Improve employee wellness with a Corporate Health Program in the age of COVID-19

By Melania Armento

Published 28 May 2020

In this article we’re going to be discussing the strategies that provide mental wellness support for your corporation in the age of COVID-19.

Corporate wellness and mental health has been a recent focus of our blog and we even discussed the topic in our webinars that give weekly advice on how your fitness business can overcome the COVID-19 crisis.

Why is this time so unique? The last time a crisis on this scale occurred was the Spanish flu in 1918. But this situation is even more unique than the previous pandemic because it’s affecting every community and every socio-economic status level. Generally speaking, everybody’s affected in some respect. It’s not targeting a specific demographic.

We want to provide an understanding of how it can impact individuals and groups as well, and what kind of stress mediation strategies we can put in place, either personally or an organizational level, to allow us to have an effective and healthy workforce.

So let’s learn the best ways of coping with coronavirus stress in your fitness business. Read our five tips on raising awareness of mental wellness among your employees.

1. What is stress?

School psychologist Joshua Biss helped us get a better understanding of what stress really is. How does stress affect mental health and emotional wellbeing? What is stress and what causes it?

First of all, there are two different types of stress we can categorize:

  • Acute stress, comes on quickly and usually disappears when the stressful situation is over
  • Chronic stress, which causes the body to remain in a constant state of alertness despite no immediate danger

An example of acute stress can be something we can all relate to, like a criticism from a supervisor. When your boss tells you off, you experience a brief moment of acute stress – and then it’s over.

What’s happening with the coronavirus situation is similar to acute stress but it remains, it causes us to be constantly alert. This is something that we can’t get away from and it’s not a quick event.

The pandemic causes more of a feeling similar to chronic stress. It is prolonged and it may cause you to be in an extensive state of alertness.

But how does stress affect the body? When we’re experiencing chronic stress it causes major disruptions to bodily systems: immune, digestive, cardiovascular, sleep etc. As a matter of fact, long-term chronic stress can increase our risk for psychiatric disorders, but also for specifically cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

It is important that as an employer that you understand and focus on how to develop a mental health program for your fitness business.

2. Recognize warning signs of stress

So what are some of the physical signs of stress? These are some of the things that you can watch out for among your colleagues or your staff members.

You’re likely to know some of the inner personal signs. Irritability, relationship difficulties, substance use. Those are the things that might help you notice that something might be off. It may trigger us to do some individual investigating.

Warning signs do not happen in isolation. You’re not going to experience a linear and gradual progression of all symptoms. Some emotional signs of stress include aches and nausea.

You can experience fatigue, you may feel hopeless and then you’ll notice the inner personal sign. These things can all occur jointly or separately. Everybody is unique.

Do some signs appear first? As an employer it may be easier to spot the physical symptoms first. And if you notice these early stages in your staff, it might be an indication that you should keep an eye on them and make sure you’re taking care of them.

3. Offer ‘first aid’ for staff

Addressing mental health issues is key. It is important that you show your support for the mental health of your employees during COVID-19. This is how you can do it:

  • Communicate with staff with existing mental health issues
  • Virtual office hours
  • Create a climate of support

You should know your staff and teammates well, and communicate that you are supporting a culture of comfort to ask for help. Mental health can be considered a social stigma, so you need to try and have a safe zone to open up and ask for help with whatever problem your employee is dealing with.

Let your employee know they are not alone in this. As a leader it is your job to create a climate of support.

Another important step is providing something like virtual office hours to create a safe way for people to come in and connect with you. It helps to create a virtual social connectedness for all staff.

Just like you provide a space for gym members to engage and interact with each other, make sure you create a moment to virtually get together, like a virtual happy hour or virtual outing. This allows you to check in with your employees and detect potential warning signs.

4. Be there for your team

Equip your staff with a basic understanding of mental health and also provide them with the tools they need to manage it. Here are some things you can share with your team.

  • An open desire to check-in and connect
  • Positive, funny and uplifting messages
  • Factual details about what information is known and what specific actions can be taken
  • Strategies for coping
  • Sharing videos such as YouTube videos, Ted Talks
  • Emphasize care for caregiver culture (e.g. it is ok and expected to ask for a break or for assistance)

5. Help yourself and others

Communicate that as much as you think you are Superman, you can get stressed over what’s going on right now. It’s ok to allow yourself to feel the uncertainty but don’t let it get in control of your life.

It’s important to foster a sense of control. In fact, one of the things related to anxiety is that it makes you feel like you’ve lost control of your life. Start creating structures that will build control back up.

Keep up a healthy routine by having healthy eating habits and avoid stress eating during the pandemic. Take some time to work out, meditate, or just walk.

Do what your body wants you to do: sleep more if you feel like you have to, take time for yourself, learn new resources to manage your stress and look at the business impact of investing in mental wellness programs as well.

  • Create a structure of routine for the day
  • Reduce and limit exposure to media coverage of the pandemic
  • Attend to your physical self-care
  • Care for your emotional health
  • Maintain social connections and focus on social care

Melania Armento

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