In this enlightening podcast episode, host Julie Groves and guests Lucy Dominguez and Elisabeth Barnes from Injury Management Organization, Inc. explore invaluable insights. Join us as they delve into the crucial topic of managing anxiety and stress in the workplace. Drawing from extensive field experience you’ll hear practical strategies to create a healthier and more productive work environment. Listeners will gain valuable tips on identifying signs of anxiety, mitigating stressors, and fostering a culture of well-being among employees. From communication techniques to mindfulness practices, this episode equips both employers and employees with the tools they need to navigate the challenges of the modern workplace successfully. Tune in for this and to hear a compelling case for helping your team to reduce worker’s compensation claims across campus.
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Elisabeth Barnes, Manager for Field Case Management - Injury Management Organization, Inc.
Lucy Dominguez, Chief Strategy Officer - Injury Management Organization, Inc.
Julie Groves, Director of Risk Services- Wake Forest University
Jenny Whittington: Hey there. Thanks for tuning in to URMIA Matters, a podcast about higher education, risk management and insurance. Let's get to it.
Julie Groves: Hi everyone, I'm Julie Groves, Director of Risk Services at Wake Forest University, and the current URMIA president. I'll be your host for this episode of URMIA Matters. Today we'll be discussing ways to manage anxiety and stress in the workplace. With me are Lucy Dominguez, principal at Lighthouse Resource Group, and Elisabeth Barnes, manager for Field Case management at Injury Management Organization. So, thank you both so much for being on the podcast today. We appreciate that. So, why don't we start out and just get each of you to tell us a little bit about yourself, Lucy? You want to start?
Lucy Dominguez: I would say that things that are most relative to our conversation today about my background is that I have a little more than 30 years of human resource experience working both internationally and domestically with people that have been under a lot of pressure, difficult situations and therefore relating to the topic of, you know, the workplace and managing stress and the importance of leadership to understand that. So about 30 years of that and really finding it very fulfilling.
Julie Groves: Well, great. Well. Welcome again to the podcast and Liz, what about you?
Elisabeth Barnes: Good morning. Thanks for having me. I have been working in the medical field for a little over 15 years in nursing. I spent the majority of my career working in neurobehavioral recovery. During that time, managing all a lot of care staff. I've been with IMO working in field case management and helping in workers comp since 2020. And I think that especially in the last couple of years, you know, the subject of stress management in the workplace has been a really hot topic and so I look forward to talking about it.
Julie Groves: So, you began working with workers comp in 2020?
Elisabeth Barnes: So, I worked a little bit with workers comp patients more in the patient care field prior to 2020, but worked with IMO as a case manager and directly doing field case management starting in 2020.
Julie Groves: Well, that was a year that. Was quite a year, wasn't it 2020 so?
Elisabeth Barnes: It really was.
Julie Groves: So, I mean, how would you all rate general employee wellness these days, particularly as we continue to emerge from the pandemic?
Lucy Dominguez: I personally would say that what I see happening is coming out of the pandemic and the pressures and the changes that people have to make to their lives and the way they did things every day, and that includes both personal and in the workplace, a lot of change to place and people are not great with change, no matter who you're talking to. And so therefore we've come out of this and not completely because it will be in our future and carry on as other things do. But this pandemic, really, and all the social unrest that came alongside of it, really has left people feeling stressed and drained. And then our young people coming up are experiencing even more stress and strain, but you know, sticking to the workplace, you've got people that had to learn how to manage their personal stress while going to work or while working from home or while teaching their kids at home while they're working, you know, this immense amount of stress has left people really, really worn and having completely different expectations of their workplace.
Elisabeth Barnes: I have to agree, Lucy. And you know, I think one of the things to take from it too is, you know, as an entire world at that time we changed how we were. We had to be put in this fight or flight response of how are we going to manage this, and I think that is what we're coming into, as you said, we're kind of starting to come out of it. But it changed the way our workplace is viewed. So many of us have changed the environments that we work with work in the way that we work and interact with each other, you know, and it has opened up this new world for working online, working within the house, and doing multi-juggling of both personal and home life together.
Julie Groves: And I would just add too, as someone who's not in the, you know, the healthcare space, but someone who you know is obviously an employee. Another thing that seems to be adding to stress is, as we know, there is a real crisis in being able to hire people and retain people and so employees are sometimes having to do multiple jobs. You know, they're having to do tasks on top of their own work, you know, to fill in for people who may not be there anymore. And those positions haven't been able to be filled and so I think that also can just for certain people, depending on how much extra they're having to do, that can add a whole extra layer of stress. And so, it is sort of a perfect storm, I guess right now of all of the emerging from, you know the pandemic and then everything going on as you mentioned, Liz juggling home and work and then juggling things at work. And so, it can be a little. So, Lucy, would you give us a definition of anxiety and what that is so that we can sort of have an understanding of foundational understanding of that.
Lucy Dominguez: Yeah, sure. There actually is a difference between stress and anxiety in the way I would define it, and I would define stress as the external piece that comes at us. It's laid on us. We've got this stressful situation laid on us, whether it's a pandemic or, you know, maybe the stress of having to learn to work from home and not have engagement with other people or learning the different way to communicate. So, this stress is brought on us oftentimes through change and sometimes through a bit of tragedy. Whether it's a work-related injury, changing the way you have to live your life and make your money and take care of your family, whatever it may be, external is the stress factor piece. And then I would say that the anxiety is a result of it. That people are either anxious in advance to it coming at them like what's next? Or they're in the middle of it and they're this stress that's come on them and their ability to react to it creates a high level of anxiety and creates also within an individual an inability to function and makes people dysfunctional to a certain extent. And as we talk more about this, you'll see how that impacts, you know, even our people. That are injured within the work environment and the stress that's brought on the anxiety as a result and their ability to work through.
Julie Groves: And so, we've talked a little bit about some of the things that contribute to stress and anxiety. The issues at home, the issues at work, and I guess I'm just interested, you know, we hear about social media and how it affects younger people and I have to say, I am thankful that social media was not around when I was growing up because I think it can be something that has a great effect on children and their maturity. Do you think that social media affects adults as well? Has it added to the stress and anxiety that we're having to kind of deal with right now?
Lucy Dominguez: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Because there is a direct correlation that has been found between social media and unhappiness. The use of those devices can be for good or for bad, right? And these different not just devices, but platforms for communicating. And you know the emotional arousal that can happen within them when people use them. And then they're actually, if you think about it, they're designed to alarm you, to get your attention, right and to grab it away from what you might be thinking of. And there it's also created in some people this need for stimuli and it's almost like if you think about the news, you know, the news media does the same thing. It stimulates us. It is a form, right of social media, the way we hear about things and what it's created in some of our newer generation, which is our newer employees coming in is this need and a constant need for it. And otherwise, boredom comes into play. So, there's all kinds of implications for that, but it definitely does have an impact on the older individual as well as the younger and the older, I think older individuals are intimidated somewhat by it when they're not sure how it works. And they're not sure what's going on. It's almost like when I would work internationally, I would go into another country and didn't know the language they would use once in a while. You don't know what they're saying and how they're saying it. And what does it mean and how does it impact me? How does it impact what we're doing? So that's what I would say happens with the older adults, although many older adults have adapted. Many have not.
Julie Groves: Maybe it's not a good thing that adults have adapted to social media. Maybe those of you who are listening, if you are not social media savvy, maybe you just need to retain your innocence. I think because. If there are days that I wish. That we can somehow get a little bit of that back. So, Liz, I know you work with workers comp and so all this discussion about anxiety and working. How have you seen that affect workers comp issues, anxiety, and stress?
Elisabeth Barnes: So, I think that it's all about when we, you know, like Lucy was saying it's about the type of stress that we have to look at and I think that there's a difference between like your daily stress and your chronic stress. And when you know, humans are built to have a fight or flight reaction. That's just how we're built. And so, when we get into a stressful situation, so say at work, we just- we have a deadline or a presentation. There's good things that can happen out of that cortisol drop. It makes us sometimes can make us hyper-focused. It can really make us concentrate on what we're doing, be more productive, but what happens when that changes to a never-ending process and a high level of stress and we can never decrease those cortisol levels and feel a sense of relief. Then that's when we start to get into how it really affects us as human beings and how it affects us, our entire health, the way we interact with people, because when we can never come down from those cortisol highs and our stress level is really high, it can affect us mentally, physically. It can start to create difficulties with your sleep cycle, which then can make us that sense of hyper-focus becomes a decrease in ability to focus. It can create stomach issues over eating or undereating. It can, you know, create heart, chronic heart palpitations where you feel, you know, like Lucy was saying, if there's this constant stressor where you always constantly feel anxiety, and I think that that in turn can affect us in so many ways because it's not just the way that it affects us in our daily work, but it affects our whole life.
And when we are at those high-stress levels at work constantly, it can roll over into having difficulty sleeping and anger at home or stressors at home or, you know, really turn into maybe, you know, depression, where we don't want to engage in the things that make us happy. And then that can also roll over into our entire team at work. If I'm having a constant stress level at work, I have to really be aware that my stressors and me being stressed also affects the people within my workplace. It makes it just not really a happy environment to be around when everybody is in a constant state of fight or flight or anxiety. And when it comes to workers comp, I think that we have to try and remember that the good thing is in workers comp, we really have changed the way that we look at it. is When an employee has an injury. Many years ago, it was really you know there's this one individual injury they have this part this injury and we just need to take care of that and that's our own responsibility. Our mindset has really shifted over the years, and I think that it benefits wholeheartedly, both the employee and the employer to a more of a biosocial psychosocial model where we have to look at person, a person as a whole person, not just their injury, but what is their work environment? What is their home environment? What are barriers such as, you know, maybe not having a vehicle or not getting full payment? Or chronic pain and chronic stress that is affecting the way that they recover and that rolls back to that daily stress and that daily anxiety into that chronic stress. So, when a patient has an injury that affects them as a whole person, that biosocial psychosocial model. The physical and mental impact that it can have on them then decreases their ability to recover in the best way possible. And I think that, so thinking about it as managing stress as an employer also rolls over to how we care for a workers comp injury. Because if we can support them as a whole person, just as we would want to help them in their in the workplace, we can then really make an impact on their recovery process and getting them back to work.
Julie Groves: So, you know, I think what you said about dealing with the injury and then just dealing with that and getting them back to work, you're right in the last, you know. I guess 10 years it's become you know, the whole-body wellness, you know, the whole person wellness has become, you know, so much more important and so included in that is psychological wellness, emotional mental wellness. So how can we, the people who are listening to this, who are mostly risk managers on college campuses, help in efforts to support psychological wellness or mental and emotional wellness on campus? What can we do in that arena?
Elisabeth Barnes: I think the key is open listening, not just listening to the matter at hand, but really having open conversations and having you know what I always looked at as an open-door policy. When you're talking to individuals, really hearing what they're saying and be opening open to listening to the things that a conversation can bring about. Not just a quick here's what I need to do. Here's what we're doing. Let's move on, OK. Subject at hand, but I think having an open listening concept can also start to allow you to hear those biosocial psychosocial matters where people start to also to give you a little bit of information about, here's what I'm doing at home. And maybe this is why my things that are going at home are stressing me out. You know, maybe I have a sick parent home or a childcare issue, and hearing that as an employer and being able to at least understand that and know what's within your bounds to accommodate those things at home because if I can reduce that stressor, then that's a decrease in stress that they have at work.
And having asking open ending questions, knowing that the response that you're going to get from any questions that you ask the individual are not just going to be yes, no one-word answers. Really focusing it more on, tell me about this. Give me a little bit more insight to what's going on because the more information that you have, we're all human beings. We care about each other, you know, even when we have jobs to do, and I feel stressed out and I feel overwhelmed. And sometimes I feel like I need to move things along but really, having those open-ended questions allows me to get more information, in order to be able to be empathetic and compassionate to the individual human beings, whole life situation, and then being able to process that information and see what I can do to support their both their entire work process, but also their outside work process. As much as we can to understand that they're human beings and they have things that need help with as well.
Lucy Dominguez: Yeah, I'm just thinking, you know, you're on a campus. Let's start there. What do you have abundantly available? And what do you do? They're education, right? Education information. That's that is very powerful to people. When people can understand something, they can start to relax and reduce their anxiety. And so, I would say looking for ways in which to communicate and how this is going to hit you, but through a platform that will reach the majority of your people, it's not always on having flyers all over campus. You know what is the venue by which you communicate and how can you get in front of this so that people are prepared? Because oftentimes what happens, is if someone has any kind of a life change so on campus, when you think about it, it might be an injury. It might be something personal that's happened to them. It could be something going on with their studies. Who knows? Or a class for an instructor could be any of these things, right? So, and when these things happen, especially if it's intense. If it's intense, they want to get back to normal as quickly as possible, no different with an injury, no different with a disruption in life from a class or from any kind of a situation.
So, providing tools to people and letting them know where they are. So, I call them tools, but there are things like a place in which maybe they can get some pure counseling or discussion, or maybe even some group discussion. You know, years ago I had to respond within 24 hours to any tragedy in my workplace. And oftentimes I had to go in with counselors, with a group of people, and that was really the best thing to do within 24 hours. In front of those people, bring them together, letting them, you know, talk about it just like Liz was saying. Get it out and listen to them. You don't have to like, say, oh, here's how you fix it. People have to figure some of this out themselves in order to reduce their anxiety quality, providing them ways in which to do that, either through a group, counseling individual. You know, I'm sure many of the campuses have hotlines, but having people that are aware of the current environment, not people, it has to be people that can relate and understand to the group they're serving right and there's, you know the general things that I can tell you that could maybe be offered through a resource on campus where people can learn about things like, you know, yoga classes, for example. Even Pilates for that matter helps with this, reducing stress, deep breathing exercises.
There are funny little things they can buy in the store now, and those poppers that kids use all the time, it's a little rubber device where you push it in and out. Believe it or not, that helps people sometimes to get through a time of stress, so they're in a class and they have to be fidgeting, right? But meditation, mindfulness, there are cognitive strategies where they can learn from counselors. To replace that negative thought coming in and reprogram their mind to think about it more positively. So, there are a whole lot of things you can education on, you know, exercise, wellness, dieting, proper food, not trying to reduce weight. That's not the thing anymore. The thing now is what the more of a norm, right? Or an acceptable, you know, accepting us for ourselves for who we are, but understanding what makes us healthier. Do we get enough rest? Do we eat enough healthy food, right? Because if we don't, we're gonna feel bad. And if we don't feel well, we're gonna not be able to react. So, it's a whole lot of things. But education, information, and creating resources. For those on campus would be extremely helpful.
Elisabeth Barnes: Lucy, I really. I really liked what you said about, you know, kind of gearing the helping others to help themselves. You know, as a manager, sometimes it's just easier to solve people's problems easier and faster, but in the long run, providing education and information to individuals to solve their issues in the manner that they want to solve them in the manner that works for them. In the long run, can reduce both the employer or the individual's stress, and the person that's assisting them or a manager and so kind of looking out for yourself in the long run and a management position or, you know, being an employer to say, let me teach you how to and provide you with the education to resolve your issues and manage your stress because then it can help reduce their stress in the long run because they learn about it, but also keeping your own stress in check for your own wellness so that you can be well for others.
Julie Groves: You know, I wanted to go back to something you mentioned, Liz, and I mean you talked a little bit about it, but. I keep going back to your comment you made about daily stress versus chronic stress. And you know, people like me who work in risk management we sometimes have a lot of stress, and we see and hear about stressful things. And you kind of talked about some of the characteristics of chronic stress, but what advice do you have for people who may be listening to this who might be saying I don't know if my daily stress is chronic stress, or if it's just daily stress, you know. I mean, how do you know when it tips that scale over into chronic stress?
Elisabeth Barnes: I think that that's the absolute hardest part. You know, I think that, you know, we talked about how the work world has changed and almost it's like has it changed? I don't know. Yes, it has. Maybe but we are almost pushed to, I think in today's world we're pushed to manage and handle and handle and handle more and more and more and more and do and do and do and do. And I think the key of an individual knowing when they've tipped that line is so hard. Making sure that you're listening to people around you having the openness to look at the people around you, whether it be your staff, your boss, your partner, your children, your family, your friends, they're gonna be the ones and the way they interact with you is gonna be a huge key into saying wait, maybe it's me that's having a hard time and maybe I need to identify that I'm becoming overwhelmed. And I think that when you can take what you're thinking about like stress at work, so in a particular project or on a particular day and you start to say every day feels like that, you have to listen to that gut feeling because that's when we switch over to chronic stress.
And when you start, when your body starts to change, when you, if you are maybe feeling sick to your stomach or your eating habits change, you start to get chronic headaches or regular headaches. You are tossing and turning all night long because you keep thinking about this one project or this one thing. Or did I do that? Did they return that e-mail? Did I call? If that is affecting your sleep, your body, you have to stop and say alright, I need to get this in check. So, listening to your body and then listening to the people around you. Because they're the ones that are going to see that they're seeing it from a different side. We always look at ourselves and say I'm good. I'm good, I'm, you know, but when somebody else identifies it, you have to be open, open, and willing to say, OK, maybe I need to take a little bit better look at what's going on and manage it. So, I think it all goes back to that that listening on both your for yourself and from others.
Julie Groves: So. I know we talked a little bit about how we could help with efforts, you know for mental and emotional health wellness on campus. And so, are there some techniques that we, as you know, just individuals if we're in our office and we're starting to feel, you know, overwhelmed by stress, are there some techniques that can help us sort of minimize, you know, maybe the stress and, you know, in the moment? Obviously, there are things you can do long term more long-term to help with that, but are there some techniques that can help people you know, just if they're feeling stressed at work one day?
Lucy Dominguez: Yeah, I mean. Certainly, we have to, we have to consider what those things might be. So, let's say it's the individual and you're at work just like you're, I mean, it's funny, but these new devices that we have, I have one myself, will watch that tells me to breathe every once in a while. And I'm like, I think I am. What do you mean? But basically, deep breathing. So, it's kind of like, can you take a minute and shut down, shut down technology, push yourself back and what is it that works for you? So, it's not a one-size-fits-all. But should you take a walk quickly? Should you step out of you know, you know, away from your desk, just walk down the hall for a minute. Maybe go outside if you can. Maybe just if you can't, maybe you sit at your desk and you do some deep breathing. Right. These are the kinds of things that you have to do and one of the things that's most important is that you not deny it, like oh, no, no, it's no big deal. You can just keep going and keep going and keep going because then what happens is people break. And that's when things really go wrong.
So, understanding that it's normal, it's OK. Feeling like that is not an abnormal thing. Other people are experiencing it as well. I think those things are important. The reminders that we can give people are also good. So, if we can help, provide people in advance with a few things to do, like what works for you. Do you have to go for a quick run or does that make you think even more? Do you a walk? Do you need to call a friend? You know? Do you need to call for help and just have a couple of laughs a good laugh? You know, and maybe these are the things that you need to do. Everyone is different, but it's the little things that matter and it's the awareness and not denying. And sometimes, depending on how deep it is, it may be a call for help. Hey, I need to talk, I feel like I'm about to lose it and you need somebody else to say, all right, let's talk about it, you know, and just, you know, provide you with a sounding board and ear. So, everyone needs to know who it is they'd call. Who's your lifeline? Right. Who would you call when you're feeling like that and having that in the back of your mind as those few things could be very helpful.
Julie Groves: Well, I mean, this is obviously a very important subject, and we could probably spend hours talking about it. So, you know, but I think that's you know what we've covered today has been really, really helpful, and hopefully some folks will listen to this, and they'll be able to take something away from it. That might be helpful to them or someone that work with or someone in their family. So, do you have any last-minute thoughts or last-closing thoughts before we wrap up our discussion today?
Lucy Dominguez: I think I would just say that, you know, working in the risk management area is a challenge in the first place, right? It's not the most desired thing to always have to deal with problems day in and day out. But if you do, it's so important that you educate yourself that you provide yourself with some tools and ways to which you will react when it happens in advance. Don't wait for the stress to come on, and then you're dealing with anxiety and you're not quite sure what to do. Be prepared in advance and know that if you are extremely stressed, you're going to pass it to those around you. And so, you want to learn how to manage your own stress so that it doesn't pass out to others. And you also want to know how to help others calm back down, so learning about your own stress, calming yourself, and knowing that it can get passed on and be reflected in your work if you don't. So that's what I would say.
Julie Groves: Well, I do want to thank you again so much for being here. We really appreciate it, and you know hopefully. Like I said, this will. This will give some help to someone listening to a new professional development area around essential skills are what used to be known as soft skills. These are skills that we all need to have as leaders on campus and managing anxiety and stress is one of these. And so, we're going to have more information and specific sessions on some of these essential skills at our annual conference in Baltimore. So, we hope to see you all there. So, thanks again to Lucy and Liz. We really appreciate you being here today, and this wraps another edition of URMIA Matters.