Do you often feel overwhelmed or worried? Or maybe you’ve felt restless during the day, or easily irritated by what’s going on around you? Well, we’ve all been there at some point. While some worry is to be expected and  can even be helpful, sometimes people experience these difficulties so much so that it negatively impacts their well-being and ability to function well.

In December, Big Health hosted a webinar to unpack anxiety disorders and how they affect our overall health, work, and well-being. Dr. Adrienne Heinz, a Clinical Research Psychologist with Big Health, and the director of the Substance and Anxiety Intervention Laboratory at the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, led us through an overview of the different components of anxiety disorders, addressed some of the common challenges to getting help, answered a host of intriguing questions from the audience, and even challenged us all in a ‘Myth Busting’ section!

What is anxiety?

18% of the population meets criteria for a diagnosable anxiety disorder each year, so there’s a good chance that you might recognize someone in your life who exhibits some of the behaviors associated with anxiety disorders. Anxiety is comprised of thoughts, behaviors, and physical sensations, which is maintained by a vicious cycle of negative reinforcement and avoidance.

While anxiety can manifest differently for different people, a person who is diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder experiences excessive and chronic anxiety and worry about a number of activities or events.   Specifically they experience at least 3 symptoms for more days than not, over at least 6 months. Symptoms include:

  • Restlessness or feeling on edge
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Irritability
  • Muscle Tension
  • Sleep disturbance

In addition, these anxiety symptoms cause significant distress and impairment in one’s ability to function.  While some worry is understandable and is to be expected, people with problematic anxiety experience worry that interferes with them living a healthy and fulfilling life.

The Consequences of Anxiety

Given the prevalence of anxiety, it may come as no surprise that the economic costs of anxiety are profound:

  • $1 trillion in lost productivity within the global economy each year
  • People with anxiety disorders are 3-5x more likely to visit the doctor
  • And 6x more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders

These costs often show up in the workplace in the form of absenteeism, with an estimated 35-45% missed work days being attributed to mental health problems. Presenteeism – when employees still go to work but are less productive due to illness – is associated with  a loss of 20 million working days annually due to mental health conditions.

Moreover, anxiety is vastly overlapping with other common mental health conditions like depression and insomnia. In fact, individuals are more likely to have two of these conditions, than just one.

Treatment and Workplace Tips for Supporting Anxiety

70% of people living with a mental health condition go untreated, so it’s vital that we break down barriers to create an environment that encourages people to seek treatment when necessary. Common barriers such as stigma, lack of awareness, an individual’s desire for self-help, cost, and geography, prevent those living with anxiety disorders from accessing the help they need.

Fortunately, the good news is Dr. Heinz provided some useful tips for supporting anxiety in the workplace, including:

  • Organizing mental health education for the greater population to increase familiarity with the problem
  • Speaking about mental health in the same context as we talk about physical health
  • Changing our language so it’s person first (Say: A person experiencing difficulties with anxiety. Don’t say: He is anxious.)
  • Create a safe space so employees feel empowered to talk to managers, or the appropriate HR professional to inquire about resources available for help or accommodations
  • Since CBT is a first-line treatment for anxiety disorders, consider expanding its reach through the adoption of clinically proven digital solutions based on evidence-based in-person CBT techniques

Workplaces that support mental health are more likely to reduce absenteeism, increase productivity, and benefit from the associated economic gains. Still have questions about anxiety in the workplace? We’re always happy to talk! 

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