Employee health is more important than ever. The results of the AOK 2021 absenteeism report show that companies that are certified as having robust resilience by their employees also have healthier employees. Click here for the report:/https://www.wido.de/publikationen-produkte/buchreihen/fehlzeiten-report/2021/

What makes a healthy company? Here I share 5 personal tips from my experiences with companies (national and international) over the last 18 months:

Keep health in mind throughout the year

Make sure that all employees are familiar of the measures available. New colleagues should also be included. Many colleagues are so absorbed in their work that they forget that there are appropriate interventions available in the workplace. Keep bringing these formats to their attention!

What time in your company is there space to take a breath and focus on health issues? When is the stressful time? How can everyone take care of themselves with short measures even in this special phase? What reminders of healthy actions can be easily incorporated so that employees can access them when needed? My clients have had good experiences with so-called „health agents“: these employees, trained by me, have the task of consistently bringing topics such as „healthy use of one’s own resources“ into the teams. These can be very down-to-earth exercises, such as starting every team meeting with a relaxing exercise.

Setting a good example

Leaders must know the existing tools and have tested them themselves. On the one hand, the managers should experience support themselves and on the other hand, they should set an example for their teams and take the teams with them. If we have learned one thing in these 18 months, it is that we should treat ourselves well. Find out what strengthens us and be patient with our vulnerabilities. Only when we take care of ourselves and are patient with ourselves can we develop understanding for others. Healthy culture in a company can only flourish if it is lived by everyone.

Encouraging small steps

Employees are in different stages of life. Now in the time of transition back to office/hybrid working even more so. Newly acquired routines such as sports before work or having lunch together with the family have to be reorganised. Meet your team members head on. Offer your teams different health programmes and find out together what is needed.

Address mental fitness

„Bedienungsanleitung für ein menschliches Gehirn“ (Operating Instructions for a Human Brain) is the title of a book by Gerald Hüther. On the first page, the author asks why we get an instruction manual for every appliance like a washing machine, car or smartphone, but none for our complex brain. We seem to expect that our mental performance will already guide us properly through life. But here too, just as with a computer, operating errors can occur. Our brain also needs „maintenance“. Mindfulness exercises, for example, can serve this purpose.

Besides our own mental wellbeing , it is often the greatest challenge for us humans to ask for help. Signal that support is available. Connectedness within the team also strengthens mental resources. Another important lesson from the last 18 months is that emotional connectivity makes us stronger.

Self-scaling through appropriate measurement tools

Regularly put the existing health promotion measures and offers to the test: What is going well? What can be improved? What do we want to do differently? At the beginning of the implementation of programmes, determine at which intervals and with which instruments or steering groups the effectiveness will be reviewed. Using appropriate methods, colleagues can measure and record progress themselves.

If I can support you and your teams with tailor-made formats, I look forward to hearing from you at at@anja-termoellen.de.

Foto: Burkhard Bensmann

Do you feel the same way? The goals you set at the beginning of the year are now far away in July.

Possibly a slight feeling of having failed spreads… then press the STOP button immediately! Maybe those were not your goals at all.

To achieve goals, it is important that we really want them. We often set goals that are determined by other people. We start jogging, we do yoga, we eat a certain diet because that’s what everyone around us is doing. 

We all succumb to social pressures all the time. For our goals, it is helpful to find out what is really important to us.

With the help of mindfulness, we can set our goals more easily.

“Because mindfulness promotes the ability to see what we deeply value and what we find most interesting and enjoyable, mindfulness promotes carefully chosen goals,” says Kirk Brown, Ph.D., a social psychologist at Virginia Commonwealth University and an expert on self-determination theory.

Here are 4 tips to combine mindfulness with goal setting:

  • Pay attention to how you feel:  If your goal is morning jogging, observe how it makes you feel. If getting up in the morning is still incredibly difficult after a few weeks, it may not be your goal. Maybe you’re better off running in the evening, or a casual walk during your lunch break is much more appropriate for you. If it turns out to be a grind for you, try something else. It should feel good, so you’ll really look forward to the next time.
  • Celebrate every goal (no matter how small): Every stage victory should be enjoyed and celebrated.  Often we are so busy with achieving the actual goal, e.g. running 10 kilometers at a stretch, that we don’t appreciate the actual process at all.  How does it feel to reach the first leg goal (e.g., run a kilometer without stopping)? Pause, step back inside and observe how you feel. Celebrate and enjoy each goal. Noticing how you feel helps make the big goal easier to achieve.
  • Embrace uncertainty and take control of the present:  Right now, in these uncertain Covid-19 times, it supports us when we feel like we can influence certain things. We can’t control all situations right now, and we don’t know how the next few months will go. Setting goals means realizing that we can always master parts in our situation. This gives us confidence and strengthens us.
  • Sprinkle in a pinch of curiosity: Maybe the first run feels uncomfortable and you want to finish it right away.  Then hang in there and notice how you feel afterwards. Bringing curiosity to a project helps you discover new things and get to know yourself better. I’ve noticed this in my online formats over the past year: Those of my clients who were willing to give it a try are excited. Those who are critical of it have never tested it. Let’s become explorers again, as we often were as children. Let’s bring curiosity into our projects and promote our well-being.

Have fun discovering and achieving with the support of mindfulness!

Part 1: Reduce short-term stress.

We have been living in these very special times for a year and feel the tension both physically and mentally. We feel stressed.

What exactly is stress? Here is an excerpt from the Lexicon of Psychology (Dorsch): “Stress (= S.) [engl. Stress, strain, pressure, tension; distress Sorge, Kummer], [AO, BIO, GES, KLI], in common parlance S. means a subj. Situation perceived as unpleasant, by which a person is negatively influenced (distress), i. Ggs. To the stimulating pos. S. (Eustress). “Https://dorsch.hogrefe.com/stichwort/stress

According to Andrew Huberman, who teaches and researches as a neuroscientist at Stanford (https://www.hubermanlab.com), it is a system that mobilizes certain mechanisms in the head and body. We all have the opportunity to activate this system, also to control it in part, and thus to mitigate the negative effects.

Our systems do not differentiate between emotional and physical stress.

Whether the stress is physical or psychological, the response is always the same. Someone can pinch us really tight in the arm until we scream. Or we can feel under time pressure if we have to cope with too many professional projects at once. The process that is started is always identical.

We like to use a massage, sport or the use of the mindfulness method to reduce stress. But what can we do when that is just not feasible? What if we need a solution right away? At this moment?

When we experience stress, the nerve cells that run as a chain from the neck to the pelvic floor are activated as an immediate reaction. Our heart beats faster and more blood is pumped into the muscles of the legs and arms. For this, among other things, the blood supply for digestion is reduced.

So we are activated in a way that makes us move more. We know that we want to pace up and down under tension.

If we want to control stress, we need to learn to deal with that arousal.

Huberman and his team have examined strategies that can support us in the event of short-term, medium-term and long-term stress.

Reduce short-term stress:

Short-term stress can even be good for us. When the stress response occurs, adrenaline is released. This helps, for example, to fight infections.

What should we do if we feel tension because we are giving a lecture or we are faced with a difficult conversation?

The key is in our breathing!

If we use this consciously, we can reduce our perception of stress. We can do this if we use our parasympathetic nervous system. This is responsible for calming down and relaxing. With a certain breathing technique we can calm down (“the psychological sigh“).

Through conscious breathing we can influence our heartbeat and the relationship between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system (fight or flight).

When you inhale, the diaphragm lowers, the lungs expand, and the heart enlarges slightly. A group of neurons (sinus nodes) in the heart send signals to the brain to make the blood flow more slowly. The brain then sends a signal to increase the heart rate: „More, faster!“

If we want to increase our heart rate, the inhalation must be longer and more vigorous than the exhalation.

Conversely, it means that when you exhale, the diaphragm rises and the blood flows a little faster. The parasympathetic system sends a signal to calm the heartbeat.

According to Huberman, if we want to relax in a short period of time, we can influence this through breathing. We just have to breathe out longer or more vigorous  than we breathe in.

According to Huberman’s studies, the strategy is as follows:

Inhale 2x in quick succession and exhale 1x long. Repeat this 1-3 times. It takes between 20-30 seconds for the excitement to subside. This procedure may have to be repeated 1-2 times.

He recommends breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth (if that doesn’t work, breathing only through your mouth or nose is effective).

I recommend practicing under professional guidance first.

Yes, relaxation is work too – but it’s worth it! Let’s give this a try!

My tip: clarify the technique recommended by Huberman with your family doctor before trying it out.

Regular exercise is good for us. We all know that. Most of the time, we think of the advantages for our physique: better stamina, more mobility and still being able to fit into clothes. It is much more exciting to look at the benefits for our mental abilities. This has been done by a group of researchers led by Professor Felipe Schuch (Brazilian Universidade Federal de Santa Maria) in long-term studies. They have accompanied more than 200,000 mentally healthy people over a period of 7 1/2 years. Here is the link to the summary of the studies (2018): https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Brendon-Stubbs/publication/324675038_Physical_Activity_and_Incident_Depression_A_Meta-Analysis_of_Prospective_Cohort_Studies/Acts / links / cf80b7a299andbfical-Activity-Activity-A299andbf1f Meta-Analysis-of-Prospective-Cohort-Studies.pdf

It is an essential finding that people who are particularly active, i.e. 30 minutes 5 times a week (150 minutes per week) have a 30% lower risk of developing depression in the future. But even those who only exercised moderately had a 15% reduced risk of mental illness. That means we can all use exercise as medicine.

In one study, the researchers found that 10 minutes a day of light activity such as walking or cycling had a significant effect on our brain, especially on our hippocampus. People with depression often have a reduced hippocampus volume and an increased number of inflammatory markers. Among other things, the hippocampus is responsible for processing emotions. Light physical movement can improve the structure of our brain and stimulate the growth of hormones such as BDNF (which protects and promotes the formation of neurons and synapses).

In another study, researchers assigned a control group to exercise little and sit as much as possible (healthy people in their twenties). After a week!!! the researchers found that the subjects‘ stress levels had increased. Compared to the other group who moved normally. In addition, the group asked to sit had elevated markers of depression. This means that even if we are healthy but move less, we increase our sense of stress. Exercise is all the more important in winter, when the weather is not so inviting.

In summary, this evaluation of the studies means that light and regular exercise brings about a significant improvement in our mental abilities and strengths. Small changes made consciously and consistently.

My tip: Find a form of exercise that you can enjoy and start making small changes in your daily life. Working in the garden for 10 minutes a day, dancing to your favorite music or taking a leisurely walk not only improves your mood, but also increases your self-confidence and strengthens your well-being in challenging times.