Working Well?

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“I’m not going to be telling you anything you don’t already know”, says Christine Blom with a smile, as she welcomes parents to her talk on ‘Wellness in the Office and Beyond’, a look at mental and physical health in the world of work.

As part of the La Chât Wellbeing Week, parents have been invited to consider the importance of wellness in our own working environments. In this week-long programme of events, our children are being asked to develop healthy habits and better understand the importance of wellbeing in their lives. But are they seeing the same understanding in their parents?

Christine’s reasoning seems straightforward. Our health as individuals rests on four pillars: relaxation and mental health; exercise; good nutrition and sleep. If we can maintain a healthy balance between the different elements of our working lives and our physical and mental requirements, we will see benefits in both our personal health and our productivity at work.

As a group, Christine leads us in a five-minute ‘body scan’ of mindful reflection, silently progressing from the tops of our heads down our entire bodies, taking a moment to release tensions in our posture and breathing, and to acknowledge any little aches and pains.

“Mindfulness is about taking a moment to check in with ourselves, and learning to accept what we find without judgement,” says Christine. “It takes so little time, and we feel so much better afterwards – but how often do we take time to reconnect with our bodies during the working day?”

As we all know, it is often very difficult to prioritise our personal needs in an working environment, especially when employment is less secure than ever, and where the unspoken emphasis is often on long hours and personal sacrifice. As stress levels rise, reports show the costly impact of depression and anxiety in the workplace, linked to the rise in obesity, arthritis and back/neck pain and other chronic conditions.

Depression and anxiety are major causes of mental health issues amongst adults, but are still stigmatized by many people, especially at work. It is important to recognize the signs in ourselves and get help when needed, as well as keeping a watchful eye on those around us, among our family, friends and colleagues, even our children. Screening tools for depression are available online, a good example being the NHS Mood Self–Assessment Quiz from the UK (https://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/Pages/Mood-self-assessment.aspx) and it’s good to use those tools and then seek help if needed.

“Many of the studies in this field have concluded that the indirect costs of mental health disorders, particularly lost productivity, exceed companies’ spending on direct costs, such as health insurance contributions and pharmacy expenses,” says Christine. “Given the generally low rates of treatment, the researchers suggest that companies should invest in the mental health of workers, not only for the sake of the employees but to improve their own bottom line.”

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In her role as a health promotion nurse, Christine conducts regular check-ups on office workers in several large companies, and urges us to ‘get our numbers done’ at least once every two years. “Sometimes I get the feeling that people take better care of their cars than they do of their bodies. Even if you have no other health issues, it helps to have regular tests to check your blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure, along with your weight and height, to inspire you to make the changes needed to your lifestyle, to intervene early if there are issues and to prevent problems from cropping up in the future.”

We were also reminded of the benefits of eating a mixed Mediterranean-style diet, and encouraging healthy eating in our children. “Parents need to be empowered to make the right purchasing choices for their families,” says Christine. “We are the gatekeepers. Never mind if it’s cookies, chips, ice-cream or soda, our children would be eating less junk food if we didn’t choose to bring it into the house.”

Whether it’s by holding ‘stand-up’ meetings, taking the stairs to use the restrooms on the floor above, or making time for intermittent movement breaks, Christine showed that we can all fit an extra bit of exercises into our lives, to counter the problems of a static workplace.

Although it is often overlooked, sleep is the vital fourth pillar to mental and physical wellbeing. “Sleep works as a cleaning mechanism for the brain,” says Christine. By establishing a good sleep routine, we can help our bodies renew themselves and deal better with the stresses and strains of the working day.

Six tips to improve your sleep:

– Develop a sleep routine
– Avoid electronics for 2 hours before bedtime
– Follow a sleep schedule: same times going to bed and getting up
– Making sure bedroom is dark, cool and quiet
– Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine before bedtime
– Exercise early and avoid heavy meals at night

Of course, Christine was entirely right: none of this information should come as a surprise to any of us. It ought to be second nature to put these practical tips into play in our daily routine, but for various different reasons, many of us do not.

Yet even small changes can make big differences over time. For the sake of our health and wellbeing, it’s time to take responsibility for these decisions both at work and at home and pass these good habits on to our children.

By Rowan Unsworth
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The Second Annual La Chât Wellbeing Week took place on the Secondary campus from 13-17 November. This year, it featured a programme of activities for pupils, staff and parents, including assemblies, workshops, talks and displays around the school.

Christine Blom is familiar to many in her role as School Nurse at Nations, and for the yoga classes that she gives at La Chât. She also works with Health First as a first aid instructor and as a health promotion nurse for companies in the region. Christine’s yoga class for Y7-13 takes place on Mondays from 17:00-18:00. Next term, she will be offering Mindfulness classes (.b) for La Chât students on Mondays from 15:40-16:40.

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