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Expert tips to reduce workplace stress for better health

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Feeling stressed at work? If so, you’re not alone. A recent Gallup Poll on stress, worry and anger revealed that 55% of Americans said they experienced stress “a lot” during the day, up from 46% in 2006.

In the workplace, stress can affect your attitude, relationships with colleagues and work performance. Although a modest amount of stress is normal, high levels of stress can be dangerous to your health and may contribute to serious health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, anxiety and depression.

But there are ways to help manage stress. Ann Marie O’Brien, R.N., national director of health strategies, UnitedHealthcare, shares the following tips that may reduce your workplace stress and get you back on a healthy track performing at your usual best.

1) Talk to your boss. Consider having an open discussion with your boss about the stressors associated with your work responsibilities. Ask if there is an opportunity for additional skills training, or possibly even restructure your job to make it more manageable and better aligned with your interests and skills. Also, check if your company has an employee assistance program (EAP), which may provide available counseling and online resources.

2) Brush up on your time-management skills. We’ve all had days when it seems impossible to get everything done. In some cases, poor time management is the reason we feel this way, which then may trigger stress. For your next work assignment, talk with your supervisor before getting started to plan realistic goals, priorities and deadlines.

3) Take advantage of workplace well-being programs. An increasing number of employers are offering well-being programs through their health plan and are making healthier food options available in the workplace. Some employers offer gym reimbursement programs such as UnitedHealthcare’s Gym Check-In, have onsite workout rooms, offer stand-up desks, and encourage walking meetings and well-being challenges like taking the stairs. For your physical and mental health, combine exercise with a well-balanced diet, O’Brien said.

4) Grow your support network. If you have a close colleague at work, talk with that person and explain your work stressors and brainstorm possible solutions. If you don’t, then reach out to friends and loved ones. It’s important that you don’t isolate yourself after a stressful event.

5) Focus on yourself. If you’re feeling stress, a simple treat such as going to a movie, enjoying your favorite meal or just getting away to take a brief walk can give you time to unwind and recharge. If you cannot get a handle on your stress, talk to your doctor. She or he may recommend a counselor who could help you find other ways to help reduce or manage the unhealthy stress in your life.

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Health experts arrive in Wuhan to investigate COVID-19 origins

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Members of an international team studying the origins of the virus that causes COVID-19 arrived in Wuhan, China, on Thursday, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) announced during an expert meeting on the disease. 

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director-General, was addressing the latest session of the Emergency Committee on COVID-19 established under the International Health Regulations (IHR), a treaty that guides global response to public health risks. 

The new coronavirus that sparked the pandemic first emerged in Wuhan in December 2019.  Tedros reported that most of the 15 members of the delayed mission are now in the city, although two people are still in Singapore awaiting COVID-19 test results. 

“All members of the team had multiple negative PCR and antibody tests in their homes countries prior to traveling”, he said. 

“The team members who have arrived in Wuhan will be in quarantine for the next two weeks, and will begin working remotely with counterparts in China. They will then continue their work on the ground for a further two weeks.” 

Focus now on vaccine equity, travel prospects 

Thursday marked the sixth meeting of the IHR Emergency Committee on COVID-19.   

Members first convened a year ago, when there were less than 560 cases of the new disease. Today, more than 90 million cases have been reported globally, and the death toll has almost reached two million. 

Tedros said although the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines represents “hope of light at the end of the tunnel”, focus is now on ensuring all countries can access them on an equitable basis. 

He also highlighted two urgent issues for the committee’s attention: the recent emergence of multiple new variants of the virus, and the potential use of vaccination and testing certificates for international travel. 

“One theme ties both issues together: solidarity”, said Tedros.  “We cannot afford to prioritize or punish certain groups or countries. We are all in this together, and we must all come out of it together.” 

Challenges in Africa 

Meanwhile, the UN agency has warned of the need to avert a “runaway surge” of infections in Africa, as cases there top three million and new variants of the virus emerge on the continent. 

COVID-19 cases have risen steadily since mid-September, with a steeper rise from late November, and could increase in the wake of the Christmas and New Year holidays due to travel and festive gatherings. 

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said although virus mutations are not surprising, preliminary analysis reveals that a new variant circulating widely in South Africa, known as 501Y.V2, is more transmissible.  

“Even if the new variant is not more virulent, a virus that can spread more easily will put further strain on hospitals and health workers who are in many cases already overstretched”, she said.  

“This is a stark reminder that the virus is relentless, that it still presents a manifest threat, and that our war is far from won.” 

WHO is supporting African countries with reinforcing genome sequencing efforts, key to finding and understanding new COVID-19 variants. 

So far, 501Y.V2 has been identified in Botswana, the Gambia and Zambia, while Nigeria is further investigating another variant found in samples collected in August and November.   The virus variant circulating in the United Kingdom has not been reported on the continent.

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WHO: Step up surveillance of emerging coronavirus variants

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Efforts should be stepped up to quickly identify and study emerging variants of the COVID-19-causing SARS-CoV-2 virus, UN World Health Organization (WHO) scientists said on Tuesday. 

Alongside monitoring, virus and serum samples should be shared via globally agreed mechanisms so that critical research can be promptly initiated each time, according to the agency. 

“Our collective goal is to get ahead of the game and have a global mechanism to quickly identify and study variants of concern and understand their implications for disease control efforts,” said Ana Maria Henao Restrepo, Head of WHO’s R&D Blueprint

She was speaking at a virtual meeting of scientists from around the globe, convened by the UN health agency, attended by over 1,750 experts from 124 countries. 

Participants noted the importance of research to detect and understand early on the potential impact of emerging variants on diagnostics, treatments and vaccines, and highlighted the importance of integrating new SARS-CoV-2 variants research into the global research and innovation agenda, according to WHO. 

Normal for viruses to mutate 

It is normal for viruses to mutate, but the more the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads, the more opportunities it has to change. High levels of transmission mean emergence of more variants should be expected, according to WHO.  

Of the significant variants reported so far, some are associated with increases in transmissibility but not disease severity. Research is ongoing to address whether the changes impact public health tools and measures. 

“So far an astounding 350,000 sequences have been publicly shared, but most come from just a handful of countries. Improving the geographic coverage of sequencing is critical for the world to have eyes and ears on changes to the virus,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO Technical Lead on COVID-19

New variants of the coronavirus have been detected in the UK, South Africa and Japan, which appear to be more transmissible, although health officials have said that there is no evidence it is more deadly, or that it would not respond in the same way to the vaccines cleared for emergency use.

Information sharing critical 

Genomic sequencing has been critical in identifying and responding to new variants, and increasing sequencing capacity across the world is a priority research area for WHO. 

Better surveillance and laboratory capacity to monitor strains of concern needs to be accompanied by prompt sharing of virus and serum samples via globally agreed mechanisms so that critical research can be promptly initiated each time, the agency added. 

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UN agencies and partners establish global Ebola vaccine stockpile

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A health worker vaccinates a man against the Ebola virus in Beni, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. (file photo) World Bank/Vincent Tremeau

In a major milestone in the fight against deadly diseases, United Nations agencies and humanitarian partners announced on Tuesday, the establishment of a global Ebola vaccine stockpile, to help control future epidemics by ensuring timely access to vaccines for populations at risk, during outbreaks. 

Ebola virus disease is a severe and often fatal illness, with fatality rates varying from 25 per cent to 90 per cent. Thousands of people have lost their lives to the disease, since the virus was first discovered in 1976. 

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the UN World Health Organization (WHO), underscored the importance of the vaccines to save lives from deadly viruses. 

“Ebola vaccines have made one of the most feared diseases on earth preventable. This new stockpile is an excellent example of solidarity, science and cooperation between international organizations and the private sector to save lives.” 

The International Coordinating Group on Vaccine Provision (ICG), which includes WHO, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), led efforts to establish the stockpile, with financial support from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.  

The stockpile is stored in Switzerland, and vaccines are ready to be shipped to countries for emergency response. 

Preparedness is key 

Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, said that when it comes to combatting disease outbreaks, “preparedness is key.” 

“This Ebola vaccine stockpile is a remarkable achievement – one that will allow us to deliver vaccines to those who need them the most as quickly as possible,” she added. 

UNICEF, on behalf of ICG will manage the stockpile, and as with stockpiles of cholera, meningitis and yellow fever vaccines, will be the decision-making body for its allocation and release. 

As Ebola outbreaks are relatively rare and unpredictable, there is no natural market for the vaccine, and doses are only secured through the establishment of stockpiles and are available in limited quantities. 

According to the UN agencies, an initial 6,890 doses are available for outbreak response and quantities will be added over the coming months to take the emergency stockpile to 500,000 doses, the amount recommended by health experts. 

Important and positive milestone 

Partners MSF and IFRC, which have worked tirelessly to stop Ebola outbreaks, also hailed the stockpile establishment. 

IFRC Secretary General, Jagan Chapagain recalled the devastating impact of Ebola on communities in West and Central Africa, adding “through each outbreak, our volunteers have risked their lives to save lives. With this stockpile, it is my hope that the impact of this terrible disease will be dramatically reduced.” 

Natalie Roberts, Programme Manager at MSF Foundation, said that the Ebola vaccine stockpile “can increase transparency in the management of existing global stocks and the timely deployment of the vaccine where it’s most needed.” 

Ebola vaccine 

According to the UN agencies, the injectable single-dose Ebola vaccine (rVSV∆G-ZEBOV-GP, live) is manufactured by Merck, Sharp & Dohme (MSD) Corp. and developed with financial support from the US Government. The European Medicines Agency licensed the Ebola vaccine in November 2019, and the vaccine is now prequalified by WHO, and licensed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well as in eight African countries. 

Before achieving licensure, the vaccine was administered to more than 350,000 people in Guinea and in the 2018-2020 Ebola outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) under a protocol for “compassionate use”. 

The vaccine, which is recommended by the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization for use in Ebola outbreaks as part of a broader set of Ebola outbreak response tools, protects against the Zaire ebolavirus species which is most commonly known to cause outbreaks.  

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