Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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

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

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

Nutritional Counselling

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

Legal Counselling

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

Financial Counselling

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

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

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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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Home for the Summer: A Guide to Living with Your Family, Again

271-ted72544532-ae-id-384598-jpegCongratulations, you survived exam season and a full year of school!

By now, you may have moved back in with your family for the summer. For some, this may be exciting, but for others, you may cringe at the thought of having to spend the entire summer living at home. It can be highly stressful sacrificing some aspects of your independence, especially if you’ve been calling the shots while away at school.

Regardless of your enthusiasm level for your familial situation, here are my tips on how to make the most out of living with your family again:

Maintain Your Social Circle

If your departure to school meant your parents became empty nesters while you were away, they may want to spend copious amounts of time with you while they can. However, your intentions may involve spending as much time as possible with new and old friends. With communication and empathy from both sides, everyone can understand each other’s social needs. To avoid feelings of isolation during the summer, try to stay in contact with whom you can, and remember to join in on family dinners and outings once in a while so as not to make your family feel isolated from you.

Avoid Going Stir Crazy

If you really need a break from your family and some time in the sun, take a road trip to meet your friends. Spending time outdoors, like at the beach or in a campground, is a great way to reduce stress. Prolonged time in cities can fatigue the brain, and time in nature allows it to rest. Having fun or relaxing outside throughout the summer can give your mind a much-needed break before returning to the grind of studies.

Help Around the House

A giant bonus of living with family is home-cooked meals, but you may want to consider cooking for your family once in a while. Cooking can be quite effective at combatting negative emotions, and testing out healthy recipes can be especially beneficial for your mental and physical health.

If you really want to get in your parents’ good books, sweep, vacuum, or dust when you have a moment. Cleaning not only benefits the household, but it can also directly affect your own mental and physical health. Simply making your bed every morning makes you 19 per cent more likely to get a good night’s sleep.

Even when everyone may mean well, hurtful things can be thought of, said to, or done between family members. If you are having difficulty adjusting to being home for the summer, please seek counselling and stay strong knowing that this living situation is only temporary.


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Coping Strategies for the Humboldt Broncos Tragedy

humboldt_broncos-1040x572

Image courtesy of Sportsnet

It has been bittersweet this past week to see the world come together over the tragic loss of so many members of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team, which occurred on Friday, April 6th.

Tragedies like this bring to my mind a pebble that’s been thrown into water: it touches so much more than the direct point of impact. Like ripples in the water, the unexpected loss of life has impacted many people, from the families of the deceased to the survivors, the local community, Canadians, and people around the world. We are all indirect victims of this tragedy.

Everyone is uniquely affected by the Humboldt tragedy. Based on my experience working with individuals in crisis, I’ve outlined some suggestions to help you cope and maybe even support those people who are having a terrible time making sense of what happened in Humboldt.

Directly Impacted

Life-altering events like this one have a profound impact on our lives, and we may never fully feel whole again after the loss of a loved one.

We all experience grief differently, but the important thing to keep in mind is that you allow yourself time to grieve. Know that there is no right or wrong way to grieve, and those around you will do whatever they can to support you during this difficult time.

If you find that this event may have triggered buried emotions or perhaps even PTSD, reach out to a grief counsellor as soon as possible to discuss your feelings and emotional state.

Indirectly Affected

Even if you have not been directly affected by this tragedy, you may know someone who was. Make sure they are getting the help they need but also tread lightly, as everyone deals with crisis differently. If they ask to be alone, leave them alone, but check in every couple of days to make sure they are okay. It may seem difficult to find a balance between being too involved and not involved enough, but they will appreciate your efforts in the long run.

You may also be indirectly affected because you are a parent of a child on a hockey team, you have children the same age, or you are a compassionate human being. If you find that you are out of sorts and are having difficulty focusing because of this tragedy, talk about it with your support system, whether it is a family member, a friend, or a work colleague. Also know that professional counsellors are available to support you during this or other difficult times in your life.

Show Your Support

No matter how you may be connected to this tragedy, here are some ways you can join the growing support for the Humboldt community:

  • Wear a Jersey. People from all walks of life having been donning sports jerseys in support of Jersey Day. Share your jersey picture and well wishes on Twitter using #JerseysForHumboldt.
  • An indication of the far-reaching effects of this tragedy is the millions of dollars that have been raised worldwide in such a short period for the families of the hockey team. A GoFundMe campaign has been created to raise money for the families and survivors of the crash. No amount of money will take away the pain the survivors and families are facing, but every donation helps ease any potential financial strain they may experience as a result of the crash, and donating can also make you feel good about doing something to support the victims.
  • Become an Organ Donor. If you aren’t already an organ donor, perhaps this event may be your inspiration to become one. Logan Boulet, one of the victims of the crash, will be greatly missed, but his passing means that six other people will live because of his organ donor status. For information on registration, you can visit Service Ontario.

For the survivors, the families of the victims, and the community, I imagine that it is extremely difficult to cope while there are many unanswered questions. As long as the investigation is ongoing, even those outside of the community can relate to the need for closure.

If the Humboldt crash directly affects you or if you relate to it in any way, I encourage you to seek counselling. You are not alone.


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Can You Effect Change in 2018 without Resolutions?

shutterstock_753302986Ah, it’s January of a new year, a time most people reflect on the past year – what worked, what didn’t and what should have been done. Then we see our co-workers and our friends and family, and we are often asked “So what are YOUR New Year’s resolutions?” The common responses tend to be health-related, such as losing weight, quitting smoking and exercising regularly, or financial, such as debt reduction and better money management. But when we reflect, we can see why last year’s resolutions weren’t fulfilled, and that’s due to the fact that they are just that – resolutions. Resolutions have been shown to have been actualized less than 10% of the time.

So is it possible to have the best intentions for 2018 without having actual resolutions? Absolutely. Let me share with you some ways you can effect positive change in your life by simply adjusting the way you perceive those intentions.

Turning a Plan into Action – The readiness to change, or how prepared a person is to enter the action stage of changing their behaviour, has been found to be the single best predictor of New Year’s resolution success, with those who have intention to be 10 times more likely to succeed than adults who were not yet ready to put plans into action.

Unrealistic Goals and Expectations – People often make resolutions as a way of motivating themselves, but if they aren’t ready to change their habits, particularly bad habits, then success will be difficult to achieve. Set only one resolution to focus on, and be specific. Setting short-term goals which are attainable and realistic, such as “I am going to lose 2 lbs. per week for the next 10 weeks” vs. “I am going to lose 20 lbs. starting now”, have been found to be more effective in the long term. With systems in place that reward new behaviours, while avoiding high-risk situations that allow for a step-back, it can be easier to stay on track.

Be Accountable to Someone – Have a buddy, someone close to you, to cheer you on but also to whom you have to report to at set intervals and maintain this accountability. This person can remind you of your success achieved thus far, and help you celebrate along the way, not just at the end.

Changing the Way You Think – By focusing your thinking on creating new behaviours and thought patterns, you will be able to change your habits. This involves creating new neural pathways in your brain that set your habitual thoughts to the “new standard”, and become your default when faced with new situations, like when you are faced with the dessert menu and others are ordering from it. Your new way of thinking becomes your way of creating positive habits.

Be Present and Mindful – When you focus on the moment, and not what happened in the past or worry about the future, you can be mindful of our feelings and think of what we can do TODAY to achieve your goal. In fact, if you can visualize having already attained your goal, this will help you create readiness and intention to pursue it.

How will you make changes in your life this year? Have you found success with these tips? I look forward to hearing from you!


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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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Who Cares for the Caregiver?

My wife and I are in our 50s with careers, are caregivers to our 3 children who live at home, are caregivers to our own parents who are in their 80s, and wait a minute, are caregivers to my grandmother who is 102 years old. True story. What gives? Most likely the health of the caregiver.

We’ve become a nation of caregivers. According to Statistics Canada, our aging population is fuelling caregiving needs across the country. By 2030, seniors are projected to account for 25% of our population. We now bear the responsibility of caring for the elderly, the sick and our children in addition to holding down fulltime jobs. Many caregivers are so overburdened that they have no choice but to put careers on hold. I thought I would share with you some knowledge we have around this issue, for you to consider:

  • More than 8 million Canadians provide informal care to a family member or friend.
  • More than 1 million caregivers are older than 65.
  • 44% of caregivers between the ages of 45-64 care for both a parent and children.
  • The number of seniors requiring care is set to double over the next 15 years.
  • 39% of caregivers look after the needs of their parents, 8% care for a spouse.
  • 35% of Canada’s workforce provides informal, unpaid work while working.
  • 6 million caregivers take time off work to provide care.
  • 10% of caregivers spend more than 30 hours per week providing care.
  • 80% of all care given to seniors in the community and 30% of services to seniors in institutions are provided by informal caregivers.
  • The economic value of caregivers is astounding: caregivers who look after seniors save Canada’s health care system between $24 to 31 billion annually.

*Data provided by CARP

It’s estimated that every year Canada loses the equivalent of nearly 558,000 fulltime employees from the workforce due to their inability to manage the conflicting demands of paid work and care (The Vanier Institute). These employee losses can cause tremendous disruption to the workplace and can negatively impact a business. Caring for a caregiver is not only an act of human kindness but it makes very sound business sense. It can enhance your organization’s image and reputation, facilitate recruitment and increase retention. Employee wellness and wellbeing increases productivity and job performance, boosts morale and inspires loyalty.

Trying to meet your employees’ responsibilities as caregivers and their obligations to the job is a Herculean task. Many caregivers lack the skills and resources to cope with the demands and as a result caregiving can take a toll on their mental and physical health. There are many ways that you can support your caregiver employees, such as providing:

  • EAP services
  • Flexible hours
  • Work-from-home options
  • Job sharing
  • Parental/compassionate leave

 

Flexibility is of paramount importance when trying to accommodate your caregiver employees. Each case will be different and should be evaluated on its own merit, so it is important to have the conversation with your staff to ensure they feel heard and considered. It takes effort, but it benefits both the employer and the employee.

Providing needed care for caregivers is an ongoing issue that is bubbling to the surface now. Do you have a plan in place for supporting employees who are caregivers?