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Choosing to Create a Healthy Work Environment

September 3, 2013

Originally published Feb. 20, 2012

When Adina Parson arrived at the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH), she joined us with a new mission.  She had spent previous years working to care for some of Georgia's most vulnerable citizens - our children.  She came to us with a great deal of legal expertise and the key to optimal success at work.

"When I first started with state government, I realized that a large portion of my time would be spent at work," said Parson, legal counsel for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).  "For that reason, I decided to create a work environment that was comfortable and that would enable me to perform to the best of my ability." 
 
Her office décor holds the key to what matters most to her.  There are no florescent lights and there are positive affirmations. "I thought about the things that cause me stress, and I tried to find art, inspirational phrases and pictures that I could use to counter any negative thoughts, feelings or experiences that I may have throughout the work day."    

A little over a year ago, Attorney Parson's husband was diagnosed with cancer. Parson shared with PHWEEK how she needed to better manage the stress of work and personal life.  "In my former position, I dealt with extremely challenging and stressful issues, and I began to notice that my work environment and my husband's illness were beginning to affect my emotional and physical health," she explained.  "I would get extremely anxious throughout the day, and I found it harder to focus on tasks." She began to show the signs of stress - losing weight, skipping meals and avoiding social activities.  With all the red flags that stress was slowly growing in her life like weeds - at work and at home - Parson noticed all the early signs to detox from the clutter.    

She focused on the stressors that she could control.  As she described to PHWEEK, she started by looking at simple ways to change and improve her work environment. "While I had enjoyed 12 years of service with my former employer, I realized that it was time to refresh my purpose.  There was one goal in particular that stood out to me.  I had always wanted to work in Public Health."  She made that dream come true when she joined DPH a little over two months ago.  "I have noticed a positive change in my demeanor, and I am currently exploring ways to improve my physical health," said Parson. 

We are in our work environments for 40 to 50 hours a week. Sixty percent of PHPOLL respondents indicated that they have methods for relieving their stress at work. Some employees told PHWEEK how they are coping with stress.  Lynn Schultz, a program consultant with Health Screening & Healthy Development for Georgia's Children, has learned to take a break. "To alleviate stress during a stressful workday, I put on my coat and go outside for a short walk," said Schultz.
 
We can't all ride a motorcycle but Michael Dowse, M.I.S., South Health District 8-1, is a proud owner of one and it helps him to clear his mind.  "When I have a stressful day I go home and get on my Harley Hog (2008 Harley Softail Deluxe) and ride the back roads of South Georgia," said Dowse.  "There is nothing like Hog therapy!" 
 
While compiling this article, I began to think about myself.  Personally, my biggest stress reliever is hitting several rounds of ground strokes on the tennis court and making sure that I inhale and exhale each time I make contact with the tennis ball. There is a key rule in tennis to reduce the stress and increase match performance:  focus on the tennis ball and remove the mental distractions.
 
We can learn from each other in Public Health how to change the simple things that we have control over to create the kind of environments that we are most productive. 

"I cannot be of service to others if I am in an unhealthy work environment," said Parson.  "I have to continually assess the quality of my work, and develop strategies to address any problems identified. This includes taking steps to reduce the stress in my life and to improve my overall mental and emotional health."