By Guest Blogger Jacki Dooley, DPH State Lab
Stress is something we all experience – and often struggle to manage. For this reason, the WellMASS Stress Less Challenge is currently being rolled out at agencies all across the state, providing employees with the tools and information they need to help manage their stress. Tools and information are useful, but real-life inspiration is often the motivation we need to start – and continue – working toward our stress management (or any other wellness-related) goals. For the next month, we are fortunate to have DPH State Lab Wellness Champion Jacki Dooley share her personal experience participating in the Stress Less Challenge. In her weekly posts, Jacki will share her successes and struggles, as well as her tips and tricks for getting stress levels under control. Look for Jacki’s posts every Wednesday, and feel free to share your own experiences with the Challenge in the Comments section.
Be patient, don’t stress; I am a first time blogger! The Stress Less Challenge is upon us. Can you think of a better time of year to have a stress challenge with the holidays looming?!
Over the next month I am going to share with you which techniques worked to help me stress less. I will also let you know how I applied these techniques into my daily routine. I know I cannot avoid stress but do hope this challenge will steer me in the right direction toward having stress reduced in my daily life. I’ve looked over the Stress Less Activities/Techniques List and have learned a few things already. Number One: Caffeine and I might have to take a break from each other (although most likely not!). Number Two: Seek those that make me laugh. Haven’t we always been told laughter is the best medicine? Number Three (my favorite): Learn to delegate! I’m one of those people who must do everything on my own because I think it will cause me less stress, which ends up stressing me out even more with the added work.
Take the first steps to reducing your stress by trying to create a balanced schedule at work. Don’t over-commit yourself. Prioritize what needs to be done. Take a 5-minute break from your desk every hour. Even if it is a walk around your office, it will be good for you to get up and move. Physical movement alone can help to reduce stress. I highly recommend taking a yoga class to de-stress. You feel so calm and relaxed at the end of each class. Even just a few minutes of practicing yoga breathing techniques during the workday can do wonders (it also works great when you are sitting in traffic!). It was also nice to see that there are foods we can eat that are known to be stress-reducing. The list provided in the Challenge kit is great – healthy foods which will help me get ready for the stress of the next group challenge after the holidays….the WellMASS Weight Loss Challenge!
So, here’s to a successful first week for all of us who are trying to reduce and/or manage stress in our lives. If you see my blog next week, you’ll know I managed to survive week one of the Stress Less Challenge!
Halloween may be the most well-known holiday occurring this week, but with its abundance of candy and other treats, it’s probably not the healthiest. The day after Halloween, November 1, is celebrated as the Day of the Dead, or La Dia de los Muertos, in Mexico and other Latin American countries. This day is intended to honor deceased loved ones, and Mexican families often do so by preparing the favorite dishes of those who have passed. Many dishes feature traditional Mexican staples such as chiles – and often some other, unhealthier ingredients – but they can easily be lightened up with a few simple swaps. Poblano chiles, used in the recipe below, are a good source of Vitamin A and an excellent source of Vitamin C. They’re also high in antioxidants, including phytochemicals and capsaicin, the compound which gives poblanos their heat. Although you may need to build up a tolerance to hot and spicy foods, in the long run you may be doing your waistline a favor: foods with strong flavors, like those that incorporate poblanos or other chiles, are more likely to keep you feeling full and satisfied long after the meal is over.
Stuffed Poblano Chiles in a Creamy Walnut Sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound lean ground turkey breast
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
⅓ cup dried apples, chopped
⅓ cup dried apricots, chopped
¼ cup sweetened dried pineapple, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 cups walnuts
2 ½ cups Skim milk
4 ounces goat cheese, at room temperature
Salt, to taste
10 poblano chiles, charred, peeled, left whole for stuffing
Whole flat-leaf parsley leaves
½ cup pomegranate seeds
1. In a medium heavy skillet, heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil over medium-high heat.
2. Add the onion and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
3. Add the ground turkey, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, salt and pepper and cook at medium heat until meat loses its pink color and is cooked through, about 7 minutes.
4. Add the dried apples, apricots, and sweetened pineapple and remove from the heat.
5. Add the ground cinnamon and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Set aside. Remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaf and discard.
6. For the sauce: Put the walnuts, milk, and goat cheese in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth and silky, about 2 minutes. Sauce should coat the back of a spoon. (If the sauce is too thin, add more walnuts and puree. If too thick, add more milk.)
7. Cut a lengthwise slit into each chile and carefully cut out seeds with kitchen shears, leaving the stem intact. (For less spice, carefully remove the veins.)
8. Spoon the filling into the chiles, then close, slightly overlapping the sides of the openings.
9. Transfer the stuffed chiles, seam sides up, to plates and pour about ⅓ cup walnut sauce over each chile, leaving some of the chile visible.
10. Sprinkle with parsley leaves and pomegranate seeds. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Recipe adapted from Food Network
The WellMASS Stress Less Challenge is currently being rolled out at agencies across the state, so what better time to share an example of what one agency is doing to help its employees de-stress during their lunch hour?
Several weeks ago, I was having a conversation with Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission Wellness Champion Joy McMahon about onsite programs. Joy was very excited to share news about a lunchtime watercolor class that the MRC Wellness Committee was about to begin offering to employees. Amy Walba, a friend of both Joy and Lora Brugnaro, a participant in the class, graciously volunteered to lead the six-week class, free of charge. In order to keep the class size manageable, space was limited to the first six employees to sign up. Unlike other wellness events the MRC Wellness Committee has sponsored, participation was not an issue – interest was so high that many employees had to be put on a wait list for future classes!
Sitting in on last Thursday’s class, it was obvious why so many employees were interested in participating. Amy had a very calm, friendly demeanor as she talked to her students about still lifes and offered suggestions on how to enhance their own paintings. She also showcased examples of professional artwork and discussed multiple creative painting techniques. Her excellence as an instructor was confirmed by the professional-quality paintings participants worked on throughout the class, as well as by the pieces from weeks past that were displayed on a board for the entire class to appreciate. Every artist had her own style of painting, and it was really evident that each had put a little bit of herself into her work.
Throughout the hour-long class, the room was virtually silent except for the occasional words of encouragement or praise coming from Amy and the participants. It was obvious that each student was thoroughly enjoying this quiet, relaxing time away from her desk – and she was de-stressing in the process. Although I didn’t paint anything myself, I certainly was more relaxed as I left the class. I was also eager to get back into painting – a hobby that I just haven’t seemed to have the time to do lately. I used to paint as a way to re-channel my stress and negative feelings into something positive, and I would encourage anyone else who needs to do the same to pick up a brush and start painting. Although it may not be as obvious of a wellness activity as yoga or running, painting is as good for your personal well-being as is working up a sweat – and it provides a visual reminder of who you are and all of which you are capable.
Due to the nature of my job as WellMASS Program Manager, I spend most of my time as the facilitator of meetings, rather than being a member of the audience. Occasionally, I do end up sitting in on meetings and conferences, such as the DCF Safety and Wellness Day that took place earlier this month. My participation in this and other conferences made me think about how much work it takes to have a healthy day when that day is spent sitting inside listening to someone talk while you are munching away on an endless supply of food. Meetings, especially the all-day kind, can easily derail even the best-laid diet and exercise plans. However, I left the DCF conference feeling just as healthy – if not healthier – as I always do, thanks to some careful planning on both my part and that of the conference organizers.
Since the DCF conference lasted all day, and I had to leave home early to get there, I knew I would be hungry at least once before lunchtime. Conferences are never at a shortage of food, but the choices available are not always healthy, so I decided to bring my own snacks – ones that I knew would be healthy and actually keep me feeling satisfied until lunchtime. I packed dried apple slices and cashews, and noticed that I was not the only person who brought a supply of healthy snacks with them (I’m talking about you, Wellness Champion Nancy Ayapan). With my morning food taken care of, I next needed to worry about lunchtime, which can be a real pitfall at conferences. Oftentimes, healthy lunch choices are few and far between, and I never seem to be satisfied by them, so I usually end up turning to dessert. However, the DCF conference planning committee had all the bases covered by offering participants a sandwich and salad buffet, which allowed me (and everyone else) to create a healthy sandwich and filling salad that was heavy on vegetables and light on dressing. Since the buffet also included fruit salad to satisfy my sweet tooth, I had no need for dessert, and I felt satisfied for the rest of the afternoon.
Since we finished lunch with plenty of time before the afternoon sessions, Nancy and I decided to contribute to our recommended 30 minutes of exercise for the day by taking a walk around the parking lot. We ended up walking over a mile, and it felt great to get up, move around, and enjoy the fresh air. Going for a walk outside in between conference sessions not only contributes to physical wellness, it also can do wonders for mental wellness by allowing you to clear your mind and enjoy nature.
All-in-all, I had a very healthy day at the DCF Safety and Wellness Conference, and you can, too at any future meetings you attend. Just be sure to come prepared with healthy, filling snacks; choose the most nutritious options at lunchtime (try to include fruit, veggies, and whole grains); and get up and move around (preferably outside) any chance you get. If you’re organizing a meeting or conference, you can do your part, too, to make sure attendees have healthy options; I’ll outline strategies for doing so next week.
Olive oil has been in the news lately, mainly for its role as a staple of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet. But not all olive oils are created equal. Olive oil has a host of beneficial nutrients, including a high monounsaturated fat content and a high concentration of antioxidant polyphenols, but it loses some of its nutritional value as it ages, as well as if it is not stored properly. In order to reap the most health benefits, use opened bottles of olive oil within 6-12 months and store the oil in a dark, room-temperature cupboard or in the refrigerator.
When cooking or baking with olive oil, be aware that it, like any other oil, is high in fat (and therefore high in calories) – so don’t go overboard with it. In the recipe below, olive oil is used in place of butter to make chocolate chip cookies lower in saturated fat. Although these cookies are lower in heart-unhealthy fat and higher in fiber than the traditional version, they’re still cookies, so enjoy them in moderation, just like you would olive oil.
Olive Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 ½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1 or 2 tbsp rice milk
1 cup chocolate chips
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
3. Combine sugars, vanilla, and olive oil. Beat in the eggs one a time.
4. Gradually beat in the flour mixture, then add in 1 tbsp of milk to make the dough a bit firmer, and another tablespoon if you feel the dough is too sticky/dry.
5. Roll the dough into balls with your hands and place on a greased and/or lined baking sheet.
6. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until lightly golden and set.
7. Allow to cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet, then move to another surface to finish cooling. Makes 15-20 cookies.
Recipe adapted from California Olive Ranch
One of my favorite parts of managing WellMASS is getting to participate in onsite programs at agencies all throughout the state. I especially enjoy attending agency-sponsored events and conferences that promote and celebrate wellness. Naturally, I was thrilled when I was invited to attend and help plan the Department of Children and Families’ biennial Safety and Wellness Conference, held on October 1 in Marlborough. Safety is a primary concern among DCF employees, given the unique working conditions they often face. Sometimes, when one concern, such as safety, is placed at the forefront, other areas of employees’ jobs and lives – wellness, for example—may get put on the backburner. This is not the case at DCF, however, as the agency strives to be a model of wellness across all of its sites. The Safety and Wellness Conference’s theme was “Be Inspired and Inspire Others,” which speaks volumes about the content presented at the event.
Jack Doyle, the Chair of DCF’s Statewide Security Committee, and Deputy Commissioner Jan Nisenbaum opened up the Conference with remarks on the Department’s commitment to ensuring both the safety and wellness of all of its employees, as well as its commitment to maintaining employee morale. This segued nicely into an incredible keynote address by none other than Boston legend Dick Hoyt. For those of you unfamiliar with the name, you may recognize Dick as a longtime fixture of the Boston Marathon, in which he has competed 31 times while pushing his disabled son, Rick, in a wheelchair. At 73 years old, Dick is an inspiration to anyone who ever felt defeated or like they were incapable of doing something great. Moved by Rick’s desire to compete in a race, Dick took up running (and swimming!) and began a journey that has lasted over 35 years and has taken the two men all across the world to compete in over 1,100 marathon and triathlon events. As someone who has fallen in and out of running over the years, I was motivated to start up again just from listening to Dick’s powerful story. I could go on for days about Team Hoyt and their inspirational message of “Yes You Can,” which had every employee who attended the conference up on their feet several times throughout the presentation. If you are struggling to change your eating or exercise habits, or need some motivation in any other part of your life, I suggest you visit the Team Hoyt website at http://www.teamhoyt.com/.
I thought that I was fully inspired after the keynote presentation, but my inspiration and motivation doubled after listening to the panel presentation that followed on wellness practices at DCF area offices. Well before the launch of WellMASS in March 2012, DCF area offices were starting – and excelling at – their own wellness initiatives. Peer support groups are popular at many area offices, including Taunton, New Bedford, and Chelsea. These groups, led by a social worker and a supervisor, help employees cope with challenging situations they face on the job. Employees do not feel that they have to face stressful situations alone, which does wonders for their emotional wellness. This has translated to “wellness creep” at the area offices, where all-around wellness is celebrated and encouraged. Walking and running are popular at other area offices: the Lawrence office participates in a yearly walk for cancer, and the Van Wart area office offers a running group that is open and accessible to all employees. Gail Parker of the Worcester West office summed up the themes of the panel presentation nicely by touching on the importance of utilizing employee’s talents to increase morale. The more employees feel included in wellness initiatives at the office, the more likely they are to take action steps to improve their own well-being and that of those around them. DCF is truly a model agency for encouraging and supporting wellness practices across the board.
After a healthy lunch – and a one-mile walk around the parking lot with my friend, Wellness Champion Nancy Ayapan, I facilitated a breakout session on emotional eating, which I was surprised to learn is a major topic of concern to many DCF employees (although this makes sense given the stressful and unpredictable nature of their work). I was in good company among the other breakout session presenters, who touched upon important topics such as stress management and relaxation techniques; secondary trauma; and community safety. The planning committee created such an enriching day that provided employees (and me!) with the tools and encouragement they needed to bring the message of wellness back to their sites – and into their everyday lives.
Whether you realize it or not, you are probably familiar with the chia seed, a nutritional powerhouse that is high in fiber and protein and an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. However, your previous exposure to this up-and-coming “superfood” may not have come from tasting it, but rather watching it grow on top of a Chia Pet. As funny as Chia Pets are, the seeds that sprout from them make a seriously good addition to your diet. Chia seeds are sold in natural and health food stores, as well as in many grocery stores, and can be used in a similar manner to flaxseeds: added to baked goods; sprinkled on top of yogurt, oatmeal or cereal; or blended into smoothies. The difference between chia and flaxseeds, however, is that chia seeds do not need to be ground up in order to be properly digested, so you have free reign to use the seeds in any manner you like. I tried the recipe below, courtesy of DCF Wellness Champion Pam Kelly, and loved it so much that I couldn’t not share it on the blog.
Personal-Sized Baked Oatmeal
2 eggs, or ½ cup egg substitute
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups unsweetened applesauce
1 ripe banana, mashed
½ cup honey
5 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
¼ cup chia seeds
1 tbsp cinnamon
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 ¾ cups unsweetened almond milk (or low-fat milk)
Optional Toppings: raisins, pecans, walnuts, chopped apples, chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners.
2. Mix eggs, vanilla, applesauce, banana, and honey together in a bowl.
3. Add oats, chia seeds, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt to wet ingredients and mix well.
4. Pour in milk and combine.
5. Spoon mixture into lined cupcake pans.
6. Sprinkle on toppings, and press down. If using fresh fruit, mix into batter.
7. Bake 20-22 minutes until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
8. Cool and enjoy, or freeze in gallon bags. Makes 24 regular-sized cupcakes.
One of the best parts of the WellMASS program is that we have a dedicated network of Wellness Champions who are always eager to share ideas, especially those related to onsite programs. Soon after WellMASS began, EOPSS Wellness Champion Annette Powell came to me with the idea to conduct a stairway challenge for employees in the McCormack Building. The Challenge was a success at EOPSS, and I have been encouraging other agencies to “steal” Annette’s great idea ever since.
Over the summer, DOR Wellness Champion Dieter Wahl worked very hard to create a stairway challenge in the neighboring Saltonstall Building. His program was structured similar to Annette’s in that employees were challenged to increase the number of flights of stairs they climbed each week, with the end goal being to walk all the way from the lobby up to the building’s 24th floor at the end of ten weeks. Dieter scheduled twice daily climbs for those employees who preferred to walk as part of a group, and he encouraged participants to climb at their own pace. His hard work and organization paid off, as over 20 employees successfully completed the challenge, climbing 650 flights of stairs – the equivalent of 12 trips up the Prudential building!
Participants were grateful for the motivation and support with which the challenge provided them:
“I wanted to thank you for the stair challenge. When we started, I really did not think I would ever be able to finish the challenge. I couldn’t make it up to the 8th floor without having to stop twice. Now, I can do 24 flights without having to stop—granted I am not running up the stairs- but to me it is a huge improvement.”
“Thank you for helping me get healthier!”
“For a guy whose idea of a relaxing vacation is hiking in the Himalayas, Dieter was an incredibly gentle and supportive coach throughout the WellMASS stair climbing challenge. He encouraged us to do what we could, to ease back if we missed a few days, and to be proud of however many floors we climbed. I am in better cardio shape than I have been in years. And the view from the roof on the final day was fabulous!”
DOR, thanks to the support of Commissioner Amy Pitter and her leadership team, is fast becoming a model agency when it comes to wellness. When it came to the stairway challenge, DOR employees proved that all it takes is a little motivation and dedication to incorporate a healthy routine into the workday. If you’re looking for an easy way to motivate employees to become more active and challenge themselves to safely go beyond their limits, a stairway challenge is an excellent idea. If you’d like more information on starting one at your agency, send me an email.
Inspired by our recent More Matters Challenge, I have been personally challenging myself to incorporate vegetables other than my trusty stand-bys broccoli and cauliflower into my diet. My quest for a more varied veggie repertoire led me to Whole Foods, where, at my more adventurous sister’s urging, I picked up a bag of frozen broccoli rabe. This cruciferous vegetable is leafier than its distant cousin broccoli and has a slightly bitter taste (which I actually prefer when it comes to veggies). Broccoli rabe is an excellent source of Vitamins C and A, and tastes great with just a little olive oil and garlic added to it after cooking. The recipe below is a little more complex, but still just as tasty.
Spiced Broccoli Rabe
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 tsp plus 2 tbsp olive oil
¼ cup coarsely chopped pitted green olives
2 tbsp drained capers
2 tbsp raisins
½ tsp dried crushed red pepper
1 bunch broccoli rabe (about 1 pound), cut crosswise into ½-inch slices
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Place garlic in small ovenproof dish. Drizzle with 1 teaspoon oil, cover tightly with foil, and roast until tender, about 30 minutes. Cool; peel.
3. Place roasted garlic, remaining 2 tablespoons oil, olives, capers, raisins, and crushed red pepper in mortar. Mash with pestle until coarse puree forms. (Alternatively, process in mini processor until coarse puree forms).
4. Cook broccoli rabe in large saucepan of boiling salted water until stems are crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.
5. Drain, pressing on broccoli rabe to release excess water.
6. Transfer to medium bowl. Add spiced puree and toss to coat.
Recipe adapted from Epicurious
The WellMASS More Matters Challenge wrapped up several weeks ago, and state employees at over 40 different worksites were up to the Challenge of eating more fruits and vegetables. Throughout the 30-day Challenge, participants were tasked with meeting their Daily Recommended Intake of both fruits and vegetables. They were provided with a number of tips and tools to help them to do so, including a tracking form, issues of the Department of Public Health’s Chop Chop magazine, and handouts on meal planning tips and different ways to cook fruits and vegetables.
Employees who participated in the Challenge learned wonders about their diet and felt that their health had greatly improved as a result of increasing their produce intake:
“I actually lost 5 pounds doing this challenge” –DOC employee
“I enjoyed participating in the More Matters Challenge, during which I learned quite a bit about my eating patterns, and food choice pitfalls! I continue to stay focused on making healthier choices with a heightened awareness of what is healthy and tastes good, as opposed to eating simply what tastes good! Thank you for allowing me to participate in this program.” –DMH employee
“We found out some interesting things about our eating habits.” –DYS employee
“One thing I found out was that we have been eating more vegetables than we thought we were eating.” – DCS employee
Even those employees that did not end up meeting their Daily Recommended Intake for the entire month still came out of the Challenge feeling healthier and happier about their diets:
“Sadly I only completed 24 of the 30 days. I am sad but am really happy to have been a part of the challenge because it forced me to look at my produce consumption. I know now that I need to keep an eye on this. I may continue to track on my own and I’m glad to have been included in this cool challenge!” – MRC employee
Many employees also turned More Matters into a family affair. DCS employee Donna DeLena participated with her husband, who is also a state employee, and found that it helped to have someone to compare notes with, especially while they were on vacation. DYS employee Lorrie Bobé participated with her cousin, with whom she lives, and found that the Challenge changed the way they shopped for groceries and planned meals.
Due to the success of More Matters and last winter’s Weight Loss Challenge, WellMASS will be sponsoring quarterly paper-based challenges that are open to all state employees. This Fall’s Stress Less Challenge will be rolled out to agency Wellness Champions on October 16, just in time for employees to start managing stress during the holiday season.