Tips to Deal with Holiday Stress

It’s the day after Halloween and you know what that means … Christmas decorations are already out at the department stores. (Even my five-year-old noticed and commented that it’s “not even Halloween yet and there’s Christmas stuff over there!”)

But Halloween kicks off the unofficial “holiday season.” No doubt most of us already have Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations on the calendar, deciding when this family can gather with that family and whose in-laws are hosting Thanksgiving dinner.

Holiday stress

It can get stressful, which can lead to all sorts of health and mental well-being issues. And the feelings that come with grief over the loss of a loved one or broken relationships can become amplified this time of the year.

The Mayo Clinic has some helpful tips to work through the season and hopefully reclaim some holiday joy. A few: Help yourself by sticking to a budget, planning ahead and maintaining healthy habits (try to avoid taking a fork to the pie pan; it won’t make you feel better in the long term). And if the stress becomes overwhelming, seek professional help from your doctor or mental health provider.

Here are other tips:

  • Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.
  • Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.
  • Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can’t come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos.
  • Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.
  • Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity. If it’s not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.
  • Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.

Takeaways From 2017 Indiana Health and Wellness Summit

Thank you to those who attended the 2017 Indiana Health and Wellness Summit at the beginning of the month. We hope you enjoyed the fantastic keynote speakers, breakout sessions and exhibitors. As the largest gathering of wellness professionals in Indiana, we strive to provide an exceptional experience to all who attend.

Wellness Summit

The summit connected more than 400 Indiana professionals with an opportunity to network and learn from others. I enjoyed honoring our 19 new AchieveWELL organizations, learning best practices and meeting dedicated wellness leaders from across the state.

Over the last several days, I have reflected on my key takeaways from the event and narrowed it down to these four items:

1) Wellness isn’t about the program; it’s about the people: Wellness champions should not get too hung up on implementing wellness programs, as the “program” is only the beginning. To truly effect change, wellness champions need to keep the employee (not ROI or reduced health care costs) at the center of all efforts.Stretch

2) Wellness requires top leadership support supplemented by grassroots efforts: Leaders must communicate the value, motivate the employees, link wellness to overall business goals and “walk the walk”. At the same time, employees need to drive efforts from the bottom up. Initiatives created and led by them will have a greater chance of buy-in.

hygiene kit

3) Workplace wellness efforts should go beyond the four walls of the organization to reach the community: An emphasis on wellness within the organization is important, yet the value of strong community wellness and employer support of communities cannot be overstated. Community initiatives should move beyond only financial support to truly engage employees.

4) The evolution of wellness: These elements of wellness – mental, physical, purpose, community and financial well-being – continue to be the backbone of a sustainable and comprehensive workplace wellness program. The wellness conversation continues to evolve, however, as workplaces look to address employee well-being as it relates to food insecurity, housing crises, workplace violence, diversity and substance abuse.

Jennifer Pferrer is the executive director of the Wellness Council of Indiana. Find out more about the Wellness Council of Indiana at www.wellnessindiana.org.

Hoosiers Need More Zzzzzzzzs (Employers Can Help)

Sleepy worker

Ten years ago, sleep was not one of my top priorities.

I slept whenever I wanted (outside of my work hours). It was glorious.

Now that I’m a parent of two small children and come home to chores and tasks and homework and all the things you have to squeeze in to a 24-hour period (along with any sort of relaxation at the end of the day … Netflix on the couch, anyone?), sleep is the thing that gets squeezed out of my schedule.

I know skimping on sleep is not a healthy habit and that I need to make it more of a priority. But, like other busy people, I have a lot of priorities. What’s the motivation for more sleep?

It turns out I’m not the only Hoosier with this particular challenge. A recent article in the Indianapolis Star reports that more than 38% of Hoosiers say they don’t get the recommended amount of sleep per night (at least seven hours).

The article’s headline claims Indiana is the 8th most tired state. While we beat out Hawaiians (who came in last), the residents of South Dakota are seemingly very well rested.

Why should employers care if their employees aren’t prioritizing their rest?

Obviously, sleepy employees make for less productive employees. That’s not surprising.

What is surprising is how much the unrested employees might cost employers. The National Safety Council this week revealed a cost calculator to show the impact of sleepy employees.

Other concerns for employers include health care-related costs – from paying more over time for employees with sleep disorders who require medicine or machinery to get their required rest to the correlation to Indiana’s obesity rate, which can impact sleep quality. All of this can cost employers in terms of health care expenses and absenteeism issues.

So what is an employer to do? For one, the Wellness Council of Indiana offers employers a road map to implementing wellness programs in the workplace. Whether or not your wellness game plan directly targets the sleep of your employees, you can take steps to encourage your employers to eat, move and sleep better. Here are a number of resources you might find useful, including this article on sleep habits; one on workplace fatigue risk management; and this newsletter focusing on the dangers of insomnia and suggestions for how to deal with the condition.

You can also simply ask your employees if they feel well-rested and if there is any other way you can motivate them to get better rest. Perhaps an internal policy change regarding work hours or flexible scheduling could make a bigger impact than you realize. Even encouraging employees to make sure they take advantage of their vacation time could help ensure rested, rejuvenated employees who are ready to work.

What other ideas do you have for encouraging employees to get more rest (at home)?

Brew Up a Formula for Wellness at Annual Summit (Oct. 3-4)

Learn how to combine five key factors to create the perfect Formula for Wellness at your organization by attending the Indiana Health and Wellness Summit on October 3-4, presented in partnership by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the Wellness Council of Indiana (WCI).

“It will hit on all elements of wellness: mental, physical, purpose, community and financial,” remarks WCI executive director Jennifer Pferrer. “It’s important that purpose is a focus of the conversation. Connecting employees to purpose allows them to be more balanced in their well-being and more engaged in the workplace.”

The event, which is Indiana’s largest gathering of workplace wellness professionals, will take place at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Indianapolis. Topics include legal updates, engaging the community, using data technology, exploring food deserts and more.

Additional highlights:

Keynote presentation: Changing the World Through Food by chef, author and food equity advocate Michel Nischan (opening general session)

Keynote presentation: Adding More Meaningful Purpose to our Communities Through Sharing Acts of Kindness by former media executive and best-selling author Laura Schroff (morning general session: October 4)

Keynote speaker: Bryan Mills, Alliance for a Healthier Indiana and president and CEO of Community Health Network

Choose Your Own (Wellness) Adventure! A fast-paced session in which attendees can hear four different presenters speak on four topics of their choice.

AchieveWELL Awards Luncheon honoring Three-, Four- and Five-star organizations that have participated in the WCI’s comprehensive assessment and evaluation.

“The mission of the Wellness Council is really built around the wellness conversation around the state and bringing resources together to help organizations learn from each other. The Wellness Summit is a great example of that,” Pferrer adds. “Wellness isn’t a one-time event; it’s a year-round engagement. We’ll be taking what we hear at the Wellness Summit and facilitating discussions through 2018 until next year’s program.”

Register online at www.IndianaWellnessSummit.com or contact Nick at (800) 824-6885.

Delta Dental of Indiana is the presenting sponsor. Platinum sponsors are Gibson, OurHealth and Washington National. Gold sponsors: Apex Benefits and Dental Health Options by Health Resources, Inc. Silver sponsors: Complete Wellness Solutions, Hancock Health, Indiana Vein Specialists, IU School of Public Health – Bloomington, NovoNordisk, PHP and R2 FIT.

Help Employees Manage Back-To-School Stress

School is back in session for many and this means your employees are readjusting their family routines. The school year brings hectic morning schedules, rushing to get children on the bus and busy nights helping with homework, carpooling to sports practice or attending extracurricular activities. Encourage your employees to establish new wellness routines during this transition period to keep the whole family happier and healthier.

Back to school time creates stress on parents and kids as they try to juggle work, school and home life. These stressors for your employees are often brought to the office with them. Offer programs to decrease stress and help employees connect with their families. Our Quest to Stress Less turnkey program, found on the members-only online resource center, can help employees manage the school year stress.

On a similar note, consider implementing sleep programming. Help your employees get a better night’s sleep and feel more rested, so they can be more productive during the workday.

Back to school time also means children may be bringing home pesky germs. Employers should promote good hygiene such as hand washing, keeping workstations clean and knowing when to stay home when sick.

At the same time, promote healthy nutrition. Distribute healthy lunch or dinner recipes, so busy parents can make meals on the fly that are delicious and nutritious. Concentrate on higher protein and fiber packed meals that will leave employees and their families energized and focused.

Finally, just as children are tempted to unwind in front of the TV for hours after school, your employees need to take screen-time breaks as well. Encourage frequent breaks throughout the day in which employees get up from their desks to take a short walk, stretch or eat a healthy snack.

If you need more ideas for how to foster healthy employee routines for back to school time, visit our online resource page and its 122 low-cost or no-cost ideas for worksite wellness. Contact the Wellness Helpline at (317) 264-2168 with questions.

National Emergency Declared for Opioid Crisis; Donnelly and Walorski Applaud President’s Action

Building upon the recommendations in the interim report from the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, President Trump recently instructed his administration “to use all appropriate emergency and other authorities to respond to the crisis caused by the opioid epidemic.”

Both Sen. Joe Donnelly and Congresswoman Jackie Walorski (IN-02) issued statements supporting the decision:

“I am pleased that President Trump plans to declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency. We know that it will take all of us working together to effectively turn the tide against this public health crisis that has harmed so many families in Indiana and across the country,” Donnelly said. “I hope this declaration will lead to necessary, additional resources for states and local communities to ensure those battling substance use disorders can access treatment.”

Walorski stated: “Opioid abuse is having a devastating impact on our communities, and President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency treats this epidemic with the urgency it requires. I will continue working with my colleagues and the administration to make sure first responders, law enforcement, medical professionals, treatment providers and families in our communities have the tools and resources needed to solve this crisis.”

Congress last year passed into law the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), bipartisan legislation to address the nationwide opioid epidemic.

Congresswoman Walorski served on the conference committee that negotiated the final bill, which included two provisions she authored. One requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to participate in state prescription drug monitoring programs, and the other allows the VA to use FDA-approved medical devices and other non-opioid therapies to treat chronic pain. Donnelly also helped enact CARA, which included several of his provisions. Additionally, Donnelly helped pass the 21st Century Cures Act into law, which includes a $10.9 million federal grant that will support prevention, treatment and recovery services in Indiana.

More recently, in late July, Donnelly introduced a bipartisan package of legislation “aimed at providing the facilities and access to telemedicine needed “to prevent and treat substance use disorder in rural communities.”

Job Losses Have Lasting Impact

The ripple effects of large-scale job losses linger for years and can keep adolescents from attending college later in life, according to new research carrying significant ramifications for policy makers, college recruiters and counselors.

Poor middle school and high school students who live through major job losses in their region attend college at significantly lower rates when they are 19 years old, according to new research published in the journal Science. A 7% state job loss when a student is an adolescent is tied to a 20% decline in likelihood that the poorest young people will attend college.

Local job losses hurt adolescent mental health, researchers found. Job losses also cut academic performance. The negative impacts are not limited to children from families where parents lost jobs – they extend to those who witness their friends, neighbors and others in the community being affected by layoffs.

Researchers argue that large-scale job losses are not simply economic events touching directly affected families. They are community-level traumas, said Elizabeth O. Ananat, an associate professor of public policy studies and economics at Duke University who is one of the lead authors of the paper appearing in Science.

“Worse mental health and worse test scores, they are all going to be blows to you that knock you off the path,” Ananat said. “That was a difficult path to begin with.”

In the economic theory, a student may have watched their father lose his job when a mine closed. Or they watched a friend’s mother be laid off when the local factory downsized. Those students should then be drawn to a college education because of the promise of larger financial returns and more stable employment in the newly developing knowledge economy.

In other words, economic theory has tended to focus on the idea that a shrinking pool of blue-collar jobs increases the relative return on investment of a college education. But it’s not working that way in the real world.

“Economists tend to think about it as a change in relative prices – the return changes,” Ananat said. “They miss the fact that it’s an emotional blow, like another kind of community trauma would be.”

‘Time is Money’ Leads to Stress

Do you think of time as money? That view may be damaging your health. Research by Jeffery Pfeffer and Dana R. Carney demonstrates that people who are keenly aware of the economic value of their time generally are more psychologically stressed.

The researchers were inspired by previous research on why lawyers often are unsatisfied with their careers. That study concluded that attorneys, whose time is accounted for in billable minutes, are hyperaware of the ticking clock that rules their work lives. Even when they’re not working, they’re thinking about how much income they’re forgoing during off hours, including time with friends and family.

To demonstrate the effects of time-money awareness, Pfeffer and Carney conducted an experiment in which half of the working subjects were asked to calculate their per-minute pay rate, while the other half were not. Even though both groups worked the same number of hours and got paid the same, the cortisol levels were almost 25% higher in the time-is-money group, whose members also seemed to find less pleasure during two breaks in the experiment.

Elevated cortisol is linked to many health problems, such as anxiety, depression, digestive problems, heart disease, headaches, sleep problems, decreased immunity, weight gain and cognitive impairment. “A rise of almost 25% is a serious health consequence,” says Pfeffer.

This phenomenon is particularly disturbing as more workers piece together incomes in the so-called “gig” economy. Rather than being on a full-time payroll, they’re more focused than ever on the economic value of time.

Employer Survey: Skilled Workers Scarce; Few Take Advantage of Tuition Reimbursement

A new employer survey from the Indiana Chamber shows concerning trends in workforce shortages, tuition reimbursement and response to prescription opiate abuse.

“Too often employers can’t find the workers they need, and those currently employed aren’t taking advantage of tuition reimbursement that would put them in better positions,” says Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar.

More than 1,100 businesses from throughout the state took part in the Indiana Chamber Foundation’s 10th annual employer survey, sponsored by WGU Indiana and conducted in partnership with Indiana-based Walker.

Specifically, research shows that nearly half (47%) of employers left jobs unfilled in the past year due to under-qualified applicants. That extended a trend from the previous three years in which the answers to that same question were 39%, 43% and 45%, respectively.

Additionally, almost 80% (79%) percent cited filling their workforce as among their biggest challenges. That number is also on the rise from 72%, 74% and 76% in the previous three years.

Once again, more than half of employers (53%) expect to increase the size of their workforce in the next one to two years. But their challenges are even larger with 54% saying the supply of qualified applicants does not meet demand and 85% placing the filling of talent needs as among their critical challenges.

“In many cases, it’s not a lack of a four-year degree or higher educational achievement. Two-thirds require less than a bachelor’s degree for their unfilled jobs,” Brinegar explains. “This puts additional emphasis on the certificates, credentials and associate degrees in which Indiana, unfortunately, trails the majority of states.”

But it’s not always a lack of education or training that leads to the unfilled positions. In the view of employers, 45% of applicants are unwilling to accept the pay/compensation offered and 28% are not attracted to the community where the job is located.

In the training world, there appear to be some missed opportunities for employers and their workers. Only 40% of the respondents indicate that they partner with an educational institution to help meet their training needs.

For the employees, nearly half (48%) have access to tuition reimbursement programs but very few take advantage of those opportunities. From the employer perspective, 60% said employees have no desire or motivation to participate and 35% believe workers see no personal benefit in advancing their education.

“Part of the problem is employees not having the funds to cover the tuition payments upfront that will be reimbursed at some point by their employer. And that’s a common arrangement for these programs,” Brinegar offers.

“But we also know if employers pay for the tuition directly to the school – which is obviously easier for larger companies – more workers are likely to take part. We heard from one of our members who saw participation jump from about 50 employees to more than 400 when that change was made. So that is something the Indiana Chamber will be looking at this summer in our business-higher education committee to see what public policy recommendations may make sense.”

When it comes to prescription opiate misuse, less than half (47%) of the respondents said they drug tested employees for it in safety-sensitive positions. On a broader scale, 56% of employers said they tested any employee if they suspected misuse or abuse of prescription opiates. However, more than a third (34%) of employers indicated they did not know how to detect such misuse or abuse.

The survey results are available at www.indianachamber.com/education.

The annual employer survey complements the work the Indiana Chamber is doing with the Outstanding Talent driver in the Indiana Vision 2025 long-term economic development plan for the state.

Indiana Vision 2025 measures Indiana’s progress compared to other states on 36 goals in the four driver areas of Outstanding Talent, Attractive Business Climate, Superior Infrastructure, and Dynamic and Creative Culture. The latest Report Card showing how Indiana ranks was released earlier this month and is available at www.indianachamber.com/2025.

Chronic Diseases Top of Mind for New Wellness Council Executive Director

Chronic disease management is a costly challenge in Indiana. Due to high rates of tobacco usage and obesity and the resulting health issues (diabetes, lung cancer, heart disease, etc.), Indiana finds itself again near the bottom of recent national health and fitness rankings.

As the new executive director of the Wellness Council of Indiana (WCI), Jennifer Pferrer is ready to help tackle those challenges and spread the message of comprehensive wellness programming to Hoosier employers.

“Some of the goals in the Indiana Chamber’s Indiana Vision 2025 economic development plan target reducing smoking rates and obesity levels in Indiana, and the role of the WCI is to bring that conversation to a broader space and make an impact in health care costs and the health of Hoosiers,” she explains.

“I’m passionate about health care and I am looking forward to adding my mark on the Wellness Council of Indiana, as it really fits my background.”

Pferrer joined the WCI – a program of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce – in April and previously worked for the American Diabetes Association (ADA) for 10 years, serving in roles that included executive director for Indiana and Kentucky, and regional vice president of a six-state region. Prior to the ADA, she studied consumer-physician relationships as marketing manager at St. Vincent Hospital.

Pferrer’s goal is to continue proving the value of the WCI as an investment for Hoosier employers.

“Wellness is so much broader than Fitbit programs. This is not just food and fitness. There is a data-driven business case for wellness. Wellness needs to be seen as an investment and it goes back to managing chronic diseases,” Pferrer notes. “For example, health education for employees with pre-diabetes can reduce the annual health care spend by the employer by thousands of dollars.”

Through the WCI’s AchieveWell company-based wellness program certification and the Indiana Healthy Community Initiative – which encourages a community-based approach to wellness to increase economic development potential – Pferrer says the infrastructure is in place for wellness success.

“I want employers to know – if wellness is on their radar, they don’t have to recreate the wheel. We can convene and share best practices and be that resource for them,” she concludes.

For more information on the WCI or to connect with Pferrer, visit www.wellnessindiana.org or call (317) 264-2168.