Occupational Wellness: Just How Important Is Your Job to Your Overall Wellness?

I am currently reading a book by Tom Rath and Jim Harter of Gallup (organization that brought you StrengthsQuest) called Well Being:  The Five Essential Elements. I’m only through the first element right now (career well-being, hence the topic of today’s post) and I am just fascinated by this research! So as my inboxes are growing bigger and bigger by the second, I figured I would share with YOU their research and findings that quite frankly shocked me!

The topic/idea of career wellbeing can be started off by asking yourself, “Do you like what you do each day?” Seeing as this is the company that brought you StrengthsQuest, they are obviously giving research and findings that when you do something you love every day (whether it is work, volunteering, running a blog…), you are more likely to be happy, in general, with your life because you are playing to your strengths and using your strengths. “You don’t need to earn a paycheck to have thriving Career Wellbeing. But you do need to find something that you enjoy doing-and have an opportunity to do it every day.” (pg. 18)

Ok, cool. Thanks for sharing Vanessa. But wait there’s more (is this an infomercial? Is Billy Mays going to sell all of this to you for the low, low price of $19.99?).

Career wellbeing (wellness) is one of the most important factors in your life. Did you know that you are more likely to have a heart attack on a Monday (according to them, I haven’t done more medical research to determine if that is fact). But according to these guys, workers that are disengaged in their work, work for the weekend. And the transition from Sunday (weekend) to Monday (weekday) can be so rough and stressful for these disengaged employees, that they are more susceptible to having a heart attack.

If the heart attack wasn’t scary enough, employees who are miserable in their jobs have higher rates of being diagnosed with anxiety and depression (any body else just flashback to that episode of The Office…no just me? Ok, continuing on). Being disengaged in your work has also shown to produce changes in cholesterol and triglyceride levels suggesting that not only does being disengaged lead to a higher risk of heart attackes, affect your mental wellbeing but it also can affect your physical wellbeing.

Jeeze! So what’s a person to DO?

First off, we have lived in a society that kind of encourages a negative stigma about work. So, if you (drumroll please) reframe your thinking about work and make it positive as opposed to negative, you are taking a big step forward (a hard step, but a step!). Another thing you can do is make sure you are using your strengths not just a few times here and there, but every single day. Every day, make sure you are doing something that you are strong in. It is going to greatly increase your engagement in your work. And if you are more engaged in your work all of that nasty stuff is less likely to happen. And lastly, have fun at work.


This is a picture of a dress up day we had at work this year. We dressed up as what we wanted to be as little kids when we grew up.

What are a few things YOU can do next week to be more engaged in your work?

Intellectual Wellness: Another Adventure in Cooking

Going into my Saturday night grocery buying, I had no idea what new food I was going to pick up to try cooking with this week. We first hit up Checkers (think Aldi’s but less German and more mainstream. Everything in there is super cheap and you bag everything yourself but you don’t have to “pay” a quarter for a cart and you don’t have to pay for bags or grab empty boxes while shopping. They also have a wide variety of brands and fresh produce.) I didn’t see anything that sparked my curiousity or taste buds.

We next went to Kroger (I’ll give my Kentucky friends a moment to be shocked here) and again I just wasn’t seeing anything interesting. I finally settled on eggplant. Again, I have eaten egg plant before and enjoyed it. Plus as someone who has experimented with being a vegetarian and who has been a bit of a pseudo vegetarian for the past oh…8 years or so, eggplants have been in my diet off and on. But, like artichokes, I have never prepared them before.

The recipe I am using is THIS from theKitchn. Again, I just did a google search and knew that I wanted to prepare the eggplant in the oven. This recipe seems simple and easy enough. I’ll prepare it tonight (Sunday) and report back.

I never ate my eggplant. :/ I prepared it and then I was too scared to even try it. I wrote this post up 10 days ago and on Sunday this week when I do my weekly food prep and clean out my fridge, I ended up just throwing out my eggplant. When I took it out of the oven it wasn’t really anything like the recipe said it should be and I just got weirded out by it…I have eaten eggplant before and really enjoyed it but I have never prepared it before and this seemed to be a fail. This week I went for just trying a new food-feta cheese in my salad. I needed something easy that wasn’t actually something that I cooked. Because I have had two fails in two weeks. I’m not the strongest of chefs…

Financial Wellness: A Rant about Student Loans and What I Wish I Would Have Known.

I woke up this morning to see that my student loans that were being managed through the government were now transferred to Sallie Mae, an organization notorious for not letting students pay more than their minimum balance on their loans to get out of being in debt for 30+ years and not having to pay as much interest. Not that it mattered, I can only afford to pay the minimum and my whole big master plan of getting my masters degree and getting a job that paid 60k a year and just living like a college student for a couple years while I buckled down and just paid off my student loans was really working out anyway.

But it got me to thinking, we tell high school students to get involved to make their college application more diverse. We tell them to get good grades and high scores on the SAT/ACT to better their chances of getting in. We tell them to apply for scholarships.

But, I feel that we lack in educating students about student loans. According to this 2012 New York Times article, “about 2/3rds of college students borrow money” (2007-2008 grads) versus grads from 1992-1993 (45%). Combined, there is over $1 trillion outstanding from student loans.

What can we do to remedy this seeing as the cost of going to school isn’t going down? Educate the students in high school. Give them the knowledge that they need to figure out what it means to take a loan and what the ramifications are of taking out a loan. And I’m not talking some bullshit hour long meeting or online “class” that they go through. I’m talking a mandatory “if-you-have-even-the-slightest-twinkling-of-going-to-college” you take this semester long course in loans. That walks you through the entire process and how you evaluate YOUR finances to determine what YOUR need is. How you read this legal jargon on the loan papers. How to budget in college. How to get a part-time job. Etc.

Sure, taking classes like Economics and Calculus are great, but throw in one real-world experience class and make it be about managing your own finances. Make it explain about loans. I wish someone would have explained to me more about loans. I didn’t understand them as a high school senior. I didn’t understand how signing this piece of paper was going to affect the next 30+ years of my life. I just knew I needed to go to college and that it was a lot of money.

Now, I know what you are thinking (I don’t, I’m just pretending), if you are going to be an adult and take out loans, you should (cringe) know what you are signing before you sign it. Agreed. It absolutely was my responsibility (and everyone else’s that signed loans) to know what the heck we were getting ourselves into. I absolutely should have done more research and applied for more scholarships and managed my money better and not been so caught up in living a college lifestyle. I recognize the mistakes I made along the way. But I still think that every high school student that is thinking about going to college…Student Loans 101. Semester long course. Show ’em exactly what they are getting themselves into.

Physical Wellness: Late Night + Fasting = Grumpy Vanessa

I stayed up late last night to watch the Blackhawks game and also had to fast all morning for a health screening that I did at 10:30. I was grumpy this morning. I hate not having breakfast. I’m still feeling the effects of skipping breakfast.

Anyway, I wanted to share that as much as I post on the other factors/dimensions of wellness, it’s important that your physical health is in check. Preventative health!!

My results of today’s screening!

Total Cholesterol:  193 mg/dL  (Under 200 desirable)
HDL Cholesterol:  81 mg/dL (over 60 optimal)
LDL Cholesterol:  96 mg/dL (under 100 optimal)
TC/HDL Ratio:  2.4 (3.8 or below means low risk for heart disease)
Triglycerides:  82 mg/dL (under 150 desirable)
Glucose:  82 mg/dL (under 100 normal)

Blood Pressure:  128/81 (low enough that it is in the normal range; stress needs to be reduced!)

Waist Circumference: 28 inches (below 35 normal)

Height:  5’4″ (I grew!)
Weight: 129 lbs (I have no shame in admitting my weight)
BMI:  22 (grumble grumble BMI is a horrible way to measure health, but I’m normal using this scale)

All in all, glowing results! I sat down and pretty much immediately the doctor said, “you’re going to have good numbers, I can just tell.” I told him I better, I work hard at being healthy.

Anyway, the point of this post is that it is good and useful to actually know your numbers. I often times will request to not know my weight when I step on a scale because I would just rather not know. I don’t like basing my health off of a number on a scale. But getting your blood work done and knowing your number is great.

My action plan after this? I’m going to keep maintaining my healthy lifestyle. I track my food M-F and Friday evening/Saturday if I feel like indulging a little bit or sitting on the balcony and enjoying a beer (or 2), I will. I work out about 5 days week right now (not in major training for anything). I’ll work on handling my stress better and making sure my sodium intake is down.

Do you know your numbers?

Wellbeing is ab…

Wellbeing is about the combination of our love for what we do each day, the quality of our relationships, the security of our finances, the vibrancy of our physical health, and the pride we take in what we have contributed to our communities. More importantly, it’s about how these five elements interact

Rath, T. & Harter, J. (2010) Wellbeing:  The five essential elements.New York, New York:  Gallup Press. 

Mental Wellness: A Test in the Wold of Minimalism.

A year ago, I made the decision that when I moved back to Iowa to continue my job search, I would go through all of my worldly possessions and get rid of those that I didn’t absolutely need. And I would take my life and pack it into my Ford Escape and move back in just that. After many ums and errs of trying to decide what I needed and what I could get rid of, a phone call to Habitat for Humanity was made, a trip to the recycling center and a trip to my local Goodwill in Kentucky were made. What I was left with, was a car that was carefully and methodically backed to the brim with everything that I thought was necessary and valuable to me. I donated all of my furniture to the Restore (part of Habitat for Humanity), recycled all the journal articles and papers that I had done in grad school (there were TONS) and donated everything else to Goodwill.

All of this meant that when I finally secured employment and moved to Kansas, I re-packed my car (and it somehow all fit again) and moved with very few things. I kind of decided then and there that I would look a little bit more into the world of minimalism (and may or may not have spent hours in the minimalism tag on tumblr). I decided that one of my New Year’s Resolutions would be to live a more minimalist life and to buy things with more purpose and thought than I had throughout my undergrad and grad school days. This meant for months I was still furniture-less because I still hadn’t found anything that I loved or that fit my budget or that fit my minimalist perspective. After months of looking at a few things online and still not satisfied, I finally started garage sale-ing and found THIS beauty that I blogged about back in May.

After giving minimalism a good test run for close to a year of erring and umming…I feel ready to take the plunge full force into the world on minimalism. I’m one for testing out things and seeing how they work for me and how seemlessly I will be able to add them to my lifestyle (see THIS post to read about my other test of limiting/removing caffeine from my “diet”). And with me moving in a couple of months to a new apartment and with me also being a little bit more financially stable, I feel more comfortable and confident in this step forward.

Things that I’m going to be doing:

  • I recently spoke on my personal blog about how much I really adore the British fashion style of black and white and shades of grey and keeping thing simple and sleek…which means yes, I am going to get rid of most of the colorful items in my wardrobe.
  • I have hand-me down dishes that really do not suit my style at all (but they were free and free is always the best price as a college kid), so I am going to start scoping out sales and finding a dish set that is more fitting of me.
  • I’m going to operate a strict(er) one in one out policy with my wardrobe.
  • I’m going to concentrate more on the quality of my purchases as opposed to the quantity of my purchases. Which means saving up for bigger purchases, doing more research on these purchases, and buying things that are more lasting.
  • I have already done fairly well of taking getting rid of a number of things in my wardrobe as well as in my life so it won’t necessarily be a mission to get rid of more stuff but just making sure that what I am bringing into my life is necessary to have.

The other important aspect of minimalism (and why I am categorizing it as “mental wellness”) is the amount of emotional and mental baggage you carry around with you. This aspect is probably the hardest for me to adhere to and my biggest challenge. This aspect is going to concentrate on making sure what I am putting my energy too is necessary and a need in my life (like setting aside time to research for this blog as opposed to being on facebook or doing my favorite thing, napping).

Are there any aspects to minimalism that interest you? Do you have a minimalist lifestyle or is it something that would just never appeal to you?

In a separate note, I have created a twitter and facebook to follow me on!

Physical Wellness: A Nutritional Experiment.

I’m really weird w/ experiments. Sometimes I will do tons of research before hand and make sure I have all the facts and other times, I just dive in and go, “meh, let’s see what happens.”

This experiment falls under the latter of those two. Tuesday morning I woke up and stumbled to my kitchen and reached for my coffee maker and then had a lot of, “I wonder what would happen if I didn’t make coffee today…” Now those of you that have ever had any interaction with me in the morning are probably a bit scared that I had this thought and thinking that you are glad you weren’t around to see what happened. BUT I had this thought because Monday morning I had maybe a handful of sips of coffee and was fine. My cup of coffee that I drink in the morning got ruined because I keep it beside me when I’m getting ready in the morning and accidentally sprayed heat protectant INTO my coffee (whoops!). My coffee that I bring into work lately just hasn’t been getting touched because I sit down and start working and just forget about.

So since Tuesday (really Monday) I haven’t had ANY caffeine of any kind (including not touching my Diet Coke stash at work). So far, I haven’t really noticed a difference in my energy levels. There hasn’t been a big difference in my demeanor. I haven’t had any physical problems or caffeine withdrawls. So I’m going to continue the experiment…see what happens. I really didn’t do research about cutting caffeine out of my diet before hand. I know that having too much is not good…but I drink a couple cups of coffee in the morning and have an occasional diet coke (which is quickly being replaced with drinking brewed ice tea!) so my caffeine consumption was not really that alarming to begin with (now if you had talked to me in grad school…that would have been a different story).

What’s an addiction or “addiction” that you have maybe had in the back of your mind to quit? How would that process look like and are you willing to make the jump into quitting or cutting back?

Intellectual Wellness: Actually Using Stuff I Learned in Grad School + Car Commercials?

Let me set the scene for you. It’s Monday night. I just got home from working out. I have some watermelon in front of me and the Bachelor (or ette…idk what it is called…show where someone dates a bunch of people and ends up with an engagement ring and tabloid covers of the messy split a few weeks later). So I’m settling in for one of my guilty pleasures and a commercial comes on for the newest in car innovation. It’s a car that will read you your emails while you are driving.

Cue the groans and excessive face palms. (Don’t these people read research, ever!?!?!?) And then cue the groans and eye rolls that I’m actually using something from my Cognition in the Workplace class…which was the section of my comprehensive exams in grad school that I almost hyperventilated during. Cue pulling out the midterm study guide to locate research…

It’s not that we need cars to do these things for us, it’s that we need to just put the cell phone and emails away and down when we are driving on concentrate on driving. There was research done with people who were using their cellphone and talking versus people who were using a hands-free headset and talking on their cellphone and they were both just as distracted because it’s not just the problem of having a phone in your hand and having one less hand to drive with. The problem lies in the fact of the conversation that is happening. Your brain is using it’s functions to concentrate on the conversation and therefore has less availability to pay attention to the task of driving (and being safe). (Just for FYI purposes, the same study was done of cellphone convo vs. in person convo i.e. passenger and it was found that in that situation talking to a person in your vehicle is not as distracting because they are also able to kind of help you “drive” like if traffic starts getting bad they recognize that and are able to help out). This experiment was done by Strayer and Johnston, Driven to Distraction.

I’m not sure how the email vs. conversation research would go, but I would hypothesize that most people that are having their emails read aloud to them are likely people who have “more important” emails that are going to take up attention in their brain and leave less attention for driving.

The concept we are specifically analyzing is divided attention. You only have so many resources to allocate to specific things and you only have so much of a cognition budget to do those things. When you have a cell phone conversation and you are driving, the problem lies in the fact that you have interference with your task general resources.

So it isn’t about developing new and better technology for cars to be able to read your emails or do hands-free conversations, that isn’t where the problem lies. The problem lies with our inability to just put the phone down and concentrate on task at hand. 

Financial Wellness: A Quick Tip

Ah, financial wellness. Probably my…worst dimension of wellness and hardest to keep in check…even though it is actually one of the easiest to keep in check.

This week I have been testing a theory. For the past couple of weeks as I have been diligently plugging along w/ work, I have found myself wandering upstairs to the food area and grabbing a snack. Just to put it in perspective, the lady that works in the coffee shop knows that I am getting grapes and cheese every time. She actually let me cut in front of people because she knew what I was getting and that it was going to be fast and easy. Yup.  You know your snack runs are getting bad when the people not only recognize you, but know exactly what you want.

So what I have been experimenting with this week? Leaving my debit card and cash at home. Getting rid of the temptation and removing the ability to actually go and buy something. No money, no problems? I’m not sure that’s exactly how that saying/song goes…but so far it’s working. By not having my debit card/cash w/ me and removing the ability to spend, I’m no longer spending that … (cringe) $12-15 a week on just snacks.

Although it feels a bit frightening and scary to leave home sans money (a lot of what if scenarios tend to pop into my head) it has, obviously, helped me stop spending wastefully at work.

Now if only I would stick to the budget that I actually created for myself…

Occupational Wellness: Taking Responsibility

…or life wellness too.

I recently took a leadership style assessment for a company that a guy I went to grad school works for (follow that loop?). I was excited to take this assessment and get my results back. I have always been a strong leader (in fact on my LinkedIn, it’s my most endorsed skill-not that LinkedIn is scientific research, but you know). So I settled into my seat at our local Kroger store where they graciously give me internet and I graciously buy their food and took the assessment. A day later I got my results.

And wow oh wow was I shocked. My leadership skills and style have drastically changed over the course of a year and instead of this assessment reflecting a glow-y review of my superb leadership skills, I got a punch in the gut at how I much I have started slacking and not putting for the effort I should (cringe) be.

When I first read the results, I immediately blamed a whole hosts of situations. And then I continued to scroll through my results to see that I scored in the “doesn’t take responsibility” category. Oh the irony.

So I sat there and scrunched up my rather large noes like I always do when I realize that I was wrong and made more of a commitment to take responsibility for my work and decisions.

So, yet again another challenge this week that I present to you…are you taking responsibility for your decisions? And even further than that, are you taking ownership of your decisions? Be it at work, at home, or in your personal life. If not, I challenge you to start challenging yourself. When you start to blame something or someone else. Stop. Think about it. Is it really that the computer is lagging or is it you that is lagging? What can you do to start taking more control and responsibility over your life.

After all, you are the one in the driver’s seat.