Isolation due to stay-at-home orders, mandated or by personal choice, is affecting the day to day mental health of millions of workers. For people with substance abuse and addiction issues, separation from communities of support can exacerbate anxiety and depression issues.
Addiction Issues by the Numbers
According to an April 2020 study by Alcohol.org, up to one third of Americans working from home are also drinking while working. Stress, fear of the pandemic, and being away from our usual routines as people work from home are likely contributing factors to this statistic. Sales of alcohol have also increased since most states put their initial stay-at-home orders in effect.
Substance abuse not only negatively affects the body and mind, leading to poor decision making, weight loss, compulsive behavior, and unintentional behaviors and injuries, it costs business $100 billion a year and leads to loss of efficiency, issues with coworkers and management, and turnover.
Organizations dedicated to facilitating substance abuse treatment like Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services identify the impact of the pandemic on inpatient and outpatient therapy. While an employee may not need the full resources of therapy, anxiety can make them more likely to be one of the many Americans who are drinking during work hours.
How Leaders Can Address Addiction Issues to Improve Employees’ Mental Health
As working communities gather closer – even while physically separated – to support each other, leaders are challenged more than ever to understand their employees’ mental health challenges. Managers who center compassion and empathy – and really we should all be working toward this, no matter our role in the company – understand that those with substance abuse issues are not their addictions. To provide a resource for leaders, Kanarys spoke to Shari Hampton, founder of Served Up Sober, a space of holistic healing and support for women of color who are sober and sober curious, about how companies can support employees, specifically women of color, as they navigate stressors and sobriety.
“What we’re telling our sober and sober curious women during this time is to honor their routines,” Shari said. “Although sometimes mundane, having a routine is probably the best way to stay on course in a time when many people are just ‘winging it.’ Since we’re creating a new normal, routines may not include getting dressed and making lunch (although not bad ideas) but there should be a defined structure to the day: have a set time for emails, phone calls and meetings; book the day with start and end times; utilize a planner or scheduler to track tasks and productivity.”
Shari’s recommendation of a routine is supported by scientists, who have noted that having a routine lowers stress, improves sleep and can help you improve in other areas of your life. “Successful routines result in feelings of accomplishment and feeling accomplished buoys folks who are trying to maintain sobriety,” she added.
As for what employers can do to demonstrate understanding and be empathetic to the challenges of reducing and discontinuing drinking at a time of high stress, Shari recommends mindfulness breaks in lieu of happy hours.
“This could mean meditation apps or even online yoga. Creating a zoom meeting that designates time for mindfulness can increase employee participation,” Shari said. “Also, there’s plenty of authoritative information available about the dangers of drinking and how it compromises the immune system. A well-placed email, distributed to workers, that speaks to the hazards of drinking during a pandemic goes a long way.”
Additional techniques for managing stress and addiction include taking breaks as often as necessary, exercising regularly, eating healthily, journaling, and connecting online and via phone with a community who can provide support for sobriety.
Shari also shared the following resources for women who are looking for support during this time:
She Recovers https://sherecovers.co/together-online/
Served Up Sober also hosts weekly support groups specific to women of color and online yoga
Served Up Sober: http://www.servedupsober.com/events/
If you are working at a company that is supportive of your experience with sobriety and invested in employees’ mental health, share your story with Kanarys by creating your account and leaving a review.