Work Stress & Self-Care

Jess Welch, Wellness Coordinator

How does one cope with too much work, little help, and no time to do their mounting tasks? Through coaching I consistently hear employees tell me about low job satisfaction. Work is their number one source of stress in their life and carries out into other areas leading to low life-satisfaction.

“I have no time to work out.”

“If I had one word to describe my eating habits it would be ‘quick’.”

“Work is constantly on my mind, distracting me from time with my family.”

“I blink and my entire day is gone.”

And as much as a simple answer could be to quit their jobs, it isn’t so simple after all. Everyone has bills to pay, relationships they have made within the workplace, and face the risk of starting over while many may enjoy large pieces of their jobs. So we have this complex issue of increased stress leading to increased risk factors for things like cardiovascular disease, decreased fulfillment, and no real answer to fix it due to life’s high demands.

Because this blog is not for my recommendations of the complex situation for employers to aide in creating a lower stress environment for their employees, I am going to focus on you: the workers. How do you keep up with life’s high demands inside and outside the workplace? How do you develop healthy habits and keep a job you may have worked quite hard to obtain?

Developing healthy coping strategies takes cognitive effort. If it were something you could do outside of cognitive thought, you probably would have been doing it already. As a species, we run as efficiently as possible already but unfortunately this is a piece we still have to think about. However, once we develop the strategies needed for self-care, it becomes less necessary to be intentional about it and more habitual.

Now, I break up stress into two separate categories: the first being that immediate stress, the “here and now” stress, the “my chest hurts and my head is spinning” stress. The second being that mounting and constant stress, like a consistent dull noise in the back of your head. Below you will see some ideas to help cope with each type.

The immediate stress:

  • Remove yourself from the situation for five minutes
  • Close your eyes and take 3 slow breaths: 7 seconds in, 10 seconds out.
  • Plug in your music and listen to one song you love
  • Get a stress ball

*Try these and go right back to work.

The consistent stress:

  • Go for a walk, exercise
  • Get enough sleep
  • Limit Caffeine intake
  • Do something you enjoy; volunteer, read a book, etc.

Coping with the consistent stress helps decrease the times of that “immediate stress” feeling. So developing a good self-care plan will lower those intense feelings. Now, you’re probably thinking – “Jess, if I have time I would have already been doing this! This doesn’t answer my question at all.” My answer? Find five minutes in your day. Then find ten. Increase your moments of self-care by five minutes a week until you can somehow find 20-30 minutes in your day. This does not need to be all at once, scatter it if you need to. But I promise, once you do you will not regret it! Your physical body, your emotional body, heck – even your work will all thank you!

Well Leaders: Involving the Right People

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 Toni Sperlbaum, CWWPM, CHWC, Vice President of Sales & Marketing

When a company implements a wellness program, many program administrators are very used to hearing that the promotion and support for this program needs to come from the top down in order for it to be successful.  While this is true, it’s not the entire story.  Each culture and logistics of the company has a role in how this plays out, but who could be more important than your CEO, CFO, HR team, and other key executives?  Middle Management.

If your CEO sends a letter home to employees encouraging their participation, their message is in your newsletter and on a flyer in the break room, that’s great.  But how much time do your employees actually spend with the CEO?  What is their level of trust of your CEO (another topic out of my expertise!)?  While in a perfect corporate world, the answers here would be “a lot of time!” and “a lot of trust!”, it’s just not reality.  Employees are spending a majority of their time in their own departments with their direct supervisors.  If those middle managers are not buying in to the program, neither will their employees!

We encourage you to host separate meetings with your management team, even one-on-one perhaps, to get their buy in and almost most importantly, their commitment to participating themselves.  Setting the example is half of the message!  Consider running special challenges or programs just for them.  Highlighting in a newsletter “Healthy Leaders” and showing what they have accomplished, or the results of your WellLeader Challenge.  Communication is also huge.  In many companies, the main route of communicating all of the fantastic programs you have going simply aren’t reaching all employees.  Your middle managers are the key.

Keeping the Holidays Healthy

  Kelly Murray, BS, Wellness Coordinator

The holidays can be a tough time of year when it comes to making healthy choices. Below are a few easy tips and tricks to keep you on track throughout the holiday season.

Christmas Shopping – Plan ahead before your trip to the mall!

  • Don’t go to the mall hungry.
    • Before heading out for a full day of shopping, eat a meal that is going to fill you up and give you the energy to do your power shopping. Eating before you go will make it less likely that you will stop and make poor nutrition choices because you are starving.
  • Bring a water bottle and pack a light snack.
    • Shopping can be intense! Before you leave home, pack yourself a water bottle and a healthy snack to take with you. Having these readily available will help prevent you from caving and buying junk food while you are out and about.
  • Plan your route.
    • Map out where you need to go. If possible, try to avoid walking past the food court or the sugar coated almond stand 10 times as you do your shopping. You can even plan to take the long way around and get in some extra walking.
  • Avoid fast food at the food court and choose a sit down restaurant.
    • Instead of grabbing a quick bite to eat from the food court, go to a sit down restaurant. It may take a little more time, but there are usually healthier options, like soup and salad, grilled chicken or fish, and veggies. Sitting down away from all of thoe noise and rush of shoppers will also help you relax, and take time to focues on the food you are eating. Enjoy and savor your meal. There is no need to rush, the sale will still be going on in 30 minutes after you eat your meal.

Holiday Parties and Gatherings

  • Bring your own dish to pass.
    • If you are going to someone else’s house for a meal, offer to bring your own dish to pass. This way you have some control over what you are eating, and you know what has gone in to it. Many people tend to bring deserts, but why not bring a healthy appetizer or a side? Vegetable trays and salads are always welcome.
  • Fill up on the healthiest options first.
    • Begin with a salad (the green kind, not the potato or pasta salad). Fill your plate with veggies and entrees before filling up on high-calorie sides and desserts. This means having a mountain of broccoli, cauliflower, and green beans rather than a mashed potato mountain.  Instead, if you are going to make a mini mashed potato mountain try to stick with one serving size of about 1 cup.
  • Stand at least an arms length away from the munchies.
    • Take a step back from the munchies! If you are sitting down at the table, or standing within arms reach of the chips, nuts, and candies you will be more likely to mindlessly snack on them without even noticing it. By standing farther away you will need to actively choose to move towards the snacks if that is what you really want to eat.

For more tips on how to stay healthy over the holidays, take a look at the American Heart Association’s Holiday Healthy Eating Guide

Monday Mourning

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Nahshon Cook-Nelson, PR & Marketing Intern
GUEST BLOG

My first job was working at a fresh food market in the 11th grade
Finally it was my chance to get my own wage

Even more than getting paid
I was thrilled for the friends and new relationships to be made

And on that first day I…

Found out it was a masquerade
Most weren’t filled with praise but self-pity

Constantly complaining
Dramatically draining

Persistently persuading themselves and each other
That their place of work was an utter, sentence to chains

Specifically on that first day of the week
There was a sense of mourning
More people grew meek
Seeking to pull themselves from the present

As I look around today
Lots of things seem the same way

Now this may sound dumb
But I think most have grown numb
To the feeling they first had walking in the door
The urge to try new things and explore

Whether it was 9 to 5 or 8 to 4
We were passionate about the struggle and the growth
But now, we’ve grown sore

We are not required to live this way any. more.

If our work has truly brought us to the stage of worry then let it be discontinued
And our refugee begin

Otherwise, the only reason we complain is if we know of something better within
Where every Monday we can pull in to work with a grin

We may approach those whose internal lights have grown dim
But we will spread the notion of TGIM

Where many have felt the need to plead until their last working minute has struck
We will feed the seeds to give our best until our time is up

We can defeat this feeling that is so alluring
Give gratitude instead of complaints. So our joy is ever enduring

When agony rises and moments seem boring
Let us fight back so it is NEVER “just another Monday Mourning”

Going Beyond Diet and Exercise

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 Toni Sperlbaum, CWWPM, CHWC, Vice President of Sales & Marketing

When you think of the term “wellness program”, the first thing that often comes to mind when it comes to programming are diet and exercise.  More and more, however, we are seeing a more whole-person wellness movement in the field which includes not only diet and exercise, but many other factors such as financial wellness, stress management, ergonomics, spiritual wellness, and much more.

September is National Yoga Month, which means it’s the perfect time to offer onsite yoga classes at your facility or at least provide local resources and information to your members.  Luckily, yoga hits two birds with one stone.  Many yogis see their practice as their own personal escape, connecting deeply to their core values and philosophy.  It also combines physical postures, breathing exercises, meditation and stress relief.  Seventy seven percent of people report regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress, and those who participate in yoga report reducing stress levels.

Outside of the mental benefits, no one can deny that yoga is a better workout than seems to those who haven’t done it before!  Not only does it improve flexibility, strength, and muscle tone, one 2011 study showed that 12 weekly yoga classes resulted in better function than usual medical care in adults with chronic or recurring low-back pain.  What this means for your health plan is less doctor or physical therapy visits!   It has also shown to reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, improve respiration and energy, and reduce cardiovascular disease. It’s really a win-win.

If you’re not a big fan of yoga, or feel you are unable to host a class onsite for whatever reason, I encourage you to put out a Deep Breathing, Meditation,  at-home yoga challenge to your members, or even a Lunch & Learn seminar regarding some of these topics.  As you can see from the few benefits I sited above (there are many more!), mental and emotional wellness are just as important as diet and exercise.  That makes healthier, happier, more productive, and lower cost employees.

Namaste.

Superman, The Hulk, The Flash, Mr. Fantastic & He-Man walk into a Gym……

   Ryan Hall  MS, CSCS, Wellness Coordinator

Superman, The Hulk, The Flash, Mr. Fantastic & He-Man walk into a gym…stop me if you have heard this one!  You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this.  Sit tight as I drop a little superhero analogy on you.  First off, a little comic book background on our subjects:

Superman (Muscular Endurance):  As the saying goes – “Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound…nanana…it’s Superman!” With this intro behind us, Superman represents all that is seen as muscular endurance; speed, strength and power.

Hulk (Muscular Strength): The green giant with the strength to destroy buildings, throw a tank and pretty much put any power lifter to shame. I don’t know of a better epitome of muscular strength in the comic world.

Flash (Cardiovascular Endurance): Does this one really need any explanation? With the ability to move, think and react at light speeds as well as having superhuman endurance that allows him the ability to run incredible distances, there is no one better to represent cardiovascular endurance.

Mr. Fantastic (Flexibility): Some of you may be wondering who this one is, think Fantastic 4. Mr. Fantastic has the ability to stretch his body like a giant rubber band, i.e. he’s very flexible.

He-man (Body Composition):  Think Arnold Schwarzenegger in a loin cloth at his peak.  Yeah, that’s He-Man.  Not to mention the superhuman strength and speed.

Okay, introductions out of the way I’ll get to the point. My question to you is: who do you want to be? In other words, what is your goal? Too many people start off an exercise routine not knowing what they really want. They want to lose weight, get stronger, bulk up their muscle mass and be able to run a half marathon.  That all sounds fine and dandy, but you have too many contradicting factors.  You can’t bulk up and lean out at the same time.  It’s incredibly hard to build serious muscle mass and train for cardiovascular endurance.  And not to mention become a yoga master and dead lift 600 pounds.  The way you train needs to match what your goals are.

If you are looking to gain muscle mass and you are starting off as a scrawny 6 ft – 175 lbs, you will probably need to go through a bulking process where you are consuming extremely high amounts of calories and limiting your cardiovascular exercise in order to gain not only muscle, but some excess fat in order to push heavy enough weight to make the muscles grow.  You say you want to get faster and run a marathon?  You should probably skip max dead lift day.  Training the muscles to be able to work hard for long periods of time is your strategy.  Think lots and lots of lunges and core work.  You want that rock hard six-pack?  Nutrition should be your first thought, but moderately heavy weight coupled with moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise is your route.  And it is really hard to pull off a Handstand Scorpion Pose (yoga – look it up) if your traps, shoulders and biceps are so large that you can’t scratch the back of your own neck.

My advice here is to have a goal in mind before you step foot in the gym. Think long and hard, do you want to lose that spare tire?  Look good in a bikini?  Sculpt that chest and back?  Bench press 450 & Squat 600?  Are you thinking you’d like to try your hand at a marathon or triathlon?  Or do you just want to be Batman?  That’s my goal, just be Batman!

Batman (All Around Bad***): But wait, wouldn’t Superman embody this description? The answer is yes, except for the fact that he is not human and Batman is just like the rest of us. No special powers, no magical abilities, just grit, determination and looks good in a spandex suit.

The Definition of Healthy

Nicole Griswold, CHWC, Wellness Coordinator

What is your definition of ‘healthy?’ Give someone a topic that is considered healthy and I guarantee they will come up with a statement (even if it’s factual or not!) as to why it isn’t good for you.  Over the weekend, I had an epiphany; as a society, we will do whatever it takes to come up with a reason why something is unhealthy. Anything! With so many studies, opinions, and fads out there these days, we are able to find someone or something that will give a reason as to why something is unhealthy.

I’ll give a few examples. These are actual examples that I have heard through health coaching in corporate wellness, personal conversations, and social media.

  1. Avid runners have such horrible knee and joint issues. It just wrecks their body!
  2. Apples are bad for you because they contain sugar.
  3. Vitamins are a waste. They’re not as natural and effective as food sources.
  4. The fresh produce at the grocery store was picked past it’s prime ripeness, so it’s really lacking nutrients.
  5. That chicken isn’t good for you because it’s been processed.
  6. Going for a walk doesn’t burn that many calories, so it’ just a waste of time.
  7.  I had to take some broccoli off my plate so I wouldn’t go over my carb count.

What do you think? Do you agree with the above statements? I believe this trend has a lot to do with our underlying psychological instinct to achieve perfect health on top of our constant ability to produce excuses and reasoning as to why most of us are not healthy. Kind of like a “I do these healthy things but they don’t work because of *excuse* so you can’t blame me” type statement.

My two cents – Don’t overthink what you know is good for you. Don’t believe everything you hear. Educate yourself. Focus on the positives. Don’t compare your state of health to others. Create your own definition of healthy!

Top 5 List: Community Service and Wellness


Toni Sperlbaum, CWWPM, CHWC, Wellness Account Manager

January 18th was “King Day of Service”.  This got me thinking about the great opportunities organizations have to incorporate service into their wellness programs.  I believe there really is something to volunteering and the benefits that directly correlate to an employee and a health plan.

You’ll see a variety of programs that are considered “wellness”.  Flu shots, biggest loser challenges, biometric screenings, yoga classes, and countless additional programs can fall under this umbrella.  At HPA, we believe that a good program incorporates 3 major prongs; Nutrition, Exercise, and Mental Health.

According to Harvard Medical School, studies have shown that volunteering not only wards off feelings of loneliness and depression, but can also reach beyond mental health, affecting physical health as well.  This includes lowering blood pressure and having a longer life span.

The benefits are there, but how can companies be using community service as a tentacle of their wellness efforts?  Here are our top 5 options we have put together based on what we are seeing in the industry:

  1. Designate 2 non-profits or movements a year to focus on.  Focus less on making 1 huge donation as a company and focus more on how you can involve your employees to either fundraise or be directly involved with the mission in a hands-on manor.  Allowing paid time offsite or department trips to volunteer is an important piece to show your buy in to your efforts.  Visiting your local soup kitchen or children’s museum are great options and make great team building activities.
  2. Have a points program?  Make community service hours a part of it!
  3. Join a local effort such as Relay for Life or the American Heart Walk.  Employees can fundraise AND be physically active.  Events like this also help build a culture of giving-back and wellness.
  4. Partner with some local charities to allow your employees a mentorship opportunity, or host a kickball game or something similar with underprivileged kids in the community. One example: Big Brothers, Big Sisters has a corporate mentorship program.
  5. On a much lesser scale, some organizations will incorporate a donation method into their challenges.  For example, within a Hold it for the Holidays weight maintenance challenge, the winning employees will earn money for themselves and a company match of the winnings to the employee’s charity of choice.

Community service not only provides the aforementioned benefits to mental and physical health of your employees, it molds the culture of your workplace and improves the image of your company’s presence in its community.

Be well and VOLUNTEER!