Today’s Worksite

Working In A Post-Covid World

How digital mental health solutions address stress-related exhaustion in the workplace

by Dr. Byron Crowe, M.D.

Dr. Crowe is the Chief Medical Officer for Solera Health. In his role, he oversees clinical program design for digital and community health solutions offered on the Solera platform that address the most pressing physical, mental and social health needs of populations.

Emotional exhaustion is a condition much of the American population is familiar with. Emotional exhaustion is a symptom of burnout. Generally characterized by a sense of fatigue and a loss of enthusiasm for one’s work and personal affairs, emotional exhaustion is often associated with burnout. External stressors such as those related to politics, social change, and public health tend to exacerbate this condition. A toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people emerged more prone to emotional stress than ever before, forcing society to band together and collectively confront the state of mental health care.

In early 2020, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) and the Census Bureau collaborated on an experimental data system called the Household Pulse Survey to promptly monitor recent changes in mental health. To learn more about how often people experience anxious and depressive symptoms, NCHS compiled a series of questions aiming to reveal the proportion of adults who have exhibited anxiety or depressed symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder or major depressive disorder.

Mental health estimates from the 2019 NHIS may serve as valuable reference points – among adults aged 18 and up in 2019, 8.1% experienced symptoms indicative of an anxiety disorder, 6.5% experienced symptoms indicative of a depressive disorder, and 10.8% experienced symptoms indicative of both disorders. In November 2022, 31.1% of people in America are experiencing anxiety disorder, 23.8% are experiencing depressive disorder, and 35.6% are experiencing symptoms of both.

The Multifactorial Nature Of Stress

Aside from the stressors of the pandemic, many other factors can contribute to emotional exhaustion, including relationships with family and friends, emotional and physiological health, finances, and parenting, among many others. Chronic stress can have serious consequences across organ systems. The APA highlights several important examples of the physical effects of stress, including:

  • Musculoskeletal system: Extreme muscular tension and subsequent chronic muscle guarding can result from prolonged exposure to stress. This can trigger other reactions in the body and lead to stress-related disorders such as tension or migraine headaches, or lower back and upper extremity pain, which has been linked specifically to job stress. A 2019 study conducted by the Journal of the International Association for the Study of Pain found pain pressure thresholds and anxiety scores in people with musculoskeletal conditions are highly associated, and predicted future muscle, tendon, and joint issues are higher in those with elevated levels of anxiety at baseline.
  • Respiratory system: Stress can cause shortness of breath and rapid breathing, but acute stress can actually trigger asthma attacks in asthmatics, hyperventilation, and can even lead to a panic attack. Those who have panic attacks often describe feeling weak, dizzy, chest pain, hot and cold, and sick to their stomachs. Some people report feeling as if they are being suffocated or choked, and many report feeling disoriented and detached while recovering. This is concerning because the respiratory system supplies oxygen to our blood and removes carbon dioxide from the body. Relaxation, breathing, and other cognitive behavioral strategies can help.
  • Cardiovascular system: Acute stress can cause an elevated heart rate and a stronger contraction of the heart muscle, with stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol acting as messengers for the effects – often leading to high blood pressure. Independent of known cardiovascular risk factors, a 2017 study published in The Lancet indicated that emotional stress is a strong predictor of cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, many people visit emergency departments reporting symptoms such as chest pain that are found to be associated with their anxiety, congesting health care facilities because they never received a diagnosis and direction to the best interventions.

In addition to these organ systems, stress can also take a toll on the endocrine system, nervous system, immune system, concentration, and energy levels, and it can also lead to metabolic disorders and depression.

The Need For Multi-Modal Interventions

When employees can feel confident that they are spending their time during the work week in an environment with people who care and want to give them the tools they need to create a healthy lifestyle, that in and of itself will ease stress levels...

Mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety are projected to cost $211 billion per year, while the annual cost of dealing with work-related stress is estimated at $190 billion. Estimates account for both time spent away from work and productivity lost while employees are on the clock. It is on employers to pay close attention to the effects of stress on the body because how these conditions intersect with workplace stressors can have serious impacts on employees – not just on their personal lives, but also on their productivity in the workplace. Symptoms and consequences of stress fatigue at work can include missed deadlines, procrastination, and increased absences. It ultimately serves employers’ best interest to implement clinically proven mental health solutions that will provide employees with ways to destress and/or address their stresses in a better and healthier way.

When employees can feel confident that they are spending their time during the work week in an environment with people who care and want to give them the tools they need to create a healthy lifestyle, that in and of itself will ease stress levels. Employers can do this for their employees by improving communication between management and staff, building a strong company culture, making employees feel valued, supporting a healthy work-life balance, and encouraging the use of digital mental health solutions that provide lifestyle interventions and health improvement programs based on individual acuity. Organizations can partner with a high-performing digital health platform solution that both curates and manages networks of leading health programs. In doing so, they can efficiently deliver a broad set of top-notch, accessible care tailored to individual needs.

When it comes to mental health, an evidence-based solution can provide the means to improve anxiety, depression, stress, and sleep tools that provide mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy. Some of these include:

  • Digital and coaching tools that will positively impact low- to medium-acuity mental health needs
  • Clinically meaningful improvements in depression, stress, anxiety, and sleep
  • Integrating with existing mental health care teams as a way of more comprehensively supporting an entire population

A Digital Front Door To Mental Health Condition Management

Many health risks can proliferate as a byproduct of stress. Digital health solutions can give employees direct access to preventing and treating some of these issues through means such as diabetes prevention, weight management, and mental health services, to name a few. It is important to note, though, that each person is facing their own unique set of situations and hurdles. A digital front door with an evidence-based solution allows every employee to pair with their best-fit provider through matching algorithms that continuously learn and improve, increasing the likelihood of consumer engagement and meaningful outcomes. This approach delivers more consumer-friendly health solutions in the critical areas of mental and behavioral health and connects employees with the appropriate tools and support that fit their lifestyles.

While employers are considering the mental health of their employees, it is crucial to consider the financial aspect, as well. This type of solution brings a value-based payment approach to new networks of solutions, ensuring aligned incentives and a focus on outcomes. It’s a model that rewards excellent network providers for member engagement and outcomes while tracking activity and performance, submitting invoices or claims against billable events, and managing payment back to its network. Employers can provide employees access to clinically proven, digital mental health solutions in their most common and costly areas to improve health while also driving cost savings.

Digital Health For A Digital World

When not managed correctly, chronic stress can lead to stress fatigue that directly impacts the personal life and work performance of employees. Providing employees access to clinically proven digital mental health solutions gives them the tools they need to manage and counteract stress before it becomes a detriment to their livelihood. Digital mental health solutions can improve mindfulness through mental health exercises and meditation, creating a more positive – and productive – work environment. When employers can empower their employees with these tools to reduce and mitigate the impact of external stressors, their performance and satisfaction at work will ultimately improve.


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