Stress Management Strategies for the Workplace [Transcript]

By: Updated: January 10, 2019
In this episode of the Small Business Mastermind podcast, Timothy Kessler who is an ergonomic wellness specialist, provides insights on how to identify and mitigate stress in the workplace. His company inHabit consults workplace cultures to create habits and habitats that promote wellness and productivity.  During this session, Timothy will also demonstrate how to take an effective micro-break. 

The Small Business Mastermind is a monthly podcast for small businesses in Canada. Episodes feature thought leaders and industry experts on a variety of topics addressing the unique challenges faced by small organizations. 



Jaimee Turner: Welcome to The Small Business Mastermind Podcast. Presented by Olympia Benefits Incorporated. I am your host Jaimee Turner and this month's episode is called Stress Management Strategies for the Workplace. Here with me in studio today is Timothy Kessler who is an Ergonomic Wellness Specialist with inHabit Workplace Wellness.

Timothy, thank you so much for being in the studio with us today. Now at the beginning of each episode, I like to start off by defining the scope of what we are talking about. So, let's take a moment to talk about what we refer to when we say stress management or stress in the workplace.

Timothy Kessler: Absolutely. Well, many people may realize that stress is a broad and all-encompassing term and stress is not always bad. So, there's types of stress that help you meet that deadline, there's stress that'll have you running from a bear and so sometimes, yes, stress can be useful, it can save your life, it can motivate you and that is a sign of being in a fight-or-flight mode. Being ready, being alert and being reactive. And what we look at, at inHabit is where that type of physical or neurological state can happen often and all the time. So imagine what that kind of fight-or-flight feeling might be like over the long term, or if you experience it all day long and that would be more like distress or lead to chronic stress.

Jaimee: So there's the short-term stress, the fight-or-flight, which is really just a response to a perceived threat or I actually read this morning in a workplace stress article and it was talking about how stress is really kind of a reaction to a challenge that you don't feel equipped for. So for example, two people may be asked to do some public speaking. One person feels equipped to be doing that. The other person does not. And so the person who doesn't feel equipped is going to be more susceptible to stress.

Timothy: That actually reminds me a little bit about what the psychology of being in --what's called flow state-- 

Jaimee: Okay.

Timothy: --and it's used a lot in sports psychology but it also is a way that we can kind of rise to the occasion. So, pushing the limits of what we're prepared for and the challenge. So, being in flow is about having that right balance of something that's challenging, it's asking a lot of your attention. Not too much to get overwhelmed, not so little that you're bored with it. So it gets all your systems kind of fired up, in the zone or in the state of flow. So, in a lot of the work that we do with our clients and helping them find a balance in their nervous system and in their stressed state, often is a goal of it really is to help them get in to that state of flow or productivity where they're out firing on all cylinders but also not burning out.

Jaimee: Productive stress. Yes, that can be such a great line sometimes. [laughs] So, when does stress become negative?

Timothy: Well, I mean, a good analogy would be to start thinking of when are you most reactive or when are you acting like a four-year-old, when are you noticing others acting reactive or emotional. I say four-year-old because it's shown that in our brain, our brain will become more primitive. So the more primitive centers of our brain will become more reactive and more active because it's more about getting to the lower reptilian part of our brain which is about survival or fight-or-flight. And that is great for making quick alert decisions but it doesn't necessarily lend you to making higher processing or what we consider more adult parts of the brain that develop as you grow into adulthood. So, look for the four-year-old in the room is kind of the analogy but it also becomes bad when we are reactive, we're emotional. That affects people around us; that affects our own beliefs. So you talk about stress being good or bad for us depending on how we're prepared for it or prepared for the challenge. And if we're in the state of stress long enough, we stop making good-enough decisions to get the results we want and that can actually impact your self-esteem, your ability to believe that you have the time, that you have the resources and sometimes that leads to negativity and kind of a cycle starts to form where we want to meet that deadline but then we start focusing on more negative things and seeing all the challenges that might prevent us from being able to accomplish that. Not only that, being in fight-or-flight draws a lot of our energy. And so, it can lead to physiological issues like sickness, illness. It can deplete your immune system, it can affect your Circadian rhythm, your ability to sleep well but also to have natural good energy during the day. We could go down that rabbit hole but those are some of the overlying things that we see.

Jaimee: Let's talk a little bit about that actually.

Timothy: Sure.

Jaimee: Let's talk a little bit about what happens in the body when someone is experiencing long-term stress. Because I think that your body is a primary way to tell you that you're stressed where you may cognitively not really be aware of that.

Timothy: Yes, absolutely. I think it'd be good to develop a bit of understanding of what the goal would be. So if we're on fight-or-flight, we would want to edge you over to being in rest and digest. So, the autonomic nervous system has the parasympathetic and the sympathetic states. Parasympathetic, para being more like paralyzed was kind of like relaxive and sympathetic is more reactive, so the fight-or-flight. And, think about it this way, if you're being chased by a bear and you're in fight-or-flight, you’re not going to-- your body, your mind, and nervous system will not compile resources to let's say digest your lunch well. Because you don't need to be digesting food in order to survive running from a bear, right? So by looking at that, we know that in fight-or-flight the gut becomes inactive. We know that your breath becomes more shallow and rapid. So, if you're in a low-level state of fight-or-flight because you have too many things on the go, you're answering your phone, when you're overwhelmed or bored you're looking at your social media or not knowing what to do, minutely checking your email looking for the next thing to get done then we end up in that state where we can't digest our lunch. We might start getting into a position where we develop sugar cravings because we need that instant boost of energy so that we can be more alert. And again, with that shallow breath, we're not getting as much oxygen to our body and especially our brain. So, even for listeners right now thinking [inhales and exhales] where's your state of breath. And when we're stressed we'll often sigh, when we're burning out or getting that slump in the afternoon we'll yawn or rub our eyes. And those are signs that the body is trying to relax itself to get more oxygen and to bring more blood to the musculature around the eyes and the blood vessels in your eyes so they can be more relaxed because another symptom of fight-or-flight is dilation of the pupils, where they're trying to be able to focus very clearly on small detail and be reactive, right? Whereas when we're relaxed, we can breathe deeper, our heart rate slows, our eyes can dilate, we can feel more relaxed and not so worried about the finer detail of things. So, I hope that paints the picture.

Jaimee: Absolutely. Like that, in a busy world especially for a small business owner or employee with a small business, we're talking about the unique challenges that are in a smaller workplace. And oftentimes, people are wearing multiple hats in an organization. They're juggling responsibilities, they're trying to get more done with less, and that in of itself creates stress, and knowing how to recognize that I think is so important because if you want to run the race, if you want to have long-term endurance, you really have to pay attention to these things, right? And also when you were talking about that, that just made me think about immunity, right, so your immune system. And I know when someone gets injured, typically the emergency resources of your body kick in and go to try and repair whatever's been injured. And so, a lot of times someone who is dealing with a chronic injury or a slipped disc or something like that, you have sometimes the tendency to have a weakened immune system so you catch every cold. And I imagine there would be a similar result with stress because when you're talking about the fight-or-flight, that really is a physical physiological condition and it can weaken the immune system. Can you speak to that a little bit?

Timothy: Well, I mean, I'm no biophysicist per se but we do know and we do see a lot of good examples of where that occurs. So when we are overburdened with stress and things to do and we don't take time to get back into rest-and-digest on a regular basis like I mean, not just on vacation, not just at home at night, not just on the weekends but I mean, regularly throughout the day if we can fit in our little spurts of that into our life, we're actually helping bring more resources back to rest-and-digest which also means our immune system will rise, we'll digest our food, bacteria in our gut will flourish the way it's supposed to. And the microbiome has a very strong tie to the immune system and there's a lot of research that starting to maybe suggest that our immune system almost entirely relies on the bacteria that are in our body and on our body. So again, when we're in fight-or-flight, the systems toward supporting what we need for a healthy immune system to sleep well, to have the right appetite, to breathe well. I mean think about it, if we don't have enough oxygen, we're not digesting nutrients well and we're not able to sleep or calm our mind on a regular basis, what do you think is going to happen to the immune system? And I would say there's a correlation between maybe the winter and this time of year and we've talked about it, you and I that this last week that we're recording this right now right before Christmas is a big push. And guess what, I know a bunch of people that have been sick.

Jaimee: Oh yes.

Timothy: I got sick myself, right? So it's interesting to see that I went from a state of feeling that this week as a small business owner trying to wear all the hats of a business owner coming into this week, I personally felt like I don't know I'm going to get it all done. I fell a little ill. And guess what, as a business owner we also have the choice. And this is a big reminder for myself and for all the small business owners out there that when you feel overwhelmed or don't have the time, guess what? You're in charge and you can take that power back and guess what? If you're stuck in traffic, that's not your choice. But the world doesn't end. If you get sick, you'll make an adaptation, right? So you're body eventually, if you ignore it long enough, again, we see it all the time, if you ignore the stress long enough, it will manifest itself in some form of stress or illness that makes you, almost makes you have to make time.

Jaimee: Yes, I've seen that. I've experienced that. [laughs] And it's usually when I want to take a rest, when I want to take a vacation and then I get sick and it’s like, "Oh, okay you've been waiting." [laughs]

Timothy: Yes and you know that could be a sign that when you're getting ready to take a vacation, there's a big push to get ready, everything ready so you can go. But even that when you start slipping into relaxation, getting sick might be a sign that your immune system is finally firing up again and it's now ready to battle off the illness, right?

Jaimee: That's so interesting. Our bodies are so complex and incredible. So, you did talk a little bit about your relationship with stress. Why did you decide to pursue stress management as a profession and as the focal point of your career?

Timothy: Well, stress management is definitely part of it. I focus more towards wellness, right? I want to help people be optimal. I want to help people realize they can use their body and their mind and their own decision power to have a well-balanced state of energy whenever they want. So, just to kind of start from that point. Stress management is part of that. So going back now, I started out as a personal trainer out of university. I used to teach martial arts. I studied martial arts since I was six years old. Along the way, I also took leadership development programs and really found that the discipline and the goal setting and having tenacity in anything I set my mind too, was really important to me. So was fitness, so was nutrition, so was feeling great. And I went through about six years of teaching one-on-one clients. I did quite a few group classes and I also was implementing personal growth programs into those programs themselves with the clients. And those our goal to help individuals really see where they wanted to be not and dig deeper into just more--into more than just losing weight or eating the right food.

Jaimee: What kind of other resources did you use while putting those programs together?

Timothy: Sure. Well, I would glean insight from leadership programs that I took myself. I would study sports psychology and I found any time I would read into sports psychology, I would find-- this is all what's been studied to help humans perform at their best and help them with their mental state and their physical state. Why can't this be applied to anyone with the goal? So I would dig deep into sports psychology. I used a lot of the programs that I was in in University at Mount Royal to develop group programs for myself and for others and kind of put the education to the test and it was an applied degree. So we did have the freedom to apply what we were learning which was great. 

Jaimee: So you really created a holistic plan for people not just focused on one element?

Timothy: Yes, so we would do things like focusing on your negative thoughts and turning those around, kind of envisioning your dream schedule, helping people see that they can choose what they do during the day. They don't have to feel victim to the state they're in. And so, that led to a point where I was going at it for around six years and I noticed there was an itch that wasn't being scratched for me. I felt like working with small groups or one-on-one wasn't necessarily where I saw myself long-term. And I also found that there’s a lot of issues that the average person goes through that I wasn't really able to help them with. And I found that was rooting itself more from a mental health perspective and I wasn't trained in how to counsel people or anything like that. So, under a recommendation through a good friend and psychologist, he said to me, "Look, if you want to learn, really want to learn about mental health. Why don't you crawl into the belly of the beast and go apply at an agency for youth and become a youth counsellor. Like a non-profit agency where youth from broken homes with parents that for whatever reason don't have the resources to take care of them, go to live,  the system kids as we would call them and I worked on the frontlines.” So, they call it the frontlines because its 24-hour care, its shift work 12-hours on often and 12-hours off, four-days on four-days off, often it was what it was like and you have a changing sleep schedule and a lot of high stress. So yes, I went into youth counseling. It was a completely different world. I'd never expected myself to be there, never studied it in school or anything of the sorts. But I guess through my own experience and skill set, they thought it would be a great fit. And after the first year, I can tell you a few things. I did learn a lot about mental health, I learned about sleeping disorders, I learned about addiction, I learned about depression, I learned about appetite and appetite disorders and so on and so forth. And that was just from working with the staff. Not to mention all of the great lessons I have working with the kids and learning from some amazing people in the field that have been doing it their whole life but, I started to see that there is a lot of issues early on. One of my first shift partners was three months into her work and wasn't eating, wasn't sleeping like wasn't eating on shift, wasn't sleeping at night and was starting to go into a state of sleep deprivation as well on the job, too. So, pretty scary and not to say everyone struggles like that but the turnover there, the first year I was there, was 41%. And I saw that burnout and fatigue was a big part of that, that life skills that we are being asked to impart on to the kids were hard for most of us to even practice ourselves. And I started to struggle too. I started to find that, even though if I could exercise and eat right, I still couldn't turn my mind off at night right after a shift. And I only had twelve hours, so, if you want eight hours of sleep, you got two hours before sleep and two hours after sleep to have a life.

Jaimee: Right.

Timothy: And it wasn't quite enough time for me, so I would reach for vices. I would not know how to calm my mind. I just wanted to feel better and often didn't know exactly how to do it because fitness and nutrition weren't doing enough for me. So I say I got to change this, I got to do something for myself at least or I'm not going to last. I'll just be another person that leaves in the first year. So I started digging into as much research as I could and I thought there must be ways that we can utilize our nervous system and set up the right work environment to help us have the right energy and to also adapt to the changing sleep schedule or how to get out of fight-or-flight after a big state of crisis and still stay fresh and ready to go on the job. And so I started to find a lot of great tools and tips, and started bringing them into the workplace. Got the attention of health and safety committees and the union that organized the staff there and just kind of kept going and found that if this was useful at any way for the higher stress work environments out there, what are the issues that the average office worker are experiencing. And some of that is not far off. It might not be intense as that was, where the affects you see very quickly but look, we've seen a lot of the same issues over the long term, where you're working in a job for decades and then you start developing these issues. One in five Canadians will experience a mental health issue as “we're often hearing now from the mental health commission.” So there, from then on, I knew that I needed to get back into wellness and I didn't realize employee health was going to be what I was going to get back into. So I started to divide it out.

Jaimee: Okay. And so, what were some of the tactics that you employed in that work environment that really worked well?

Timothy: Well, I started to really see that sleep hygiene was going to be key because of shift work. And from learning about proper sleep hygiene, I learned that Circadian rhythms aren't just for sleep. They are part of how we have energy all day from the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep.

Jaimee: And for those who don't know what a Circadian rhythm is?

Timothy: The Circadian rhythms are basically the-- there's an internal need for sleep, so how much energy we have to be alert. And then there's also, I'm defining what can affect our Circadian rhythm, essentially Circadian rhythms to the best that I can explain them are the amount of energy resources we have during the day and how they relate to the time of day and how we wake up and how we go to sleep. So, if you've ever had jet lag, for instance, we know that the time of day, the rise and fall of the sun can greatly affect your energy level. For example, hard to sleep with the light on, right? Or the example of if you're walking out of a dark hallway into your bathroom and you flick on the light. Boom! There's a reason there's a strong reaction that it's so bright because your body was in a different state trying to be ready for sleep. And if a lights on, then your body thinks the sun's up so it's going to boost cortisol, suppress melatonin. So cortisol is stress, hormone melatonin is a sleep hormone and they work opposite of each other. That’s a little about sleep hygiene for sure in Circadian rhythms.

Jaimee: So you really implemented just some strategies around how to combat the different times that people were trying to adapt to go to sleep, etc.

Timothy: And kind of trying to figure out how to help people change their sleep cycle so that they could adapt to night shift and what not. Then also looking into okay, we're in fight-and-flight a lot, you know, there's--especially in that job so, learning how to regulate with anything. And I'm saying just to yourself like starting with just what you've got. So certain things would be literally, take a moment, sit back, observe what's going on for you, define what that means to you physically, mentally, emotionally and take a deep breath [breathes deeply] take another deep breath [breathes deeply] you know and--

Jaimee: That's even helping me right now. [laughs]

Timothy: Sure, that's good to see.

Jaimee: You don't realize that sometimes even just in my interview with you right now I'm sitting here and I'm having shallow breathing. I don't consciously think I'm stressed but it’s like, "Oh, I need to breathe!"

Timothy: You're in the ready state. You're ready to keep going and be alert and reactive and that's going to keep you productive right now, right?

Jaimee: Yes.

Timothy: But that'll burn you out too if we don't change that from time to time. So breathing, moving, moving intuitively. Often, we hold a lot of tension in our body especially if we're sitting at a desk or if we're on our feet all day, our neurology will adapt to what we put it through until it can't. And that shows up in the forms of aches and pains and strains. So learning, I started implementing more movement breaks. Just stretching as if you woke up from a deep sleep, moving intuitively, seeing how your spine feels, seeing how your shoulders and neck feel.

Jaimee: Which is incredibly important for people who are working in an office?

Timothy: Yes because we end up sitting in a pretty stagnant state for a long period. Even self-massage, using your hand, getting it your left shoulder, right hand on left shoulder blade, massage that muscle, move the shoulder as well, get the muscle moving underneath that pressure. Find areas that are tight that you didn't think were tight. That's a sign that they're holding on, trying to compensate for something, for a way you're moving. At breathing, learning that if we're getting that slump in the afternoon or mid-shift that we may need nutrition, we may need to rest our eyes. So if we're looking at the screen all day, we're asking our eyes to focus at a short distance. And so the musculature around the eyes will start to get strained and that can show up as tension in the forehead, feeling tired in the eyes, dryness in the eyes, tension in the back of the neck even--

Jaimee: Headaches.

Timothy: --headaches. So, learning that if you look away from your screen even for twenty seconds at a time, close your eyes, move your eyes around, look out a window, put a dynamic demand on the musculature of what you're asking your body to do and it'll relax. And then hydration, too. I can't forget to talk about that.

Jaimee: And coffee doesn't count. [laughs]

Timothy: No. Some people will say, yes, it's mostly water. It's a little dehydrating but at the same time there's nothing like taking a big drink of water to help you refresh, that's for sure.

Jaimee: So, let's talk a little bit about why people should pay attention to stress in the workplace. If it isn't obvious already, let's talk a little bit about what kind of impact stress has in the workplace in Canada?

Timothy: Okay, for sure. So, from what we're seeing in Canada, the average that we're seeing is, anytime I go into a workplace or survey or ask someone how they're feeling if they experience physical discomfort of any form at work, it's over 70%. So that's just anecdotal from us. We also know when it comes to stress, employees report workplace stress is the primary cause of concern for mental health issues. And that's from a study done by Morneau Shepell, largest employee assistance program in the nation. One in four employees will quit because of work-related stress, a study done by Monster Canada. And then also, if you want to look at the hard numbers, absenteeism, so people not being at work, taking sick days costs the economy at least sixteen billion per year. That was in 2012. And we also know that less than half of organizations track and report on absenteeism. So imagine how big that number could be, done by the Conference Board of Canada. So, that's kind of the big look at what stress is costing us in the workplace.

Jaimee: And that absenteeism is that due to mental health or is that--?

Timothy: Absenteeism can be you not being at work for whatever reason.

Jaimee: Okay.

Timothy: So mental health sickness--

Jaimee: So that's not an exclusive statistic toward-- okay

Timothy: No, but of a big chunk of absenteeism is taking sick days.

Jaimee: Absolutely, yes. That's staggering. Like those numbers are staggering. You know, 25% of the working population leaves a job because of workplace stress.

Timothy: Yes. I would say 25% of people who will quit leave because—yes.

Jaimee: Yes. And so, that goes to say it's imperative for organizations, you know like turnover is one of the highest costs for an organization.

Timothy: Yes.

Jaimee: And the cost of turnover is substantial especially for a small business. So being proactive and ensuring that the workplace is a healthy habitat in your words, a healthy habitat for the workers. And we're talking here about physical things you can do, we're talking about psychological things you can do because you want health and safety really does apply to psychological wellness as well. But in terms of what you advise businesses of in terms of improving their workplaces, what do you speak to? What are some of the suggestions you have for small businesses?

Timothy: Well, I'd like to narrow in and look at what are the common work stressors we help people with. And I call it the low hanging fruit because we often see that most people can relate to aches, pains, strains, sleeping or sitting for long hours, slumps in the afternoon, trouble getting to sleep at night or struggling to leave work at work. And we go after those with suggestions like, educating your team on basic ergonomic awareness so that at least the way they're using their desk isn't hurting them. We encourage that business owners create an environment that welcomes self-care, so that's different for many different people. That could be taking a microbreak, that's a big suggestion we kind of use as a container to practice healthier habits. And microbreaks are proven to increase productivity and creativity by nature of thinking of one thing. Whenever you're having overwhelm, your eyes are getting blurry from looking at your screen or you're working on a problem that you can't quite wrap your head around. Can you relate to just taking a break to walk away from it?

Jaimee: Yes, absolutely.

Timothy: It can help you solve that problem.

Jaimee: Yes. If I am sitting at my desk for a long period of time and I noticed that I'm starting to become a little bit foggy or unfocused, I will take a break, a quick break. And usually, it's a quick stretch or looking out the window or going and getting a glass of water and when I come back, I find it much easier to reset and refocus.

Timothy: Correct, yes. So microbreaks can fit in, in many ways. They can be during a task, transitioning between tasks, when you recognize you're hitting some sort of wall mentally or physically. We also encourage that, again, you can practice a little bit of self-care. So, self-massage by using your hands or the self-massage ball I gave you. We gave it out to all of our clients. It's a great tool because even just having that massage ball on your desk can be that reminder that it, "Oh yeah, maybe I should take a few minutes." Even while you're working, you can breathe deeper. No one's going to notice, right? You don't have to feel awkward in that. You can put that ball against your back and just keep it on a tight spot for a while while you work or use it as a break. You can mix it up by encouraging that you go for a walk to have a conversation that maybe doesn't have to happen in the office. You can encourage people to get more fresh air. You can--one thing is it let people listen to music at work. So, that kind of really helps people feel in their own space and that they have their own bit of expression while they're working too. We know that eye strain, slumps in the afternoon can be prevented not just from taking eye breaks but you can get a free app called f.lux. And f.lux was kind of one of the original screen filter apps that I personally believe inspired the nightshift mode capability in iPhones. So if you have an iPhone and you're not aware of nightshift mode, check out your brightness settings and look to turn on nightshift mode and what that does, is filter out the white and blue light so that it's easier on your eyes, and also, late at night, is mimicking a sunset. So basically letting the sun go down so, the white and blue light isn't tell in your mind to stay awake.

Jaimee: Right. And so what you're talking about, all of these different sensory modifications that you can make to a workplace, you're talking about ergonomics.

Timothy: Yes.

Jaimee: So, when you first came in to the studio, you asked me what I thought ergonomics was. And I had a general idea. So I said, "Well, it's about posture, it's about making sure that my screen is at the right height and the right brightness and it's having a comfortable chair that's not making me slouch." Or, but that was really kind of the scope of ergonomics that I knew of. And I know it's definitely gaining a lot more traction in the work environment but tell us a little bit about what ergonomics is?

Timothy: Yes, absolutely. So I find that ergonomics often gets thought of as chair height, keyboard height, monitor height. And like you kind of said, some people have a sense that, yes, it's important to know about lighting and even air quality. But if you look at the definition of ergonomics, the real goal of ergonomics is to design a workspace to fit the person and not asking the individual to adapt themselves to a workspace if it's not comfortable for them. If you go back to the etymology of ergonomics from Greek, it's ergon nomoi. So two words: ergon being work, nomoi being with natural laws. So putting them together means working with natural laws. And so, what does that mean? I think whether working with natural laws means is understanding the physiological relationship we have to our environment and understanding that as we've coined, it with inhabit, understanding how we work or our habits or work habits and our work habitat come together to create a sense of wellness, sense of productivity because we want that to be a positive relationship. So, when we look at any workspace, we're looking at  the worker's habits, how they're managing their stress or not, how they take breaks, how much pain they are in or not, how sedentary they are or not, where their mental state is at, how they manage being in fight-or-flight or not. And then the habitat. Is the desk set up right? Does the individual have space to move to take breaks? Does the work environment have a very heavy stress load? Or are they struggling because they get their work done and they're bored most of the time? There's a lot of that too. And then we look at, again, lighting. Is the fluorescent light causing eye strain? Do we need to implement a screen filter like f.lux, or how much natural light is coming in, right? Do individuals have a choice on when the lights are on or off? Some people really don't like having lights on all day. And then also, kind of understanding how the building is designed in terms of air quality, so ventilation systems, what textiles are used, do they emit VOC's or noxious gases, which surprisingly most indoor environments are more polluted than outdoor air.

Jaimee: Yes, that's surprising and subjective. I mean that's subjective to the environment.

Timothy: It is, but as long as we continue to build, and this is something for anyone who is listening to look into the WELL building standard. It's kind of an overlap. It has some overlap with LEED certification but the WELL building standard looks at seven elements of how buildings are designed and how it relates to human health. And air is a big one because we know that most of the conventional textiles and materials we use to build contribute negatively to air quality, even if we have proper ventilation.

Jaimee: Right.

Timothy: So purifying that air is important but also getting fresh air in the building is important as well. And so another tip and easy tip is opening a window or getting plants into your space. You can look into the NASA clean air study. And they've identified eighteen plants. They've studied eighteen plants and then there’s ten that are really strong with detoxifying the air or purifying the air and emitting oxygen to bring fresh air into the space.

Jaimee: That's amazing. 

Timothy: So that kind of all encompasses. 

Jaimee: Yes, there's options. There's a lot of really great options and really good resources and we will also include that in the blog after this podcast. So Tim, how can business owners recognize stress in their employees?

Timothy: Well, like we talked about a little bit looking for the four-year-old is the kind of the starting point, like feeling out when people are at their most reactive. Listening to your staff members, listening to yourself, when you're having a hard time making decisions or meeting deadlines or whatnot. Understanding if there's existing accounts of aches, pains or strains. It can be as easy as a conversation or a quick survey. Looking for where people spend the most time sedentary at work, because if you've ever heard the saying, "Sitting is the new smoking," there’s research that indicates that if you sit for ten hours a day or more, it is basically bringing you a life expectancy of that of a pack a day smoker. So it's a strong correlation. And I would encourage that you look into research put out by the Mayo Clinic, and you can start to kind of dig into that yourself, but really we all know that we are not meant to sit all day but guess what, we're not meant to stand all day. I'm not saying standing desks are the ultimate answer to sedentary behavior. Just ask a cashier how they feel standing all day.

Jaimee: Absolutely, yes.

Timothy: So that's something to look for. Paying attention to how your staff take breaks or if they take breaks at all, right? And then listening to that general attitude in the office is good too. I mean, is there a gossip? Are there times when people are feeling hopeless, overwhelmed, even boredom. Asking yourself as a business owner, when do you give thanks to your staff? So on an emotional or mental standpoint, a bit of gratitude can go a long way.

Jaimee: Yes.

Timothy: Even if you feel your workspace is already positive and everyone is pretty comfortable, it's nice to be thanked. Same goes for staff thanking the business owner too, because small business owners often go way over and above because it's their lifeline, right?

Jaimee: Yes. And so what would you tell a business owner who, or even an employee this could be anyone who says, "This is a great concept in theory but in application, I just don't have the time, or I don't have a large budget to spend on ergonomics in the workplace. I can't overhaul my office." What would you tell that person?

Timothy: Well on the timepiece, I would just ask, "If you're stuck on traffic or you get delayed because of something unexpected, does the world come crumbling down?" Not sound harsh, but I mean there's plenty of times that we will spend more time focusing on something than we necessarily want to. So we do have the time, and again business owners do have the power and the choice to make decisions like this. And the habits of a healthy workday are designed to be able to be done in a few minutes or less or even during work like if you would want to, right now Jaimee, do you want to take a moment to see how good you can feel in just two or three minutes?

Jaimee: Yes. Let's do this.

Timothy: Okay. For you right now and listeners listening, I challenge you to think of how you feel right now. So leaning back into your chair or just taking a moment to put your phone down or back away from your computer and take a breath, notice where your five senses were at. If we're going to feel better in the next few minutes, we’re want to identify where we are starting from. So notice, where are your energy level’s at?

Jaimee: Yes.

Timothy: Picture it in your mind, identify what that is. Give it a word. Notice how your physical body feels. Just pay attention to the weight of your body on the chair or on your feet, if you're standing. Notice the clothes on your skin. Notice the temperature of the room. Notice the rise and fall of your chest. Notice how the air feels coming in and out of your nose. Do you smell anything? Do you taste anything? Notice what you see around you or even if you're closing your eyes notice what that looks like. Just arrive in your five senses and identify how you feel to yourself. So you've just started practicing the first healthy habit which is the microbreak. We talked about it. You've taken a moment to focus on yourself.

Jaimee: I feel like I just had a thirty second yin yoga class. [laughs]

Timothy: Okay, good. So we're already just getting started. Started with the microbreak, now we're going to focus on how our breath is. So I encourage you to take a deep breath in [inhales] and let it out. [exhales] Take another deeper, fuller breath in. [inhales] And let it out. [exhales] Relax, sigh it out.  If you need to make a sound, that's great. Sound out how you feel. Another deep breath in, hold it at the top [inhales] and let it out. [exhales] One more full deep breath in. We're going to hold in for four seconds at the top [inhales] 4, 3, 2 slowly, slowly 3, 4, 5 keep going 6, 7, 8 hold it out at the bottom, hold it as long as you'd like. Go to that point where you feel you are panicking for a little bit of oxygen and then take a nice full refreshing breath in. [inhales] Good. Let it out. So we can breathe, we can oxygenate. Next, move as if you've just woke up from a deep sleep or a nap. How would you stretch? If you don't know how to do that, think about an animal or a dog, how they may be reached they stretch, they curl their spine backward, forwards, maybe yawn. Turn the neck side to side. Feel how mobile your spine is. Good. Another thing we can learn from the animal kingdom is shaking. So if you've ever watched animals get up and they kind of shake it all about a little bit. You can just shake an arm.  

Jaimee: Yes.

Timothy: Shake a leg. Shake the body a little. Get--

Jaimee: Play some Taylor Swift.

Timothy: There you go.

Jaimee: I'm just kidding. Don't do that.

Timothy: Shake it off. Okay so, then we can get some juices flowing through that and you might start finding, well, I'm tight on one side more than the other. So we start to learn that, "Okay, maybe my body is holding onto tension." Next, a bit of soft massage. Take your right hand put it in the top of your left shoulder. Dig around in the muscle. I'm not asking you to dig so much to make a pained face. Just look for anywhere that's a little knotted or firm. Apply some gentle to medium pressure. Then move that muscle, move the shoulder back and forth so the muscle moves. And find a way to feel a little more relaxed there. You can do both sides. You can access any muscle in the body through that method too. Or get a self-massage ball or a tennis ball or whatever and use that as well. Lastly, I would like you to sit back, close your eyes, think about what it feels like to be stressed, when you have that afternoon slump, maybe your eyes get tired and sore. With your eyes closed, look up to the sky. Look down as low as you can go. Look left as far as you can look left. Look right as far as you can look right. Scrunch your face up. No one is looking, I swear. Just move those eyes around. With your face scrunched just to give that muscle a little bit of different task. And think about how you feel now. 

Jaimee: Wow.

Timothy: Did you feel better than you did a few minutes ago?

Jaimee: I do. Yes.

Timothy: Fantastic.

Jaimee: Yes. And that's, well, worth it. Like I actually feel like, how I would feel after a yoga class. And it's just five minutes, so-- and it's good too because just that difference in my body, it just gave me more energy to feel a little bit more stimulated and I think that's so important for you know like we don't realize how much stress we just carry throughout the day. So that's fantastic, thank you so much.

Timothy: You're welcome. And thank you for participating. One thing you alluded to is, you don't notice how we do feel often. And that's a sign we're focusing on the other, on the external tasks that we have.

Jaimee: Right.

Timothy: You have time to focus on yourself.

Jaimee: Yes, yes. And it's a choice. I mean you said, how often does the world crumble when you're late or stuck in traffic? And it's so funny because every time you're stuck in traffic, you feel that panic, you feel that sensation but it really is counter-intuitive. But you can take that moment and you can use it differently. You can challenge yourself to just take some breaths, especially when you panicking is not going to control the outcome of the situation. No you're stuck, it's out of your control. What's in your control is how you arrive, right? And so if you just actually take that moment to just chill out, it can really like you said, it really trickles down into your relationships in the day or conversations and if you can manage your stress in a productive way then it stops the cycle from affecting other people negatively, affecting yourself negatively. So, I think that's a fantastic piece of advice that people can just practically use.

Timothy: Well said. So you know who to ask about the time piece and I think we covered how you can use a bit of time to feel better.

Jaimee: Right.

Timothy: These are great starting points that are free and accessible to anybody because it's about interacting with your own physical state. You then asked about the--how can someone afford or make an investment to really implement a healthier work environment? Now, there are great tools out there. I always say the tool is only as good as the user. So standing desks are trending but I'll tell you what I've seen many offices where everyone's supposed to have a standing desk you wouldn't know it because everyone's still sitting often and there's complications’ there. Again, we're not meant to stand all day either. So, if you're considering the well-being of your staff. If you are interested in standing desks, consider not just the desk but what they're standing on. Are they standing on a hard surface because they won't be able to stand for very long and they might get deterred from standing because it'll be uncomfortable.

Jaimee: Right.

Timothy: Even flat anti-fatigue mats are limited in how we can--they limit your options in how you can move your joints, right? So, we provide clients with topographic mats that were called active standing mats that have contours and ridges and edges on them so it's a bit of a texture under your feet or a terrain under your feet. You can stretch, you can move while you're standing. Then, consider again the lighting. So screen filters are important like f.lux, assess how bright your lights are, fluorescents are tough. Even some of the LED's out there are often too bright as well. So getting a warmer color spectrum would help not only energy savings but make sure that you're not straining your stuff.

Jaimee: Right.

Timothy: Then also think of air quality like we talked about, we can either let more fresh air in, if you have openable windows, you can get plants in place to help detoxify or purify the air. And then if you don't want to make any big renovative changes to your lighting or your air quality, you can have people make, again, take more breaks outside or for their eyes, look at getting into what we'd call computer glasses that help with computer eyes strain.

Jaimee: With the blue light lens?

Timothy: Yes. So, blue-blocking lenses and you don't need them to block all the blue light. They will look like yellowy red lenses. If you want them to be nice and clear you can get one set block about 50% of white and blue light and they help reflect glare. Self-massage tools are great, self-care tools. If you're in an open office and noise is an issue, you asked me a bit about noise before as well. Then I've seen clients provide their staff with simple ear muffs or let them listen to music.

Jaimee: And on that topic actually because we're talking about even just some relaxation techniques. We previously had a conversation about sounds that either annoy or stress or sounds that relax. And you have mentioned in our conversation a song that was actually created with, was it with neurologists?

Timothy: I'm not-- I don't remember who exactly created it but they, a group of neurologists or scientists, don't quote me on exactly who it was but--

Jaimee: Yes.

Timothy: --they were looking for what the most relaxing song in the planet was. And they studied and realized it's this one song called Weightless by Marconi Union. It can help you suppress your fight-or-flight or help you relax up to 60% more than when you start.

Jaimee: Right. And I did some reading on that, like just some reading up on that song and it was so interesting that they actually caution people not to drive when listening to that song. And so I listened to it last night and it was this kind of ethereal feeling song. And at first, I was like, "Oh, this is kind of annoying. I don't like, where is it going?" But then, I was like, "Is this song stressing me out even more?" But the more I listen to it I realized how relaxed my body was getting.

Timothy: That’s great.

Jaimee: And it’s because of the rhythms and the timing and all of these different elements that they used which is so incredible and so. You know like, even using music as a tactic to de-stress.

Timothy: Or energize.

Jaimee: Yes, absolutely.

Timothy: Yes. So often times where I’m feeling not that motivated and I've tried all my tips and tricks and if I just throw in my headphones and get to work then I feel energized and productive.

Jaimee: Absolutely. Well, Tim thank you so much. I could talk with you all day about this. Thank you so much for being in the studio with us. And are there any final thoughts that you'd like to share with our listeners today?

Timothy: Yes, for sure. I mean, I just want the listeners to know out there that I'm a small business owner, too. We're all in this together. And I would caution any big investments into changing your workspace. I think it's important to consult and to have a plan and to make sure it fits, that it's adaptable, that it's efficient and affordable for your workspace. So, there's nothing like having a coach or someone to come in and talk with your team. I mean, if you're listening to this at the beginning in 2019, the whole theme of planning for the year ahead, I won't say the cliché [chuckles] thing we hear at New Year’s but I think it's important to think and plan ahead. Of course, as a business owner. So if you're thinking you want to have a more robust wellness culture in your workplace, give me a call. Let's have a chat, I'd love to come in, I'd love to train your staff, I'd love to help you dig deep and hear about what real issues are at play, so that not just for now but in the long term that you have an advocate with you that's looking out for these issues before they affect your bottom line.

Jaimee: Well Timothy, thanks again for coming in to the studio today to talk about Stress Management Strategies for the Workplace. To all of our listeners, thank you so much for tuning in to this month's episode of The Small Business Mastermind Podcast. If you'd like more information about Timothy Kessler and inHabit Workplace Wellness, visit their website at If you'd like to be in touch with us here at The Small Business Mastermind Podcast, feel free to email us at



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