Managers need to understand symptoms of helplessness, anxiety, and depression in their workforces – Dr Harry Barry

The well-being of staff has moved centre stage because of COVID-19. Never has it been more important for companies to understand the symptoms of helplessness, anxiety or depression, a by-product of COVID-19, and offer their employees easy access to supportive resources to enable them cope in these very challenging times.

That was the advice given by medical practitioner and mental health specialist Dr Harry Barry when he addressed a recent Shannon Chamber Skillnet webinar, the third time his expertise has been called on at members’ requests.

This latest webinar was supported by Shannon-based Engine Lease Finance, whose HR manager Maria Frost stated that the conflicting priorities of remote working and the shifting levels of restrictions are forcing companies to embed a culture of well-being into their organisations.

“Never has it been more important to support employees and show them that the company is there to help them,” she said.

This permeated throughout Dr Barry’s address which focused specifically on anxiety, stress and emotional resilience.

“Eighteen per cent of business absenteeism is due to stress, anxiety and depression and COVID-19 has added to this; it has generated all the classical triggers.” he said.

“Remote working, while being lauded in part, has its own negatives such as feelings of isolation, lack of space, conflicting demands, lack of structure and human input and in many cases, longer hours. This can induce toxic stress. Typical symptoms include fatigue, exhaustion, problems with sleep, poor concentration, mood swings, and frustration. This can result in people being too tired to go to bed, drinking too much or using technology excessively.

“It is important to recognise the symptoms of toxic stress as, unless checked, they can lead to a heart attack, a stroke or high blood pressure. People must listen to their bodies and do something to alleviate these symptoms as early as possible,” he stressed.

Turning his attention to anxiety, Dr Barry said it was important for managers to understand the different types of anxiety – acute, which causes panic attacks; social, a fear of people; general, which includes worrying about the future and which can manifest in fatigue and teeth grinding, growing addictions and ultimately, depression, which can last for many months and lead to repeat episodes throughout a person’s lifetime.

Stressing the importance of conversing with people who display signs of anxiety he added: “Never be afraid to ask someone what their intentions are. If you get a clear message of their state of mind and intentions, you will know that person is in trouble and needs help.”

Commenting on lifestyles, he encouraged attendees to get the right amount of sleep and exercise. “If you don’t get a good night’s sleep, it will impact your mental health. In the first four hours of sleep, the brain and body heal themselves, your heart rests and your brain reorganises the memories of your day. In the second four hours, memories are detached from emotions and prepares you for the next day.

“Go to bed at the same time every night. Shut all technology down hours beforehand; don’t drink coffee after 1pm; have your bedroom well aired and; remove everything from the room that has nothing to do with sleep. Get at least thirty minutes of exercise every day and cut out alcohol Monday to Friday. Alcohol only gives you a temporary calm,” he added.

Turning his attention to emotional resilience which gives people the ability to cope with all that life throws at them, he added: “Get your life balance right by focusing on self, relationship, children, wider family, work and hobbies and other parts of your life, in that order; prepare a weekly priority list and set out to achieve them. Most importantly, train your brain to deal with uncertainty.”

Speaking directly to managers, Dr Barry urged them to develop empathy skills, both emotional empathy and cognitive empathy.

“Emotional empathy will give you a sense of where your employees are at and cognitive empathy will give you the ability to problem solve with them. Focus on your team and understand those who have a low or high frustration tolerance and help those who are struggling to deliver by encouraging them to break their tasks into smaller jobs to enable them to attain the end goal,” Dr Barry concluded.

Describing the webinar as a very valuable and informative hour, Engine Lease Finance’s Maria Frost urged everyone to be kind to one another in these unusual times.

Shannon Chamber CEO Helen Downes described the webinar as “giving companies a better knowledge of how to deal with anxiety, stress and mental health issues in the workplace.”