Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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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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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!

 

 


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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.


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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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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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Tips to Reducing Workplace Bullying

stop-bullyingOn February 22, Canadians will celebrate Pink Shirt Day, a day to raise awareness about the issue of bullying in our schools, workplaces and homes. The non-profit organization CKNW encourages people to wear pink on this day to symbolize the end of bullying. This day of recognition started in Nova Scotia after a young boy was bullied for wearing pink to school, and after seeing this, class members who opposed this kind of bullying sported pink shirts.

While events related to Pink Shirt Day are often highlighted in schools, where bullying is a major problem, workplaces are also encouraged to participate. This is due to the fact that while bullying is more common in children and young adults, it can follow us to our workplaces as well.

The Workplace Bullying Institute defines workplace bullying as repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. Additionally, this abusive conduct is threatening, humiliating, or intimidating. In 2017, this kind of behaviour is not limited to face-to-face encounters. Cyber bullying can also significantly impact an employee’s mental health, and is often kept under the radar.

As an Employer:

Staff look to you to ensure they are being treated fairly and are not experiencing any kind of mistreatment. That being said, dealing with a workplace bully can be difficult. Here are my tips on how to address workplace bullying in your organization:

  1. Hold bullies accountable. If someone from your team approaches you about an issue with a co-worker or boss, make sure you speak to the person in question to get his or her side of the story. Talking to someone about their bully-like behaviour can be awkward, but you owe it to your employees who are being impacted by this person’s conduct.
  1. Have a plan in place. If someone has received a few complaints about their bully-like behaviour, it’s important to have some disciplinary measures in place to ensure bullying in any form stops immediately. After confronting a bully about their behaviour, it may be determined that this situation is a result of conflict between two co-workers, in which case mediation would be helpful. If a bully’s behaviour remains an issue, warnings may not be enough. Consult your EAP for support in this area before probation or termination results.
  1. Keep your eye out for inappropriate conduct. As a manager in the workplace, don’t just wait for someone to come to you with an issue. Make sure to be on the lookout for any kind of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. If you notice someone is abusing an employee or co-worker in any way, make a point to sit down with him or her to discuss their behaviour. Victims will often shy away from reporting bullying incidents out of fear of repercussion to them. If you are “in the loop” on what’s going on in the office, you can save a possible victim from the embarrassment of reporting it higher in the organization.
  1. Promote awareness. Make and post anti-bullying posters, wear pink t-shirts, host lunch and learns about anti-bullying. Raising awareness about this issue can help generate productive conversations and break down the stigma of workplace bullying. 

As an Employee:

  1. Try to speak to the bully and let them know how what they are doing is affecting you. Share with them that what they are doing is not appropriate behaviour.
  1. Speak to a boss or manager about your situation. If you begin to notice that your workplace culture enables this kind of abusive attitude, speak to a manager. Employees should not be afraid to come to work, and in order for employees to work effectively, they need to feel comfortable and safe in the workplace environment. Alerting a senior staff member to the situation can allow them to take measures to prevent this from happening in the workplace.

What are you doing in your office to help recognize anti-bullying?


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Better Mental Health? Sign Me Up!

volunteer-1550327_960_720There’s no doubt about it: the holidays can be stressful. As we make time for friends and family, parties and gift exchanges, the entire season can be hectic. The rush to purchase presents for our loved ones can feel almost like a chore as opposed to an exciting activity. Depression rates during the holiday season are also high. Students are dealing with the pressures of exams before heading home, and adults dealing with difficult family or relationship problems or the loss of a loved one can dread this time of year when we are supposed to be the most joyful. So how can we bring back the magic of the holiday season?

As I was discussing this issue with a colleague recently, he explained that after years of stress around the holidays, his family began volunteering at a soup kitchen every holiday season. He told me, “It really puts things into perspective. As I stress about finding the perfect present for my wife, there are people out there who worry about having enough food to feed their families everyday.” Volunteering his time to help the less fortunate during the holidays helped him appreciate all the blessings he had been taking for granted.

Not only does volunteering provide a sense of gratitude, it also has benefits for your overall mental health. A 2013 Harvard Medical School publication outlined the mental health benefits of volunteering your time to help others in need. The article states, “volunteering helps people who donate their time feel more socially connected, thus warding off loneliness and depression.” Around this time of year when these types of emotions may be magnified, volunteering can be even more beneficial.

Volunteering can add meaning to our lives. We live our lives looking for happiness in a vast world of billions of inhabitants, often feeling lonely, sad, and insignificant when we can’t find it. We are often misguided when we pursue material possessions we think will bring us happiness. Getting involved in activities that have purpose, that will make a difference – maybe to just one person, can add meaning to our lives. We all want to make a difference in our lives and this is what volunteering can achieve.

So how can you get involved this holiday season? From delivering gifts to the less fortunate to assisting at a homeless shelter, there are hundreds of ways you can volunteer. For example, click here to visit the Food Banks Canada website and see how you can help hungry Canadians this holiday season.

While the holiday season is difficult for a lot of people, giving back and volunteering your time to the less fortunate will not only help improve the lives of others, but also benefit your own mental health in the process.