Why Smart Leaders Tune in to Workplace Stress and Mental Health
White Paper Summary
Research and perceptions about mental health have been evolving for decades, in group health as well as workers’ comp. But thanks to the pandemic, the level of robust conversation around mental health has never been more ubiquitous across a broad range of industries and sectors.
One word that finds its way into many of those conversations is stress.
We all have stress. You’re giving a big presentation, your calendar’s overbooked this week and you don’t know how you’ll get it all done. You’re planning an important event. Stress is far from a disorder – it can even be beneficial. It revs you up. It focuses you. It can improve your performance.
So what’s the difference between good stress and bad stress, and is stress the same thing as anxiety?
These key issues aren’t always well understood.
“The last two years have afforded millions of us a chance to better understand the difference between what I’ll call day-to day-stress, and anxiety and depressive disorders, and more serious psychological conditions such as PTSD,” said David Vittoria, LCSW, MCAP, ICADC, Chief Behavioral Health Officer, Carisk Partners.
The better we understand these intricacies, said Vittoria, the better we’ll be able to serve the needs of the workforce, and help keep the recovery of injured workers’ moving forward.
“Intermittent, stressful events are what keeps the brain more alert. Eustress is that term clinicians use to describe that type of stress we feel when we’re excited, when we’re energized, but there’s no threat, no imminent danger,” Vittoria said.
“Bad stress is the kind that wears us out. It leaves us jittery. It’s harmful to our health. It can lead to anxiety, confusion, poor concentration or memory, decreased performance.”
That said, there’s a distinct difference between the physiologic and psychological dynamics of stress and the presence of an actual mood or an anxiety disorder, according to Vittoria.
“There’s a fine line between stress and anxiety,” he said. “Both are emotional responses, but stress is typically caused by an external trigger. People under stress experience mental and physical symptoms. They get irritable, angry, experience fatigue, muscle pain, they have stomach problems, even difficulty sleeping.”
Anxiety might manifest with a nearly identical set of symptoms, he added. But anxiety is an internal condition defined by persistent, excessive worry. It doesn’t go away, even in the absence of a stressor.
“That’s a key difference.” Vittoria said. “Anxiety can manifest in a variety of ways – generalized anxiety, panic disorder, phobia, social anxiety, even obsessive-compulsive disorder and PTSD are classified within those anxiety disorders.”
Left unaddressed, these conditions can worsen, and can negatively impact a worker’s physical health and ability to recovery from injury.
“The earlier that we can become involved, with our behavioral health expertise, our team of clinicians and coaches, the earlier that we can become involved in that patient’s life … the more likely we are to be able to intervene [to prevent] greater impairment of function, greater costs on the claim,” he said.
To learn more about Carisk Partners, please visit their website.