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Executive health: High blood pressure, high cholesterol, high stress. WHAT NOW?

12 weeks can make all the difference to your inner wellbeing and outer physical health!

One of the most frequently requested workplace wellness interventions my company facilitates, is practical stress management for the executive or management committee members. If executive health is any indication of the overall health of a company (which it is, of course), it is a gloomy prediction of the general health and wellbeing of the South African workforce!

Recent stress management interventions we facilitated, showed the following results: of the executive members (representative of both genders and all cultures) who went through the screening procedure, none had all normal test results; 82% had high or high normal fasting blood sugar and/or insulin; 83% had high or high normal total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, with low HDL (good) cholesterol; and 73% had high or high normal blood pressure. Everybody had a high stress score.

When doing health screenings, it is extremely important to also take into consideration the high normal values, as these will become abnormal within months or at most, 2 years, if preventative wellness interventions aren’t implemented.

The link between chronically high stress levels and physical illness has been well researched and documented. All the chronic diseases of lifestyle (e.g. high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes mellitus, insulin resistance, depression, HIV/Aids, cancer) have a very strong link with high stress levels.

A study in the British Medical Journal shows work stress is associated with double the risk of dying from heart disease. In promoting cardiovascular health, the traditional advice has always been for people to stop smoking, cut down drinking, eat less fat, and get moving through physical activity. Now more and more researchers are strongly recommending that paying attention to the prevention of distress and burn-out, as well as the management of existing stress, is becoming even more important, as people often smoke, drink and take drugs in a misguided attempt to lower their stress levels.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in modern society. Employees with high job strain, a combination of high demands at work and low job control (i.e. executive members), have high stress levels and more than twice the risk of death form heart disease compared with employees who have low job strain. The stress levels and risk for employees with effort-reward imbalance (low salary, lack of social approval, and few career opportunities relative to efforts required at work) on the other side of the pendulum, were 2.5 times higher. High work related strain also showed an increase in total cholesterol at the five year follow up, and an increase in body weight.

Executive team members are also prone to type A behaviour which did get them to the top, but also puts them at high risk for heart disease. Complete the Type A assessment following the article.

Can something be done about this?

Work stress is bad for your health. So is personal stress.

Becoming aware of our thoughts, that lead to specific emotions and physical manifestations, is essential for optimal health and wellbeing. If we don’t change our thinking, we will never see a difference in our physical health. We’ve all noticed the paths to water holes that animals tread in the wild. Year in and year out, generation after generation, they walks these same paths. To forge new paths, would mean struggling in the thick, thorny bushes – far too much trouble! The old path might be worn and difficult, but it’s easier than changing! We do the same thing. We tread networks of old thoughts and behaviour inside our brains; worn pathways we walk ad infinitum. The brain has neuroplasticity, the ability to constantly form new networks, new thoughts, new behaviour patterns that serve our health and wellbeing better. However, we prefer the old, familiar pathways. The same old thoughts and feelings that lead to illness. To change means getting into new habits, new lifestyles that serve our health and happiness better. This means intent, practice and discipline. It takes about 12 weeks before we form new networks of thought, leading to new behaviour patterns.

We focus our attention on what we don’t want, and create more of the same: no stress, stop crime, no violence, no poverty, no smoking, stop teenage pregnancies, stop HIV, etc. This mind-set creates a tremendous amount of stress in ourselves. Consider what the results might be if we change our thoughts to: I want peace, calm and safety. My children are happy, joyful, fulfilled and find love within themselves. My work flows easily. I make decisions from within with the help of my higher self. My lungs are open and I breathe freely. I work from a center of peace and calm; nothing can upset my equanimity.

Twelve weeks to wellness

The executive stress management interventions we’re currently facilitating, include a guided and supported, 12 weeks to wellness program, including the HeartMath FreezeFrame biofeedback training program, to help participants understand how to obtain heart and brain coherence through noticing how thoughts and emotions influence heart-brain-heart communication. Coherence improves whole brain functioning with increased joy, happiness, creativity, calm, concentration and problem solving abilities.

The 12 week program also includes the use of the correct food supplements in synergistic combinations and therapeutic dosages to assist every cell in the body to function at optimal levels of wellbeing.

Watch this space for feedback on the follow up health screening and stress assessment results after the 12 weeks!

Why 12 weeks? This is more or less the time we need to establish a new habit. Once we’ve managed a healthier, happier lifestyle for 12 weeks, the new behaviour should be ingrained, part of our new neural pathway. Hopefully we feel so much better and know ourselves so well, that we never want to stop the program! Each week includes a section on movement and fitness, with a demonstration of relaxercises, exercises for body, mind and soul; present moment awareness with a contemplation focus; natural healing tools with advice on colour, emotional issues, environment, specific food and herbs; quiet time, stress management tools and creativity, while using a wellness journal to plot progress, thoughts and feelings. Participants are guided through their specific emotional feedback, using the emotional positioning system or scale (refer GPS – global positioning system), to adjust their emotional vibrations.

Goals of wellness interventions

Expected results of health and wellness interventions, that incorporates stress management as an essential ingredient, include improved productivity and creativity, higher levels of company morale, reduced absenteeism and presenteeism (employees at work, but not optimally healthy or well), and improved day-to-day quality of working life for the employer and employee.

Cigarette smoking, poor nutrition, substance abuse, poor ergonomics (leading to back pain, headache, neck and shoulder spasm) and most importantly, high stress levels and depression, are major contributing factors to work related health problems and reasons for employee absenteeism. Many studies show psychological and physical factors in the workplace such as intense deadlines, poor interpersonal relationships, absence of a stimulating work environment, as well as inadequate job descriptions and too much responsibility, are also major contributors to increased health risk.

Preventative health and well care plans provide the solution. Working proactively to reduce the risk of developing disease, as well as the promotion of a wellness lifestyle to prevent and treat disease, empower the individual to recognise the danger signs of living an unhealthy lifestyle and educate employees about taking preventative measures to reduce the harmful effects of their behaviour.

Thirteen signs of burnout

These signs are indications that you, a loved one, or a colleague might be suffering from burnout. Obtaining help and support in managing relevant stress triggers, is essential.

  1. Chronic fatigue – exhaustion, tiredness, a sense of being physically run down
  2. Increasing anger and resentment at those making demands
  3. Self criticism for putting up with the demands
  4. Cynicism, negativity and irritability
  5. Feeling besieged and overwhelmed
  6. Exploding easily at seemingly inconsequential things
  7. Frequent headaches and gastrointestinal disturbances
  8. Weight loss or gain
  9. Sleeplessness (insomnia)
  10. Shortness of breath
  11. Suspiciousness
  12. Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness, leading to dysthymia and finally, depression
  13. Increased tendency to take unnecessary risks

The main purpose of understanding stress is to learn how to remain relaxed, calm, centered and in good health even with all the pressures of modern life

Daily stress management and relaxation are essential for a wellness lifestyle. Stress management is just as, or even more important, than the financial and material wellbeing of ourselves, our families and our communities. It ensures physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. If we’re burnt out, exhausted and ill from too much stress, we won’t be able to enjoy the fruits of our labours or the interaction with our families and friends.

To get you started on your wellness journey, contemplate the following Goal: to increase my energy, sense of excitement, happiness and joy in living, by learning to go with the flow, putting the oars in the water and float downstream, rather than always paddling upstream. What are the thoughts and feelings mostly present in my mind? Are they health enhancing (in other words loving to self and others, peaceful, joyful), or are they potentially harmful to my health, increasing my stress levels (e.g. angry, fearful, worried, resentful, bitter, depressed, irritable, impatient)?

‘Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.’ – Mark Twain

Type A personality assessment

The Type A personality behaviour (abundantly present in most executives) with its chronic eliciting of the stress reaction, is the single most important risk factor for heart disease, heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure. It is also associated with the triad of heart attack, depression and diabetes, as well as peptic ulcers, endometriosis, infertility and migraine headaches.

Are you always on time for appointments? Never Sometimes Usually Always
Are you competitive when playing games at home, at work, with adults or kids? Never Sometimes Usually Always
Do you anticipate what others are going to say during conversations (head nodding, finishing sentences for others, interrupting)? Never Sometimes Usually Always
Do you have to do things in a hurry? Never Sometimes Usually Always
Do you get impatient in queues, traffic jams, or whenever you have to wait? Never Sometimes Usually Always
Do you do several things at once, while thinking about what you’re going to do next? Never Sometimes Usually Always
Do you do most things quickly (walking, eating, driving, talking)? Never Sometimes Usually Always
Do you get irritated easily by trivia, others’ stupidity and inability to accomplish work of a high standard? Never Sometimes Usually Always
Do you get angry with yourself if you make a mistake or fail? Never Sometimes Usually Always
Do you find fault with and criticize others? Never Sometimes Usually Always
Do you take work home most nights? Never Sometimes Usually Always
Do you think about work problems at home? Never Sometimes Usually Always
Do you voluntarily work long hours? Never Sometimes Usually Always
Does your family complain that you spend too little time with them? Never Sometimes Usually Always
Do you find it difficult to forget work and other obligations, and relax? Never Sometimes Usually Always
Do you find it difficult to say ‘no’ to more work, charity, time consuming, and contributory requests? Never Sometimes Usually Always
Do you find it difficult to delegate? Never Sometimes Usually Always
Is your self-esteem based on your work, contributions to your community, yourchildren’s school accomplishments,or fund raising efforts? Never Sometimes Usually Always

If you answered usually or always to any questions, it shows that you do manifest type A behaviour. Meditation, thought awareness, learning to surrender and let go, work-life balance, using a diary / journal to get to know yourself better, learn to relax and enjoy life, will go a long way to help you balance these character traits that can, if allowed free reign, lead to serious health problems such as high blood pressure and heart disease. Always remind yourself: ‘I can choose peace instead of this’.

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