March 2010

Depression has always been a major mental health issue in America. But it‘s also, increasingly, a major workplace issue. A landmark 2003 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association draws the sobering conclusion, that depression costs employers $44 billion a year in lost productivity. Those are strictly indirect costs; they don’t even begin to reflect medical costs.

Michael Mazaar, from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, states “Depression is now, in term of victims and economic impact, the world’s second most insidious illness, behind heart disease.”

Work is a big part of our lives. Depression can affect employees’ abilities to perform their  jobs efficiently. The inability to concentrate fully or make decisions can lead to safety risks, accidents or costly mistakes. Other problems can include absenteeism, alcohol and drug abuse, or morale issues.

Managers need to be aware of depression symptoms because employees often will not seek treatment because they fear the affect it will have on their job and are concerned about confidentiality. It is important to differentiate between depression and the blues, most people feel sad now and then.   Depression symptoms linger and interfere with an individual’s work or family life.  If five or more of the following symptoms persist for more than two weeks, attention is needed.

  • Sleeping too little, or too much, difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • A persistent sad, anxious, or empty feeling
  • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities
  • Reduced appetite or weight loss or increase appetite and weight gain
  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering things, indecisiveness
  • Feeling of worthlessness or excessive guilt
  • Restlessness, irritability

If you suspect an employee may be depressed, here are things that can be done to approach the employee and get them back on track.

  • Confront the situation quickly in a caring and gentle way.  Express genuine concern.
  • Be empathetic and non judgmental.
  • Listen.  Everyone has a story and wants to be heard. Don’t try to solve the problem.
  • Provide a solution.  Refer the employee to the Employee Assistance Professional or have a referral to counselors available.
  • Follow up and provide a supportive environment.

In eighty percent of cases, people with clinical depression can be successfully treated.  With recognition, intervention and support, most employees can overcome their depression and push forward with renewed energy.

Valorie Bender

If you are like thousands of other Americans who care about their health, you probably made some type of goal this past January to improve your diet or start exercising more.  All too often these eager goals get ditched and forgotten by the time March hits.  The reason is simple and I call it “The Pendulum Swing.”  Read on if you are interested in learning how you can not only set but achieve effective goals to improve your health.

The Pendulum Swing

Part of my job as a nutrition therapist is helping my clients set realistic yet productive goals and effective limits. This is an area that most people struggle with. Why? They fall victim to the pendulum swing.

By nature, a pendulum will swing equally from left to right. Imagine that the pendulum depicted here represents your eating patterns. At the start of a new year, eating may fall way to the left of center (overly-restrictive) as a way to compensate from the holiday season (overly-indulgent). Examples of overly-restrictive eating patterns include: no more sugar, no eating after 7:00, 60 minutes of cardio six days a week. They are harsh, strict, and pretty much impossible to maintain. Ultimately the laws of physics take over, swinging you way over to over-indulgence.  Suddenly you find yourself eating a third brownie despite being stuffed and realize you haven’t exercised in the past two weeks. In an effort to steer yourself back on course the overly-restrictive eating patterns begin again, fueling a cycle of never-ending pendulum swings. Overly restrictive rules are not the answer, they are a set-up. You aren’t failing; your goals and rules are failing you!

The ultimate goal is to establish some “just right” limits that are neither overly restrictive nor overly indulgent. It’s often a compromise between perfection (no more candy!) and giving up (ah to heck with it, I’ll take my M&Ms in the jumbo bag and start over next Monday!). Finding these just right goals and limits takes practice, especially if you’re used to operating in extremes.

To help you get started, here is an example:

  • Overly-Restrictive: No more ice cream, I simply cannot keep it in the house without eating the entire gallon.
  • Overly-Indulgent: It’s been a tough week and I deserve some ice cream, I’ll pick up a couple of gallons since they’re on sale.
  • Just Right: I’ve had a hankering for ice cream for the past couple of days. I’m going to order a single scoop at my favorite ice cream shop after dinner. That way I can satisfy my sweet tooth without the risk of over-doing it.

Take the Challenge
Are there any pendulum swings in your life? If yes, identify one you’d like to work on. Write out a specific action plan that will help you establish “Just Right” limits.

If you are interested in more practical nutrition tips, delicious recipes, and simple health solutions check out my blog and subscribe to my newsletter.  Or for a free 20 minute consultation, send me an email at

Marci E. Anderson MS, RD, cPT

Nutrition Therapist, Speaker, and Certified Personal Trainer

There is a great article in today’s WSJ on the benefits of physical activity.
This supports the reasoning behind making increasing physical activity a core element in worksite wellness programs.

Here are some great stats (from this article):

  • Recent studies show that THE most important factor for longevity is staying physically active as you age.
  • “If you are fit in mid-life, you double your chances of surviving to 85.” Or – if you’re in your 50s and NOT active, your projected lifespan “is eight years shorter than if you are fit.” — Dr. Jarrett Berry, cardiologist at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Ctr.
  • Physical inactivity is even more deadly than smoking! The benefits of increasing physical activity were found to be even greater than the benefits of quitting smoking. (In an earlier study conducted by University of Hong Kong – not cited in this article – they found that physical inactivity caused more deaths than smoking.)
  • “It’s one more piece of data that says we all need to be moving in America. It’s pretty clear that Americans want to take a pill, but we’re all going to be bankrupt unless people start taking on these lifestyle changes.” — Emelia Benjamin, professor of medicine and epidemiology at Boston University School of Medicine
  • National guidelines recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times/week or 20 minutes of intense exercise three times/week. About half of Americans are meeting these minimum recommendations.
  • It’s never too late to start. In fact, “The biggest bang for your buck is just getting off the couch.” — Dr. Berry

What are you doing today to be more physically active?

Mari Ryan

Many companies provide lunch and learns or one time seminars, and then become frustrated when employees ‘refuse’ to take advice or continue with behaviors that have a negative impact on their health and productivity.

Lifestyle changes such as weight control, exercise, and smoking cessation can be difficult to change and maintain over a long period of time and require more intensive behavior change programs.

In a recent conversation with Deborah Balfanz, Ph.D., of Stanford University Health Improvement Program, Stanford School of Medicine, she shared her experiences in her role of coordinating behavior change programs.  Some of her guidelines for behavior change programs are listed below and are worth considering when developing worksite wellness programs.

For change to be sustainable it must be gradual. We live in an instant gratification society, yet behavior change rarely happens quickly.  Build ‘baby steps’ into your programs to make it easier for participants to succeed.  When we don’t achieve instant change we have a tendency to want to give up. Small change gives one the confidence to make another one and then another.

Lifestyle changes are continuous, not temporary. I used to cringe whenever I heard the term ‘lifestyle’ change. We all wish we could just eat a cup of cabbage soup for lunch for seven days to forever loose ten pounds.  I finally got that temporary doesn’t work long term, and whatever changes I make, I need to be able to sustain for the long term. When building programs ensure the changes asked for are sustainable.

It is imperative to set appropriate short term goals. The goal must be specific, include a time factor, be measurable and realistic. Studies prove the more specific the goal the more likely it will be accomplished.

Structure the environment to me more conducive to the change being made. It won’t help your employees or company if you hold classes in nutrition and then have only donuts and cupcakes in the break out room.

Recognize people will be more likely to be successful if they work on what they are ready to change. It is important to give employees a voice and a choice. The organization, their spouse, or even their doctor cannot make them change before they are ready.

Although, with the right incentive employees could be moved to change – but that discussion is for another blog.

Valorie Bender