By Hollace Masino
Senior Instructional Designer

The chronic stress brought on by the pandemic has had a negative impact on all aspects of ourselves—physical, mental, emotional, social, and occupational. In response, many organizations are increasingly focused on developing training that helps employees manage stress and improve their well-being. 

As a training professional and certified yoga teacher, I’ve seen firsthand how effective—and relatively easy—it can be to incorporate elements that foster well-being into training. In fact, doing so successfully doesn’t require a big initiative with an outsized budget. A wellness initiative can be made up of small threads woven through any curriculum and applied on a regular basis. Consider the 7 tips below as you design, develop, and implement your next virtual training.

  1. Plan fun and interesting icebreakers. These activities create a sense of connection and reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. They also put participants at ease and in a more open mindset—both of which have a positive effect on learning. 
  2. Build in regular, well-timed screen breaks to decrease the cognitive load and eye strain that can occur during virtual training. Think 20/20/20: medical professionals recommend that people look away from screens every 20 minutes and look at something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds to prevent headaches and computer vision syndrome.1
  3. Provide brief stretch breaks to reduce tension in muscles of the head, neck, and shoulders as well as torso, hips, and legs. Stretching relieves stress and calms the mind. It also increases blood flow, improves posture, and decreases tension headaches.2 Present graphics or short videos of different stretches to provide guidance and motivation. Not only does stretching together improve individual well-being, it can also enhance team building. 
  4. Pause during training to encourage participants to breathe deeply. Belly breathing helps strengthen the diaphragm, the key muscle that helps us breathe. It also helps people relax, lowers heart rate and blood pressure, and reduces anxiety. When learners feel less anxious, they mentally process new content and skills more efficiently.3  
    • Helpful hint: Remind training participants that posture affects their ability to breathe, which affects mood and mindset; sitting up tall but staying relaxed helps with abdominal breathing. 
  5. Ask a certified meditation or yoga instructor to lead a short meditation or guide a brief mindfulness exercise and create opportunities for employees to practice regularly. The benefits of practicing mindfulness meditation consistently are vast and include4:  
    • Reducing mental distraction and rumination that leads to stress
    • Improving cognition
    • Decreasing anxiety
    • Increasing empathy, which can lead to improved interactions among teammates
    • Shrinking the amygdala, the region of the brain known for its role in stress
    • Thickening the hippocampus, the area of the brain that helps memory and learning
  6. Encourage participants to take breaks and eat lunch outside where they can get fresh, clean air and sunlight while enjoying nature. Being outside helps people feel better for many reasons, including5-7:
    • Increasing movement and exercise
    • Increasing energy level
    • Enhancing mental focus
    • Lowering blood pressure
    • Boosting serotonin, the hormone associated with feeling calm
  7. Build in a 20-30 minute “walk-and-talk” or “walk-and-listen” segment where participants are asked to go outside or get on a treadmill and walk while talking or listening to training. Studies indicate that physical movement can be an effective cognitive strategy to strengthen learning and improve memory.8 Being outside and walking act synergistically to create a positive overall state of mind—a good headspace to be in when trying to gain new knowledge and skills.  

Adding these quick strategies to your next curriculum can help you better meet learner needs in the “new normal.” You can also use them to improve your own daily routine. And for more information on this topic, consider listening to my conversation featured on the Encompass Insider Podcast, with Encompass’s Senior Director of Instructional Design Chapin Brinegar and Senior Director of Business Development and Marketing Jenn Lalli. In this 15-minute episode, we discuss the relationship between employee well-being, engagement, and optimal performance as well as provide additional insights on how to build wellness and well-being into your training curriculum. 

Resources

  1. Marcin A. How does the 20-20-20 rule prevent eye strain? Healthline. February 3, 2017. Accessed March 12, 2021. https://www.healthline.com/health/eye-health/20-20-20-rule
  2. Lindberg S. Stretching: 9 benefits, plus safety tips and how to start. Healthline. June 18, 2018. Accessed March 12, 2021. https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-stretching
  3. Ma X, Yue Z, Gong Z, et al. The effect of diaphragmatic breathing on attention, negative affect and stress in healthy adults. Front Psychol. 2017; 8(874). Published online June 6, 2017. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874
  4. Curtin M. Neuroscience reveals 50-year-olds can have the brains of 25-year-olds if they do this 1 thing. Inc. October 23, 2018. Accessed March 12, 2021. https://www.inc.com/melanie-curtin/neuroscience-shows-that-50-year-olds-can-have-brains-of-25-year-olds-if-they-do-this.html
  5. A prescription for better health: go alfresco. Harvard Health Letter. July 2010. Accessed March 12, 2021. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/a-prescription-for-better-health-go-alfresco
  6. It’s official—spending time outside is good for you. Science Daily. July 6, 2018. Accessed March 12, 2021. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180706102842.htm
  7. Nall R. What are the benefits of sunlight? Healthline. Updated April 1, 2019. Accessed March 12, 2021. https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/benefits-sunlight
  8. Mualem R, Leisman G, Zbedat Y, et al. The effect of movement on cognitive performance. Front. Public Health. 2018;6(100). doi:10.3389/fpubh.2018.00100

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Hollace S. Masino is an instructional designer with a master’s degree in instructional technology and over 15 years of experience in training, education, and leadership. She has filled a broad range of roles, including facilitator, curriculum designer and developer, and director of training programs. Her areas of interest are motivational design, human performance improvement, and the higher stages of human development. At Encompass, Hollace plays an integral role within the Instructional Design team and has been instrumental in the creation and deployment of a variety of professional development and sales training courses.

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