Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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Succeeding through the next few weeks at school

k-159-chim-5169As the school semester comes to an end, final exam preparations will soon begin for many students. This usually involves long days at the library, and perhaps, some coffee to keep you alert. The time and focus that academic success entails, combined with the intense pressure students feel in order to succeed, can lead to stress and exhaustion.

If you’re a student of an Ontario college, you may be experiencing stress caused by a different circumstance: the faculty strike you’ve just experienced. No matter what type of post-secondary educational institution you study at, this time of year can no doubt have an impact on your mental health. For this reason, I have outlined some tips to assist you prepare for the next few weeks before winter break.

For all students, whether you are preparing for final exams, or you have been affected by the Ontario college strike, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Prioritize your diet and sleep schedule. It’s always important to remember that eating healthy meals and getting plenty of sleep are proven to improve one’s mental health. During your studying, proper diet and sleep will ensure that you are alert and attentive, and this will improve the quality of your studying, mood, and hopefully your grades!
  • Go out less, but still see your friends. While it’s best to decrease the amount of social events you go to, it’s still important to spend time with friends and family. Making time for others will serve as a distraction, and a good change of pace. Even if it’s just eating a meal or walking home together, your friends will balance out the stress of exams, and really help you improve your mood.
  • Be aware of resources and help on campus. At almost every campus, there are counsellors, wellness centres, and hotlines to call. If you feel low or vulnerable, it’s important to be heard, and these resources are specifically meant for students. Lastly, remember that your grades don’t define your worth, but your mental health should always be valued.

Ultimately, the exam period before winter break will be manageable and less stressful if you stick with good habits, and reach out to friends and support when needed. You’ll find that help is always available, and if combined with hard work, you’re sure to do well on your exams. Good luck!

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Keeping Physically and Mentally Fit this Winter

k-s21-eye-0187November is here and the countdown to the holiday season can officially begin. As we look forward to spending time with family and friends, it’s important that we prepare for some of the gloomier elements that the colder weather brings. After all, colder weather is known to negatively affect our bodies, as well as our mental health. When our physical health takes a toll, our mental health can be affected as a result. But if we take a proactive, preventative approach, we can improve our physical and mental health all while fighting the winter blahs.

Here are my recommendations for maintaining a healthy mind and body this winter:

  • Keep moving – One of the biggest health issues in winter is that we limit the amount of time we spend being active. Spending time each day being active, even if it’s simply going for a walk around your office, has been shown to improve your physical health. If you’re fond of winter weather, you can partake in weather-related activities such as sledding or building a snowman with your family, or ice-skating with your significant other or friends.
  • Eat healthy – It’s no secret that winter is flu season, and if you work in a larger office, it won’t be hard to find a co-worker with a cold this winter. Your body is spending more energy than usual to stay warm, so it’s important that you incorporate immune-system boosting foods, like fruits, vegetables and yogurt into your diet, so that you’re less likely to be bogged down with a winter ailment.
  • Make time to reduce stress – Everyone has different ways to reduce their stress levels. For some, simply taking the time to reflect on the cause of the stress does wonders. For others, taking a day off is needed to adjust and refocus. Whatever your technique, remember to make time to schedule it in, even if it doesn’t feel absolutely necessary. I have a few ideas to help you reduce stress: listen to music, meditate, connect with friends and family, and ensure you get enough sleep each night.

You may notice that to improve your health and mood this winter, you won’t need to take any truly drastic steps. It can be challenging to juggle all the hustle and bustle of the season, so living a physically healthy lifestyle this winter can go a long way in managing your mental health. After all, this holiday season is about celebrating with family and friends; and, as long as you take a few proactive steps, you’ll be ready to celebrate in good spirits!


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International Longevity Month: Stress in the Workplace

Workplace StressOctober is International Longevity Month. This is a perfect opportunity to discuss the relationship between workplace stress and life expectancy and what you can do to help reduce the stress levels your employees may be experiencing. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “worked to death”. Sadly, it’s more than just an expression; it can be a reality in the workplace. Studies have shown that stress in the workplace can actually shorten your life.

“Decades of health research has found that the effects of stress compounds over time, starting with psychological stress, which can eventually lead to physical problems like high blood pressure and even death,” according to Erik Gonzalez-Mule, assistant professor of organizational behavior and human resources at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. In order to cope with stress, many people resort to unhealthy behaviours like smoking, drinking too much, over-eating or living a sedentary lifestyle. Other employees may up and leave before their stress levels become dangerous. In fact, according to Monster Canada, 25% of Canadians admit to leaving a job due to stress and another 17% have considered it.

What are the symptoms of stress?

According to the Mood Disorders Society of Canada, these (among others) are the signs of stress to watch out for:

  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Poor concentration
  • Low productivity
  • Forgetfulness
  • Avoidance of social activities
  • Increased use of alcohol or tobacco
  • Headaches
  • Over or under eating
  • Sweaty palms
  • Fatigue
     

What can you do to help reduce the stress levels among your employees?

It’s important to create healthy psychosocial work environments. I have several suggestions for creating less stressful, happy workplaces:

  • Flexible work schedules – gives employees a feeling of having control.
  • Work from home option – alleviates the stress of a long commute or taking children to and from daycare
  • Open communication between management and employees – provides a safe environment for employees to discuss their situations and to ask for help or accommodation
  • Encourage out-of-work team bonding – helps to build relationships and social connections
  • If there is an onsite gym or yoga classes, promote its use – or partially subsidize membership in a nearby offsite facility (if possible)
  • Encourage employees to take short breaks during the course of the day and get up from their desks at lunch – even a short walk or chatting with a colleague can help relieve stress

Creating a less stressful workplace is important for your employees and for your company. Employees becoming ill (or worse) due to stress, going on stress-leave or quitting due to stress can cause havoc with morale, productivity, and your bottom line. A happy and healthy workplace is good for your employees and it’s good business.


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Spotlight on Mental Health: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

wool-2742119_1280Mental Illness Awareness Week (October 1 – October 7) is an annual national public education campaign designed to create awareness of mental illness. Although there are many faces of mental illness, I’d like to spotlight Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) which is often greatly misunderstood. OCD can affect anyone, and according to the Canadian Psychological Association approximately 1% to 2% of the Canadian population will have an episode of OCD in their lifetime.

What is OCD?

OCD is made up of two parts – obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted and repetitive thoughts, urges or images that don’t go away. Compulsions are behaviours like washing, cleaning or ordering things in a certain way. Over 90% of people with clinical OCD have both obsessions and compulsions, with 25% to 50% reporting multiple obsessions. Although many people who suffer from OCD are aware that their obsessions and compulsions don’t make sense, they still can’t control them. While we often associate OCD with people who wash their hands constantly, are germ phobic or refuse to shake hands, sadly, people with OCD are frequently the butt-end of jokes. We know that OCD is anything but funny; in fact, it is often a debilitating mental illness that severely affects a person’s ability to enjoy life.

Additionally, OCD often interferes with work and negatively impacts relationships. In severe cases, obsessive thoughts and repetitive, compulsive rituals can consume the entire day, making it difficult to hold down a job or maintain personal relationships.

What causes OCD?

The cause of OCD has not been established. Studies have suggested that the cause may be genetic, biological and/or psychological, but as yet there is nothing definitive.

Some signs of OCD

In the workplace, you may notice:

  • Excessive hand washing and/or hand wringing
  • Refusal to shake hands
  • Everything on their desk has to be precisely arranged
  • May become visibly upset if you touch or move any of their things
  • Need to check and recheck their work
  • Late to meetings because of their need to “prepare” again and again
  • Appear to be lost in thought because of their obsessions

How best to support an employee with OCD

There are several effective ways to support an employee with OCD. An EAP is an excellent resource for a person suffering from OCD. You can also gently encourage your employee to seek medical help as medication and therapy can benefit the OCD sufferer. There are also modifications and accommodations that you can make to better support them at your organization:

  • Allow telecommuting
  • Issue deadlines as much in advance as possible
  • Try not to put the person in situations where frequent handshaking is expected
  • Make hand sanitizer readily available
  • Avoid disturbing the setup on the employee’s desk
  • Don’t ask to borrow their office supplies or equipment
  • If possible, avoid putting the employee in stressful situations as stress is a major trigger of OCD

Do you have a process in place to accommodate employees suffering from OCD or other forms of mental illness? If not, a referral to the EAP and the willingness to make modifications in the workplace will go a long way to setting up employees for success and ensuring that your employees are feeling supported by their employer.


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Terry Fox Run: Supporting Your Workplace When a Co-Worker Has Cancer or Has Been Touched by Cancer in the Family.

people-2569234_960_720The annual Terry Fox Run on September 17th was not only an important event, but also a good reminder to talk about a very important issue – supporting your workplace when an employee or family member has cancer. Although the Terry Fox Run and other excellent cancer organizations continue to tirelessly raise money to battle this disease, we can all play our part, especially in the workplace.

The Canadian Cancer Society has released some daunting statistics in a new report. Almost one in every two Canadians is expected to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, and one in four Canadians will die from the disease. In 2017, an estimated 206,200 Canadians will be diagnosed with some form of cancer. Our sad reality is that we will all be touched by cancer in some way. That’s why I thought it’s so important that we learn how to provide support in our workplaces, not only to an employee who has cancer or is touched by cancer in the family, but to the rest of the team as well.

Why is it so important to support the rest of your team if a co-worker has cancer or has been touched by cancer?

We’re often so focused on the employee who has been diagnosed with cancer that we may forget that it also has a huge impact on the employee’s family as well as having an effect on your entire organization; this can be particularly true for smaller businesses and within departments. Colleagues may experience fear, anxiety, guilt and disbelief. Watching a colleague and sometimes a friend struggle or be affected by a loved one who has a life-threatening disease can cause depression and feelings of helplessness. Very low morale can spread through an organization like wildfire.

How can we support our workplace when an employee or an employee’s loved one has cancer?

Coaching: Provide coaching to managers with a team who are affected by that colleague.

  • Provide information about cancer, prognosis, treatments, duration, side effects, etc. so they’ll know what to expect and how to prepare their teams (and answer questions)
  • Educate how to recognize signs of fear, anxiety, depression or feelings of helplessness

Support Groups: Establish support groups to provide peer support for those affected by a colleague with cancer. These support groups can meet in person and online to accommodate those working remotely or in other locations.

Encourage team members to show support: Doing positive things often inspires positive feelings.

  • Don’t avoid your colleague – it’s ok to ask them how they are
  • Treat your colleague normally, but don’t pretend they are not experiencing a life-altering event
  • Be available to listen
  • Stay in touch
  • Offer to do something practical like cook a meal
  • Try to be patient and understanding – your colleague may not always be in good humour

Discuss what resources are available:

  • EAP services
  • OnCallogic – a new service that provides organizations with mental health support for those affected by cancer through a series of specialized counselling sessions
  • Extended health care plans

The cancer diagnosis of one employee or that employee’s family member can have far-reaching effects on any organization, particularly on a small business or department. It’s important that, as an employer, you support your workplace when your employee or their loved one has cancer. Ask your EAP provider if they have a cancer support program. If you don’t already have an EAP in place, I strongly encourage you to reach out to an EAP provider for assistance.


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World Suicide Prevention Day: Suicide in the Workplace

Suicide Prevention.jpgSuicide is an incredible tragedy, at any age or stage of life. In the past, I’ve discussed the growing rate of suicide among young adults – teenagers in particular. However, suicide can touch anyone and sadly, suicide rates in the workplace are on the rise. September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. I think it is so important that we bring suicide out of the shadows and discuss what part we can play in preventing suicide in the workplace.

Is suicide a problem in the Canadian workplace?

You may not realize how prevalent suicide is in our workplaces and the numbers of Canadians affected by suicide are staggering. According to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP):

  • It’s estimated that more than 3,000,000 Canadians have been affected by suicide
  • It’s likely that many people in every workplace have known someone who has died by suicide
  • Suicide is the leading cause of injury-related death in Canada
  • Working-aged men and women represent one of the highest risk groups for suicide
  • Men of working age die by suicide 3 to 4 times more often than women
  • Women are hospitalized for suicide-related behaviour 1.5 times more often than men
  • Although suicide deaths affect almost all age groups, middle-aged men (40 to 59) have the highest rates

Why is workplace suicide on the rise?

Many attribute the rise in workplace suicide to globalization which has really altered the way we work. Job insecurity, the shift to contract workers, unrealistic targets and deadlines, the pressure to produce profit and the abandonment of any work/life balance are all contributors.

What can you do to prevent suicide in your workplace?

There are many things that you can do to prevent suicide and promote mental health in your workplace:

  • Promote information and resources on suicide prevention, intervention and postvention (suicide bereavement)
  • Create a caring work environment
  • Reduce the stigma that accompanies suicide
  • Give your managers and employees the right tools to be able to identify and support employees at risk of suicide
  • Once at-risk behaviour is recognized, act on it – make sure your employee gets the appropriate help, work on reducing stress levels, perhaps flexible hours or working from home…
  • Ensure that employees that are bereaved by suicide get the help that they need
  • Encourage help-seeking behaviours
  • Establish a response protocol in the event of a suicide or suicide attempt at work

What are the benefits to becoming a suicide-safer workplace?

There are many great reasons for becoming a suicide-safer workplace:

  • The number 1 reason is that you could be saving lives!
  • Workplaces injuries and absences will be reduced
  • A happy and healthy workforce is more productive
  • A compassionate and psychologically safe workplace inspires employees to be their best

It’s important for every company to play their part in suicide prevention. Does your company have a suicide prevention program in place? You can make a difference.


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International Overdose Awareness Day: “Festival Fever” and Party Drugs

tablets-1001224_1280.jpgFor many students, summer vacation means music festival time! While concerts are non-stop parties and great fun, it’s easy to let loose and get out of control. Today opioids, especially Fentanyl, are all too common ‘party drugs’ as is MDMA (methylenedioxy-n-methylamphetamine), also known as ecstasy or molly, that often make an appearance at these festivals. Using these drugs can lead to a variety of serious health complications, especially when taken in conjunction with alcohol, and can potentially be fatal. August 31st is International Overdose Awareness Day and I think it’s a great opportunity to discuss the dangers of drug use and abuse.

Why is Overdose Awareness Day so important?

Getting high is often considered a rite of passage, without giving much thought to the consequences of drug use. After all, it’s only recreational, so what’s the harm? Drug use, even recreational, can lead to tragedy. International Overdose Awareness Day is a global event that raises awareness of overdose and reduces the stigma of drug-related deaths. It also acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends who have suffered as a result.

What is an overdose?

An overdose means that you have taken too much of a drug(s) than your body can cope with. Any drug can cause an overdose, including prescription drugs prescribed by a doctor. As many of you may already know, prescription drug abuse by teenagers is a huge problem in North America, so if you’re taking a prescription drug, be mindful of the dose and take your medication only as prescribed. If you think that recreational drug use is fun, think again. Recreational drug use is never a good idea. It can lead to drug abuse and an overdose can happen without warning.

Can you recognize the signs and symptoms of an overdose?

Different drugs can produce different symptoms but the general symptoms of an overdose may include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of balance
  • Seizures
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Diarrhea
  • Disorientation
  • Agitation
  • Paranoia

 

What should you do if you suspect someone youre with is experiencing an overdose?

An overdose is a medical emergency. Call 911 immediately! Even if you’re not sure, err on the side of caution and call 911. Stay with the person until help has arrived. If the person has passed out, put them on their side in case they vomit. Don’t give them anything to eat or drink. Tell the emergency responders what substances have been taken and in what amounts (if possible).

Why do people overdose?

Although most overdoses are accidental, they can also be deliberate. It’s very important to recognize the difference and to ensure that the right mental health support is made available. Overdoses are frequently associated with drug abuse. Peer pressure is a strong factor in starting to use and abuse drugs, particularly for young people. If you have a mental health disorder such as depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or post-traumatic stress disorder, you’re more likely to become dependent on drugs. Self-medication can also be a coping mechanism for anxiety, depression and loneliness.

It’s very important to address the issues of drug use and overdose and how they relate to mental health issues. Do you have a Student Assistance Program (SAP)? If so, contact them as soon as possible. I strongly urge you to get the help that you need so that you can live happy, productive lives.