Sandia LabNews

Good news in challenging times

Sandians find creative ways to combat stress

health educator conducts virtual wellness visit with employee
VIRTUAL COACHING — Sandia Health Educator Callie Lovato prepares for a virtual wellness coaching session with a client. (Photo by Michelle Padilla)

For the past three months, with as many as 70% of Sandians working from home, Sandia health educators have been on the lookout for added stress.

“We’ve been very worried that pandemic stress would be much harder for those who had to work from home,” said Callie Lovato, a health educator in Sandia’s Preventive Health program. “People are adapting to new norms, but a lot of these new norms, such as the dual responsibilities of working and parenting or sitting through all-day virtual meetings, can cause fatigue, both mentally and physically.” 

Richie Spangler, an engineering project lead, agreed. While he usually travels 40% of the time, the stay-at-home orders during the pandemic added stress that he was not used to.

“In terms of regular office activities, even though I was making regular calls, I was missing the in-person human interaction with my colleagues and friends. This has been the biggest challenge,” he said.

Parents in particular are reporting that “pandemic stress” is taking a toll on them due to the added work of caring for their children while also continuing to work from home.

“I’m a single mom to a 9-year-old (third grader) who has an underlying medical condition,” said Tricia Toya. “My son was also trying to adjust to distance learning, and we quickly became overwhelmed and stressed out with our lack of proper computer equipment at home.”

But in spite of the added stress, Callie and other health educators have been hearing very positive stories from their clients.

Rising above the stress

“We have been surprised with what we are hearing,” Callie said. “Sandians are facing this challenge head on and are coming up with solutions for themselves. In the midst of this ‘pandemic storm,’ our clients are finding their own new calm. This is good news.”    

Coaching sessions and support for Sandians with chronic conditions have always been a part of Sandia’s Preventive Health programs. The Health Management Clinic offers a variety of appointments and resources to support Sandians with a number of health concerns, including high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, allergies, asthma, tobacco cessation, weight control and more. To supplement Sandia’s Employee Assistance Program, health educators also can confidentially discuss depression, anxiety and other aspects of wellness that employees may be dealing with.

Callie explained that while some clients are focusing on reprioritizing their lives — making what is important to them front and center — others are finding time for themselves and becoming less distracted. Many are reconnecting with family and friends while social distancing.

Fitting in fitness

“The fitness team has had to adapt the most,” said Callie. “We’re sending workouts to people, creating new ways to work out at home, and helping clients to keep exercising with all possible modalities. We even added virtual online workout classes.”

Elaine Raybourn, a participant in Sandia’s virtual workouts, said that taking the virtual group fitness classes gives her a break while getting her heart rate up and energizing her during the day.

She credits the Employee Health Services team: “I believe their role during the pandemic has been very important in bringing all of Sandia together — not just by promoting wellness, but more importantly, by modeling inclusion.”

Small actions, big results

Tricia admitted to finding a new balance in her life after she enrolled in the Be Mindful, Be Safe (COVID-19 Edition) Health Action Plan.

“I started out with a basic meditation course titled ‘Learn to Meditate,’” she said. “Two weeks into the action plan, I developed positive habits and learned to take frequent breaks, use breathing to relax, focus, stay calm and be safe. This has benefited my son, too.”

Emily Miller said she deals with the added stress by literally locking it away. “At the end of the day, all of my work things go into a plastic tub. It has a lid. Then that tub goes into the spare bedroom and the door is closed.”

Callie encourages all Sandians to find the path that works best for them.

“There are so many things that Sandians can do for themselves to find that ‘calm in the storm,’” she said. “Our team can help, of course. But it’s been so great to hear people tell us that they are coming up with solutions, and they are faring so much better than we could have hoped.”

The Preventive Health team offers 30- or 60-minute virtual wellness coaching sessions that can be used to explore any health topic.

“I think the best part of Sandia’s health educators team is that they are most interested in helping Sandians be healthy and well-balanced people,” Richie said. “At the end of the day, that is what’s best for everyone. They’ve helped remind me about those important things that often get swept away in the whirlwinds of day-to-day work.”