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How to survive the winter blues

How to survive the winter blues

According to some, it’s impossible to stay in Finland for the entire winter without losing your mind. The social media in Finland is filled with people complaining about how dark it is. The light we have is gray. Th sun sets early in the afternoon. This is Finland.

Approximately 30% of Finns become gloomier than normal at the end of fall, as the amount of natural light decreases. Actual seasonal affective disorder caused by the winter’s darkness is much less common – only about 5% of the nation is affected by it – but most of us feel a bit less cheery and feel the need to resort to comfort food and sweets to feel better. We feel tired and might need several more hours of sleep per night and cannot resist the cakes and chocolate.

There is no reason to lose hope entirely, although you see the sun much less than during the summer. (North of the Polar Circle the sun doesn’t rise at all during the winter months.)

There are some ways that have been proven to make you feel better during the dark season. Spending time outside during the light hours of the day, exercise and taking care of social relationships – although you instinctively want to wrap yourself in a blanket and watch Netflix all night long – help make you feel better. Some find light therapy lamps helpful as well.

Studies say that as many as four out of five people feel better during the dark season when using light therapy in a correct way. Best results are achieved when using the light from a half an hour to an hour daily, and when you are exposed to the light as early as possible in the morning.

Getting along with the darkness might help too. Maybe the darkness is here to remind us not to constantly demand full energy levels and maximum results from ourselves. It’s ok to sleep a little longer and take it easier during the darkest months.

Try these tips when battling the gloominess winter months in the north might bring:

1. Light therapy treatment

According to studies, this is the fastest and most effective way to treat symptoms brought out by the dark season. For results, the light needs to be directed to your brain through the eyes. You don’t need to stare directly in to the light, having breakfast or reading a book near the light does the trick.

2. The outdoors

There may not be many hours of daylight, but you should take use of them by going outside. Make tomorrow’s meeting a walking meeting or schedule a lunch in a deli a bit further away. Use a part of your break to catch some daylight outside. The morning hours are most effective for soaking in some daylight.

3. Don’t become a hermit

When you’re feeling tired the appeal of the sofa might be very strong, but don’t forget to spend some time with people close to you as well. The well-being of your social relationships has an effect on your overall well-being as well, not the least during the winter’s darkness.

15 minutes can make a difference!

15 minutes can make a difference!

Have you noticed how more and more celebrities tell they’ve moved from hard-core workouts to more gentle ways of exercise? New information on the health effects of physical activity has led to all the more people choosing a lighter and softer way to stay in motion.

Children need a lot of exercise, and naturally move along the day while they are playing. There are aspects in the way children move that we adults should learn some lessons from. Health-enhancing physical activity is different from exercise and training, and requires less effort than sweating breathless at the gym. Including both of them in your life is good for your health, but adding more physical activity to your day is a good place to start.

Any kind of motion and exercise that has positive effects to your health can be called health-enhancing physical activity. It might include physical strain at work, walks in the park, riding your bike to work, dancing or stretching. Having good aerobic fitness helps you feel better and stay active.

We’re not all top athletes, but we all want to stay healthy and active. New studies say this can be achieved with a small amount of exercise: adding even 15 minutes of light exercise to your day is beneficial to your health. Nevertheless, adults who are physically active for one or one and a half hours daily gain the most benefits. The more versatile our exercise is, the better we feel.

Exercise is proven to have several beneficial effects on our health, both physical and mental. Regular, moderate exercise is also proven to help prevent certain illnesses.

Some effects of health-enhancing physical activity can be seen immediately during exercise. Your heart rate rises, your breathing becomes more effective, the metabolism in your bones and joints speeds up, your muscles receive more oxygen and the blood circulation in your brain increases. This is why taking a walk outside makes you feel like your thoughts clear up, which makes walking meetings an excellent way to gather new ideas and suggestions at a workplace. Exercise breaks are also becoming more common at the workplace are an easy way to add that 15 minutes of exercise to your day. They also keep you alert and productive throughout your work day.

In addition to this, adding physical activity to your day improves the quality of your sleep. Moderate activity might have a positive affect on symptoms of sleeping disorders in just a couple of months. It’s definitely worth a try!

Did your holiday end too soon?

Did your holiday end too soon?

If going back to work after the summer holidays makes you anxious instead of excited, try our tips for feeling better about it. Maybe they’ll make it a little easier.

One more week of your holiday left, but you’re already feeling a little weepy and depressed? Many of us feel anxious about going back to work. Sometimes going back to your every day routines makes you feel low even if your workplace is fun or you’re studying for your dream job.

Holidays are about taking it easy: you might sleep longer in the mornings, go to bed later at night, drink more wine than usually and eat less healthy. All of the sudden you should be able to go to sleep in time and wake up early. Will there be any time left for other things than work?

Studies show that women are more prone to feeling low and anxious at the end of their holidays than men. Returning to work is also harder for younger people. More than half of people between the ages of 18 and 22 experience anxiety at the end of their holidays.

Spending time with your friends and family, adding exercise to your day and cutting down on alcohol consumption can make the return to every day life a little easier.

Experts also say it’s easier to go back to work if you prepare for it before you start your holidays. It’s good to prioritise the work you need to get done before your holiday starts and make a list of a couple of the most important things you should start with when you return. It gives going back to work a more controlled feeling.

It might also be good to think about what you think makes a good holiday in advance. You won’t have time for everything – and you shouldn’t try to – but making some plans gives your holiday structure. On your holiday you can live exactly the kind of life you value. If your family and friends are what’s most important to you, now you have the chance to fully focus on them.

Here are some tips to make it easier to return to work:
1. Start giving structure to your days before you holiday is over for example by going to sleep and waking up earlier, and by keeping your meal times regular.
2. Try having an easy start when going back to work. If possible, don’t book the most challenging tasks, meetings and decisions for your first week.
3. Some studies suggest having several shorter holidays is better for your wellbeing than one long holiday. The relaxation our holiday provides you is long gone in a couple of weeks after returning to work. Try dividing your next holiday into shorter periods throughout the year.
4. Your holiday is over, but life goes on. Do fun stuff after work, go outdoors and enjoy your hobbies, the nature and spending time with your loved ones.
5. Peer support is a powerful tool. You’re not the only one coming back to work. You can share your holiday highlights and your best tips on how to make it easier to return to every day life.

Hooked

Hooked

Are you addicted to your phone? Afternoon donuts? Maybe on the music of your favorite band? Being hooked on something is often joked about, but addictions that have a negative impact on your life are often more long-term needs that control your life than following a good TV series.

A common factor to all harmful addictions is that they start to control your thoughts and replace other important things in life. Life yields, addiction takes over.

Nearly all of us have experienced being hooked on something. If you haven’t at some point been addicted to games, sex, work, your mobile phone, running, eating or any other action or substance yourself, you definitely know someone who has.

Challenging situations in life, inherited qualities and learned habits have an effect on the development of addictions, but the prevailing attitudes and values around you also make a difference. If all your closest colleagues take drugs, it becomes the new normal and thus more tempting to try yourself.

The same goes with other addictions as well. If your friends all count their calories and carbs or take their exercise so seriously that missing one day at the gym or having an ice cream becomes larger than life, you may start to think life should revolve around eating or exercise.

A harmless routine meant to add to your well-being may go from being a blessing to a curse. The addiction turns your secret lover into a prison guard. It becomes the epicenter of your life and makes you its slave.

Addiction often arises from the need to find pleasure and escaping feelings that make you uncomfortable. The goal in a healthy adulthood should be in being able to live with all kinds of feelings. Feelings themselves are not dangerous.

Escaping your feelings and reaching for short-term pleasure from addictive sources can, in the long run, be dangerous. Addictions at their most serious can destroy your health and ability of life management, and they can cause serious consequences not only to you, but your loved ones.

In many cases an addict can break free on their own, but that’s not always possible. If you have trouble with life management and dealing with your feelings, the addiction might simply shift focus to another source. Many need help to break free from addiction. Experts recommend counselling and peer support when the addiction is severe.

It is also important to find new sources of pleasure. With addiction, one source of pleasure is so strong that it overcomes all others. When you learn to direct your need for pleasure to several different sources more equally, the original addiction weakens.

Feeling awake at work

Feeling awake at work

Have you ever tried to hide a yawn in a meeting or dreamed of taking just a tiny nap under your desk? When is the last time you asked your co-worker to top up your coffee mug just to stay awake?

Being tired during the day is frustrating, but the most frustrating thing about it’s often self-induced. Getting enough sleep, exercise and avoiding alcohol have a crucial role in making sure you have energy during the day. It’s important to take enough time for recovery after a workday by making a clear distinction between work and free time.

Most of us don’t want to be remembered as the one who always answered work emails, whether it was Sunday or midnight. Every now and then it’s important to get your mind off work completely and let your brain rest by spending time with loved ones, exercising, going outdoors and enjoying your hobbies. Remember to use your lunch and coffee breaks to give your brain a rest during the day.

Drinking ten cans of energy drinks and three pints of coffee is not the only way to feel fresh and awake at work. We listed five of our best tips on how to avoid afternoon fatigue and feel more alert.

1. Drink water. You need to drink about 8 glasses of water per day, so it’s good to have a sip regularly during the day. Start your morning by drinking a glass of water and have one close by at your desk as well.

2. Eat your breakfast. Too many adults try to save time in the morning by skipping breakfast, but that’s a sure way to take your blood sugar levels for a roller coaster ride. People need a regular eating pattern – even grown-ups.

3. Listen to music. Music improves your concentration and keeps you awake.

4. Schedule a walking meeting or take a break and go out for a walk. Just walking around the block freshens you up – you feel more focused and alert. Natural light is good for you, so even though walking around at the office is good for you too, it’s even better to go outside. A standing desk or making changes to your workstation gives you an energy boost.

5. Schedule time for worrying. Take 15 minutes and just worry. Write down all the things troubling you that you haven’t solved yet. You can also plan a schedule for taking care of them and think of different solutions. If you don’t do this during the day you most likely will after you’ve gone to bed, making it harder to fall asleep.

Make your New Year’s resolution last

Make your New Year’s resolution last

We are a couple of weeks into the new year, and it is time to look back on New Year’s Eve, the night filled with fireworks and sparkling wine. The next morning, if not earlier, you decided this will be the year of changes.

People are most likely to make resolutions such as getting in shape, starting to exercise regularly, improving their diet, and spending more time with their loved ones. These are good goals that have a positive effect on your wellbeing as well as your performance at work.

Exercise is the number one thing you can do to improve your health. The one sitting at their office desk the latest is not the most effective employee. The most effective employees are often the ones who takes cares care of themselves. How well have you been able to keep your resolutions during the first few weeks of the new year?

Making your resolution realistic and as precise as possible gives you the best chance at reaching your goals. Instead of saying “I want to be a better person, and this is going to be the best year of my life!” it’s good to make your goals more tangible and measurable. Say you’ll exercise once a week, go to sleep at 11 pm on working nights or that you’ll choose water instead of a soda at lunch.

Everything doesn’t have to happen at once when you start your journey towards a better life. It’s not about achieving the body of a fitness model by this summer or giving up alcohol for life; even smaller changes make a difference. But if you already made the promise to stop consuming sugar and alcohol, losing 40 pounds and that you will be a perfect friend, spouse and parent, don’t panic!

We often set our goals too high when we want to achieve a healthier life, which is why reaching them might become too hard. Slipping from your rules and having setbacks doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It only means you should re-evaluate your goals to make them more realistic and customized for your life.

Living healthy does not mean you have to say no to everything; after all, most of us don’t need to have the body of a swimsuit model. A piece of cake or a glass of wine every now and then doesn’t cancel out all your other healthy choices.

When you make a resolution, concentrate on the expected results. Think of what you gain by the changes you make, not about what you have to give up.

It’s important to make resolutions that fit your own values and make you feel excited about achieving them. If the motivation does not come from inside, the results won’t last. Changing your life should feel good! When your goal fits your values, is the right size, flexible, and measurable, you will see progress. Cheers to that!

Stressed Out?

Stressed Out?

For as long as there is life, there will be stress. Stress cannot be avoided altogether. Stress is not always harmful though. People generally endure short-term stress rather well, whereas prolonged stress can lead to a complete burnout.

A stressed out body produces hydrocortisone, which is needed to give us enough energy to survive a challenging situation. Nevertheless, if the situation continues for a long period of time, different symptoms of stress start to emerge.

Long-term stress strains the body in many ways. Common symptoms of stress include stomach problems, headache, rashes, back pain, recurring colds, anxiety, irritability, depression, problems with sleep or memory, and weakened decision-making abilities.

Our culture often glorifies people who make it all alone, without the help of others. “He left with his boots on” is a common salute to someone who – although died suddenly and perhaps before their time – was a heck of a worker!

Still, accepting the fact that we need each other might be better for our wellbeing. Most studies on happiness agree on at least one thing: co-operation with others makes us feel better.

Stress can be prevented and treated for example by learning to manage time. Work or studies should not take up all our waking hours. There should be enough time for relaxing, resting, and spending time with friends and family. Most adults sleep far too little, and stress can make falling asleep even harder.

Excessive consumption of coffee or alcohol can put a strain on the body, while there is no doubt about the benefits of exercise in stress control. It’s always a good idea to spend time outdoors. Fifteen minutes spent in the open lowers your blood pressure and makes you calmer. The affect on blood pressure can be reached merely by sitting at a park bench or in a forest, while exercising in the open helps improve your immunity – which stress tends to weaken.

One of the most important changes to make when aiming at better stress control is surprisingly simple: let yourself believe you are in control of your feelings. The way you experience stress and how you learn to live with it has an effect on how well you cope with it. Do you see more threats than opportunities around you? To control your stress, learn to focus on the opportunities instead.

We can all learn to clear our minds and slow down when things start spinning out of control. Different mindfulness-exercises help to relax and calm down, and to focus on the moment. It’s very important to learn lower your demands on yourself as well. You should not spread your energy too thin.

Sometimes stress can make us dream of work that is easy and doesn’t require thinking but in fact, a job that is too unvaried and boring can also cause stress. Stress can also be caused by “work underload”.

Positive stress helps us achieve things, but it is important to consider ways to prevent work overload at work places. Ways to manage time and taking care of yourself during hectic times can be discussed in the working community. Teams should consist of people with different strengths, so they can compensate each other and help each other get through busy times.

Your employees’ well-being is like money in the bank

Your employees’ well-being is like money in the bank

We’ve all heard that investments in well-being prevent bigger problems. Still, taking care of well-being at work is often considered done by giving our employees free access to the gym or occasionally performing other tricks unrelated to every day life at work. Holistic well-being is much more than that.

The aim to increase well-being should be visible in the company strategy as clear statements; as investments to supporting managers and their leadership skills; as monitoring and measuring the employees well-being; and in supporting the whole workforce to take care of themselves and their own well-being.

Well-being is not something that happens automatically: it needs to be put into practice and developed systematically. Companies can for example provide their employees with height adjustable desks so they can work standing up; it is known that reducing sitting as little as 20 minutes per day has a positive effect on your muscles. Too much standing is not good for you either; the important thing is to vary your position during the day.

The Finnish society loses at least 25 billion euros per year because of insufficient well-being at the work place. That’s a lot of money. Many studies show that investing in well-being decreases healthcare costs and increases productivity at the work place.

In Finland, approximately 20 000 people are pensioned prematurely every year. From the year 2000 to the present, the working life in Finland has lost at least 14 billion euros due to invalidity pensions.

That is not a small sum either, especially since some of these human and economic losses could have been prevented. We tend to think savings are made by cutting costs, but a modern leader knows that the companies that make good investments make the best profit as well.

Finland is the world’s leading country in sick leaves caused by pain, but only a fraction of sick leaves and invalidity pensions is caused by physical symptoms. Many of us carry too much of a mental load at work.

Psychosocial burden at work is often caused by problems in leadership, scarce interaction, bad atmosphere at the workplace, or bullying. There are many ways to promote well-being at the workplace.

Are all employees aware of the common goals? Does everyone know their own role in reaching them? Does the workplace enable healthy eating? Can some of the meetings be arranged outdoors as walking meetings? How does the company take into account the differences between workers? Is everyone’s ideas about their own work listened to?

There’s never only one way to do things right, but one of the most important things that further well-being at work is the management’s commitment. It’s important that well-being is considered throughout the organization, and that the whole personnel is invited to join the effort of improving it – together. Whether the company provides healthcare in-house or at a private healthcare station is, in the end, not of big relevance to the workers. Well-being is something built in every day life.

Four tips for better sleep

Four tips for better sleep

Every day, three out of four people in Finland are drunk at work. Or at least their work efficiency is the equivalent of someone with 0.05% blood alcohol level. As a nation, we do not get enough sleep. More than half of Finnish people of working age feel tired every day. Young adults are the most tired of us all.

A researcher specialized in the human brain told one of Odum’s reporters a story that makes you think. She meets a lot of top leaders and politicians through work, and often hears them brag about how they make do with just a few hours of sleep per night.

– You wouldn’t believe how often I’ve wanted to say “I can tell! Imagine how much better decisions you could make, if only you slept enough!” For now, I’ve been able to control myself, she continued.

We’re not all responsible for nation wide decision-making, but sleep deprivation takes its toll on us too. When we’re tired we eat junk food, skip exercise and any other tasks that feel too strenuous, snap at our families and start looking like languished eels.

Denying ourselves the needed sleep makes us susceptible to burnout. In the worst case we start medicating our exhaustion with alcohol or other substances, and thus create a vicious circle.

Sleep does not make the stressful things in our lives disappear, but it’s easier to think of solutions and possibilities when you’re not tired.

Neither will you be able to snap your fingers and get rid of all your harmful habits, but you can try these useful ones for a start:

1. Put down your cellphone, and other devices that expose you to blue light, in time before you go to sleep. Read a book or a magazine instead.

2. Light exercise and fresh air (both, preferably!) a few hours before it’s time for bed make you sleep better.

3. Do not drink caffeinated drinks late in the day!

4. Write down the things you worry about before you go to sleep. You can pick up on your worries in the morning, after a good night’s sleep.

Sauna is good for your heart

Sauna is good for your heart

Sometimes stress and being under pressure feel like someone is squeezing your heart tightly. You feel anxious. These symptoms are often harmless, but that is not always the case. 20 144 people died of cardiovascular diseases in Finland in 2008, and many more have symptoms leading to sick leaves and medical treatment. This is a problem that almost all Western countries have in common. When it comes to heart based problems, the social and economic effects of precautionary acts are considerable.

Cardiologist Jari Laukkanen and his research group have been looking for ways to prevent heart problems in their study at the University of Eastern Finland. What was the medicine they suspected could prevent illnesses and deaths linked to cardiovascular problems?

It has something to do with hot rocks, steam, and heat.

Yes, the answer is sauna. A monitoring study extending over about twenty years revealed that a sudden death caused by a heart attack was up to 63% smaller in men who went to the sauna four to seven times a week, compared to those who only used the sauna once a week.

The reasons why sauna is good for your heart are not yet fully understood. It is thought that the heat of the sauna lowers the blood pressure and maintains flexibility in the veins. Cardiovascular health affects the functioning of the brain, but feelings of relaxation and calmness the sauna provides can also play a role.

Sauna alone does not keep a person healthy. It is important to exercise and to maintain a healthy way of life in general as well. Nevertheless, it is clear that the sauna protects the heart, and it may also prevent the risk of dementia. The study shows that those who use the sauna four to seven times a week are 66% less likely to be diagnosed with dementia than those using the sauna once a week.

Remember this: to maximize the benefits of sauna, you should enjoy its heat for at least 15 minutes at a time. It is not advised to eat a heavy meal just before the sauna, or to consume large amounts of alcohol. The heat of the sauna should feel pleasant, not burning hot. It is important to stay hydrated by drinking water before, during and after the sauna.