A wellness Rx for a stress-filled job:

Use healthy outlets to relieve tension

The automotive industry is about as stressful as they come, and things show no signs of changing anytime soon. But Kim Kooyers, MS, wellness director at Holland, MI-based Donnelly Corporation, offers her employees plenty of advice to help them cope.

"The automotive industry is very competitive, and as employees of an automotive supply company, our people need to run fast to keep us competitive," she notes. "So employees have to figure out ways to work under stress and to handle stress. If they don’t, there will be a breakdown of the body. With stress comes a buildup of hormones that can cause high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and other physical symptoms in the body."

To combat this stress, she says, employees need to find a natural release for the buildup of tension. "The most important is brisk exercise," she says. "In prehistoric times, when faced with danger, the caveman could either fight or flee, and this was his natural way of releasing tension. Now, with time deadlines and interpersonal conflict, you can’t fight or run away [from internal pressures], so you have a buildup of stress."

Kooyers recommends that her employees get a daily dose of exercise, even if it’s only 10 minutes. "It gets you out of the stressful environment," she explains. "Plus, at the same time the exercise is building up your body and its ability to function, it makes it stronger and better able to handle stress in the future."

Another answer is healthy eating. "You need to consider the kind of ‘fuel’ you are putting in your body," she explains.

Kooyers cites the case of one male employee who joined the company’s Peak Fitness Program about ten weeks ago. "He learned his cholesterol was 240, and a number of other levels were ‘off’ in his blood work," she recalls. "He upped his aerobic exercise by 20 minutes a day and cut out even more fat from his diet, bringing plain tuna to work in a can for lunch. Within 10 weeks, he got his cholesterol down to 181 and lost 10 pounds, which is phenomenal."

Kooyers and her wellness team also stress the mental component of wellness. "Our Peak Fitness Program, which we are communicating to our employees through the company newsletter, incorporates a Chinese proverb that says: ‘Stand like a mountain, move like water.’ That means feel strong and secure in the midst of change, but be able to go with the flow when necessary," she says. To put it another way, change the things you can, and accept those you can’t, she observes.

"Wellness is not just physical," Kooyers asserts. "Your life needs to have purpose and meaning, so you can fulfill the human spirit inside of you."

[Editor’s Note: What are you doing to help your employees deal with workplace stress? Many of our readers have told us that stress is one of their major concerns as a threat to employee health. We’d like to hear about some of the successful strategies you’ve used at your company to help stressed-out employees improve their health. Please call Managing Editor Francine Wilson, at (404) 262-5416, or e-mail your comments to her at francine_wilson@medec.com. Who knows? You may find your program featured in an upcoming issue of EHF!]