For more than a decade, Grinnell Regional Medical Center has been a leader in promoting health improvement for our employees and the community. We continuously look for the best ways to encourage and provide opportunities for exercise. We have provided pathways for reducing or eliminating the use of tobacco. We have provided classes on proper nutrition and maintaining a healthy weight and we have looked for the best ways to help people manage the stress in their lives. We have also been a national leader in the provision of hospital-based integrated health, which has contributed to our success with improved health and healing.
A little over two years ago, working with a group of colleagues from Grinnell and some new friends from HeartMath®, we doodled on the back of a napkin a simple vision of a healthy community, something we call “The Heart of Grinnell.” The focus of this project is stress.
Stress has become epidemic in our society. Last year the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article about a study that indicated workplace stress was a greater risk for cardiovascular disease than smoking or high cholesterol. There is little doubt that stress and its effects is a major underlying cause of many chronic diseases that plague our society.
Until our discovery of HeartMath®, our focus was on recommending relaxation techniques to manage stress such as exercise, massage, yoga, therapy, prayer, and meditation. De-cluttering our lives can also impact our stress levels. The problem with most of these approaches to reducing stress is they occur after the fact, not in the heat of the moment or when stressful situations have taken control of our emotions. HeartMath® is a scientifically proven technique that has been developed to be an effective way to manage stress at the time stress is impacting us—just-in-time stress relief, if you will.
Stress is really caused by our emotional response to the environment around us. The toxic impact of stress affects us in many ways physically, emotionally and mentally. If unchecked, stress can impact our health, our relationships and our productivity. The techniques are based on the long-established connection between the mind, body, and spirit, recognizing that one’s state of mind impacts the body’s autonomic nervous system (ANS) that controls our breathing and heart-rate variability. HeartMath® provides the tools to lessen the physiological effects of stress.
GRMC received a $240,000 grant through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year through efforts from Senator Tom Harkin. The concept of our project is simple: look for opportunities to teach the HeartMath® technique to as many community members as possible and then over time study the impact on the overall health of the community. Through the use of pilot projects at Grinnell College, police and firefighters, the Grinnell Newburg School District, Brownell’s, and the Grinnell Ministerial Association, we hope to demonstrate the healthful impact of effective stress management on overall community health status. From that point, the goal is to extend HeartMath® further into the community spurred on through the proven benefits of the pilot projects.
Seventy-five percent of all GRMC staff members have been trained in the HeartMath® technique and the initial impact has been very beneficial. The Institute of HeartMath® has hundreds of other studies which have proven the benefits of this technique, primarily focused on single organizations. What’s unique about The Heart of Grinnell project is its focus on the entire community.
We have discovered, when we are able to control our emotional response to the stressors around us, we often can maintain other healthy behaviors such as diet and exercise which sometimes suffer when we get stressed. So, HeartMath® has become a central focus in our overall health and fitness program.
Our vision to create optimal health in our community is the focus of The Heart of Grinnell project. Of course we are interested in improving physical health such as decreasing cardiovascular disease and diabetes, but we are also thinking about health in a much broader perspective. By decreasing the stress in our community can we improve productivity and relationships as well? So we intend to measure the number of domestic abuse calls to the police station, absenteeism in our employers, and test scores in our schools.
It is a bold initiative. We are excited about it. The more people exposed to HeartMath® and the amazing benefits of stress reduction, the more this vision is beginning to take hold.
We will keep you posted as our vision unfolds….