Health In the Workplace Part 2
What can we do differently today to start imprinting authentic health into the culture of our workplaces and our lives?
Number one on the list is implementing morning routines.
How many of you have a very structured morning routine? How many of you, as part of that morning routine, look at a device and check the news, your email, text messages, or social media?
Now, think about the morning routine most of our ancestors had that our genes have adapted to for most of our history. It was to wake when the sun came up. It wasn’t to know what disasters happened across the globe. We were not exposed to that kind of information. We woke up, we saw the sun, we walked out onto the earth, we felt the weather, and we began to move into whatever it was we needed to do that day—whether it was to hunt, gather, harvest, or sit around.
We would have entered into our day in a relative state of calm. Right before you wake up, there’s a process your body initiates for you. It releases chemicals called catecholamines (adrenal hormones) and cortisol. Cortisol is called a stress hormone, but it does a lot more than respond to stress. One role of cortisol is to move nutrients into your bloodstream; your body effectively gives you breakfast before you wake up by releasing the hormone. It sees to it that you have sugar and fatty acids in your bloodstream so that you have energy when you wake up. In addition, it raises your blood pressure and heart rate, getting you ready for your day.
Many of the patients I’ve interviewed say they usually wake up, look at their devices, see negative news, and then they might smoke a cigarette if they’re addicted to nicotine. They usually did not get enough rest the night before, and because they went to sleep with the TV on, they got no deep delta sleep, so their brain’s already lagging and struggling. Thanks to the chaos of whatever’s going on in their home, they have to drive into their workplace already mentally exhausted, emotionally taxed, and physically stressed from their “morning routine.”
That’s not a good start to your day. If you think about it, how many of your days have truly had a catastrophe that rocked your world, or the world of your family, or the world of your organization? I manage a healthcare business. It’s a small organization, but trust me, the volatility of what I walk into every morning is enormous: patients walking in very sick, calls from the hospital, messages that came in overnight, customer service issues; it just goes on and on. But guess what? I have been experiencing this for 14 years and everything is still okay. I’m happy and I feel good. Our organization is growing, and we’re doing fine.
If I allowed the volatility to impact my emotions and influence my mindset, then I would have no chance at maintaining a sense of peace. The truth is that we all will continue to deal with these types of issues. We do the best we can to manage them and then move into another day.
I’d much rather start my day with a sense of control over my internal processes. I can’t control external factors, like the weather or the news, but I can absolutely control my internal processes, which actually creates how I feel. We have the ability to take control of our minds. We can become the commanders of our minds by beginning to observe ourselves and direct our thoughts, feelings, and emotions toward where we want to go, and not allow inflammatory information to take over our thinking for us and deactivate the highest level of our mind—our neocortex, which distinguishes us as human beings. We have the ability to do it, but only if we choose to do it.
A morning routine is a great way of getting control of your thoughts, feelings, and emotions before you enter into other daily responsibilities. When you wake up and you don’t turn on a device, don’t look at the news, and give yourself a few minutes to breathe, you reduce rather than increase your internal stress responses. Rather than being exposed to negative thought streams, you think about what you’re grateful for and what is good in your life. You think about what you’re excited about today. You think about how great it is to actually live in a time where you are more than likely safe and also have your basic needs met. You can get excited that you have a contribution to make to your organization or your community.
So, every morning, wake up and breathe, and then give yourself a few minutes to just ponder what you're grateful for. You’ll release serotonin, norepinephrine, and oxytocin—neurochemicals that promote well-being. Your mood will elevate. Your energy will elevate. You will find yourself smiling instead of frowning.
Afterwards, take a few minutes and do something for your body. This could be simply shaking yourself out or doing jumping jacks, yoga poses, or stretches; just something to help your circulation, blood flow, and lymphatics so your body starts to feel good physically.
Start with 15 minutes. You can give yourself 15 minutes—5 minutes of breathing and gratitude, 5 minutes of stretching, and 5 minutes of smiling and thinking about how great the day is going to be. As you do that, observe yourself, and take control of your own thoughts. Don’t give the control of your mindset over to others. Eventually, 15 minutes will become 30 minutes, which will soon become 45 minutes, and then you’ll eventually find yourself looking forward to your morning because your routine has you feeling so good.
Ultimately you will enter into your workday with a calm and confident demeanor which will positively impact those you work with and the people your organization serves.
We have the ability to re-engineer our approach to our working lives so that our health is nurtured rather than eroded by the challenges of our professional lives. In the next posts, we will discuss practical strategies to improve your health and energy throughout your working day.