Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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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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Spotlight on Mental Illness: Social Anxiety in the Workplace

ASP Aug 1Social anxiety disorder is also referred to as social phobia. And it’s much more common than you’d think. Social anxiety disorder is the third largest mental health problem in the world today according to the Social Anxiety Association. Although employees may feel that they can hide social anxiety disorder in their personal lives, it’s virtually impossible to do the same in the workplace. Let’s discuss what social anxiety disorder is, how you can detect if an employee is suffering from it and what, as an employer, you can do about it.

What is social anxiety disorder?

Social anxiety disorder is the intense fear and anxiety of being negatively judged and embarrassed by others. This leads to avoiding social situations that involve interaction with other people at all costs. As employers I’m sure you’ve seen how social anxiety disorder can have a negative impact on work performance and personal relationships. As a result social anxiety disorder can also significantly contribute to lost productivity. The good news is that social anxiety disorder is very treatable.

How can you recognize if an employee is suffering from social anxiety disorder?

People suffering from social anxiety disorder may exhibit any or all of the following behaviours:

  • May be seen by others as being shy, quiet, withdrawn, unfriendly or aloof
  • Avoid meetings and social situations, speaking in public or even talking one-on-one
  • Difficulty meeting people in authority
  • Rarely make eye contact
  • Overwhelmed or upset easily
  • Find it hard to make decisions
  • Difficulty with time management and meeting reasonable deadlines
  • Uncomfortable being watched while doing something
  • Fear of taking on new challenges or learning new things
  • Try too hard to be perfect
  • Experience physical symptoms – racing heart, blushing, excessive sweating, clammy hands, trembling, nausea, stammering or shaky voice

What can you do as an employer to help employees suffering with social anxiety disorder?

There are several things that you can do to help your employees deal with the day-to-day stressors in the workplace:

  • Be open and accepting about mental health issues to reduce the stigma
  • Show concern
  • Improve mental health literacy in your organization
  • Train supervisors and managers to recognize the symptoms of social anxiety disorder
  • Make available and promote the benefits of an EAP program
  • Encourage employees to seek care when they need it
  • Ask your employee if they need additional support and what that support might look like
  • Let your employee know what support services are available
  • Accommodate your employee by finding the right type of work to match their comfort level
  • Provide modified workspaces, flexible schedules or permission to take breaks when needed

Do you have a program in place to help employees with social anxiety disorder? It’s important to build a culture that demonstrates to all employees that they are cared for and valued. A supportive workplace inspires employees to feel loyal, dedicated and motivated which benefits the entire company.


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International Self-Care Day is July 24th: How to Make Time for Self-Care with a Busy Schedule

Pilates exerciseJuly 24th is International Self-Care Day. It’s the perfect time for all of us to pause and remember just how important self-care is. Although it may seem impossible to take time out of our busy days, it’s important for employers to encourage employees to fit self-care into their schedules. Work-life initiatives can really make a big difference in the workplace. According to Statistics Canada, the average Canadian worker is away from work for the equivalent of almost two weeks in a year. Casual absences (not requiring a doctor’s note) account for 80% of lost days for most businesses. Encouraging and promoting a healthy work-life balance is not only good for your employees, it’s good for business.

What is International Self-Care Day?
The International Self-Care Day (ISD) worldwide campaign objective is to celebrate the importance of self-care and to encourage the general public to practice responsible self-care. Every year ISD is observed on July 24 to serve as a reminder that the benefits of self-care are lifelong, experienced 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

What is self-care?
The International Self-Care Foundation has developed a framework called Seven Pillars of Self-Care.

Pillar 1 – Health Literacy: It’s important to learn about our health so that we can make informed decisions on what we need for self-care.

Pillar 2 – Self-Awareness of Physical and Mental Condition: We need to be self-aware about the state of our physical and mental health. The best way to do this is to regularly visit your doctor or health practitioner and be honest about how you’re feeling physically and mentally.

Pillar 3 – Physical Activities: Regular physical activity is vitally important for self-care. It doesn’t have to involve intense or extreme activities. Walking, cycling, yoga, swimming… they can all significantly improve your health, fitness and mood.

Pillar 4 – Healthy Eating: Eating a nutritious, balanced diet is always essential. Take the time to eat; eat and chew slowly.

Pillar 5-Risk Avoidance or Mitigation: A few important tips are – avoid smoking, limit alcohol intake and use sunscreen daily. Take Vitamin D, especially for us Canadians who experience less sunshine and relatively short summers than those living closer to the equator.

Pillar 6- Good Hygiene: While most of us practice good hygiene, it’s still important to note that washing your hands well and often is one of the most important things we can do.

Pillar 7-Rational and Responsible Use of Products, Services, Diagnostics and Medicines:  Avail yourself of medical help when necessary. If you’ve been prescribed medication, take it as directed. If alternative medicine is your thing, use it.

Why self-care is so important for employees?

  • Boosts morale
  • Increases productivity
  • Reduces absenteeism
  • Improves mental and physical health
  • Decreases stress

Tips on how employers can encourage employees to make time for self-care

  • Help employees set and maintain personal boundaries
  • Help your employees set achievable goals
  • If you schedule meetings during the lunch hour, provide a healthy meal
  • Encourage employees to take intermittent self-care breaks – a walk at lunch time, a social break with a co-worker
  • Promote outside-of-work activities
  • Allow for flexible schedules

Remember, if you don’t take care of yourself first, you won’t be able to give of yourself to others.

July 24th is right around the corner. Is your company promoting self-care in your workplace? Now’s a great time to begin a self-care initiative.


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How Creativity Improves Mental Health and Wellness

creativityMany students notice that the creativity they once had diminishes as they begin post-secondary education. It seems our schools of higher learning teach students to follow the rules, learn, memorize and repeat, conform, and measure their performance by taking standardized tests. Creativity is squeezed out as the pressure to excel on exams becomes the driving force. This, however, is counterintuitive to future demands in the workforce and the mental health and wellness of our students.

A 2010 IBM study, as reported in the Newsweek article “Creativity is the New Black”, reported that not only will creativity play a critical role in the future success of a corporation, but creativity is also regarded as a core competency for those in a leadership role. Unfortunately, education is killing the creativity of our students and leaving many of them anxiety-ridden and stressed out. What are we doing to improve the mental health and wellness of our students?

Tapping into your creativity for improved mental health and wellness

I wanted to share with you the many positive benefits creative expression has in maintaining wellness, whether through art, music, reading, writing, crafts, colouring, knitting, sewing, pottery, gardening, or dancing. Creative expression can:

  • Reduce stress and anxiety
  • Increase positive emotions
  • Decrease depressive symptoms
  • Reduce distress and negative emotions
  • Boost the immune system
  • Increase self-esteem and feelings of accomplishment
  • Improve concentration and focus
  • Increase happiness

How does creativity improve mental health and wellness?

The average person has 60,000 thoughts per day and 95% of them are exactly the same, day in and day out (Cleveland Clinic). Immersing yourself in a creative activity produces an almost meditative state where your mind is so engrossed in what you’re doing that you temporarily forget all of your troubles and worries. The goal is no different from meditation, mindfulness, or yoga: in order to find calm, peace, and happiness in one’s life, the focus needs to be on one’s inner self (not external stimuli). This can be achieved only by becoming disciplined in an activity (eg. creativity) that will naturally lessen the importance and therefore impact of those thousands of thoughts we experience everyday. Neuroscientists have been studying many forms of creativity and finding that activities like cooking, drawing, photography, art, music, cake decorating and even doing crossword puzzles are beneficial to your health. When we are being creative, our brains release dopamine, which is a natural anti-depressant. Creativity usually takes concentration and it can lead to the feeling of a natural high. Participating in creative activities may even help to alleviate depression.

The latest trend in stress relief is the adult colouring book

Adult colouring books are all the rage. They’re so popular now that there are even monthly colouring clubs. They’re inexpensive, fun, remind us of childhood, require no particular skill and they provide instant relaxation. They’ve become so mainstream that they can be purchased everywhere from Amazon to dollar stores.

Research shows that creative practices improve depression, anxiety and coping skills while enhancing quality of life and significantly reducing stress – all vital for mental health and wellness. And the beauty of creativity is that anyone can practice it – why not start today?

Are we doing enough to encourage our students to exercise their creativity?


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LGBT Pride Month: How to Foster Inclusion in the Workplace

IMG_7553.jpegJune is LGBT Pride Month, and I feel this is a great opportunity to discuss why LGBT inclusion in the workplace is important for employee wellness and how employers can foster an environment of inclusion.

According to a recent study by Telus, about one-third of respondents don’t find their workplace safe and inclusive for lesbian and gay employees. In addition, the study found that:

  • 57% per cent of respondents said they’re not fully out at work
  • 22% are worried about a hostile work environment
  • 15% are concerned about losing out on career opportunities
  • 10% are worried about personal safety

Many LGBT individuals facing discrimination in the workplace suffer mental health issues

“LGBT-identified individuals experience higher levels of depression and anxiety, and have higher incidents of suicide,” says Colin Druhan of Pride at Work”. “And the discriminatory treatment they receive from others, including in the workplace, contributes to those statistics. People should feel safe at their job, not afraid of being shamed or harmed. But many LGBT employees choose not to reveal their sexual orientation in their workplace, thinking it will make co-workers uncomfortable, or alienate them. Some fear retaliation.”

What can employers do?

Although many companies have policies regarding inclusion, it is clearly not widespread enough. And while protecting employees from discrimination is both a legal and ethical responsibility for employers, there is often a disconnect between policy and practice. There are many things that you as an employer can do to foster an inclusive work culture that is welcoming to all:

  • Develop company-wide policies regarding inclusion
  • Institute anti-discrimination and harassment policies that address homophobia
  • Promote diversity at work
  • Educate all employees and support lesbian, gay and transgender employees through resource and networking groups
  • As a company, oppose laws that suppress gay rights
  • Take part in community, fundraising and volunteering events that support the LBGT community

Why is diversity important in the workplace?

Diversity promotes and encourages different perspectives and different talents. It can inspire employees to think beyond their own views, push their boundaries, and reduce stigma. I believe we need to create cultures of diversity and inclusion so that everyone feels free and safe to be who they are. Diversity will strengthen your company. It will enhance your recruiting and retention efforts. Employers who fail to create safe, respectful environments risk losing valued employees and clients to more inclusive companies. And according to Pride at Work, the LGBT community has an annual economic impact in Canada of over $100 billion. Doesn’t it make business sense then to promote diversity at work?

Does your company have an inclusion policy in place? How does your company promote diversity and inclusion? Do you actively recruit a diverse workforce?