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Mental wellness

January 26, 2016

A solution to stress may be closer than you think

Feeling overwhelmed by stress? You’re not alone. The good news is your employer may offer a program that can help.

Exercise, eat well and maintain a good work-life balance: It's not the first time you've heard these tips for a healthy life. But how many of you are taking the time to put these tips into practice in your busy lives? If you're feeling stressed out, you're not alone. The good news is that help is often close by.

Living in a culture with a seemingly endless list of demands, working long hours, commuting over extended distances and juggling responsibilities can generate high stress levels. Prolonged periods of high stress levels can create the risk of many forms of physical and psychological illness. Research shows that prolonged exposure to stress is linked to high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, obesity and the development of type 2 diabetes, as well as anxiety and depression.

In recent years, research by Ipsos Reid for the Sun Life Canadian Health Index has shown that a high risk for chronic stress and burnout is a reality for many Canadians in one or more of five key areas: personal, emotional, health, professional and financial. Those employed full-time are at the highest risk for chronic stress, and within that group, those in their prime working years, aged 35-44, are at an even greater risk. The survey also shows that almost 50% of working Canadians in this age group are not regularly getting the average seven to eight hours of sleep recommended for most adults by Mental Health Canada.

Employees and employers working together

With so many Canadian employees experiencing stress, employers have good reasons to make a difference by focusing on the positive aspects of prevention. And employees are looking to their employers for help: The Sun Life Canadian Health Index found over 60% of Canadians think their employers have a responsibility when it comes to their health.

Workplace wellness programs are a proven way of helping employees improve health, reduce stress and prevent longer-term health risk factors. What's in it for employers? Improved productivity, fewer employee sick days and better employee engagement.

Employers are increasingly acting to help their employees stay healthy by establishing health and wellness programs. Have you looked into how your employer can help you? Check with your manager, human resources department or company intranet to see if your employer offers any of these programs:

1. Screening and health promotion programs

Learn about your health risks and ways to improve your health through programs your company provides to support the prevention of chronic illness and the adoption and maintenance of healthy lifestyles. For example, it could sponsor blood pressure clinics, flu shot clinics and support groups getting together to walk, run and work out.

2. Flexible hours and telecommuting

In your professional life, both the hours you spend at work and the typical length of your daily commute to and from work have a profound effect on your health. Flex-time and telecommuting programs can help you manage your work demands and reduce your commuting time, without changes to job responsibility and workloads, and help establish a healthy work-life balance.

3. Childcare and elder-care resources

If you're taking care of your children and elderly parents, you're in the "sandwich generation." Your responsibilities, both financial and emotional, can take a toll on your health. To juggle your personal responsibilities at work and home better, learn more about and use any childcare and elder-care resources at your company that support your family obligations and dependent care.

4. Lifestyle modification and coaching programs

Your energy levels, mood, sense of control, sleep patterns and support levels can all affect your emotional health. If you are experiencing emotional and psychological challenges, professional counseling, coaching and referral programs can help you meet your needs. Sometimes just talking to an objective third party can improve your well-being. For better physical health, many companies offer information and support about better diets and easy ways to exercise more often.

5. Creating a plan and learning about finances

One of the biggest concerns you may have is your financial situation, particularly preparing for retirement and unforeseen circumstances. Taking control of your finances includes budgeting, talking with an advisor about a financial strategy and saving for retirement. Also, reading about economic crises in the media can be disheartening, especially if you don't understand the terminology. If your workplace offers financial literacy courses or websites, they can help remove the anxiety and complexity of finances.

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