From putting on a “work persona”, to educating colleagues about mental health, different people have different ways of managing anxiety at work.
“The workplace can be a very anxiety-inducing environment,” mental health and addiction practitioner Romy Lee says.
“Often we have more people around at work, or it might be stressful trying to meet deadlines and expectations.”
But Lee says there’s no reason employees should be discriminated against for mental health issues.
“If you were at work and you were vomiting you would go home, it’s an absolute no-brainer. If you’re at work and your anxiety is severe to the point that you’re not able to function in your workday, same thing.”
Clinical psychologist Dr Eve Hermansson-Webb says some workplaces may contribute to anxiety.
“We spend so many hours at work, it should ideally be a place where we feel safe, accepted and comfortable,” she says.
“If a person notices that other people around them are also anxious and stressed a lot of the time, maybe that’s actually a signal to look at the workplace and whether it’s a supportive environment.”
MP Matt Doocey, National Party spokesperson for mental health, says employers have a responsibility to foster the positive mental wellbeing of their staff.
“It’s great to see the proliferation of EAP services – Employee Assistance Programmes – and often ... you can access timely mental health support through your workplace.”
Counsellor Shirleen Prasad advocates being upfront and open with your employer about your mental health.
“Change happens, life is not constant, and sometimes we’re going through challenging times and we might need some extra support,” she says.
“Talk to your employer about it. Workplaces should have processes and protocols in place to help make a plan for how to best support you.”
Asian Family Services deputy director Ivan Yeo was upfront about his mental health with his employer from the start, letting his chief executive know about his depression and anxiety so he could access support.
But Dr Apisalome Talemaitoga, Pasifika GP Network chair, says there’s one thing even more important than being honest with your employer: “I think you have to be upfront with yourself when you’re applying for a job. Is this something that’s going to bring on the uncertainty that will set off the triggers that bring on that anxiety? Because you want to be safe.”
Tips for managing anxiety at work include planning ahead, letting your manager know if you’re overloaded, celebrating successes, taking breaks such as going for a walk around the block, setting boundaries such as not checking your work email from home, and taking advantage of workplace wellbeing schemes.
More people are being open about their mental health challenges in the workplace, and it’s becoming increasingly common for workplaces to offer benefits such as wellbeing or “duvet days” off work.
With around one in four New Zealanders experiencing anxiety disorders at some point in their lifetimes, many colleagues and managers will have first-hand experience themselves.
Misconceptions: Unravelling Anxiety was made with the support of NZ On Air.
Misconceptions: Unravelling Anxiety follows the first Misconceptions series by Digital Alchemist, The Truth About Miscarriage.
Where to get help
If you think you may be experiencing anxiety, you can ask your GP or a counsellor for advice. You can also reach out to the following organisations:
- National Anxiety 24-hour Helpline 0800 269 4389 0800 ANXIETY Helpline | Anxiety NZ
- Lifeline Aotearoa www.lifeline.org.nz/services/lifeline-helpline 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7)
- Suicide Crisis Helpline 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
- Youthline www.youthline.co.nz 0800 376 633
- Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
- Kidsline www.kidsline.org.nz 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
- Whatsup www.whatsup.co.nz 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
- Depression Helpline 0800 111 757 or text 4202
- Eating Disorders Carer Support NZ EDCS Eating Disorders Carer Support NZ | Facebook