In our current economic crisis, workplace wellness programs have become essential to maintain the health of both the employer and the employee. Stress in the workplace has been shown to increase absenteeism, hostility, mistrust, and attrition rates, and decrease company morale and productivity. In addition, workplace stress increases rates of anxiety, depression, and cardiovascular mortality. Recent studies have shown how workplace wellness programs focused on diet, exercise, and stress reduction lead to decreased absenteeism, improved productivity, and substantial cost savings.
In a recent issue of BusinessWeek, the CEO of Johnson and Johnson discussed how investing in large-scale health promotion and disease prevention programs served to reduce benefit costs and improve worker productivity. Data from a study of their program also showed how improvements happened quickly and were sustained over time.
Additionally, workplace wellness program statistics from Prudential Insurance show a benefit expense of $312 per individual enrolled in a Workplace Wellness Program, compared to an expense of $574 per worker who was not. Coors Brewing Company also showed a positive side effect with participant absenteeism dropping by 18 percent, thus greater production and less medical care costs overall.
Although these large-scale company programs show great promise, and are a testament to promoting health in the workplace, there are simpler stress reduction programs that can be instituted to substantially improve productivity, decrease absenteeism, and increase a company's bottom line while fostering camaraderie and team building.
Over the past fifteen years, I've personally witnessed how emotional stress directly impacts the hearts of my patients. Studies show workplace stress creates two specific types of emotional stress that are hazardous to our hearts. The first deals with increased physical strain, or feeling like you have too much to accomplish in not enough time. The second involves a type of stress created by feelings of isolation and loneliness, which occurs when employees feel unappreciated, unacknowledged, and as though they have little or no chance for career advancement. I often hear complaints of how the demanding pressures at work, coupled with the lack of time to decompress at home, are exhausting.
The reality is we all experience rising pressures to perform under increasingly more demanding schedules. So I set out to find a solution, and developed the BREATHE technique, a seven-step exercise that helps reduce stress and heal your heart. BREATHE combines two proven forms of relaxation—guided imagery and breath work—and puts a modern spin on ancient wisdom. Both of these techniques elicit the "relaxation response" which is opposite the "stress response." When practiced regularly, like toning your muscles in the gym, you'll develop a special neural network that will help you focus and find a sense of calm when faced with one of life's unexpected stressful challenges.
B is for Begin: To develop a rhythm and routine, find the right time of day and a comfortable, quiet place to practice the meditation.
R is for Relax: Though it may seem counter-intuitive, relaxation requires focused and conscious breathing. Try to clear all thoughts and concentrate only on your breath.
E is for Envision: Special imagery exercises and specific healing metaphors will help lower heart rate, blood pressure, and strengthen the immune system.
A is for Apply: By practicing each heart-healing metaphor regularly, they will be filed away in your memory bank, and become retrievable and accessible for high-stress situations.
T is for Treat: The BREATHE technique is a pleasurable and therapeutic exercise. Practicing regularly, like exercising, will foster feelings of elation and happiness.
H is for Heal: The goal of this technique is to unite neural networks that connect your heart and brain, decreasing blood pressure, enhancing immune response, and lowering pulse rate.
E is for End: Every effective exercise has a formal beginning and ending.
The BREATHE technique is the focal point of my new book, "The 15-Minute Heart Cure: The Natural Way to Release Stress And Heal Your Heart In Just Minutes A Day," and the newly-created BREATHE For Company Wellness program. BREATHE For Company Wellness provides accessible, stress relieving tools—the key for achieving optimal cardiovascular health—and is designed for everyday use. Employees learn and quickly master the manageable, cardiologist prescribed, and clinically proven BREATHE technique.
With the sluggish economy, aging population, and health care crisis, workplace stress is likely to continue to rise. As a practicing cardiologist who performs heart surgery on almost a daily basis, I believe the BREATHE technique and BREATHE For Company Wellness will revitalize our country's workforce and increase the bottom line across corporate America.
John M. Kennedy, M.D., is the medical director of preventative cardiology and wellness at Marina del Rey Hospital, and author of the new book, "The 15-Minute Heart Cure: The Natural Way to Release Stress And Heal Your Heart In Just Minutes A Day." He also has incorporated the BREATHE technique into a company wellness program, BREATHE For Company Wellness, designed to enable companies to provide a healthy and safe alternative for employee stress release. Kennedy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please visit www.johnmkennedymd.com for more information.