Anxiety in the workplace has become so apparent these days. You may have experienced this in your workplace as more and more new hires are missing the first couple days of their new positions with our companies. In the past, a new hire wouldn’t consider missing a day of work until long after the work relationship had been established for at least 90 days. Today, why do you think more and more new hires are missing work right out of the gate?
As Generation Z enters the workforce, more young recruits are reporting anxiety than any other generation.
Some 54% of workers under 23 said they felt anxious or nervous due to stress in the preceding month, according to a 2018 American Psychological Association survey of 3,458 adults 18 and over. Close behind are millennial's, with 40% reporting anxiety—surpassing the national average of 34%.
So, you’ve decided to pursue being a childcare teacher but as time goes on, you’ve realized anxiety is affecting you. An anxiety disorder comes in many different types, but all breakdown to fear and a mask you wear full of worry and dealing with anxiety no matter the form can feel debilitating, stressful and have you feeling worn down. People who suffer from anxiety must find ways to manage, process and perform daily tasks that can seem impossible given their current feelings and circumstance.
As a childcare teacher without an anxiety disorder you have expected daily duties that can already have stress and self-doubt attached to, or they might be purely overwhelming. Generally, we strive each day to be the best version of ourselves and get through whatever situation has been thrown our way, and I know firsthand anxiety added to your equation can heighten all of this with the varying tasks at hand. I personally understand this because I worked in childcare and let my anxiety consume each day I was there leaving me feeling drained while all the while praying the time would go faster so I could just go home. This was causing me to ignore how I was truly feeling, which drove me to put a fake smile on and pretend that everything was okay.
All the pretending and faking ended up resulting in a spiral which caused me to begin experiencing full blown panic attacks that could even cause me to grow ill. It even got to the point where I was calling into work and finding reasons or excuses for my mental health rather than accepting and finding ways to manage. In time I realized I needed to hold onto the reasons why I wanted to be in childcare in the first place.
You can deal with anxiety by taking small steps and building a plan that will work for you and the childcare facility you work for; being honest and including them is very important to this process. The feelings you have are real so being open with how your feeling and what you experience is key and will only help ease your work environment. I personally tackled my anxiety at my last workplace by briefly explaining my history and the struggles that may arise for me while working.
With my anxiety I can never predict how a day will turn out. One day can be normal, no fears to overpower my judgement or worry fogging up my actions but then that same week or rather even the same day my anxiety can take an emotional toll and will just bring everything to a halt. That halt cannot be broken just because you start to tell yourself to stop being anxious, it’s never that easy and only makes things worse. It makes you want to shut down no matter how much you tell yourself you can’t because you’re at your place of work. As things go on you may look around the room as questions and concerns surface your mind causing you to begin to ponder the judgement that isn’t there, dodging the second guesses on yourself and grasping onto that little bit of energy you have left to simply breathe.
Balancing life and work can already be a great effort. Anxiety disorders come in different types but can act one in the same. I wouldn’t compare my anxiety to the next person, but I personally struggled a great portion of my life with unknown anxiety, meaning I was unaware of my disorder. When I started off in childcare I had no explanation for what was occurring or why I felt the way I did. Eventually in my life for various reasons I was given my diagnosis of an anxiety disorder. Down the line when I began working at other childcare facilities with the knowledge of my anxiety I had multiple setbacks but was now able to manage and work through the anxiety rather than against.
It’s difficult to manage your anxiety in different settings and learning how to cope is what should be your first focus. An example of how coping can be different at work vs. at home is that at home you have the option of open-ended techniques and can attempt things like journaling, crafts, physical activities such as yoga or meditation. Therefore, since I wasn’t at home I found alternative ways that helped me to handle and proceed caring for the children. To start I would confront and talk to my co-teacher, make a game plan to get through that shift. Talking to the other worker(s) in the room is a smart move especially if you’re unsure where your anxiety severity is headed. This also opens a helping hand you may not have had along with giving your co-worker(s) insight to where your current mental health is. Techniques will vary among each person, so alongside your awareness begin to build your own plan of action. Start small, remember that you aren’t alone, your anxiety is valid and know that you will get through this and be able to continue with work.
The next step is knowing your triggers, so you know what to do before things get out of hand. Try incorporating some breathing techniques with counting to help slow yourself down and be in the present moment. Once you have established your presence, create boundaries; know what could be too much. If changing a diaper is too overwhelming or even holding a child seems impossible ask and give yourself a short break. A short break isn’t always available but if so take that short few minutes to gather yourself, give yourself a pep talk and know you can do whatever is handed to you. Remember why you chose to work in childcare.
For me I love working with kids, watching them develop and grow, give them love and care, be a part of their life and experience how rewarding child care can be. Just seeing their little smile can go a long way. Once you have focused on a reason this will hopefully help you push through your shift. Unfortunately, your anxiety can strike whenever it pleases, which means this may all happen right in the beginning of the day which makes for a VERY long shift ahead. For me if things arose early I would, as I stated earlier, slow down and then make sure I kept busy which in this field of work it’s hard not to find something to do. Coping, planning and following through is key.
After long days whether they were anxiety heavy or not I would find ways big or small to reward myself, these can range from a treat, to a movie night, etc. Rewarding yourself gives you proper recognition for what you have achieved that day; all that may have seemed impossible became possible. You did it, recognize that! The workplace is important, know your limits and only handle what you can handle. Be open and honest. Having anxiety consumes so much and feels so out of control. I’m only human and having anxiety shouldn’t stop me nor you from working with children. Dark moments will come and go but breathe through them, see and hold onto your well-being. Find your own peace of mind!
As a child care employer, what can you do specifically to help with anxiety disorders in the workplace? As you read by the personal story above, anxiety is debilitating and can affect your workplace significantly. How can we as child care industry leaders help these situations?
As stated in Mental Health First Aid, there are four simple steps you can put in place to help employees that suffer from anxiety in the workplace:
- Educate employees and managers about mental health conditions and challenges.
- Promote a work environment that acknowledges mental illness and supports those who might be experiencing it.
- Encourage the use of corporate resources like well-being and employee assistance programs.
- Foster realistic hope and optimism about treatment and recovery.
In addition to those steps, I would ensure my leadership is equipped in understanding the signs of anxiety, so they can proactively seek it out employees that may suffer from it. As leaders, manager, coworkers, if we know someone is suffering from anxiety, we can’t just sweep it under the rug. We have to ensure we encourage open dialogue on developing strategies that work for each person individually. It may only take a 5-minute break every morning to help the teacher regroup for the day. It may require a full day off.
Overall, you should make sure to budget in wellness training each year that includes bringing in professionals to train on different techniques for wellness, mindfulness and anxiety. Whatever the individual solution may be, we are going to have to consider ways to help our teams cope with anxiety. This problem is not going away, so how is your child care center going to overcome the obstacles that derive from it?
Thank you to our guest blogger, Michelle Minogue
Author: "Words; a window to my heart"
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