Welcome to the anxiety at work podcast. I’m Chester Elton. Why don’t we try that again?
Welcome to the anxiety at work podcast. I’m Chester Elton, and this is my co-author and dear friend Adrian Gostick. And we hope that the time you spend with us is going to help remove the stigma of anxiety and mental health in the workplace and your personal life, so we’ve assembled some of the best experts in the world of work and life to give you ideas and most importantly tools to deal with anxiety in your world.
Our guest today is the delightful anna Yusum, a Yale Medical School trained psychiatrist and author of more than 70 articles, books, and other pieces of literature on mental health. She’s a board-certified psychiatrist in private practice in new york city and the recipient of dozens of awards and distinctions for her research in psychiatry. Anna, we are new friends and delighted to have you on our humble podcast.
Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be here – Adrian, Chester.
Well, thanks again for taking the time. Anna, as a psychiatrist, it’s interesting my son, Anthony Gostick, who helped us write our new book “Anxiety at Work, was doing some research on you, and he called me all excited because he’d read a lot of the work you’ve done on spirituality and mental health and he was just so excited that you’ll be on the show, and he was saying a lot of your work is around helping identify and treat mental health disorders. You’re an expert in this, we’re business leaders, and our perspective of our team’s mental health isn’t always so clear. We don’t have your expertise, and this diagnosis we can follow to understand what our people are feeling, so we might even have trouble spotting when our team members need care. So what are a few? Let’s get started. Give a few essential things managers should start doing to help promote mental wellness and a healthy workplace.
I think that’s a great question, Adrian, because I think the first thing, most importantly, is this idea that we’re all in the midst of a time of great uncertainty and a time that we’ve never experienced before. Everybody is undergoing changes and transitions in their life and their sense of identity and what it means to be a worker in the workplace, and what the workplace community looks like. And in the midst of that, whereas before seeing somebody face-to-face, you can pick up pretty easily, perhaps when somebody’s going through hardship, it’s harder now. On the other hand, it could be easier now because everybody’s going through something and so what’s most important, I think, for managers and for anybody who has a workforce is to start to do a number of things. The first is to normalize and help your employees to see that experiencing anxiety, depression, feelings of uncertainty, trepidation, fear, whatever it is, is something that we are all going through right now. There is nothing shameful about it. There’s nothing you should feel guilty about, and in a way, what you’re doing as an employee as the manager is you’re destigmatizing this. You’re telling people that it’s okay to feel what you’re feeling and when you are feeling it. We are here for you, and we’re going to be compassionate and empathic. We’re not gonna judge you and actually what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna arm you with resources because there’s so many different things that leaders need to do to help the people who are below them, and what kind of resources can you give people first is in services helping people to recognize how common anxiety in the workplace is, what it manifests is as, and what are some of the potential causes. So let’s go through some of those right now.
What are people’s anxieties? Number one, covid and the fear of covid. The fact that cases are spiking everywhere and so there’s the very primal fear of our own health or the health of our children or the health of our loved ones or our parents, and that’s so deep, and it’s so rampant, and people have this fear to different degrees. For some people, it’s overpowering, and it keeps them up at night. For other people, it’s in the back of their heads. They’re like, we’re not at the age where we’re gonna get that sick. We’re not that worried, but my parents could get sick, and then they impact their community. Second, there’s the economic impact and the impact on one’s job security; a lot of people are losing their jobs in a lot of different industries. Job security isn’t what it used to be, and that, for a lot of people, really shakes up their sense of identity because their work is their identity. So a lot of people are going through identity crises right now. And third, there’s the social isolation because we’re ultimately social animals. We’re not meant to be isolated and staring at computer screens all day. We’re meant to be smiling with one another, you know, not necessarily elbowing each other but every now and then giving each other a hug. We’re meant to be able to go out and be together, and that really hasn’t been something that we’ve been able to do. So those are just a few of the stressors, but there’s so much more, you know.
I love that. Resources where can you go? Where can you get help? What are the tools? If people want to learn more about your work, where would you send them?
I would send them to probably my book “Fulfill the Science of Spirituality” and how it can help you live a happier, more meaningful life, and also to my website, where I’ve done a number of podcasts and interviews. You know what I’m trying to do is help keep the vibe up because there are so many things right now in our society, in the workforce, that can bring the vibe down. Especially, you know, what’s happening in our political system and all the fear and the anger and the rage that engenders. So how do we keep our vibe up throughout all this? There’s a number of things, but it’s looking within and figuring out what I need to thrive. What do I need to be happy? What do I need to feel fulfilled despite the circumstances? Ultimately that’s what we’re seeking in our life is to figure out how to feel up even when life is down despite any and all circumstances. Now we’re not superhuman. We’re going to feel real emotions. Of course, we will, but despite that, we all have the capacity within ourselves to rise above adversity. And that’s what covid and this pandemic has forced people to do. To look within themselves and get in touch with those facets of our inner strength that often either we’ve forgotten or didn’t know that we had.
You know, so interesting. We love our community, the people that tune into the podcast. Our community, We Thrive Together. They’re very engaging. They want to talk about it. They want a safe place to talk about it, so let’s get really practical. Okay, so I’m a manager, and I can see that somebody on my team is anxious, and I’ve got some resources and places to send them. What advice would you give to a manager on things that you know aren’t normalized now, in the workplace, that should be so? That when I detect that, whether it’s on a Zoom or whether we’re on an assembly line somewhere. What should be normalized? I’m a leader. Tell me, what’s the first thing I should do? You tell them you know what everybody’s going through something right now. People have a lot of anxiety. People have a lot of depression. I recently spoke with a psychiatrist; everyone’s calling her to up their meds, to increase their therapy sessions, and get their mom into therapy.
This is a really really stressful time. You are all highly intelligent self-sufficient people, but I’m here to tell you, as a manager, you don’t have to be completely self-sufficient. There are resources if needed. We will support you to go to therapy, so speak to us to do whatever you need to do to take the best care of yourself.
Before, mental health was something that we put on the back burner. You take care of your work and productivity, and then when you have time, go take care of your mental health. Things have changed now. The mental health pandemic is actually taking over after the covid pandemic, so now mental health is first and foremost for you to be a productive employee and for that productivity to be sustainable. Your mental health has to come first, so we, as your leaders, are letting you know that you have to do that, and you need to let us know how to support you. Whether that means to make time for therapy, and that also you know if people within the company are able and willing to share some of their personal stuff, that is so incredibly powerful to show that it’s not shameful or stigmatizing to go to therapy, to need medication if things are difficult, to need to talk to someone, to be crying at night wondering what the future will hold. Because we’ve all done it, this is where things are right now for a lot of people.
That’s great. That’s why we’re doing the show. Professionals like you can talk to leaders out there who may be struggling. I want to take things on a little different tangent right now. Your book “Fulfilled” talks about the science of spirituality which I loved, and how our relationship with others can help us find meaning and happiness through what you call a psycho-spiritual perspective. So what exactly does that mean to have a psycho-spiritual perspective in all of this?
Right. Thanks, Adrian. Yeah, when we think about psychology therapy, we know the psychological perspective is to look within and understand a number of things from our psyche; or how you know patterns from childhood affect our current life existential struggles that we as human beings have questions of purpose and meaning. The spiritual perspective is a lot of those things but really focuses on our connection to something greater than ourselves. For some people, that something greater could be God. For others, it’s the universe. For other people, it’s a collective consciousness – mother nature. Whatever your something greater is, it doesn’t even have to be something spiritual per se. There is a ton of very connected atheists who don’t believe in God but feel very connected to the global whole or even to a set of transcendent values that enable the elevation of the human spirit, values such as trust and perseverance and unconditional love, and working hard despite adversity, and hope. Whatever elevates you and enables you to be connected to something greater that’s the spiritual part of the psycho-spiritual perspective. And so, a lot of people focus just on psychology to get us well, but often we need to be connected to that greater whole and understand our role in the universe. In that way, to believe in having true and complete healing and fulfillment.
You know that’s so interesting, being a part of something bigger than yourself. I think that’s such an interesting concept, and I love how it doesn’t have to be converted to a religion. You know that connection. I’ve got friends that are very connected to nature. You know, they just go on their hikes and their walks, and that calms them down and calms their anxiety. When you’re anxious, we often say go for a walk, you know, commune with nature. Well, bringing it back to team leaders, how can leaders help their teams benefit from that kind of perspective, because that’s not a normal conversation, what you just explained there, for a manager to have with everybody? Connect with the trees, you know, I can’t imagine that happening, and yet I know there is a way because you’re so good at this that you could equip them to have basically that conversation. Am I right?
Definitely, and I wonder if someone like yourself, someone who is a leader, an executive, could have a conversation with their employees saying, okay, you know what, we’re gonna have a mental health conversation. We don’t usually have these, but it’s important that we do this now, and you know why because mental health is suffering. Suicide rates are at an all-time high as our anxiety and depression rise.
Alcoholism, domestic violence, and all the downstream mental health effects are also rising. So let’s talk about what we need to do to stay healthy, sane, and feel fulfilled in our everyday life? What do you need for mental health? So you start this conversation, and then people will tell you they need to get enough sleep, they need to eat healthily, they need to have a good relationship with their spouse, they need to be employed and know where their next paycheck is going to come from. And then probably someone somewhere will say, oh, and I need to go to church, and so that’s where it begins. Okay, so you go to church, so what does that give you, and what do other people do to get that sense of connection? If yours could be church, yours could be going hiking in nature just like you said. Yours could be reading books that inspire you. Yours could be writing in a creative way or painting or having a creative form of self-expression that taps into your soul. At the end of the day, all of those things that connect us to something greater are those that most engage our soul, and there’s not one for everybody. It’s something different, and yet it’s the profound things that make us who we are. Most people would say these are the things that are of profound importance to me and are central to my core identity. So, that’s how you’d start this conversation. You start with what makes you feel good and go a little bit deeper into what makes you feel most connected to your soul and how that translates into the workplace.
You know, it seems to me, as you’re talking, you’re asking managers to be vulnerable. We’ve had these conversations where what impacted the employee and reduced their anxiety was that their manager admitted – hey, I get anxious too. Is that kind of what you’re saying? Say, look, what makes you feel good? Would it be helpful for them to say here’s what makes me feel good when I’m anxious? Is that vulnerability an important part of the step?
Huge, I think that’s huge, and that is the most important step. Because at the end of the day, whether you’re an employee, a manager, an executive, or c-level. It doesn’t matter. We’re all human beings on this path of life, striving to learn, grow, and transform. And the more that we can see other people doing that, especially other people who are superior to us, who we admire, who we look up to, who are our examples; if we can see them be vulnerable and see they too have weaknesses and they have ways of overcoming. They have paths that they have taken. They’re able to talk about it without feeling shame or embarrassment. This starts to normalize the process, and this is like in a relationship when somebody shares their true feelings.
People think it’s a weakness. It’s the opposite. That’s the guy who gets the girl, the guy who actually is able to say what’s on his mind. Right? That is totally the guy who gets the girl, but it’s the exact same thing. When people see your humanity, your employees are gonna respect you more. They’re going to look up to you more and say, wow, that’s the kind of man I’d like to be. Especially for men, where it’s so hard, oftentimes, to be vulnerable because masculinity is all about not showing your emotions. About toughing it out and like figuring out on your own and being self-sufficient, it could seem wimpy to be able to share. Yes, sometimes I’m scared. Sometimes I’ve had a really hard time. Sometimes I too, feel anxiety. But that makes you human, and sharing your humanity with others is the ultimate strength. The man who does that is the superior man. The most masculine man in my book.
That’s why people think I’m so masculine is because I am so flawed. That’s true, yeah.
Sharing your humanity is the greatest strength, and I love that, Anna, because I think what you’re saying is it’s actually now cool to be flawed. Ten, twenty years ago, the ultimate symbol of masculinity would be James Bond. You know, never make a mistake. Always in charge. And now I think you’re exactly right. We see people who are flawed. At least I can relate to them. At least I know that they’re they’re human and vulnerable. It reminds me of – somebody who had these little memes, and the meme for way back was “I’m okay, you’re okay.” The meme now is, “I’m not okay, You’re not okay, and that’s okay.” You know, one of the things we’re noticing with our corporate clients is – we all know anxiety and mental health issues are on the rise, but we have not seen any increase in the use of employee assistance programs. We just saw a recent statistic that says 90 employees would not tell their manager that they are suffering from any mental health issue. If I have a cold, I’d tell them that, but I wouldn’t tell them this. So how do we help break down that stigma that’s still out there?
Absolutely. So in my practice, I treat a lot of frontline workers, and they say the exact same thing. There are a ton of employee assistance programs, especially now for frontline workers, who in so many ways have been fundamentally and foremost affected by the pandemic. But, none of them want to use the employee assistant programs. Why? Because it seems shameful and it’s so private and the last thing they want to know or they want to share is sharing with their employees that i’ve really had a hard time i’ve considered quitting maybe i’ve even considered suicide like really scary things like that who wants their boss to hear that you know and so i think confidentiality is key so to enable people to have i don’t know how necessarily it would work but often reimbursement for private services as opposed to necessarily employee assistance programs that’s one possibility and then the other thing is really destigmatizing because why are people so scared to share why does it have to be so confidential because it’s not okay because you have to be strong at all costs because it seems like the people at the top have it all together it’s not okay to admit our flaws and our vulnerability yeah i can totally relate to that you know i remember being completely stressed out at work and actually talking to the chro of our company who i was dear friends with and she said chester you need to see counseling i said not on your life are you kidding she said it’s all confidential i said there’s no way nothing’s confidential exactly so that’s why because like God forbid anybody actually knows our inner most thoughts the fact that we think you know God knows what we think about and it’s just thoughts we’re allowed to think anything as human beings as a psychiatrist having treated 1500 people i could tell you people think everything and it’s all okay there’s no thoughts that are too dangerous too aggressive too sad to sexual to whatever all the things that people find somehow reprehensible it’s just human beings having thoughts it’s just human beings going through life and to be able to share your innermost world with somebody it’s really empowering
So let’s get to the social aspect, you know, and people are really feeling disconnected. Adrian and I joke about this, you know, we look at our motivators, and Adrian is his best self in covid. He’s isolated on his own. He’s loving it. Me? I’ve never met a stranger, and it’s been hard because I don’t have that socialization. So, two questions. First, what is the impact of that the lack of socialization, and secondly, what can managers do to encourage that kind of socialization, you know, after work? And other areas of their life, is that fair to ask?
Absolutely. Right. I think the impact of social isolation has been huge in covid and has exacerbated feelings of loneliness, which has for many, not for all, because there’s a lot of people who thrive as Adrian did in this. And they’re like, I’m perfectly happy in my little bubble. I don’t really want to see people, you know, you’re a little more introverted. Or, kind of, you’re on the cusp. Or there’s a lot of reasons, you know, for some people this time has been advantageous. But for many people like yourself, Chester, it can exacerbate loneliness, anxiety, depression, and everything that comes downstream because we are social creatures. We are social animals. We like to be able to look people in the eye. As wonderful as it is to see your eyes here on riverside.fm, it’s really amazing to be able to, you know, see somebody’s eyes, and see them actually breathe, and be in the same room with them sharing space. There’s something that’s very powerful that gets transmitted in that, and so what do we do to get around this forced isolation and quarantine that our country and actually the world is a part of right now? I think that need for deliberate social contact is huge, and that is whatever methods we have, as imperfect as they are, whether it be zoom. Whether it be phone calls, having people engage in that, and not just engaging on the level of – let’s have a business meeting. But also engage in a way that’s a little bit more vulnerability-inducing and a little bit more social, and you know, happy hour where people can have a drink at their home, and have private conversations. And also start having those community discussions on what’s coming up for people around this, you know, epidemic or the loneliness epidemic. You know, the end result for a lot of people if they already have anxiety and depression and they need social contact, it’s what’s called double depression. It’s, you know, an underlying organic history of depression on top of a very acute event, so a lot of people with any sort of pre-existing conditions have double anxiety, double depression, and it’s been very very hard.
That is such powerful advice, and on that note, I just want to you know that 99 percent of us will not have a chance to have a Yale Medical School-educated psychiatrist working with us on our team. I’d be lucky if I got somebody from, you know, upstairs medical college to help me. So give us some other examples of exercises that a team or a team member might be able to use to help reduce anxiety. You’ve talked about so many powerful things already.
To reduce anxiety at the individual level, it’s so important to do certain key things for oneself and everybody. It’s something different, but one very easy exercise that you could do together individually or as a team is just a little breathwork. And breathwork that is so easy that you can teach your team, and the team could take it with them. And this is breathwork that’s particularly powerful either for anxiety or panic. Whenever you’re in a meeting, whenever you feel your heart beating a little too fast, or whenever thoughts seem to be coming into your mind, they’re hard to control, and it’s a breath. You begin with an in-breath for two, then you hold for four, and you breathe out for eight. And so let’s practice once or twice together just so we get it.
Breathe in for two. Hold for four. Out for eight. Breathe in for two. Hold for four. Out for eight. The last one, breath in for two. Hold for four. Out for eight. In doing an exercise like this, you just notice it actually slows everything down a little bit. What you’re doing is you’re actually flooding your brain with oxygen—holding it there and releasing it very very slowly. And the end result is a net positive oxygen supply to your brain, which signals to your brain—calm. You know there is a feeling of calm when we’re nervous and hyper. What we do even without realizing it is to hyperventilate. We’re releasing carbon dioxide quickly, and we have a net negative—a sense of oxygen deprivation. So you are deliberately reducing that or shifting that in order to flood your brain with oxygen. And it’s such a simple exercise, and if you were to do five breaths like this three times a day, your energy, you would feel much more calm. Did you guys feel that when you did it?
You know it’s interesting. I noticed myself the third time through, I noticed I’d been fiddling with my pen, and it just sort of it was just focusing me, so I stopped, and I was able to even calm more, so it was really good. Yeah, for me, it was that exhale on the eight. I was good right up until about six, seven, eight. I was near passing out. You know, I’m a big fan of that. You know what’s interesting? My wife just bought me this apple watch, and I love it, and I hate it because about every three seconds, it’s buzzing me to do something. There is a breath app on there, though, and they encourage you to do it three times a day, and it’s basically what you said. I love these little triggers that you can put little reminders. I’ll tell you, as much as I don’t like being controlled by others, my watch gets me to get up and walk around. It gets me to go for more walks, and it really has been helpful. So give us again your book and some of the places people can go to learn more about your work. You’ve got your book “Fulfilled.” You’ve got your website. Give us that website again and any other resources you’d like our listeners to know.
Sure, so my website is www.annayusim.com. Which is spelled a n n a y u s I m dot com. And on my website, there are some classes I have on the intersection of spirituality and mental health. You can get the book on the website or Amazon, or anywhere else that books are sold. And there’s a ton of podcasts on the subject as well.
Yeah, we love giving our community resources. You know, we love this community. Our goal is to become the number one resource for anxiety and mental health. Well, listen, you know mental health has become a really important topic in the workplace. You know, as has wellness, particularly during covid. Now you spent a decade and a half, you know, fifteen years researching the importance of all of this. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in that time, especially over covid? And what might be the most surprising or counterintuitive thing that you’ve learned during covid?
I think the most important thing, and this is for myself as somebody who takes care of others, but I would say this is for anybody because employees always have someone depending on them, is you can’t take care of others or produce for others unless you take care of yourself first. And this is why I was talking about the shift from mental health being peripheral to productivity and in the workplace to mental health being fundamental and primary to productivity and everything going smoothly on all levels. So that was the most important lesson, and I guess it’s also the most counterintuitive lesson because we think that especially being employees or other people depending on us, we need to give give give give give. And what we don’t realize often it’s counterintuitive. But it makes perfect sense when it happens is if we give too much, we end up broken, and we can’t give anymore, and what’s the point, right? And so the people who you want as your employees and also as your leaders are those that know how to take care of themselves. Meaning knowing how to say no, establish their boundaries. Of course, you don’t want employees saying no all the time, but you also don’t want employees giving so much and then having a nervous breakdown or not being able to tell you when they need something or feeling so much stigma from what they’re feeling and then ending up in the hospital. So those things happen, so in a way we ultimately want to teach people to take care of themselves in order to be happy, healthy human beings and amazing employees.
Oh, and that’s a beautiful way to wrap all this up. Thank you, Dr. Yusim, for coming on and being with us today. Maybe just one last question for you. If you had to summarize, one of your patients who’s just quite frustrated that you know their manager just doesn’t get this, doesn’t feel comfortable even sharing this, what would you help them to be able to maybe from a position perhaps not of power to be able to share with somebody who has power? How can you get them to understand how important this is? That’s a tough question, but are there any tricks or tips we might be able to take away for some of our listeners who may not be in positions of power right now?
Absolutely right. I mean, there is a very clear economic benefit the people who do well in terms of mental health are the high producers. The people who don’t do well are usually the people who, at some point, are going to take more, you know, physical leave, mental health leave. Because any sort of anxiety, depression, substance abuse that translates into the bottom line. That translates into productivity loss, you know, less days at work, higher sick leave, higher disability leave—all of those things. So from a bottom-line perspective, taking care of the mental health of your employees is paramount, and now you can say, well, we weed out those people who are going to have mental health needs. We don’t want to hire those people but guess what? Right now, people’s mental health needs are becoming paramount-just because they’re experiencing things they’ve never experienced. And I have a number of c-suite people who I treat in my practice with newfound palpitations. Waking up with insomnia that they’ve never had before. This is like your triathlon marathon runners, super strong people. I have Olympians, and like they are really, really, really stressed. So these mental health things aren’t just for the weak. This is because we’re human and every human being in life, at some point, is going to be brought to their knees. Whatever it is, it’s just part of life, and so it’s not whether or not you’re going to be brought to your knees. It’s how you get up and what you do in order to own that struggle and to turn that challenge into something that makes you stronger and more evolved.
Amazing. You’ve just got so much wisdom. You’ve got so much to give. We would love to invite you to be a part of our community, we thrive together because I think a lot of the things that you’re talking about would be really assuring for people that are struggling at work. I know this is a tough question, but if you had to sum up the one big thing you wanted everybody to take away from today, what would that one thing be?
Given our conversation, I think the most important thing is there is no shame in whatever it is that you’re feeling and whatever it is that you are going through. Own it, speak it, share it, and then do whatever you need to do if you need help, get the help you need. Take care of yourself first. You have to your employees, your family, and especially your soul depends on it.
Ches, what are some of the things you took away from anna today? Well, I love the summary there. You know, own it talk about it. I love the breathing exercise. I thought that was tremendous. The thing that I loved the most though is the guy that’s the most vulnerable gets the girl.
I’ve seen it, you know, over and over and over. That is so fun. What I took away too. I just thought, you know, just what you said, Anna, about everybody’s going through something right now and the causes – look, there’s covid, there’s social isolation. I don’t think we’re talking enough about job security. I thought that was huge because that is such a, especially for younger employees that don’t have ten or twenty years of experience to fall back on, and they’re so vulnerable right now. And I think as leaders, we just need to be extremely careful in how we treat those younger people who are so worried about the economic impact that this pandemic is creating. Yeah, I love what you said there – make sure you take care of yourself first. I know it’s the old adage, you know, you put your oxygen mask on first, and then put it on your kid. It is really true. I think, as leaders, in particular, who are listening to the podcast, we’re really good about giving.
We’re not really good about asking, and you know we need to make that stigma go away as well. That it’s okay for leaders, and that ties to my other takeaway that you gave, and that is that vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness and that when you’re vulnerable with people, they will rally to you, make it much more relatable, and make it a safer place for people to talk about their anxiety. I hope I got that right, doctor. Beautiful, and I think my last takeaway too was, you know, just as her book “Fulfilled” talks about the focus on something greater than ourselves in these tough times. Whether it’s a purpose, and that’s what team leaders can bring. Look, this is how we are improving customers’ lives or patients’ lives or just for ourselves. Whether it’s spirituality, whether it’s connecting better with nature-focusing on something greater than ourselves. So this has been just an amazing 45 minutes together. We want to thank you, Anna, for being on the show with us. A special thanks to our producers Brent Klein and Christy Lawrence and, of course, everybody who has listened in today. If you like the podcast, please share it and let others know about it. Right Ches?
Absolutely. Share it with your friends and family. Join us in our we thrive together community. We’re going to be having different events and guest speakers, people like Anna, to help you with your anxiety. You know, just in closing, Adrian, I love that thing about something bigger than yourself, you know to be a part of a community, you’re not alone, you’re not alone. There’s a lot of people that are suffering, and there are a lot of people that can really help you get through it. So let’s let’s create a community that’s bigger than ourselves, and let’s help each other out. Well, that’s our story, right, Adrian? And we’re sticking to it. Thanks again, Anna. You’ve been a delightful guest. I know that we’re going to become fast friends. Thank you so much for your time and your expertise. Thank you both.