Combating the Cost of Stress
The cost of stress hits both individuals and organizations in so many silent ways that neither knows they are under attack until the damage is done. The effects of these attacks are not immediate, which makes it much more challenging to identify and solve for the root cause.
Statistics from the World Health Organization state that stress costs American businesses $300 billion annually. "Corporate health insurance premiums in the United States shot up by 11.2 percent in 2004-quadruple the rate of inflation-according to survey figures from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation."1
To the individual, this cost is measured in a lack of happiness - or the inability to pursue one's happiness. ComSych, an Employee Assistance Program provider found that 38 percent of employees can't stop worrying about problems like emotional, health, financial, and work concerns.2
Studies cited by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) indicate that 40 percent of all workers today feel overworked, pressured, and squeezed to the point of anxiety, depression, and disease.3
With numbers and words as somber as those, we naturally want to solve for the problem. But where do we start? Stress does not come from a single source, and therefore a single source solution will never solve the issue. Many attempts by organizations to assist their people are too myopic to be effective because they only take into account some of the stressors that affect people.
There is also the additional challenge of engaging folks in a meaningful way. By "meaningful," I am referring to positive change finding its way into that person's world outside of the workplace.
Mindfulness is touted as a key to relieving the stress that people endure in this modern life, and therefore reducing the costs felt by both individuals and organizations. While there is little to no research drawing the specific conclusion that increased mindfulness lowers healthcare costs; we need only use logic to draw the conclusion that a collective increase in mindfulness will improve that collective because it makes each of its parts better.
For example, what is a person to be mindful of, let alone what should an entire collective be mindful of? And then once mindfulness is brought, what is a person to do with this new found awareness?
There are three questions we want to attempt to answer:
(1) Where do we start?
(2) What should we be mindful of?
(3) Now what do I do? Before we can answer those, however, we need to better define stress.
WHAT IS STRESS?
The American Institute of Stress states that due to the highly subjective nature of stress it defies definition; that the inability to define stress makes it impossible to measure. The Institute also states that defining stress becomes even more difficult because stress is different for every person.
The same stress on two different people can be perceived as good stress to one and a bad stress to another. For the purposes of our conversation we will categorize the stress that a person endures into five main types.
Paul Chek, in his book "How to Eat, Move, and Be Healthy!" defines five main types of stress: Physical, Chemical, Electromagnetic, Mental, and Nutritional. When stress is in proper amounts it results in development and growth, and when in improper amounts stress results in issues that limits a person's ability to be at their best, in other words it causes illness and disease.
Everyone will encounter every type of stress on a daily basis. When we apply stress in a thoughtful manner, we equip ourselves to more optimally deal with the stress that we cannot regulate.
- Physical Stress in the form of exercise, at an appropriate level, serves our being in many ways. It is also possible to take exercise to an unhealthy level, both in excess and in a lack thereof.
- Chemical Stress and Nutritional Stress are very closely associated. Chemical reactions occur constantly within our bodies, with every breath and morsel of food we consume, and with every muscle contraction. When we eat nutritiously, and move appropriately, we create positive chemical stress. On the other hand, eating edible-food-like substances, not moving enough and being exposed to actual chemicals in the form of medicine, causes negative chemical stress.
- Electromagnetic Stress in the positive and comes in the form of sunlight and the natural forces of the universe. Conversely, excess sunlight and the litany of electronic devices we are constantly exposed to are negative disrupt our natural rhythms.
- Mental Stress is the very act of thinking. Being mindful, solving problems, and giving thought to our goals allow the mind to develop and grow. When our thoughts are isolated and fixated, or when our focus is on what we don't want instead of what we do want, we create excess stress that serves no purpose other than to add further burden.
WHERE DO WE START?
The answer to the question 'Where do we start?' is focusing on the individual. More specifically we start at prepping each person's Energy Generating System to be at its most optimal. The term Energy Generating System (EGS) is appropriate when we speak of our human function, because our entire physiological system is set up to renew, restore, and rejuvenate us.
Both people and organizations are Energy Generating Systems, designed to create energy in order to carry out the functions necessary to exist. We focus on the individual because only through the optimization of each part will we be able to optimize the whole.
Through our own EGS we are equipped to process the stress we encounter, up to the point that our EGS can handle the stress it is required to process. When our EGS is performing optimally, we in turn perform optimally. The better equipped a person is to process their stress; the more likely they are to be performing optimally.
In planning for the collective, it is impossible to address the stressors of each individual person. Instead the best course of action is to prepare the EGS of each person to operate optimally. Conveniently, the practice necessary to optimize a person's EGS is also the answer to the question, 'What should we be mindful of?'
In my opinion, and in the practice that I live by and teach, six System Checks allow us to gauge how optimally our EGS is operating. These gauges allow a person valuable insight into how well their EGS is performing, and how their ESG maintenance plan should be structured.
WHAT SHOULD WE BE MINDFUL OF? SIX SYSTEM CHECKS
There are six factors that make up the building blocks of our individual existence. Each person performs each of these factors on a daily basis, to varying degrees of well. How well we perform these factors will directly impact our Energy Generating System, and in turn will directly impact our ability to process our stress. The factors that make up the six System Checks are Thoughts, Breathing, Hydration, Nutrition, Movement and Rest.
Follow a quick journey through the six System Checks of an optimally performing EGS. Set a daily intention to bring mindfulness and a renewal to your purpose. Diaphragmatic breathing throughout the day allows the body to deliver oxygen and remove waste most effectively.
Proper hydration provides the necessary water that is vital for every cellular function in the body. Good nutrition provides the macronutrients that supply the body with the energy necessary to repair and grow. Dynamic movement allows the body to move as it is designed and assists in circulation.
Sleep and various forms of active rest throughout the day keep the body and mind fresh so that is can remain mindful of its purpose, and to perform the necessary functions in a most optimal way.
It is through the practice of mindfulness to these core elements of our being that we optimize our EGS. It is through the practice of perfecting each system check that we build each person's EGS strong enough that they can handle more stress than they currently can, but more importantly we empower the person to recognize the warning signs that their system is under more stress than they can properly handle.
NOW WHAT DO I DO?
The last question to answer, "Now what do I do?" needs to be asked by both the individual and the organization that seeks to assist the people within the organization. People require resources and practical information that they can learn to implement into their lives. Through the act of mindfulness people are empowered to identify and in turn take action where action is needed.
The two biggest obstacles for a person seeking to make behavior change in their life are knowing where to start, and how to keep momentum. The six System Checks provide a template on which to roll out an assistance program. Each person will feel more comfortable with a particular check.
Allow them to refine and perfect it, as it will in turn give additional energy to combat what may be a more deeply rooted issue that will require much more attention and much more energy to combat. There are many resources available through insurance providers, outside vendors, and even people within your organization that enjoy sharing their knowledge and experiences.
In closing, the concept of Mindfulness can play a key role building an efficient and cost effective program that can limit not only the financial damage caused by stress, but to limit the human toll that is paid to stress as well.
1.Harvard Business Review, "Are You Working Too Hard?" November 2005. http://hbr.org/2005/11/are-you-working-too-hard/
2.Forbes.com, "Stress at Work is Bunk for Business". August 2, 2012. http://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2012/08/02/stress-at-work-is-bunk-for-business/
3.Harvard Business Review, "Are You Working Too Hard?" November 2005. http://hbr.org/2005/11/are-you-working-too-hard/
About the Author:
Michael Susi joined LinkedIn in 2011. He currently leads the company's Global Health and Wellness Group. Throughout his career, Michael has been a team builder, teacher, and entrepreneur. Prior to joining LinkedIn, Michael founded SusiFit.com an online service designed to assist people achieve their health and wellness goals.