Employers have a big stake in the physical health and emotional wellbeing of their human resources. Most employers notice the constantly increasing cost of providing healthcare benefits; the costs of unnecessary Emergency Department visits; how many 21st Century conditions are lifestyle related. Increasingly, employers are realizing the relatively modern concept that physical health and emotional wellbeing can’t be separated; they are interconnected in a whole person. Most employers recognize that employees are unique human beings, not machines or software. That each person manages stress differently, whether that’s managing aspects of personal stress or stresses of their work, like deadlines, cranky customers, co-workers or bosses, and delays. Employers and employees alike are gaining a clearer understanding that a person’s overall sense of wellbeing and safety plays an important role in supporting or diminishing their overall health.

Lifestyle Changes Affected by the Pandemic and Weight Gain

Two months ago, I wrote about stress and weight gain in the context of pandemic fatigue in a blog post called Hungry for Normality. It concerned a pre- Thanksgiving holiday visit I had with Espyr’s team of health and fitness coaches. This team of health and fitness experts provides guidance, expertise, and accountability for employees of organizations that value the health and fitness of their workers. Espyr is honored to serve a number of these organizations, particularly in industries such as law enforcement and transportation and logistics.

I learned that an unanticipated consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a national weight gain.  For those who are diagnosed with COVID-19, this weight gain can slow their recovery, contribute to complications, and generally increase their risk of death from the disease. This is especially the case if the employee is part of a group that has been systemically disadvantaged in terms of access to healthcare and healthy foods or has the additional stress of facing discrimination and hate due to their race or religion.

Obesity Can Cause Lifestyle Changes in Health Conditions and Deter Healthier Activities

The Espyr coaches explained to me that this pandemic weight gain has occurred in an America that was already overweight. On average, that additional pandemic weight gain was 16 pounds and that was before the recent holiday indulgences. They pointed out surveys that have said that around three fourths of Americans gained weight during the pandemic and many were trying to shed that weight just as the holiday feasting season arrived. The coaches pointed out that being overweight makes one more likely to suffer from dangerous conditions such as high blood pressure, sleep apnea and other sleep disturbances, diabetes, and many other conditions. Plus, being overweight is a deterrence for many employees from healthier activities like exercise – my favorite free or nearly free stress management recommendation.

Holiday Spending Increased as a Result of Pandemic Stress

While we wait for information on how the holidays affected overweight America, we can revisit another pandemic stress-related prediction I made in my earlier blog post.  The prediction was that holiday spending would be robust, despite hard economic times. Turns out the prediction was right. Holiday sales in November-December 2020 jumped 8.3% compared to the same period in the non-pandemic, high-flying economy of 2019.  Retail sales groups had predicted a more modest increase.

I don’t know how much of the year-over-year increase was due to stress-related spending, but I’m sure some of it was. We have known for decades that people engage in emotionally related spending for a number of reasons. They may encounter an urge to spend to improve their mood – a self-care activity that is not always healthy. They may be looking for a way to cope with loneliness. Or they may be seeking to improve their sometimes-unspoken feelings of low self-esteem. For some, excessive emotionally related spending leads to disastrous consequences and more stress, creating a cycle of despair.

Optimistic Future for Lifestyle Changes

While we haven’t had a lot to be optimistic about in recent months, let’s end on some optimism. On the national scene, we are finally addressing the pandemic with vaccines that are – slowly – being provided to more and more Americans. Vaccinations are taking place despite an overwhelmed and fatigued national healthcare workforce. And a new, science-informed national leadership is in place.

Employers Can Help with Lifestyle Changes

When it comes to your employees, most employee health issues are lifestyle related. Lifestyles can be changed, and personal resiliency can be improved, especially with professional support. Weight losses of just a few pounds can be impactful. As to stress-related spending, this is a great time of the year for employers to provide education and support for your employees’ money literacy and financial wellbeing. By doing so, you are supporting their emotional wellbeing and the success of your organization’s mission.

About the Author

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.

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

U.S. holiday sales rise 8.3% in 2020…

Reuters

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-holidayshopping-nrf/u-s-holiday-sales-rise-8-3-in-2020-as-stimulus-checks-boost-spending-nrf-idUSKBN29K29O?il=0

 

How COVID-19 Has turned the Spotlight Back on Obesity

Agnieszka de Sousa and Thomas Buckley/ Blomberg

The Washington Post

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/how-covid-19-has-turned-the-spotlight-back-on-obesity/2020/11/27/eff85c06-307e-11eb-9dd6-2d0179981719_story.html

 

Coronavirus prompts double-digit weight gain…

Courtney Moore, Fox Business

https://www.foxbusiness.com/lifestyle/coronavirus-weight-gain-76-americans-nutrisystem

 

Adult Obesity Facts

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html