Self-care techniques help reduce fatigue

Education, natural stimulants play key role

An Atlanta-based wellness consultant has created a self-care program to combat fatigue, employing a combination of natural stimulants, nutrition, education, and exercise.

Why self-care? "About 61% of the people in this country are overweight, more than 75% don’t exercise on a regular basis and are not physically fit, and the lifestyle choices that American workers are making is what is primarily responsible for the high number of workers’ comp claims, increasing health care utilization and double-digit rate increases on health care premiums," notes Lewis Schiffman, president of Atlanta Health Systems.

"Self-care is one of the answers, because it’s up to the worker as an individual to make changes. It is a much better investment for an organization to allocate resources for prevention and productivity enhancement than it is to pay for medical care and the costs of an underperforming work force."

Addressing high turnover

Schiffman recently implemented his program for the Atlanta office of Quest Diagnostics, whose clinical laboratory runs 24 hours a day, testing specimens. "They had had some issues with turnover; and when you work with night shifts, there is a higher level of fatigue and a higher risk of illness and injury," he explains.

He custom-designed the program, with the needs of both shift and day workers in mind, and taking into consideration the nature of the work they have to do. "The company has a very proactive safety program. This is physically demanding and very exacting work — there’s not a lot of room for error," he says. "This is important for both getting accurate results and the workers not hurting themselves, so consistency of alertness is particularly important for this group."

The program was marketed internally, through contact with supervisors, e-mails, and posters. Of the 800 total employees, about 200 participated. "We ran the programs at different times to accommodate everyone," says Schiffman.

A one-hour program

The program itself takes about one hour. The first section involves education about fatigue. "We talked about where fatigue comes from — the most common causes," He explains. He also points out that fatigue can come from both internal and external sources — and sometimes from both.

"The two areas of greatest concern we focused on were functional low blood sugar — as opposed to clinical hypoglycemia — and sleep deprivation," Schiffman observes. "We make people aware of how eating sugary snacks, white foods such as white rice, flour, and pasta, and caffeine cause a quick burn and a quick crash, leaving people fatigued and craving more sugar."

As for sleep deprivation, he notes that one out of three people in the United States suffer from it in some form, and that the incidence of sleep deprivation is much higher among shift workers.

"Consequently, they also have higher rates of gastrointestinal problems, menstrual irregularities, weight gain, high blood pressure, and heart attacks," he says. "We also mentioned hormone imbalance and lifestyle habits — diet, exercise, and stress."

Next, Schiffman talked about how we create fatigue. This includes eating the wrong things (binging), alcohol, caffeine, and other stimulants — such as products with ephedrine, and Chinese herbs used in over-the-counter products, such as guarana and ma huang. "Other contributing factors are feeling helpless and hopeless, which can result from poorly managed stress, and seasonal affective disorder," he notes.

Schiffman then taught the workers what they could do to proactively prevent fatigue. They were informed about some natural energy boosters, which included some simple physical exercises such as stretches and a slightly aerobic activity called the Chinese swing exercise as well as cross-crawl exercises, which promote both energy and alertness. "These work both sides of the brain; for example, you may lift the right leg and left arm at the same time," he explains.

Workers were taught about natural stimulants such as ginseng, cayenne, ginger, vitamins, minerals, green food supplements such as algae, sea vegetables, barley greens and spirulina, hormone balancers, such as gamma linoleic acid, evening primrose oil, and flaxseed oil. "If they still wanted and felt they needed something like caffeine, they were told that better choices were green tea and yerba mate — in moderation," notes Schiffman.

Drinking more water also was emphasized, as well as eating power foods such as almonds, apples, grapes, berries, papayas, mangos, peppers, and flaxseeds. Power snacks — those that contain these kinds of products and have no sugars or refined flours — also were recommended. "We also told the workers we didn’t expect them to be able to do all the things we recommended, but that even if they only did one of them, it could have a significant impact on both their energy level and their future longevity — as well as on their safety," Schiffman emphasizes.

The program was very well received, he reports. "Based on the evaluation, the employees felt it was time well spent."

[For more information, contact: Lewis Schiffman, Atlanta Health Systems. E-mail: atl_health@mindspring.com. Web site: www.atlantahealthsys.com.]