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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Suicide Prevention Day Spotlight: Bipolar Disorder in the Workplace

pexels-photo-313690In light of World Suicide Prevention Day having just passed on September 10, I have been reflecting on the complexities of varying mental health states and the numerous, unfortunate factors that might drive someone to consider suicide as their only option.

Seeing as bipolar disorder, among other personality disorders, can be difficult to diagnose, and those with bipolar disorder are two to three times more likely to commit suicide, I would like to highlight what you can do to help someone dealing with this mental heath concern. But before I dive into that, I would like to discuss what exactly bipolar disorder is and what are its causes.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder causes significant, unexpected mood swings that can last anywhere between a few days and several months. The “bi” in bipolar refers to the two types of episodes those with the disorder typically experience: manic and depressive. During a manic episode, a person may seem uncharacteristically happy or energetic, to the point of being impulsive. I have seen this impulsivity sometimes reach dangerous levels. Depressive episodes are often recognized by the same symptoms as clinical depression.

What Causes Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder can develop when there is an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain. This imbalance is typically present at birth, making the disorder genetic. However, having a family member with bipolar disorder does not necessarily mean you will have the disorder as well. I’ve recognized that environmental factors, such as trauma, extreme stress, or severe illness, are often linked to trigger those with a genetic disposition for the disorder.

What Are the Signs of Bipolar Disorder?

Someone experiencing a manic episode may have any of the following symptoms:

  • Increased physical energy
  • Irritability
  • Hastened speech
  • Impulsive behaviour
  • Delusions

Someone experiencing a depressive episode may have any of the following symptoms:

  • Guilt
  • Sadness
  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Lack of motivation

If someone regularly experiences mood swings between what appear to be manic and depressive episodes, they may have bipolar disorder.

How Can You Support an Employee with Bipolar Disorder?

When I’ve met with employees with untreated bipolar disorder, they’ve expressed experiencing certain difficulties at work: irritability can cause friction between coworkers, impulsive behaviour may lead to unexplained missed days, and a lack of motivation can result in decreased productivity.

As a start to supporting an employee with bipolar disorder, it is important to have symptoms professionally assessed. Too often, and especially with such ease of information (and misinformation) on the internet, more and more people are self-diagnosing, which is an extremely dangerous practice because neither you nor your employees are medical doctors trained in psychiatric disorders.

Once professionally diagnosed, bipolar disorder is highly treatable with medication and therapy. If you observe that one of your employees is having difficulty managing the symptoms of bipolar disorder (or any possible mental health disorder), you can contact your EAP provider and request a management consultation with an expert to discuss your concern about the employee’s mental health and how to approach them for support and to make recommendations regarding treatment. Training is also available through your EAP for your supervisors and managers to help them identify mental health symptoms and refer their employees for assessment and treatment.


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How to Regain Your Passion for Education

book-841171_1920 (1)With the new school year just around the corner, you may fall into one of two categories: you’re either excited to return to campus to get back to your studies and/or see your friends, or you’re dreading having to get back to the books. If you fall into the latter category, this blog is for you. It’s important to remember that completing post-secondary education allows you to increase your potential earnings and, above all, pursue your dreams.

Here are some methods I suggest you try to motivate yourself to return to school:

Document Small Goals

Take a moment to write down your goals, both academic and professional. A three- or four-year degree can feel like an incredibly long time. Rather than be overwhelmed by the length of time required to complete your education, I advise you to take it one step at a time. What are your academic goals for this month, this week, or even just today? With every task you complete, no matter how small, you earn a sense of accomplishment that urges you to continue.

Once you’ve written down your goals, consider framing them and hanging them over your desk. This way, if you ever feel yourself lacking the motivation to continue your education, you can easily look up to remind yourself of your academic purpose.

 

Get Involved

You should look for opportunities to balance your schoolwork and social life. If you are a first-year student, get to know your campus and the clubs and sports it offers. If you don’t find a club that interests you, start your own! These are great ways to make new friends and feel like a part of the school community.

Whether you are a first-year student or not, consider building your resume with more than academics. Does your program offer internship or co-op opportunities? You could also look for an internship or part-time job in your field on your own or give back to your community by volunteering with an association that matters to you. The important thing is that you have an outlet to help with the stress associated with a heavy semester and exams.

 

Be Realistic

Has it crossed your mind that perhaps the program you’re in isn’t for you? If so, my advice would be to treat this new school year as a clean slate. You still have the option to switch your major or specialization or enrol in a smaller course load. It’s better to delay graduation by a semester or two pursuing a different or part-time academic path than it is to spend years completing a degree that no longer interests you.

If you need a little extra help rekindling your passion for your program, I encourage you to contact your Student Assistance Provider. They can help you find a balance between your personal and academic life, sort out potential financial concerns, discuss anxieties, and much more.


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Increasing Employee Morale with Vitamin D

adult-beard-beverage-590516Now that summer is more than halfway over, have you noticed any of your staff longingly looking outside their windows, wishing they could have some time in the sun? When I think of sunshine, I think of warmth and the beach, but there is also a biological need for natural sunlight: vitamin D.

Vitamin D serves many biological purposes, both physically and mentally:

Physically: Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium to maintain or improve your bone health. It also strengthens your muscles to improve your balance.

Mentally: Vitamin D has been known to affect the brain’s serotonin levels, which help regulate our emotions.

Vitamin D levels among Canadians are particularly concerning. Our northern geography means that we have fewer sunrays hitting us to promote our bodies’ ability to produce vitamin D. As a result, an average of 32% of Canadians are considered to be low on vitamin D. What is startling is that even during the summer, 25% of us are low on this essential nutrient.

Because there is such a strong link between depression and a lack of vitamin D, you may not be shocked to discover that 17%-18% of Canadians experience some form of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) at some point in their life. SAD is a type of depression that typically affects people with little access to natural sunlight. It is most common during the winter months, but has been known to occur during the summer as well.

If you work in an industry that requires your staff to be indoors most days, it is possible that a large number of your employees may suffer the physical or mental side effects of low vitamin D levels. Seeing as we only need 10-15 minutes of sunshine three times a week to get the amount of vitamin D we need, here is what I would suggest to allow your employees more time outdoors:

 

Create an Outdoor Eating Space

If your workplace has any available lawn or patio space, consider investing in a couple picnic tables that your employees can access during their breaks. They don’t have to use the space if they don’t want to, but I’m sure some would appreciate the choice of returning to their desks revitalized by the sun’s warmth.

 

Have Outdoor Meetings

This certainly isn’t a practical option for meetings that require presentation equipment, but it can be a great alternative to boardroom meetings. If you regularly have casual meetings with a small number of employees, a walking meeting is a great way to get the creative juices flowing.

 

Host More Outdoor Events

If you like to keep your employees engaged with regular company outings, consider adding sunshine to the experiences. Picnics, barbecues, and family-fun fairs at a nearby park are excellent options to fill the vitamin D needs of your employees and help remind them that there is more to your company culture than what takes place within your office walls.

The aforementioned suggestions are great places to start to incorporate more vitamin D exposure into the workday. However, a lack of vitamin D is just one of many potential factors that can contribute to depression. If you or your employees are experiencing fluctuations in mood, whether as a result of the weather or anything else, please contact your EAP provider for assistance.