This time of year can bring high levels of holiday stress

Manage Holiday Stress at Your Business

The holiday season is a time to spend with loved ones, gift giving, holiday parties, and activities that build momentum from Halloween throughout the end of the year. It is a time of the year that is dedicated to filling our hearts with togetherness and cheer. However, for many Americans, the holiday season can be met with higher levels of stress, as found in a recent poll with 80% of people finding the holiday season to be “somewhat” or “very stressful”. Another survey by the American Psychological Association (2018) found that 38% of people stated their stress level increased during the holidays.

This year, the holiday season has an additional and extraordinary source of stress:  the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic with its enormous social, psychological, and economic impacts on everyday life.  For many, it will be a disappointing holiday with travel and gathering size restrictions preventing families from traditional holiday get- togethers.

What Causes Higher Levels of Holiday Stress?

  • ‘Tis the season for an excess amount of everything. Often, experiencing too many activities can end up leaving us feeling overwhelmed and anxious. With the overload of holiday events and parties, shopping lists, and other holiday related to-do lists, people may experience higher levels of stress. This could lead to negative impacts on our health, both mentally and physically.
  • An overabundance in eating, drinking, and financial spending as the occasions to socialize continue to grow throughout the season. These overindulgences may lead to consequences including debt, weight gain, or even memories of embarrassing behavior that seem to linger in our minds long after the season ends.
  • Both a lack of or too much time spent with families can be a stress factor. While the holidays are a special time to bond with family members, spending too much time with families can put a toll on healthy relationship balances between bonding and alone time. It can be a challenging time for those that have gone through a recent loss of a loved one as it can be a reminder of their grief or loneliness. Or those with serious pre-existing behavioral health conditions that require careful management year-round. Or those in recovery from alcohol or other drug misuse or addiction. Especially with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this time of year people may feel lonelier.  That can be especially true for those that are used to being in large family settings for the holidays in prior years. For many people, even in the best of times – which 2020 is not, the holiday season can create a time of troubling false comparisons. Comparing themselves and their situation to a romanticized and unobtainable ideal whereby their perceived shortcomings create negative emotions like sadness, frustration, and even despair.

Impact of Holiday Stress from a Business Perspective

For businesses, the impact of holiday stress can affect employees, as many workers are present but show underperformance.  This phenomenon is called presenteeism. According to the Australian Institute of Management, the impact of showing up for work with “hidden ills” such as holiday stress outweighs the cost of absenteeism by as much as 400%. Excessive stress can also lead to depression, which according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, sets U.S. employers back by around $35 billion per year in reduced work performance. Other work-related holiday stressors may include working overtime to make extra money, losing weekends to prepare for the holidays, lack of work-schedule flexibility, short deadlines, and the pressure to meet end-of-year goals, as well as added holiday events at work (virtual or socially distanced in-person events) that further add to the to-do lists.

Employers Can Help Reduce Holiday Stress

Employers have the power to maintain a positive environment in the workplace by controlling variables that create holiday stress and reduce productivity. One way to do this is by allowing employees to reasonably use their paid time off during this time or offering flexible schedules to allow for holiday preparations and events. Other ideas include giving employees a gift from the company, providing bonuses for attendance as an incentive to promote productivity, scheduling holiday events during normal business hours, reminding employees of how their Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can provide confidential one-to-one assistance, providing holiday food, and allowing employees to telecommute on some days during the season to save commute time.

Speaking of your EAP, right now is a great time to reach out to your EAP to see what kind of educational services it provides to help employees prepare for the inevitable holiday stress. You might be surprised at the resources that are available.

While the holiday season can be an exciting and joyous time for many, it is important for employers to be aware of the added stress that employees might be dealing with, as well as the repercussions of those stressors – especially in this extraordinary year of 2020. Taking into consideration how businesses can control the amount of stress they might be adding to their workers, as well as being mindful of different approaches to holiday-related work factors, can be beneficial in reducing the amount of stress and increasing productivity during this time of year.

About the Authors

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr. For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.

Yeji Jang, MSW Intern, is a graduate intern at Espyr, working in the Network and Provider Relations Department and with Espyr’s Chief Clinical Officer.  A graduate of the University of Georgia with a B.S. in Psychology, and having worked with immigrant populations, she is currently finishing her last semester at Indiana University’s Graduate School of Social Work. After graduation, Yeji will pursue the goal of becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), and then wants to practice clinical social work in a behavioral health setting.

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change.  For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

Sources

https://www.verywellmind.com/understanding-and-managing-holiday-stress-3145230

https://health.usnews.com/wellness/mind/articles/2018-12-07/why-are-the-holidays-so-stressful

https://www.pathwaylending.org/news-and-blog/news/7-tips-to-manage-the-stress-of-the-holidays-at-your-business/

https://www.thebalancecareers.com/stress-less-for-the-holidays-1916836

 

Two women practicing yoga

Get Your Yoga On To Reduce Stress and Anxiety

Stress and anxiety were once considered only to be mental health conditions. But in fact, they affect us physically, especially when we experience them for long periods of time. They can lead not only to a diminished sense of wellbeing and happiness, but also to debilitating and costly health conditions. Recent years have seen an increased interest in the behavioral health field incorporating interventions involving the mind and the body to reduce anxiety and stress. One such intervention is yoga.

A recent study examined the effectiveness of using yoga to reduce anxiety, which many people label as “stress”.  The study findings suggest that yoga is more effective than educating a person on standard ways to reduce stress. As a Registered Yoga Teacher (and a licensed mental health professional), I believe that the findings are likely due to yoga’s experiential nature; individuals can engage in the practice as opposed to intellectually addressing their anxiety and stress. Today I’ll bring my perspective as both a licensed mental health professional and a certified yoga instructor to discuss this mind-body pathway to greater wellbeing.

Couple practicing yoga

Demystifying Yoga

Mystery can be an appealing characteristic with some products or concepts. But it can also be a barrier to access. Let’s demystify yoga a bit. First, let me tell you a little about yoga.

Yoga originated in India roughly 5 millennia ago. So, it pre-dates modern mental health therapies by a little – about 4,900 years! In the late 1800s and early 1900s, yoga masters in India decided to share the practice with the West after recognizing the incredible physical, mental, and spiritual impact that it had on people in Asia. As the years passed, yoga continued to grow in popularity among Westerners. According to the Yoga Alliance, which is the accreditation board for yoga teachers like me, there are over 36 million yoga practitioners in the US.  That’s over 10% of the population and its growing rapidly.

Remarkably, 86% of ‘yogis’ reported that yoga provided them with a strong sense of mental clarity, but interestingly the number 1 reason for starting yoga was to improve physical ability. I find this to be true with the people I teach; most come for physical reasons but keep coming due to the mental and emotional benefits.

Misconceptions

There are a ton of misconceptions I hear from people who are considering taking up yoga or trying a yoga class. When someone says the word ‘yoga,’ many people have an image of a person sitting crossed legged with their eyes closed, saying “ohm.” Others might picture a person on their head or balancing on one leg. These are all stereotypes. With these misconceptions come excuses, something we humans excel at. “I’m not flexible enough.” “I’m too old.” “I don’t have the time.” “I don’t have a mat, clothes or space.” “I can’t meditate.” The list goes on. What I want people to realize is that yoga is something that everyone can do regardless of age, body size, ability, gender, race or religion. There are no prerequisites, and, no, you don’t need a special mat or fancy yoga clothes to reap the benefits.

Yoga for Professional Drivers

Yoga doesn’t require a specific classroom, workout area or setting. In fact, it can be practiced in a wide range of settings, making it convenient and accessible. Recently I had a great experience teaching professional truck drivers yoga. Drivers experience such a chronically stressful work life. They need accessible, practical, and fun ways to stay fit and manage stress.  I taught the class inside an 18-wheeler truck’s cabin- the home away from home for millions of over-the-road professional drivers. Now, if “no nonsense” drivers can do yoga in the privacy of their truck cabins to reduce anxiety and stress and get better rest, I’m pretty certain you can drop your excuses and can find a setting for your yoga workout! To see one of my Lessons for Professional Drivers, click here Yoga Lesson for Professional Drivers

A union of body and mind to reduce stress

So what exactly is yoga and how does it work? The word ‘yoga’ is Sanskrit (the language of ancient India and the predominant language of most works of Hindu philosophy as well as some of the principal texts of Buddhism and Jainism) and means ‘union.’ We are essentially creating a union between the body and mind.

Yoga is the discipline of strengthening the focus of the mind, which allows us to gain more control over our body and senses. Once one can obtain the concentration and control over mind and body, true meditation can be obtained. When we can regularly strengthen the control over mind and body through yoga movements and then meditation, we see incredible benefits that positively improve daily functioning.

Benefits of regular practice include but are not limited to: greater flexibility and range of motion, reduced pain and soreness, reduced fatigue, increased muscle strength and tone, improved respiration and energy, weight reduction, improvement in other athletic performance, improved circulatory health, improvement of posture, boost in immunity, prevents digestive problems, and reduces blood pressure. The practice improves sleep, mood, and mental focus, and increases self-esteem. One will notice they are less reactive because they are living in a more mindful way. If that’s not enough to get you on a mat I don’t know what will!

Breathing and mindful movement

The key to what makes yoga effective in reducing anxiety is the connection that is made between breathing and mindful movement. The quickest way to reduce anxiety in a given moment is through the use of proper breathing. Many people are either holding their breath unconsciously or taking very shallow breaths. Both are recipes for increased anxiety and even panic.

Aside from encouraging proper breathing, yoga is a way to bring awareness to the signals in our body that we might otherwise be ignoring on a day-to-day basis due to the business of life. When we combine movement and breathing, the central nervous system calms down and our stress level drops. For those people with diagnosed anxiety conditions, yoga may be combined with talk therapy so individuals can experience the benefits of both recognizing and changing thought patterns that contribute to the cycle of anxiety, while also making physical changes that further support those mental changes.

I hope you will explore yoga further, personally or for your workplace. Get your yoga on and start benefiting mentally and physically.

Visit these Resources to Learn More About Yoga or How to Find a Teacher or Class Near You.

Yoga Alliance

Cleveland Clinic How To Find the Best Yoga Class For You

Mayo Clinic Yoga to Fight Stress

 

Sources

Yoga Can Help with Anxiety more than Stress Education, Study Finds

Elizabeth Millard and Sean Blackburn

VeryWell Minds

https://www.verywellmind.com/news-yoga-can-help-with-anxiety-more-than-stress-education-5075216?utm_campaign=list_stress&utm_medium=email&utm_source=cn_nl&utm_content=21273728&utm_term=

Yoga Alliance

https://www.yogaalliance.org/Get_Involved/Media_Inquiries/2016_Yoga_in_America_Study_Conducted_by_Yoga_Journal_and_Yoga_Alliance_Reveals_Growth_and_Benefits_of_the_Practice

About the Author

Leanne Shub, LMSW, RYT-200, is a Customer Care Specialist at Espyr. A graduate of Indiana University’s Graduate School of Social Work, Leanne has a background in working with individuals dealing with substance abuse, trauma, and eating disorders. Her clinical interest is in combining Mind-Body interventions to help people cope and manage stress and anxiety.

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change.  For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

Two women practicing yoga

Get Your Yoga On to Reduce Anxiety and Stress

Stress and anxiety were once considered only to be mental health conditions. But in fact, they affect us physically, especially when we experience them for long periods of time. They can lead not only to a diminished sense of wellbeing and happiness, but also to debilitating and costly health conditions. Recent years have seen an increased interest in the behavioral health field incorporating interventions involving the mind and the body to reduce anxiety and stress. One such intervention is yoga.

A recent study examined the effectiveness of using yoga to reduce anxiety, which many people label as “stress”.  The study findings suggest that yoga is more effective than educating a person on standard ways to manage stress. As a Registered Yoga Teacher (and a licensed mental health professional), I believe that the findings are likely due to yoga’s experiential nature; individuals can engage in the practice as opposed to intellectually addressing their anxiety and stress. Today I’ll bring my perspective as both a licensed mental health professional and a certified yoga instructor to discuss this mind-body pathway to greater wellbeing.

Couple practicing yoga

Demystifying Yoga

Mystery can be an appealing characteristic with some products or concepts. But it can also be a barrier to access. Let’s demystify yoga a bit. First, let me tell you a little about yoga.

Yoga originated in India roughly 5 millennia ago. So, it pre-dates modern mental health therapies by a little – about 4,900 years! In the late 1800s and early 1900s, yoga masters in India decided to share the practice with the West after recognizing the incredible physical, mental, and spiritual impact that it had on people in Asia. As the years passed, yoga continued to grow in popularity among Westerners. According to the Yoga Alliance, which is the accreditation board for yoga teachers like me, there are over 36 million yoga practitioners in the US.  That’s over 10% of the population and its growing rapidly.

Remarkably, 86% of ‘yogis’ reported that yoga provided them with a strong sense of mental clarity, but interestingly the number 1 reason for starting yoga was to improve physical ability. I find this to be true with the people I teach; most come for physical reasons but keep coming due to the mental and emotional benefits.

Misconceptions

There are a ton of misconceptions I hear from people who are considering taking up yoga or trying a yoga class. When someone says the word ‘yoga,’ many people have an image of a person sitting crossed legged with their eyes closed, saying “ohm.” Others might picture a person on their head or balancing on one leg. These are all stereotypes. With these misconceptions come excuses, something we humans excel at. “I’m not flexible enough.” “I’m too old.” “I don’t have the time.” “I don’t have a mat, clothes or space.” “I can’t meditate.” The list goes on. What I want people to realize is that yoga is something that everyone can do regardless of age, body size, ability, gender, race or religion. There are no prerequisites, and, no, you don’t need a special mat or fancy yoga clothes to reap the benefits.

Yoga for Professional Drivers

Yoga doesn’t require a specific classroom, workout area or setting. In fact, it can be practiced in a wide range of settings, making it convenient and accessible. Recently I had a great experience teaching professional truck drivers yoga. Drivers experience such a chronically stressful work life. They need accessible, practical, and fun ways to stay fit and manage stress.  I taught the class inside an 18-wheeler truck’s cabin- the home away from home for millions of over-the-road professional drivers. Now, if “no nonsense” drivers can do yoga in the privacy of their truck cabins to reduce anxiety and stress and get better rest, I’m pretty certain you can drop your excuses and can find a setting for your yoga workout! To see one of my Lessons for Professional Drivers, click here Yoga Lesson for Professional Drivers

A union of body and mind to reduce anxiety and stress

So what exactly is yoga and how does it work? The word ‘yoga’ is Sanskrit (the language of ancient India and the predominant language of most works of Hindu philosophy as well as some of the principal texts of Buddhism and Jainism) and means ‘union.’ We are essentially creating a union between the body and mind.

Yoga is the discipline of strengthening the focus of the mind, which allows us to gain more control over our body and senses. Once one can obtain the concentration and control over mind and body, true meditation can be obtained. When we can regularly strengthen the control over mind and body through yoga movements and then meditation, we see incredible benefits that positively improve daily functioning. Benefits of regular practice include but are not limited to: greater flexibility and range of motion, reduced pain and soreness, reduced fatigue, increased muscle strength and tone, improved respiration and energy, weight reduction, improvement in other athletic performance, improved circulatory health, improvement of posture, boost in immunity, prevents digestive problems, and reduces blood pressure. The practice improves sleep, mood, and mental focus, and increases self-esteem. One will notice they are less reactive because they are living in a more mindful way. If that’s not enough to get you on a mat I don’t know what will!

Breathing and mindful movement

The key to what makes yoga effective in reducing anxiety is the connection that is made between breathing and mindful movement. The quickest way to reduce anxiety in a given moment is through the use of proper breathing. Many people are either holding their breath unconsciously or taking very shallow breaths. Both are recipes for increased anxiety and even panic.

Aside from encouraging proper breathing, yoga is a way to bring awareness to the signals in our body that we might otherwise be ignoring on a day-to-day basis due to the business of life. When we combine movement and breathing, the central nervous system calms down and our stress level drops. For those people with diagnosed anxiety conditions, yoga may be combined with talk therapy so individuals can experience the benefits of both recognizing and changing thought patterns that contribute to the cycle of anxiety, while also making physical changes that further support those mental changes.

I hope you will explore yoga further, personally or for your workplace. Get your yoga on and start benefiting mentally and physically.

Visit these Resources to Learn More About Yoga or How to Find a Teacher or Class Near You.

Yoga Alliance

Cleveland Clinic How To Find the Best Yoga Class For You

Mayo Clinic Yoga to Fight Stress

 

Sources

Yoga Can Help with Anxiety more than Stress Education, Study Finds

Elizabeth Millard and Sean Blackburn

VeryWell Minds

https://www.verywellmind.com/news-yoga-can-help-with-anxiety-more-than-stress-education-5075216?utm_campaign=list_stress&utm_medium=email&utm_source=cn_nl&utm_content=21273728&utm_term=

Yoga Alliance

https://www.yogaalliance.org/Get_Involved/Media_Inquiries/2016_Yoga_in_America_Study_Conducted_by_Yoga_Journal_and_Yoga_Alliance_Reveals_Growth_and_Benefits_of_the_Practice

About the Author

Leanne Shub, LMSW, RYT-200, is a Customer Care Specialist at Espyr. A graduate of Indiana University’s Graduate School of Social Work, Leanne has a background in working with individuals dealing with substance abuse, trauma, and eating disorders. Her clinical interest is in combining Mind-Body interventions to help people cope and manage stress and anxiety.

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized coaching solutions help employers reduce healthcare costs by identifying and addressing employee mental health issues before they require more expensive, long term care. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

 

Burnout printed on burning background

Burned Out From Working From Home? Here’s How to Fix It.

Last year, we wrote about how the World Health Organization had officially classified “Burnout” as a legitimate medical diagnosis beginning in 2020.   Since our post last year, COVID-19 has created the equivalent of a tectonic shift in working by moving huge segments of the work force to work from home.  Has that change in work environment resulted in more burnout or less?  Do people get burned out from working from home? 

Burnout has received more attention over the past few years amid a flurry of reports documenting increasing occurrences across various occupations.  Last year a  Gallup study  of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found that 23% of employees reported feeling burned out at work very often or always.   In high stress occupations, burnout rates can soar even higher.   For instance, a Medscape Physician Lifestyle Survey in 2015 reported the rate of physician burnout at 46%.   But, burnout can affect anyone regardless of their occupation.

 

Burnout printed on burning background

The number of people working from home had been steadily growing anyway, but with COVID-19 the percentage skyrocketed. In 2017, 5.2% of US adults worked from home on a regular basis.  In March, 2020, that number had grown to 51% of employed US adults according to a Harris Poll in early April. It’s likely that the work at home number has receded somewhat as employers reopened offices, though the recent spikes across the country in COVID cases may send more workers back home.  Regardless, many Americans’ are still working from home and it’s likely that a significant number of them will continue to work from home even after the pandemic is in our rear view mirror. (Yes, eventually the pandemic will be behind us!)

What is burnout? 

With so many of us working from home, we wondered whether burnout is more or less of an issue than it was a year ago?  To answer that question, let’s first understand what we mean by burnout.  According to the WHO, doctors can diagnose someone with burnout if they meet the following symptoms:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

The diagnosis is limited to work environments, and shouldn’t be applied to other life situations. 

It’s important to note that burnout is not just a mental health issue.  Major health risks that have been associated with job burnout include type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, high cholesterol and even death for those under the age of 45.

Is home a “breeding ground” for burnout?

A recent article by Natasha Hinde in the Huffingtonpost in the U.K. explored the issue of burnout for those working at home.  Hinde found that with “working from home the boundaries between work and personal lives are increasingly blurred. When your laptop is always within reach, it’s all too easy to check emails at 9 or 10 PM and easy to skip lunch when you’re buried in a project.”

“Working from home provides little opportunity for variety in your working day,” says Lucy Fuller, a UKCP-accredited psychotherapist. “There’s little chance for face-to-face, non-work social interaction and it comes with an intensity that would usually be broken up by traveling and dawdling on your way to work, in your lunch period and also going to meetings outside your place of work.

“Our days are therefore becoming grey and our brains are burning and clouding from sitting in front of a screen for so long. We’re effectively trapped in this way of work without a definite end point to look forward to.”

Psychotherapist Philip Karahassan, a member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, doesn’t think people know they can burn out while working from home – “people usually see it as a more relaxing work day, where they can do work at their own pace” – which might mean they’re hurtling headfirst into it.

How to Prevent Burnout

In another blog from last year we wrote about how to prevent burnout.   Our advice last year holds true today regardless of where you’re working.

1. Learn your own strengths

If your job doesn’t fit your skill set, it’s easy to become disengaged.  Look at new projects or even new positions to get energized.  “Workers who are truly engaged spend about four times as many hours doing what they do best every day, in comparison to doing what they don’t do well,” said Jim Harter, Ph.D., chief scientist of workplace management and well-being for Gallup. Getting involved in activities that develop your strengths further can help you feel even more energized, confident and motivated.

2. Understand your weaknesses

In order to understand what you need to work on, it’s important to figure out what, exactly, is holding you back. Self-assessment is essential; without it you can’t even begin to grow. Can you improve your knowledge or skills? Learn new ones?  Look into the many online courses offering management and leadership classes.

3. Develop strong partners at work

It’s not always true, but friends at work can help boost your efficiency and performance. Having friends at work can make it easier to seek advice without feeling judged, allowing you to gain access to feedback and information you might not otherwise get.  Developing strong relationships and having people you can rely on — plus being a reliable partner to others — goes a long way toward preventing burnout according to Harter.

Whether you’re concerned with burnout or not, numerous studies have shown that friends are truly good for your physical and mental health.  Adults with strong social support have a reduced risk of many health problems, like depression, high blood pressure obesity and even dementia.

4. Communicate

If you are feeling burned out, don’t try to suck it up or hide it.  It won’t work.  A conversation with higher-ups can be valuable in fostering support, ideas and feedback for everyone involved.  A good manager will be open to discussing your situation, supporting you through a rough time, and working with you to address the stressors causing the burnout. Sharing what you’re going through and feeling heard is, in and of itself, a powerful step toward improving your situation.

5. Identify a good manager

In the Gallup study on stress and burnout quoted earlier, employees who felt supported by their managers were overwhelmingly less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis. Employees who felt supported by their manager are about 70 percent less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis, according to Gallup.

6. Keep good health habits

The same basic advice that will help in relieving stress is also true for burnout: eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep.

7. Consider a change

Sometimes you’re just in the wrong place – the wrong job, a boss you don’t like, a company culture that conflicts with your personal values.  You may need a change – a new position in your company, a new company, maybe even a new career direction.

To this list, Hinde adds one more piece of advice that is specific to working from home:  setting boundaries.  “Create a specific area just for work and separate from personal life even if it’s only a corner of a room.   Set boundaries with the people around you, too.”  Of course, that can be more challenging with small children at home, but not impossible.   “Make clear what times you’ll be working and when you can spend time with them – and stick to that routine.”

Another great idea that Fuller adds is to think about how to create commute-type divides into your working day. “In normal circumstances we have a natural divide, which is your commute, but we now have to create our own transition,” says Fuller. “This might be doing exercise, putting music on that you love or taking a bath. “Whatever it is, use the activity to shake off your day and draw a line under your work to move into your leisure time.”

What if you already feel burned out?

Between working at home, social isolation and pandemic induced anxiety, we are all facing an unprecedented level of stress.  Your work and your health may be suffering as a result.  What if you’re already burned out from working at home?  Here’s what to do.

Take a break

Stop, get away from your many screens and tell yourself you’re doing a great job.  “Take a break outside of your home environment,” suggests Karahassan.  Go for a walk, preferably outdoors. And if you’re fortunate enough to live near a wooded area or forest, walk there. Exposure to forests strengthens your immune system, reduces blood pressure, increases energy, boosts your mood and helps you regain and maintain focus.  The Japanese call it “shinrin-yoku” or “forest bathing.” Even 20 minutes in a forested space is enough to produce positive changes in the body. “If you can’t go out, go in the shower, wash your face, just do something for you. That five or 10-minute break can give you the space to reset and take control of your thoughts and feelings,” Karahassan says.

Indulge in something that brings you joy

Take some personal play time.  Reconnect with old friends.  Read a book.  Listen to music.  Whatever it is, “Turn off your work screen and indulge yourself in something that brings you joy,” adds Fuller. “You won’t regret it.”

Take care of yourself physically

Avoid unhealthy vices like smoking and drinking and instead try to do things for your mental wellbeing – do some exercise, connect with loved ones, prioritize self-care, sign up to volunteer, and try to work smarter (not harder), says Hinde.

Practice mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness can help you live in the moment rather than thinking about the next Zoom meeting on your calendar. And practicing gratitude can promote feelings of positivity – write down three things that went well today, or for which you’re grateful.

Breathe

Breathing exercises are useful when things feel too much, so take five minutes out of your day, sit comfortably somewhere, and focus on your breath.

If these remedies don’t work, consider consulting with your employer’s EAP or wellness program, or discussing your feelings with your physician.  Don’t try to gut it out alone.

About Espyr

Espyr has been helping people achieve and maintain good mental health so they can perform at their best for over 30 years.  Clients in the most challenging occupations rely on Espyr’s innovative coaching, counseling and mental health advocacy programs to maintain employee health and well-being. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

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 866-570-3479 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 866-570-3479 or go to espyr.com.