MENTAL HEALTH

Employees can and should reach out for help

Many Eastern Iowa employers offer access to an EAP, or Employee Assistance Program, through which workers can receive fr
Many Eastern Iowa employers offer access to an EAP, or Employee Assistance Program, through which workers can receive free, confidential counseling as needed throughout the year. (Adobe Stock)

We asked EFR — Employee & Family Resources, an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) provider in Des Moines, for advice on how Eastern Iowa employees — and especially essential workers — can cope with the ongoing onslaught of stressors that just keep coming this year.

Q. Many employees stood out as heroes and truly essential workers in 2020. Can you talk about the extra stress that these essential workers may place on themselves and how they can better balance their work and their personal life?

A. The entire world is in crisis as a result of COVID, regardless of age, occupation, or any other factor. The employees who work on the front lines as essential workers have the extra burden of the risk of being exposed to the virus themselves, which creates a stress that far exceeds the experience of most of us. They are also more likely to see the impact/s of COVID firsthand, which can be devastating to see so many people so sick and dying — with no known cure yet. Stress is a result of fear and uncertainty.

In a world full of fear and uncertainty, the essential workers are getting a huge dose of both, as they perform their imperative jobs daily.

Because they are experiencing increased risks daily, it is all the more important for essential workers to be mindful of a healthy work-life balance. It is also important for employers of essential workers to support a good work life balance of their employees — encouraging self-care, providing a supportive work environment that allows for breaks when employees feel overwhelmed, and showing recognition for the essential workers who risk their lives by performing their jobs. Good self-care for essential workers includes making sure you are feeding your body and soul with healthy things. Good rest. Fresh air and exercise. And human connection, even if it’s 6 feet apart, over the phone or Zoom, and making sure you get a good laugh in every single day.

Q. What advice do you have for any employee that is struggling to handle the non-stop stress that this year has brought?

A. Identify the sources of your stress. What can you control and what can you not control? For the things you can control, make a plan to do something about them. For instance, if you’re lonely or feeling isolated, reach out to friends or family and schedule a gathering — outdoors, with physical distancing or via technology.

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For the things you can’t control, what are coping skills that work for you? Walks, books or audio books, cooking, or crafts? As mentioned earlier, stress is a result of fear and uncertainty. Peel back your stress and see what you discover. When these self-guided methods to de-stress don’t work, it’s probably time to reach out to a professional to help work through those fears and uncertainties.

Q. When should an employee reach out for help, like from an EAP or another program?

A. An employee should reach out to the EAP or other supports any time. It’s never too soon to ask for help.

The sooner an employee reaches out for help, the easier it is to help them sort out what’s going on and get a plan in place.

On the other hand, it’s never too late to reach out for help either. While our problems or stress can feel overwhelming, talking them out and breaking them down in to manageable parts or pieces leads to improvement. Often, just making a plan can be a huge relief.

Q. Any other advice to help employees get some perspective about all of the stress they may be feeling at work and at home?

A. While it sounds cliché, you are not alone! We are all struggling to some degree right now. Even during “normal” times, half of us will experience a mental illness, like depression or anxiety, at some time during our life. And 1 in 5 will experience a mental illness this year. Our advice is to be kind — to ourselves and others — during these difficult times. Fill up with good, positive, and healthy things to minimize room for the other stuff that gets us down. When normal coping is no longer doing the job, reach out for help.

NEED HELP?

Ask your employer if they provide an EAP or Employee Assistance Program or reach out to a local mental health care resource.

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.