Are you having a hard time managing stress at the workplace?
Don’t worry. You are not alone. And, COVID-19 is only making it worse.
If stress is becoming overwhelming or unbearable, there is no need to feel ashamed or guilty. Neither should you think that there is only one way to tackle this problem – keep going by ignoring it, hoping that it will vanish.
Of course, you need to work to earn a living. But this doesn’t mean you should carry on to the best of your abilities, trying not to get buried in the process. If you take this route, there is always a possibility that the stress will get the better of you and you are headed for an emotional breakdown.
Before you take that path, you have another choice before you – stress leave. Read on to learn more about work stress leave, its eligibility criteria, and how to avail of it.
Are you really stressed?
Stress is a term used to describe the feeling of being overwhelmed and swamped in varying intensities and contexts. Not all of them can be considered for work stress leave. To avail of the leave, you need to consult a mental health professional and they need to certify that you are stressed enough to take time off from work.
With this in mind, let’s try to understand how work anxiety manifests.
When you work in a high-pressure job, it may involve a demanding boss, too much workload, not enough employees to share it, hard deadlines, high levels of competition, and suchlike. It is natural for you to feel physically and emotionally drained. Your situation outside the office may also contribute to this feeling in a big way. Anxiety and mental health don’t mix well.
Working under such harsh and impossible conditions can leave an indelible mark on your psyche, besides the physical toll. Burnout is a natural outcome of intolerable levels of work anxiety.
You may be too preoccupied with making things work and dealing with your frustrations and anger that you barely acknowledge how you feel other than think of it as bad and undesirable – something you want to escape from.
If you think you are stressed enough to qualify for work stress leave and want to avail it, you have to consult a healthcare provider for certification and approach the HR team at your workplace.
When you go to a mental health professional for evaluation, you need to be prepared to detail your symptoms and show them how it is affecting your everyday life. Self-evaluation can help you here.
It would be a good idea to note down the points as you go through the checklist and analyze your emotions.
Here are some pointers for self-evaluation.
Even though stress, depression, and anxiety impact the mind, they also manifest as physical signs within a short time. The symptoms include:
- Sleeplessness, nightmares, sleep apnea, and other sleep disorders
- Migraine or frequent headaches
- Tightness in muscles accompanied by pain
- Tension and chest pain
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Acidity, heartburn, and nausea
Most of the symptoms are general in nature and are often ignored. This can worsen the situation. If allowed to continue, they may have serious repercussions.
When under the influence of stress, anxiety, and depression, are you feeling …
- Restless and irritated
- Anxious and nervous
- Angry and sore
- Miserable and teary
- Distracted by stressful thoughts
- A distant feeling of fear
- Unable to focus on any task
- Inattentive and not motivated
The presence of one or more of the emotional symptoms can harm your performance and bring down your productivity levels. These symptoms will also prevent you from taking steps or engaging in activities to alleviate stress.
When you are feeling miserable, angry, or sad, you will be uninterested in the company of others and want to be left alone. This will prevent you from approaching your family or friends for help and support.
Is your eating pattern getting affected by work anxiety, stress, and depression? Such as:
- Binge eating
- Stress eating
- Not hungry or unable to eat
As your interest in nutritious foods decreases and you take to unhealthy foods and addictive habits, your quality of life takes a hit. This can lead to depression and can even make you suicidal.
One of the main aftereffects of stress is the drop in energy levels. The reason may be loss of appetite or insomnia or any of the others. As your energy level drops, you will feel lethargic, unwilling to motivate yourself to be more physically active.
You may be unable to maintain your focus, leading to minor and major mistakes. As you slip into a more and more depressed state of mind, you will be less inclined to pursue your regular activities, making you feel more desperate, dreadful, and depressed.
What is FMLA?
The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) is part of the United States labor law that requires employers covered under the scheme to guarantee unpaid leave and job protection to their employees on medical and family grounds.
Under FMLA, you are eligible for unpaid leave to attend to an unwell family member or to recuperate from physical ailments and mental health issues that can prevent you from carrying out your responsibilities at work.
A few facts about FMLA:
- FMLA stipulates only unpaid leave, though some employers may pay their employees voluntarily.
- Some organizations allow their employees to utilize their accumulated sick leave or other leaves to cover the period fully or partially. This is at the discretion of the employer as FMLA doesn’t demand this.
- Employees are eligible for health insurance benefits when availing of leave under FMLA.
- Employers with less than 50 employees are not covered under FMLA. However, schools and public entities are required to follow FMLA, irrespective of the employee count.
- You are eligible to claim benefits under FMLA, only if you have been working for the employer for a minimum period of 12 months. In addition to this, you must have worked at least 1250 hours (around 26 hours/week) in the past year.
- You are eligible for 12 weeks of unpaid leave under FMLA. And your job remains protected in this period. In case, your employer is unable to provide the same job on your return, you should be given a similar job with similar pay.
At the outset, FMLA may not seem a very attractive choice for employees as it doesn’t assure pay during the leave period. However, for a person suffering from serious levels of stress-related disorders, this can make a huge impact on the quality of life. It can even mean a difference between life and death. Health insurance for temporary disability may also come in useful.
Should you avail of work stress leave?
It is up to you to decide whether you want to take a leave of absence from work due to stress to get better. Before you take that decision, it is advisable to consult a physician or a therapist and get your situation assessed for its severity.
Whether your problem is mild or not, it always helps to take a break to recuperate. However, availing of this leave means no pay. So, not everyone has the luxury to take that option. On the other hand, if your problem is severe enough to affect your personal as well as professional life, it becomes a necessity rather than a choice.
Even if you are suffering from a mild case of diagnosed anxiety disorder, don’t feel guilty or ashamed to avail the leave. You and you alone can take that decision.
How to get FMLA leave for anxiety?
You need to follow these steps if you are thinking of availing of FMLA leave.
- As a first step, consult a therapist or a mental health care provider.
- Discuss your symptoms with the doctor openly, including your need for some time off from work.
- Once your condition is assessed, you need to get a doctor’s note for stress and anxiety. The doctor should certify that you are unfit for work and taking time off work for depression is necessary.
- Discuss with your doctor how much time you may need off.
- Approach your employer. Usually, this involves meeting with your HR department.
- While some are understanding about your situation, there may be some employers who are not. Don’t feel intimidated by any sentiments of displeasure or opposition to your request. Your employer cannot deny you the leave as you are legally eligible for it.
- Do your best to convince your employer that the leave is vital for your mental health and well-being. It is desirable that your employer understand your position. This will minimize the impact of the leave on your job prospects.
- Once your leave is approved, take a complete break from work.
How to best utilize the stress leave?
You need to remember that work stress leave is not meant as vacation time. And, the leave entitles you to take a full break. This means no work from home or attending official calls.
You may need some planning to get the maximum benefit from the stress leave. You need to follow your doctor’s recommendations faithfully.
Make sure that you are keeping up with all your doctor’s appointments and therapy sessions as recommended. It would be beneficial to have a support system to help you follow the schedule without feeling overwhelmed. With the help of the doctor or therapist, you should set up daily and weekly goals to assess your progress.
You must not be distracted from your recovery plan by what is happening around you. In case your family members are unable to understand it, you should take the extra effort to impress upon them how vital this is for you.
Your daily schedule should follow healthy habits like eating your meals on time, taking regular exercises, and visiting the doctor as recommended. You may have to make lifestyle changes to get better. Even if you find the going difficult, don’t give up. Ignore the noise, from outside as well as from inside. This is vital for your recovery.
Now that you have finished your work stress leave and made a full recovery, it is time to go back to work. This needs to be done with caution. A “phased return to work” is recommended for most people so that you won’t feel overwhelmed by the experience.
As you get back into your regular duties at work, take care to keep stress and stressful situations under control. Cooperation of your superior is always helpful in this regard. If you feel that your stress levels are going back to square one, you should think about looking for another job.
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