Let’s Talk About Mental Health: Employee Wellness Programs

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Mental health issues can impact anyone, regardless of age, gender, or background.

In honor Mental Health Awareness Month (May), GovCIO has initiated a new, ongoing, employee interview series to help foster a more open dialogue about mental health in the workplace. As a part of this series, members of the GovCIO team are reflecting on some of the most prevalent mental health topics today, along with tips for managing stress and anxiety.

Spotlight on Employee Wellness Programs with Elisse Linari

GovCIO’s Communication Analyst, Elisse Linari, speaks about the impact an employee wellness program had on her mental and physical health.

Whoever thinks corporate wellness programs are just “PR fluff” might want to read my story.

Before the pandemic hit, I was working the nightshift on the service desk at a software company. I had picked up some bad habits, mindlessly snacking to stay awake and being sedentary outside of work. Anyone who has ever done an overnight shift knows how bad it is for your circadian rhythm! I was cranky and tired all the time.

Then COVID-19 arrived, and, despite being used to living in a remote area, I still felt the effects of isolation and fear when everything locked down briefly. To compound matters, I contracted COVID-19 in October of 2020 which resulted in weeks of depression and lethargy following my recovery. Soon after that, I reached the heaviest weight I’d ever been in my life. I wasn’t sure what to do differently or how to even get started on regaining my health.

"If I’m feeling anxious or depressed, I set aside an hour for some kind of exercise and find that I am much better for it."

Elisse Linari
Communication Analyst

In January of 2021, my then-employer held a steps contest. I figured that I would enter. What could it hurt? After all, I had been promoted to a day job and settled into a regular routine. I had the time now. Little did I know that the extra movement I did in that one month would put me on a trajectory towards adopting a series of habits that benefited my mental health as well as my physical health.

I joined a team of four called The Momeraths (you know, those tiny creatures that Alice isn’t allowed to step on in Wonderland). I got a pedometer and a premium Spotify subscription so I could listen to whatever I wanted to ad-free. And I set a goal of walking the recommended 10,000 steps a day, or roughly 5 miles. I had read that this magic number was linked to less cardiovascular disease and a lower risk of cancer. Seemed like a no-brainer, right?

Still, life and adulting got in the way, and sometimes 10,000 steps wasn’t achievable. I just did whatever I had time for. Then, I met a coworker who was in a similar situation. We had a playful competition as to who could get the higher step count in a week, and we began to regularly top our goals to win bragging rights for the week. It was a competition within a competition!

While The Momeraths did not win the steps contest at the end of that month, I was pleased to find that I could slip into pants I hadn’t worn in a while. Even better than that, I felt different. Better. My mood improved. Plus, I had gained an easy, free activity that I looked forward to doing. And, of course, my dog didn’t mind all that extra adventuring!

Those small but achievable goals that I made for myself over two years ago have led me towards activities that I never thought I’d enjoy, like weightlifting and hot yoga. If I’m feeling anxious or depressed, I set aside an hour for some kind of exercise and find that I am much better for it. Some days, I have the energy for resistance training and on others, it’s just a walk around the neighborhood. I can’t control the way I feel or react to stress, but I can mitigate it with movement!