Diversity & Inclusion, Learning & Development

Well-being is a State of Mind: 4 Tips for Tapping into the Mind-Body Connection

There is a demonstrated connection between mental and physical health, but which comes first? The answer is: Both. Ultimately, true wellbeing is not a matter of being physically or mentally healthy, but a combination of the two. In fact, the World Health Organization defines health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Helping employees recognize and understand this connection and adopt a whole-person approach to their health is key to everything from enhancing recruiting and retention to increasing job satisfaction and boosting the bottom line.

The thinking behind this mind-body connection is not new, but the idea that mind and body are, if not one and the same, at least inextricably interconnected, is more widely embraced by the health community today, and in many cases is even being taught in schools. As a result, offering support for mental or physical wellbeing will have benefits that might not be immediately obvious. Helping an employee eat better will support their physical health, but those dietary choices might also help boost their mental health. And by helping employees live a happier life, employers can reduce the risk of physical and mental health challenges ranging from depression and stress to cardiovascular disease. Happier people also tend to sleep better, all of which helps keep them more productive at work and at home.

For employers, this means that efforts to enhance employee wellbeing will be most effective when they take a comprehensive approach that considers both the physical and mental aspects of personal health. With that in mind, here are four tips to help HR teams address the mind-body connection and improve employee well-being.

Promote Mindfulness and Relaxation

Elevated stress levels can cause headaches and anxiety, make it harder to sleep, and weaken the immune system, making it more likely a person will get sick. It can also affect decision-making, leading to over- or under-eating and contributing to increased drug, alcohol, and tobacco use. Employers can help combat stress by introducing mindfulness and relaxation techniques that employees can use during a break in their workday or any other time they’re feeling stressed. Provide simple exercises that are easy to learn and perform, or give employees access to professional instruction through live classes for on-site employees and on-demand and virtual options for remote or hybrid employees.

Educate Employees on the Impact of Nutrition

While most people recognize that what they eat affects their weight and fitness level, fewer realize the full impact of nutrition on physical and mental wellbeing. In reality, dietary choices can help individuals mitigate symptoms of chronic conditions, ease them through hormonal changes, help manage gut health disorders, and even reduce the risk of dementia. Research has found that a high-sugar diet can impair brain function and contribute to mood disorders including depression. Further, the risk of depression is 25% to 35% lower in people who follow a Mediterranean diet or a traditional Japanese diet, as compared to a typical Western diet. And certain nutrition strategies can help women manage the changes that occur naturally during the menopause transition, potentially reducing instances of employees struggling with concentration and work performance or even taking sick leave. Helping employees recognize these connections and equipping them with recipes and cooking instruction that allows them to plan meals that support improved physical and mental wellbeing will make them healthier, happier, and more productive.

Encourage Employees to Get Outside

Connecting to nature has clear physical health benefits due to the fact that exploring the natural world typically involves physical activity. But exposure to nature can have some less obvious benefits, too, from reducing stress and lowering blood pressure to easing muscle tension and even reducing the amount of time it takes to recover from surgery. Encourage employees to get outside by organizing group activities, turning meetings into walking meetings, or compiling lists of parks and natural spaces that employees can visit on their own time. You might also consider sponsoring a company golf league or softball team, or encouraging employees to share their outdoor passions with their co-workers. This will have the added benefit of increasing feelings of belonging in your workforce, which has positive impacts on employee satisfaction and retention.

Bring Employees Together

People are social creatures by nature, and those who are socially connected are more likely to make healthy choices and have better mental and physical health outcomes. There is evidence that people with a healthy social network tend to live longer, and supportive group therapy has even been shown to increase the life expectancy of breast cancer patients. But creating and maintaining those relationships can be difficult for employees who work remote or hybrid schedules. Employers can help by creating opportunities for co-workers to socialize, either during the workday or after hours. While employees should never be pressured or required to attend such activities, there are clear health benefits associated with increased socialization. There are also business benefits, considering research has shown that casual banter between coworkers can foster a sense of connection and help make employees more productive. In some cases, employees might also benefit from resource groups that help them engage with co-workers who are facing similar challenges. The groups will foster a sense of community and allow employees to share tips for navigating everything from parenting to physical illness.

Humans are complex creatures, and any attempt to improve workplace wellbeing should account for this. When employee wellbeing initiatives factor in the mind-body connection, they give employees the best possible chance to improve both mental and physical health, increasing happiness, job satisfaction, and overall productivity.

Jason Campana is the Chief Operating Officer of LifeSpeak Inc. (TSX: LSPK), the leading provider of mental, physical, and family wellbeing solutions for employers, health plans, and other organizations.  Collectively, LifeSpeak Inc. has more than 30 years of experience working with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, insurance providers, unions, and other organizations across the globe.

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