limit our exposure to stress that
stress can lead to a serious anxiety disorder or depression.

How do stress-related behavioral health concerns affect business?

According to a July 2005 white paper
from the Ohio Department of Mental Health, over the next 10 to 20 years,
depression is projected to become the
leading source of workdays lost through

The report sites other disorders, including anxiety, which cost the U.S. about $42
billion a year in 1990, with $23 billion of
that being spent on non-psychiatric medical treatment. Patients are many times
admitted for medical ailments, which are
directly related to psychological issues.
For example, patients can be admitted for
heart attack symptoms, which are later
diagnosed as anxiety attack symptoms.

The report says that untreated depression, stress or anxiety makes about two
hours out of each workday unproductive.
A recent study showed a 6.2 percent increase in productivity and 22.8 percent
fewer absences over two years for depressed individuals who received regular
phone calls to encourage them to continue
with treatment and medication. Employers
saved $2,600 annually for each employee.

What should employers look for to recognize
a stressed worker?

Look for a worker whose behavior has
changed to become more irritable or withdrawn. They may become more compulsive about eating, smoking, drinking, or spending money. Look for psychological
signs, such as employees who become
defensive, disorganized, depressed or have
difficulty making decisions.

Some of your best employees are ticking
time bombs for stress. They’re the folks
who never say no to a project, or are frequently covering for others. Left to go on,
stress creeps up on them. These folks need
your help to practice setting limits. They
will need encouragement to ask for help on
a project or to say no to a request. These
are the great workers that suddenly go on
medical leave because they’ve ‘had it’ mentally or medically.

What options do employers have to improve
their employees’ behavioral health?

It’s important to listen to your employees
so you know how they are feeling. Try to
have fun at work. During the summer,
throw a barbeque at lunch; call off work
early to play volleyball. Don’t let morale
deteriorate in the first place. Take steps to
assure your employees are rested and feel
valued by encouraging balance between
work and play. You’ll get more out of
employees if they believe you care for their
well-being both physically and mentally.

Lastly, if you’re stressed, chances are
your employees will be also, so take care of
yourself. Remember our jobs are important, but they are not our lives. It’s the stuff
we do afterwards that we need to be attentive to: our friends, our family and ourselves.

Is a stress-free life a reasonable and achievable goal?

I believe having no stress is unrealistic
and, quite frankly, boring. One needs some
level of stress to achieve even the simplest
task of getting up in the morning. Not all
stress is bad. Stress can motivate us to
accomplish great things. For example,
have you ever heard of an athlete who is
stress free? Good athletes will admit it’s
very stressful to be a winner. However,
great athletes will tell you that balance
between workouts and relaxation is critical for stationed performance.

CHRISTOPHER MCGOWAN is director of Psychiatric Services
and the Partial Hospitalization Program at Akron General Medical
Center. He can be reached at [email protected].