Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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Keeping Up Appearances: Social Media And Self-Perception

media-998990_1920Social media has been one of the world’s most amazing advancements in communication and social integration. In over two decades, social media has evolved to create an experience for users that allows them to stay in touch and share special moments on a unique platform. However, social media has developed a dangerous side, particularly in terms of users’ mental health.

I’ve often marvelled at how far we’ve come with technology, but at the same time, I’ve witnessed the toll that some social media apps can take on a person’s wellbeing. An increase in depression, anxiety, and body image issues has been attributed to prolonged or excessive social media use, including apps such as Instagram and Snapchat. But what are the exact risks that social media can pose to your mental health? And what can we do to give social media a more positive purpose?

A warped perception

 With the popularization of the “selfie,” some social media users can become enchanted by the idea of perfection. This has led to the development of several social media tools, such as filters, that enhance the overall appearance of a photo and decrease any perceivable “flaws” (e.g. blemishes, wrinkles, etc.) This creates a warped perception of a person’s self-image, leaving some people feeling out of touch with their own appearance, or with their life overall.

In extreme cases, some social media users have had their faces surgically altered to create the exact look that they can only achieve through filters and other photo editing tools.

The rise of photo editing

 The use of photo editing has occasionally been deemed controversial, especially in recent years. With many celebrities calling out publications for digitally retouching photos, there has been concern that many of these tools can further distort self-image, which may have a direct impact on mental health.

Social media apps have now integrated several user-friendly photo-editing tools, including Facetune, Snapseed, and Adobe Photoshop Express. These tools allow you to not just enhance your photos: they allow you to change facial features, skin texture and tone, and even skin colour.

Perception, reality, and addiction

 Aside from issues relating to body image and physical appearance, social media can be highly addictive. You may find yourself frequently checking Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook to see what other users are up to, but constant use or comparison can lead to a decreased sense of wellbeing.

Although some users may seem to have the perfect life on social media, the reality is often significantly different from what is portrayed online. The resulting comparisons, both from the user posting and from the users viewing the posts, can manifest in stress, anxiety, and obsession. The need to keep up appearances and comparisons may make some users ignore triggers, such as jealousy or shame, that inspire the necessary steps towards self-healing.

The good news

 We don’t always need to focus on the negative. Social media has facilitated a lot of positive changes in the way we stay in touch with our loved ones, communicate our unique ideas, and even market our personal brands. It helps us connect with people that we may not have had the opportunity to meet in the “real world”, and provides a wealth of information that can be shared with the touch of a button. If used for positive means, social media can enhance your life and expand your horizons.

For the most part (unless your job requires social media usage), it’s important to moderate your engagement. Limit the time that you spend per day on social apps, and work towards creating a positive attitude towards your own self-image. Remember that a lot of what’s happening in another person’s life is not necessarily posted on social. Working to maintain your own wellbeing, instead comparing yourself to others, will transform social media into a method of sharing your life in a more meaningful way.

Though it comes with its challenges, social media can be an incredibly powerful and positive tool. If you require guidance on how to better monitor your mental health and wellbeing while working with social media, don’t hesitate to contact your Employee or Student Assistance Program.

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Maintaining Your Mental Health While Studying Abroad

Hand Pointing on Map Planning for Trip with Travel Stuff IllustrStudying abroad can be an exciting opportunity for any student. Many universities offer programs for students to study in a different country, providing life-changing experiences while observing different cultures. As wonderful as the opportunity to study abroad may be, it can be difficult to adjust to a different country’s cultural practices. Loneliness, and even depression, can be common when you are away from the people and places that are familiar to you.

While you are studying abroad, you may find that making your mental health a priority becomes increasingly important. I’ve seen many students become withdrawn, and even depressed, from the lack of socialization and familiarity that comes with being away from home. However, try not to let this dissuade you from seizing the adventure of a lifetime. Here are some tips for maintaining your mental health while you’re studying abroad:

Stay in touch

One of the greatest advantages of modern technology is the ability to stay in touch with the people we care about. Apps like Skype and FaceTime allow you to have a face-to-face conversation with the people you love from anywhere in the world. In combination with social media, texting apps (e.g. WhatsApp), and email, there are more ways to stay in touch than ever.

A feeling of connection, especially with friends and family, is an essential part of a person’s mental and physical wellbeing. If you’re having difficulty adjusting to your life abroad, set aside some time per day when you can Skype or FaceTime someone special from home. That simple connection can make all the difference in the sensations of loneliness and isolation that can come from being away from the people and places you love.

Explore the local culture

While you’re away, try to take some time to enjoy all of the excitement that another culture has to offer. Many of the countries available for international exchange are rich in history, and filled with experiences that will become truly unforgettable, if you allow yourself to become surrounded by their vibrant possibilities. Visit a museum or an art gallery, take a walk through a historical park, and of course, don’t forget to enjoy the exquisite culinary experiences offered by your host country.

Although you may be far away from your friends and family, socialization is an essential part of your physical and mental health, particularly when you’re overseas. Make an effort to connect with other people in your school program and explore your host country together. In addition to studying together, you could visit local street festivals or exhibits together or discover a new favourite café. You may even develop some lifelong friendships over the course of your studies!

Use SAP International services

International students might have different mental health needs, depending on their previous experiences with distance travel and their approach towards cultural change. Each person’s experience abroad is going to be unique, and there will be times when you may need support. Student Assistance Programs are available to help international students in need of mental health services. Additional support while you are studying overseas can make a world a difference.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to a Student Assistance Program provider at any time. Help is always available.

Although studying abroad presents some challenges for a lot of students in terms of adjustment, it can be also a rewarding experience that offers opportunities for your future education and employment. Knowing that SAP services are always available to you, should you need them, you can fully enjoy every moment and unique cultural experience that your host country can provide.


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Human Right’s Day Spotlight: Gender Identity

trans-sexuality-3554250_1920The conversation surrounding gender identity in the workplace is becoming increasingly important. As International Human Rights Day approaches, I find myself thinking about the suicide rate amongst transgender individuals; over 78% of the trans community have reported contemplating suicide at one point in their lives. December 10th marks a day when we can all reflect upon what we can do to better support the mental wellbeing of our trans and non-binary community.

It’s crucial to make people of every gender identity feel comfortable and safe in your work environment. Here are some tips that you can use to offer mental health support for your trans and genderqueer employees:

Have a workplace diversity policy 

Part of supporting people of different gender identities is making sure that you have a balanced work environment that represents people from across the gender spectrum. It’s your responsibility as an employer to make sure that trans and non-binary people have their needs met in your workplace culture. This is especially true with providing opportunities to new hires. Making an effort to include more trans and genderqueer individuals on your team will serve to strengthen your overall dynamic and offer new opportunities for growth.

Install a gender-neutral washroom

Washroom options for employees who don’t subscribe to either gender have been a subject of debate for years. However, a gender-neutral washroom is essential for the comfort and safety of anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable using a male or female washroom. This change is a crucial step towards creating an atmosphere of gender equality in any work environment, as well as showing your employees of all genders that you care about their wellbeing and security. Although this may not always be possible, speak with your employee about their specific needs and see if an agreement can be made to better accommodate them.

Implement a non-gendered dress code

Many people like to express their gender identity in various ways, including makeup, hairstyling, and manner of dress. A gender-neutral dress code allows for any person to express their gender identity in whatever manner they desire, without the fear of being reprimanded or excluded. Consider amending your dress code to allow for clothing choices that are not gender biased.

Your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provider will also have some valuable tips on supporting the mental health needs of all trans and genderqueer employees, including medical referrals, family counselling services, and personal counselling services.

If your employees are dealing with mental health issues as a result of gender-based bullying or harassment, speak to your Supervisor, HR department, or get in contact with your EAP immediately.


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Relieve the Stresses of Crunch-Time With Creativity!

painting-911804_1920With final projects and exams approaching, it’s important to find healthy ways to relieve stress. Research has shown that creative hobbies can help maintain a level of relaxation, personal enrichment, and productivity up until the last project or paper is submitted.

I’ve found that creative hobbies provide the perfect outlet to de-stress and decompress. Here are some creative forms of expression that have multiple mental health benefits to offer you peace of mind during busy periods at school:

Visual Arts 

Painting and drawing are two of the most relaxing hobbies that you can take up. There’s no way to get it wrong, so you can feel completely at ease with creating anything that fits your imagination. Conversely, photography can be a way of enjoying the visual arts by allowing your creative passions to be channelled into capturing inspiring images on camera. Best of all, with the accessibility of smartphone technology and online purchasing, these forms of creative expression are incredibly cost-effective.

Crafting

Arts and crafts are hugely popular right now – even with adults. This can encompass anything and everything with supplies that range from items purchased at an art supply store, to things that you discover in your own backyard. As an additional bonus, there’s evidence that engaging in forms of “play” (e.g. fun things you enjoyed doing as a child), has an incredibly positive effect on your health and wellness.

Music

Music can enhance the creative brain in a powerful way, both by listening and playing it. Community dance classes are an exciting and challenging way of expressing yourself through movement, as well as being a fun form of exercise. Playing an instrument, or even listening to music on your iPod are also ways of experiencing the psychological and emotional benefits of having music enhance your creative energy.

Writing

Leave the academic writing at the door, pick up a pen, and try your hand at creative writing. Expressing your thoughts and feelings through poetry, storytelling, and journalling is a rewarding way of getting out any frustrations and transforming them into something positive. To really benefit from this creative medium, try writing every day, even if it’s only a few words. You may be surprised at the rewarding long-term effects.

Colour Therapy

We all remember how much fun it was to dive into a colouring book as a child, but there’s evidence supporting the theory that colour therapy can be a relaxing hobby for adults as well. Used as a “mindfulness practice”, colour therapy isn’t just an excellent way of reducing stress; it can also serve as a form of meditation. As a huge bonus, you’ll get the same benefits as you would by sitting in meditative stillness, such as improved focus, memory, and restfulness.

For more expert tips to get through the rest of exam season, contact your Student Assistance Program provider to address any concerns and discuss available options. 

 

 


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Getting the Most Out of Your Employee & Student Assistance Programs: Part 2

desk-discussing-discussion-1311518.jpgLast time on our Getting the Most Out of Your Employee & Student Assistance Programs quarterly blog series, we discussed a few of Aspiria’s specialized solutions that breathe new life into work environments by benefitting employees and their families. However, we can’t forget that Aspiria has also provided SAP services to the college and university student market since 2011!

Here are a few specialized solutions that are available through both our EAP and SAP services to benefit employees and students alike:

Nutritional Counselling

Aspiria knows that healthy, active employees and students enjoy a higher quality of life. In today’s busy lifestyle, having a healthy and well-balanced diet is often difficult for many people to maintain; who can say no to leftover Halloween candy? Our professional nutritionists will work with employees, their family members, or students in a face-to-face setting to identify health goals and create customized plans to address any nutrition-based concerns they may have, including weight loss, food preferences, lowering cholesterol, regulating diabetes, and healthy eating on the go.

Legal Counselling

When employees or students experience emotional hardships, sometimes they can be a result of or lead to legal components that require immediate attention. Aspiria’s free legal consultation services provide in-person or telephonic legal advice in several areas of law, including personal, separation and divorce, custody, impaired driving, domestic violence, and civil. Please note that no legal advice is offered for labour-law situations due to any potential conflict of interest. What’s especially helpful about Aspiria’s legal services is that employees or students that wish to retain a lawyer referred to them by Aspiria will receive a discount of up to 25% on those services.

Financial Counselling

Aspiria’s financial education solutions offer bilingual, unbiased counselling and planning services in a combination of online and live individual and group settings. We help employers and schools implement customized financial education programs from start to finish, helping employees and students prepare for a brighter financial future, reducing the negativity associated with financial stress. We also work with you to design a communication strategy to inform your employees or students of the program to ensure its success.

For more details on these specialized solutions and everything else your EAP or SAP has to offer, contact your provider today and follow us on Facebook. And keep an eye out for our next instalment of Getting More Out of Your Assistance Program in the new year!


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Good Grades vs. Social Life – You Can Have Both!

image-from-rawpixel-id-401332-jpegDo you ever feel like you’re performing a juggling act, trying to meet all of your needs and wants at the same time? With work, school, friends, and family, just one more time commitment thrown into the mix might make it all come crashing down.

I’ve seen firsthand just how busy and chaotic the lives of students can be, resulting in inner turmoil and loneliness. And I understand that it may sometimes feel like you have no choice but to let either your grades slip or social life dwindle, especially in 1st year when everything you experience is new! However, there are some ways you can keep both:

Organize Study Groups

Whether you’re taking online or in-person courses, there are many options to host or attend effective study groups. Most libraries allow students to book private rooms, or you can meet at somebody’s house or a common area on campus. For online study groups, consider creating a Facebook group that’s only accessible to people that are invited. Study groups are great opportunities to focus on course material and provide opportunities for socializing for the following reasons:

  • Never Miss a Class. In case you ever need to miss a class due to illness or personal reasons, your study group will always be available to share their notes with you.
    • Pro Tip: Consider enrolling in a course with a friend! Most, if not all, post-secondary programs require a certain number of elective courses. So even if you and your friend are enrolled in different programs, you can still spend quality time with them in the classroom or lecture hall.
  • Mingle Afterwards. Once the group has covered the relevant material for the week, why not suggest that you all hang out afterwards for a meal, movie, or board game? This approach will allow you to effectively use your time for both school and pleasure!

Join Program-Specific Clubs

Most post-secondary schools have dozens or even hundreds of clubs or other extra-curriculars you can join. Some might be purely for fun, and others might be more applicable to your studies. If you don’t find a club that interests you, start your own! These are great ways to feel like a part of the school community while also improving your academics for the following reasons:

  • Build Your Resume. If you join a student organization or club that has elected positions, such as president or treasurer, holding such titles can look impressive to some employers. Even just being a regular member shows that you have passion.
  • Explore Off Campus. Many clubs organize field trips or social gatherings outside of their regularly scheduled meetings on campus. These might fulfill your social needs more than study groups.

Set a Schedule

For non-campus activities like going to the movies, out to dinner, or out on the town with friends, you may want to create an online calendar you can access from your computer and phone. Outlook and Google Calendar are just a few options available. This way you can always keep track of your responsibilities and time commitments, including projects, study times, club meetings, and social gatherings. Glancing at your calendar is also a quick and easy way to ensure you don’t overcommit and overwhelm yourself.

You can also free up more time throughout the school year by taking a couple of courses during the summer. If your typical course load during the spring and fall is five courses each, you can decrease it to four by taking two summer courses. Schools that offer summer classes allow you the option to spread out and dilute the stress – and increase the enjoyment – of your program.

If you need a little extra help finding a balance between your social life and academics and learning how you can incorporate both into your everyday routine, contact your Student Assistance Program provider.


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Student Budgeting Tips to Keep Your Mind off the Money

We’re well into the first month of school! Hopefully you have made a positive adjustment to the school year and your studies are going well thus far. At this time for some students, they may feel stressed about their personal finances. Even with the increasing number of government rebates and grants, post-secondary education isn’t cheap, and for some students, it is their first year of managing a budget on their own. As a student, it’s important you learn how to properly manage your student budget so that it lasts you all year long, and you can focus on what matters most – succeeding in your studies.

With that in mind, here are some simple budgeting tips I recommend so you can spend less time worrying about money and more time focusing on your academics and general well-being:

Download Finance Apps

Since most of us have our cellphones at our disposal whenever we need, you may want to consider using a finance app to track your daily purchases and spending.

Here are just a few of the dozens (if not hundreds) of mobile finance apps available and how they can help you build and stick to a budget:

  • MintMint allows you to bring all of your banking and credit card transactions into one password-protected space. You can easily set up budgets within the app and categorize your transactions, and Mint even sends you notifications when your bills are due or if you’re overspending.
  • WallyWally is particularly useful if you’re an international student, as it is one of few finance apps that allows users to document and create budgets with any form of currency.
  • You Need a Budget – If you don’t mind investing in a paid app, You Need a Budget links all of your accounts, helps you create personalized debt repayment plans, and hosts live financial planning workshops.

Use Budgeting Templates

A quick Google search will reveal hundreds of free budgeting templates to help you organize your income and expenses. If you’re unsure which to trust, consider using one offered by your financial institution; many banks, including TD Canada Trust, CIBC, RBC, and Scotiabank, offer online budget calculators. If you are new to Canada or if your bank doesn’t provide an online budgeting tool, the Government of Canada has also created a helpful student budget worksheet.

Buy Used Items

Many universities and colleges have bookstores on campus where students can sell textbooks they no longer need or buy used textbooks at a fraction of their original cost. I’ve also seen many Facebook groups where students gather to buy, sell, or trade textbooks, clothing, furniture, and electronics. If you can’t find a community social media group for your university or college, consider starting one yourself!

 

If you are in need of free and confidential financial advice, you can call your Student Assistance Program (SAP) 24/7 at 1-877-234-5327 (toll-free) to receive the personal financial counselling you need either by telephone or in-person. Stay well!