In the United States, May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to fight against the stigma of mental illness and raise awareness about mental health issues. GoConnect would like to provide some useful information about acknowledging stress in the workplace. We all experience different levels of stress but chronic stress, if not addressed, can lead to mental illness.
To give our community insight into the issue, we have spoken with professionals from two of our GoConnect Partners: Dr. L. A. Kissane, director of Tokyo Mental Health, and Vickie Skorji, Lifeline services director at TELL.
From our conversations, we can explore the common stresses we are all facing at work, see how they can affect our life, and learn how both employers and employees can address them to create a healthy working environment!
Understanding Stress—Good and Bad
Stress is perceived as a negative word but in psychology, stress can be both positive and negative. According to Skorji, our bodies are designed to handle short periods of stress, and without a little bit of stress, life can be pretty boring! What is not good are long periods of elevated stress levels. A very common stressor is the Covid-19 situation, but how we are affected or how much stress we feel varies from person to person. For example, those who lost their jobs due to the pandemic would be facing much more stress than those who are continuing at their jobs, but needing to adjust to new working situations.
What is clear is that the more stress that we experience, the more it will take a toll on our mental health.
Common Stresses at the Workplace
According to Dr. Kissane, any stressor can lead to mental health problems for workers. We would like to list some of the common stressors that we might experience at some point in our careers so that we can acknowledge them and start to take necessary action.
Heavy amounts of work can lead to anxiety and worry about whether we can complete it time, which can contribute to a feeling of being drowned by work.
2. Unrealistic Expectations
Differing expectations from your employer in relation to your job itself is a very common stressor.
3. Workplace Relationships
Unhealthy work environments or infrequent interaction with coworkers can make an employee feel lonely.
4. Cultural Differences
This is a stressor especially for expats who work in traditional Japanese companies. According to Dr. Kissane, while stressors are inevitable, what exacerbates the stressor is the vulnerability to “the loss of protective factors.” Examples of increased vulnerability of adapting to an unfamiliar environment can be: moving further away from friends and family or losing routines such as exercise and hobbies or not being able to engage with social networks.
5. Job Satisfaction
Lingering questions, such as “Do I like my job?” or “Am I paid well?” can be very stressful to professionals.
What Does Stress Look Like?
Stress can be reflected in both our physical and mental health. Both Skorji and Kissane discussed the physical implications of stress, such as sleep deprivation, digestive problems, high blood pressure, heart disease or simply a weakening immune system.
How our body internalizes stress is an interesting insight that Skorji shared. The reason why stress worsens our digestive system is that when we are stressed, our body has to decide which organs are important and which are not. As the body’s goal is to take you away from the threat, it decides that you need to focus your nervous and sensory systems to get the job done, rather than paying attention to hunger or the immune system. The more elevated the threat or stress that we feel, the more our physical health deteriorates, and eventually our mental health follows.
What Can We Do?
Our experts agree that employers should take clear action to improve their employees’ mental health. Companies must have in place transparent systems where employers are comfortable speaking out about mental health. Companies should also be serious in training managers to deal with their subordinates in a mentally healthy manner. Be ready to listen to your employees and be flexible in meeting their wishes. Installing a well-rounded employee support system is also valuable, as counseling services are generally not covered by Japanese national health insurance.
According to Dr. Kissane, while you might not have much control over the stressors, you may have more control—and be therefore more able to take action to promote good mental health—by looking after protective factors and minimizing vulnerability.
Here is a list of ways to protect your mental health and nurture your resilience:
- Get adequate and regular sleep
- Do regular high-intensity exercise
- Do mindfulness practices such as deep breathing
- Nurture healthy and supportive relationships with family and friends
- Pursue activities and interests you believe in
- Eat healthily
- Minimize alcohol and nicotine use
- Look after your physical health
For more tips on stress relief, have a look at this video featuring TELL Clinical Director Bill Cleary.
Besides those simple approaches, educating yourself about mental health is key, and we hope this article serves as a step in the right direction!
Support from Our Partners
From Tokyo Mental Health
“In this context, the opposite of vulnerability is resilience. For people dealing with stressors and feeling their vulnerability, our counselors at Tokyo Mental Health can help by providing both supportive counseling and programs that help people increase their resilience. We offer couples and family therapy too, which can be important in reducing stressors and helping people nurture healthy, nourishing, and supportive relationships. For people who have developed anxiety or depressive symptoms, we can offer evidence-based psychological therapies, and for people struggling with neurodevelopmental issues, we can offer psychological evaluations that help people understand their own or their children’s mental health better.
I also hold a psychiatry clinic at American Clinic Tokyo three days per week. For people who are dealing with a mood or anxiety disorder, I can offer assessment and treatment. We have pretty good outcomes.”
—Dr. L. A. Kissane, Director at Tokyo Mental Health.
“We have lots of ways to support the community and businesses. You can reach out to our Lifeline via chat or the phone every day of the year and call about anything that may be troubling you. It is a free service that can offer support and foreign language resources.
Our outreach and corporate development services have been delivering numerous talks to the community and companies about stress in the workplace and dealing with the challenges of Covid-19. We also provide training to managers so they can better support someone who may be struggling and help companies to be more active in addressing mental health issues in the workplace. We also offer employee-assisted programs and provide workshops in several languages.
Our Counseling Division has clinics across the country, in Tokyo, Kyoto, Yokohama, and Okinawa, and can provide counseling face-to-face and via teletherapy in various languages for individuals, families, and couples. TELL counseling is also a CIGNA International, TriCare, HTH International, and GeoBlue Insurance provider and offers a range of subsidized care options depending on a person’s income.”
—Ms. Vickie Skorji, Lifeline Services Director from TELL.