The Meaning of Mindfulness

Steve Jobs was known for his habit of walking around barefoot as a means of boosting his creativity while brainstorming or in meetings.  He jogged for the same reason.  These habits grew out of his exploration into Zen Buddhism earlier in life and his learning of mindfulness and meditation.  Speaking about the state of mindfulness Jobs noted, “That’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more.  Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before.”

Can mindfulness help us all be creative like Steve Jobs?  Maybe not, but an increasing number of employers are looking to mindfulness training as a means of helping employees cope with stress. And they’re doing that for good reason.

Stress in the workplace

As more demands are placed upon us – work harder, work longer, add more duties, financial worries, etc. – stress levels increase exponentially.  Chronic stress occurs when this pattern happens repeatedly without opportunities to relax and unwind.  Chronic stress can lead to anxiety, which is a sustained mental health condition that can precipitate or contribute to a number of serious physical health issues.

In our last blog post we described how nearly six in 10 American workers report anxiety was impacting their workplace performance. The economic effects of worker anxiety are huge, costing employers almost $35 billion from lost or reduced productivity.

Mindfulness explained

So, what is mindfulness and is it the missing piece in wellness as Employee Benefit News opined recently?

Merriam-Webster describes mindfulness as “The practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”  That definition conjures up mystical, meditative, out-there connotations that are a little difficult to grasp, let alone understand why we’re discussing these things in a business article.

Actually, mindfulness is not complicated, nor is it a mystical fad.  It’s a mainstream, teachable and helpful process.  According to Psychology Today, it can be simplified into three steps:

  1. Stop
  2. Breathe
  3. Think about your thinking

Psychology Today likens this process to staring at a photo or a painting. You decide what to look at, how long, what you think of the image, where you want to put your focus, etc. Similarly, this mindfulness technique can be used throughout your day to help you stay calm, focused, optimistic and kind.

Libby Rapin, a mindfulness and meditation coach, points out how mindfulness training helps employees build skills to manage stress, among other things. It encourages employees to be present in the moment and focus on one particular task at a time. “When we’re mindful,” Ms. Rapin said, “we’re doing the most valuable work because we’re focused.”

Mindfulness is not a new idea; it’s been around forever. But in today’s more stressful, unfocused world, it just might become the next big thing.

Mindfulness vs. Stress

What can more mindfulness – and less stress – mean to your company? According to Ms. Rapin, companies that implement mindfulness training can see a 200% ROI.

Of course, with healthier, happier employees comes lower healthcare costs, greater productivity, increased retention, improved employee engagement and much more.

How to Become More Mindful

At Espyr, we can assist employers in setting up mindfulness programs, as well as help teach mindfulness skills to employees. We have hosted a number of continuing education events for our staff and network on mindfulness and its value in today’s workforce, so we’re ready to help you, too.

For more information on mindfulness programsorhow Espyr can help your company deal with today’s complicated behavioral health issues, call 888-570-3479 or go to espyr.com.

 

Tips On How To Keep Stress From Taking Over Your Life

Stress.  Anxiety.  Words we hear and read about with increasing regularity.  News reports and social media assault our senses with an endless barrage of mass shootings, sexual harassment, immigration issues, political dissension and other stress inducing stories.  Add workplace pressure and financial worries and it’s no wonder that anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorder in the United States, affecting 40 million adults each year.

Anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the US every year

Can you learn how to handle stress better? Yes.  Let’s talk about what you need to know.  First, let’s define the terms as the media often uses stress and anxiety interchangeably.  They’re not the same.

Stress is a response to a threat.  It’s a reaction to a trigger.  It’s usually short term and can be positive or negative. We’re all born with innate response mechanisms for when we’re threatened, in distress, under pressure or fearful.

Anxiety is a reaction to stress.  It’s a sustained mental health disorder.

Chronic stress can affect your mental and physical health.  Emotional and physical disorders linked to chronic stress include anxiety, depression, headaches, high blood pressure, chest pains or heart palpitations, skin rashes, gastrointestinal distress, and sleep problems according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Coping with Stress

At Espyr we’ve gained extensive experience with clients whose employees work in highly stressful environments – first responders, military, law enforcement, healthcare to name a few.   Through our coaching and EAP solutions we’ve learned there are many ways to cope with stress.  Research has shown that people who effectively manage the stress in their lives have three things in common::

  • They consider life a challenge, not a series of hassles.
  • They have a mission or purpose in life and are committed to fulfilling it.
  • They do not feel victimized by life. They have control over their lives, even with temporary setbacks.

Katie Hurley, LCSW, in a recent article in Employer Benefit News gave several very good suggestions for coping with stress.

  • Relaxation breathing: The single best thing you can do when under stress is to engage in deep breathing. Practice this strategy when you’re calm so that you know how to use it when you’re under pressure. Inhale for a count of four, hold for four, and exhale for four. Repeat.
  • Practice mindfulness: Sure, there’s an app for that, but the best way to practice mindfulness is to disconnect from your digital world and reconnect with your natural world for a specific period of time each day. Take a walk outside and use the opportunity to notice your surroundings using all of your senses.
  • Get moving: Daily exercise releases feel-good chemicals in your brain. Making exercise a daily habit can buffer you from negative reactions to stressful events.
  • Keep a journal: Writing down your best and worst of the day helps you sort through the obstacles and focus on what went right. It’s normal to experience ups and downs on any given day.
  • Get creative: There’s a reason adult coloring books are so popular – they work. Whether you’re drawing, coloring, writing poetry, or throwing paint on a wall, engaging in a creative hobby gives your mind a chance to relax.
  • Crank up the tunes: Listening to slow, relaxing music decreases your stress response (just as fast-paced music pumps you up for a run.)

Learning to cope with stress can require some trial and error. What works for your best friend might not work for you. It’s important to build your own stress reduction toolkit so that you have more than one strategy to implement when stress kicks in.

If you’re having difficulty coping with stress and it’s impacting your daily activities you should seek professional health. Help may be available through your organization’s EAP or Student Assistance Program, other employer-sponsored benefits or talk to your physician.

About Espyr

Espyr is a leader in behavioral health.  If your company or organization is seeking ways to help reduce employee stress, give us a call. We provide a continuum of care ranging from integrated medical/behavioral health solutions, coaching and leadership development to comprehensive EAP, all designed to help employees and organizations reach their full potential. To learn more about how Espyr can help your organization, call us at 888-570-3479 or go to espyr.com.

 

 

 

 

 

How Much Is Employee Stress Costing Your Company?

Stress. Anxiety.  Words we hear and read about with increasing regularity.  News reports and social media assault our senses with an endless barrage of mass shootings, sexual harassment, immigration issues, political dissension and other stress inducing stories.  Add workplace pressure and financial worries and it’s no wonder that anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorder in the United States, affecting 40 million adults each year.  Nearly six in 10 American workers report anxiety impacts their workplace performance, according to a study published by academic journal Wiley-Liss. The economic effects of this mental health condition are huge — costing employers almost $35 billion from lost or reduced productivity in the workplace, the study says.

Nearly six in ten workers report anxiety impacts their workplace performance.  

The cost to employers is almost $35 billion per year.

How can employers help employees manage stress and minimize lost productivity?  Of course, your company’s EAP should be a go-to resource for employees, and employers should encourage employees to take advantage of their EAP.  But, there are other self-help steps that are good to know.

First, let’s define the terms as the media often uses stress and anxiety interchangeably.  They’re not the same.

Stress is a response to a threat.  It’s a reaction to a trigger.  It’s usually short term and can be positive or negative. We’re all born with innate response mechanisms for when we’re threatened, in distress, under pressure or fearful.

Anxiety is a reaction to stress.  It’s a sustained mental health disorder.

Chronic stress can affect your mental and physical health.  Emotional and physical disorders linked to chronic stress include anxiety, depression, headaches, high blood pressure, chest pains or heart palpitations, skin rashes, gastrointestinal distress, and sleep problems according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Coping with Stress

At Espyr we’ve gained extensive experience with clients whose employees work in highly stressful environments – first responders, military, law enforcement, healthcare to name a few.   Through our coaching and EAP solutions we’ve learned there are many ways to cope with stress.  Research has shown that people who effectively manage the stress in their lives have three things in common:

  • They consider life a challenge, not a series of hassles.
  • They have a mission or purpose in life and are committed to fulfilling it.
  • They do not feel victimized by life. They have control over their lives, even with temporary setbacks.

Katie Hurley, LCSW, in a recent article in Employer Benefit News gave several very good suggestions for coping with stress.

  • Relaxation breathing: The single best thing you can do when under stress is to engage in deep breathing. Practice this strategy when you’re calm so that you know how to use it when you’re under pressure. Inhale for a count of four, hold for four, and exhale for four. Repeat.
  • Practice mindfulness: Sure, there’s an app for that, but the best way to practice mindfulness is to disconnect from your digital world and reconnect with your natural world for a specific period of time each day. Take a walk outside and use the opportunity to notice your surroundings using all of your senses.
  • Get moving: Daily exercise releases feel-good chemicals in your brain. Making exercise a daily habit can buffer you from negative reactions to stressful events.
  • Keep a journal: Writing down your best and worst of the day helps you sort through the obstacles and focus on what went right. It’s normal to experience ups and downs on any given day.
  • Get creative: There’s a reason adult coloring books are so popular – they work. Whether you’re drawing, coloring, writing poetry, or throwing paint on a wall, engaging in a creative hobby gives your mind a chance to relax.
  • Crank up the tunes: Listening to slow, relaxing music decreases your stress response (just as fast-paced music pumps you up for a run.)

Learning to cope with stress can require some trial and error. What works for someone else might not work for you. It’s important to build your own stress reduction toolkit so that you have more than one strategy to implement when stress kicks in.

If you or one of your employees is having difficulty coping with stress and it’s impacting daily activities, seek professional help through your organization’s EAP or a physician.

About Espyr

Espyr is a leader in behavioral health.  If you’re concerned about the impacts of stress on your employees give us a call.  We provide a continuum of care ranging from integrated medical/behavioral health solutions, coaching and leadership development to comprehensive EAP, all designed to help employees and organizations reach their full potential. To learn more about how Espyr can help your organization, call us at 888-570-3479 or go to espyr.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Webinar: Supporting the Health and Wellness of Nurses

Clinician stress is a significant and widely prevalent issue in healthcare. It’s an issue that can affect patient safety, negatively impact the patient experience and increase the cost of care.   And that doesn’t take into account the physical and mental health problems caused by stress and burnout on clinicians themselves.

Stress and stress related health issues affect all clinicians, but in many respects nurses may have it the worst.  In one survey, 60% of nurses said that they had suffered physical or mental health problems in the past year as side effects of work related stress.  In another survey, among those who quit the profession, 26% claimed stress was the reason.

Beyond the health implications for patients and nurses, stress affects nurse’s morale, job satisfaction, and job retention.

Solutions to stress and burnout among nurses require a multi-pronged approach focusing on stress reduction, stress management techniques and the development of resiliency or healthy coping skills.

Register Now For The Webinar To Learn More

To learn more about how to improve nurse’s well-being, whether you are a clinician, Chief Nursing Officer or an HR manager focused on the health and well-being of hospital clinical staff, join us for an informative webinar series on Supporting the Health and Wellness of Nurses. The first webinar, Clinician Well-Being, will be held on Feb. 19 from 1:00PM – 2:00PM EST.  The second webinar in the series, Balancing Patient and Clinician Needs in the Workplace, will be held on Feb. 26 from 1:00PM – 2:00PM EST.

The webinar series features an illustrious panel of subject matter experts:

Cathy Ward, PhD – former UCLA Medical Center Chief Nursing Officer

Dr. Julie Becker, BSN, MBA, DBA – Chief Experience Officer for RCCH Healthcare Partners, formerly Chief Experience Officer for Lovelace Women’s Hospital and former Director of Patient Experience for University of Wisconsin Health

Michael Rogers – Manager Employee Retention, MidMichigan Health

To register for the webinar click here.

Espyr is a leader in behavioral health.  We’ve worked with a variety of healthcare companies, first responders and other organizations that have employee populations operating in high-stress positions. To learn more how we can help your organization, call us at 888-570-3479 or go to espyr.com.

 

The importance of mental health in the workplace

A few months ago, Patti Murin, the actress playing Anna in the Broadway show, Frozen, tweeted that she needed to take some time off for mental health reasons.

In her tweet, Murin stated, “I’ve learned that these situations aren’t something to deal with or push through. Anxiety and depression are real diseases that affect many of us. It requires rest and self care to handle every time it becomes more than I can handle in my daily life.”

Mental health conditions are more prevalent than you’d think

Murin was right when she said that mental health issues affect many of us. The fact is that mental health issues are far more common than most people realize. One in five adult Americans – 41 million people – will experience mental health issues in any given year. Someone suffering from depression will miss approximately five missed work days and 11.5 days of reduced productivity every three months. The cost to the US economy is a staggering $51 billion annually in absenteeism and lost productivity and an additional $26 billion in direct costs of treatment.

Millennials, the largest segment of today’s workforce, report higher rates of depression than any other generation, and research indicates that depression is becoming more prevalent among younger women. Women, in fact, are nearly twice as likely as men to suffer from depression.

 

“If you want a high-performing company, you need resilient, healthy employees.”

Tim Munden, Unilever

Unfortunately, many of those suffering from depression or other mental health issues don’t seek help. Employees often stay quiet due to the stigma of mental illness and concern that co-workers or supervisors will think poorly of them. There is still a perception by many that it’s acceptable and even encouraged to stay home from work if you’re physically ill, but not okay for mental illness. Concerns that having a mental health issue can affect career advancement can, or at least appear to those affected, be very real in some companies. Many with depression think they can just “power through it” and pull themselves together.

 

How employers can help

Employers have a vested interest in recognizing the importance of employee mental health and many are stepping up to act, as noted by Kari Paul in Workplaces are finally treating mental health as sick days, even on Broadway. “If you want a high-performing company, you need resilient, healthy employees, said Unilever’s chief learning officer, Tim Munden. Unilever is one of many companies like American Express and Prudential who have established comprehensive programs specifically designed to support employee mental health.

What should an employer do? First and foremost, companies need to remove the stigma of mental health. “Studies have shown that [more accepting] workplaces have happier employees with better productivity,” said Michelle Riba, a professor of psychiatry and the associate director of the University of Michigan Depression Center in an interview with Huffington Post.   Awareness and education through frank and open discussions and training is critical in removing mental health stigma, as we’ve reported previously in our blog on Removing the Stigma of Mental Health.

Second, employers need to learn to recognize the signs of depression. Depression can manifest itself in many different ways physically, behaviorally and emotionally. Physically, changes in appetite, aches and pains, changes in sleep habits and feeling extremely tired can all occur. Behaviorally, those with depression may exhibit irritability, restlessness, trouble concentrating or difficulty completing daily routines. Increased alcoholic consumption or reckless behavior can occur. Emotionally, a strong and consistent feeling of sadness, anxiety or hopelessness may be noticed.

Some companies offer wellness classes such as yoga or meditation. Exercise can help by raising endorphin levels. Unilever’s mental health program referenced earlier provides regular employee workshops on sleep, mindfulness and exercise, all of which have been linked to good mental health and psychological wellbeing.

One of the most effective ways to support employees with mental health conditions is taking advantage of your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Comprehensive EAP programs, such as those offered by Espyr, include information workshops and training for employees and supervisors on mental health. Besides helping employees recognize the symptoms of depression, this training prepares workers and supervisors for when and what actions need to be taken when suicide prevention measures are called for. Furthermore, employees have access to counselors through your EAP who are trained and certified to handle mental health issues such as depression.

If you’d like to know more about mental health programs for your company, call Espyr at 888-570-3749 or go to espyr.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How To Reduce Employee Financial Stress And Boost The Bottom Line

For benefits decision makers, employee physical wellness has always taken center stage, first with health insurance, then with proactive wellness programs designed to keep employees healthier and save employers money. Over the last few decades, as stress and behavioral health issues have been shown to take their toll in dramatic ways, emotional wellness has found a foothold in benefits packages.

Today, according to the 2017 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey, financial wellness has been picking up steam as the new priority for employers, with many companies planning to offer or expand upon their current financial wellness programs and services. The survey notes how overall financial satisfaction for employees has taken a big turn for the worse, plunging by 13 percentage points between 2015 and 2017 – from 48% to 35%. But this survey also interviewed employers, learning they are increasingly acknowledging the stresses – and work issues – that arise when employees are constantly worried about their finances or, even worse, being able to make ends meet.

“…we knew financial stress was impacting health and productivity…we didn’t realize how much.”

Impact on the job

There are a number of studies that address how financial stress affects employees and their performance at work. As reported in a survey conducted by Lockton Retirement Services, a benefit brokerage and consultancy firm, employees stressed over finances were more than four times as likely to suffer from fatigue, headaches, depression or other ailments. Even more surprising, they were twice as likely to report poor health overall, leading to more sick days, increased absenteeism and decreased productivity.

“In our work with clients and their employees, we knew financial stress was impacting health and productivity,” said Donn Hess, Lockton’s senior vice president and director of marketing and communications. “But we didn’t realize how much.”

An International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans survey tells the story from the employer’s point of view, citing that four out of five report that their employees’ personal financial issues are impacting their job performance, resulting in:

  • An increase in stress among employees (reported by 76% of employers)
  • Workers’ inability to focus at work (reported by 60%)
  • Absenteeism and tardiness (reported by 34%)

A receptive audience

The best and most comprehensive employee financial wellness programs in the world will only help if employees become engaged. The good news is, according to the PwC 2018 Employee Financial Wellness Survey, they want the help. To them, financial wellness has always been defined in terms of aspirational goals, like freedom from stress/financial worry and being able to make choices to enjoy life, so they’re looking for ways to get to that point.

The PwC survey found, in fact, that more than half of all employees (54%) want to make their own financial decisions, but are looking to have someone validate those decisions. Employees want a financial wellness benefit to come with access to unbiased counselors and help understanding all their options.

Crafting the right solutions

Providing a financial wellness benefit isn’t as simple as offering a personal finance guidebook and hoping for the best. The ideal solutions, based on the results of MetLife’s 16th Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study, involve providing real experiences that have meaning and value to employees – programs and offerings that support flexibility and empower employees to positively impact their situation.

Employees see their benefits as critical to enriching their work and life. When employers play an active role in their employees’ financial wellness, everyone benefits. The right solutions build confidence for employees, which, the MetLife study found, creates positive results both inside and outside the workplace.

In their 2017 survey on corporate health and well-being, Fidelity Investments® and the National Business Group on Health® revealed 84% of companies now offer financial wellness services such as access to debt management tools or student loan counseling, an increase from 76% in 2016.

When considering a financial wellness program for your company, look for an experienced, dedicated partner, like Espyr. Espyr can help you with financial coaching programs and innovative approaches to financial wellness as part of a customized Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

For more information on behavioral health programs, reducing financial stress and increasing productivity within your company, call Espyr at 888-570-3749 or go to espyr.com.