By Thad Plumley
The words spilling from an acquaintance’s mouth were raw, emotional, and certainly not anything I had heard from him before.
“I couldn’t leave the house. I had such anxiety that my heart was racing, I could tell my blood pressure was out of control, and I thought I was going to have a heart attack and die. I had to call 911 twice.
“This. Happened. Twice.”
These were the words of someone who looked healthy on the outside. Big and strong; his life has surely always been viewed as ideal by the many fortunate to be in his circle: good job, great home, adventurous personality, and money to spend on the weekends.
But inside a cauldron was bubbling and threatening to spill over. Mental health. It’s invisible, silent—and as important to workplace safety as wearing hardhats, steel-toed boots, and strong gloves.
The conversation fortunately had a positive conclusion. The person, in wonderful spirits as we spoke, told me how much talking to a mental health professional has impacted him as has a program that mixes yoga, meditation, and massage.
I admit picturing this person hold a yoga pose made me smile a little bit. But I was proud of him. He knew he needed help, sought it out, and got it no matter what form—or pose—it took.
This person’s anxiety was related to his job, which should come as no surprise. According to Everest College, 83% of U.S. workers suffer from work-related stress.
Responsibilities were shifted for this person, a busy workload at his company was exploding, and he was fighting a no-win battle of being stuck in the middle with bosses wanting jobs checked off to-do lists and subordinates complaining about the tasks piling up.
As harrowing as his words were, the person I spoke with is a success story. Not all such stories, though, have happy endings. The Center for Workplace Mental Health states that 120,000 deaths each year are caused by work-related stress.
Consider that number your warning. Don’t be afraid to admit you’re feeling stress, depression, or anxiety to your managers, coworkers, family, or friends. It doesn’t mean you’re not good at your job and it certainly doesn’t mean you’re weak.
On the contrary, it is a strength to identify an issue and set about solving it. The Center for Workplace Mental Health adds that Americans are spending $190 billion in healthcare costs on stress every year. And let’s be honest, it should be much more.
Know the signs of stress. Has your productivity dropped? Are you taking more sick days? Are you ever on the phone trying to settle personal matters while on the job? Are you drinking alcohol or smoking more?
Don’t only look for these signs in yourself but look at your coworkers and acquaintances too. It will help everyone live a healthier life on the outside—and the inside.
Thad Plumley is the editor of WWJ and director of information products at the National Ground Water Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (800) 551-7379, ext. 1594.