Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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Holiday Addictive Behaviour

halloween2_cs4The holiday season is upon us! Regardless of which religious holiday you celebrate, for many, December is a month focused on eating, drinking, and shopping. Naturally, this time proves difficult for those with addictive personalities, those recovering from an addiction, or those still living with one. Not only is the temptation high due to the activities occurring throughout the month, but the stress of the season also weighs heavily on some, due to family or financial pressures.

It is important to recognize that addiction is not only limited to drugs and alcohol. Addiction can manifest itself in many forms, including food, shopping, casino and on-line gambling, sex and even internet use. Regardless of the addiction that you or someone you know is dealing with, I would like to offer some suggestions for successfully overcoming temptation during the holidays.

  1. Mentally Prepare
    • Ignorance is not bliss in this situation. Acknowledge that the holidays may be especially difficult for you, and prepare to face temptation and triggers head-on. Run through possible scenarios in your head, and actively plan how you will manage them.
  2. Know Yourself
    • If you recognize your triggers, learn how best to deal with them. This could be going for a walk, talking to a friend, or writing out your feelings. Remember, what works for you might be different than what works for someone else.
  3. Avoid Negative Influences
    • If you know a certain situation will bring along people or activities that will test you, avoid them altogether. This may not always be possible with family commitments, but do your best to stay away from the optional events that you know will be difficult to get through.
  4. Create a Support System
    • Reach out to those closest to you for support. Share with them your struggles and let them know how they can help you, whether by keeping you accountable or diffusing negative situations for you.

While the holidays can prove to be a stressful, tempting, and overwhelming time, try to see the good in it all. Stay positive and focused, and the road to recovery may not seem so bleak! Every hurdle is another accomplishment to add to your list.

What has helped you manage similar issues during the holiday time? We’d like to hear about your personal experiences. Please share with us in the comments.


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How Can You Help Your Employees With Work-Life Balance?

work-life-balanceLast week, I addressed ways an employee can find work-life balance.

This week, I’d like to focus on the employer and how they can keep their staff motivated by providing an environment that values work-life balance. We can no longer ignore the fact that the majority of people spend more hours at work than they do with family or friends.

I’ve outlined below my top four recommendations that can help employers think outside the box and be creative in making a work/life balance for their employees:

  1. Flexibility

More and more employees are looking for flexible scheduling in their position, and this may include:

  • Changing shift schedules, e.g. work four 10-hour shifts, so staff can enjoy three days off each week instead of the typical two-day weekend
  • Offering seasonal hours
  • Trusting employees to self-monitor rather than punch a time clock. Some examples where this can be used include: when coming in late, making up the time later in the day; coming in early and leaving early; and, going to appointments on company time and making up the time.
  • Allowing employees to take a longer lunch, if they come in early or work later
  • Offering job-sharing between two part-time staff to provide flexibility while ensuring the work still gets done
  1. Telecommuting

When possible, incorporate a work-from-home policy, even if it is only a few days per year, like during major snowstorms. Virtual meetings can help employees that would find it challenging to be on site to attend.

  1. Appreciation

Appreciation does not have to be monetary. Make yearly anniversaries with the company an extra paid time off day to show staff their employer remembers and appreciates their tenure.

Present high-performing employees with family vacation packages in addition to, or in place of, yearly bonuses.

  1. Benefits Awareness

Keeping employees informed of your existing benefit programs are important, but do they understand how to use your Employee Assistance Program? Provide simplified access and ongoing communication and training to ensure employees are well-informed of the advantages and how the benefits can be used.

Every age group desires balance and flexibility while they manage their professional and personal interests and responsibilities. It’s time we start looking at the stress we can reduce for our staff, which can increase the opportunity for positive mental health to flourish.

While you may not be able to initiate all of these suggestions, even tackling a few will help employees see your organization’s concern for true work/life balance in the workplace and could keep them dedicated, productive, and emotionally healthy.

 

As an employer, what things do you feel you need to create a better work/life balance for your employers? What creative ideas have you offered your employees that have resulted in great success, and could you share any of them with our followers? I look forward to reading your feedback below.


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The Need for Resiliency in Your Life

resilience-plantResiliency is a term that has been gaining much traction in the mental health industry over the last couple of years because of its connectedness to improved wellbeing. Like many terms in the mental health industry, we hear it all the time, but what exactly does it mean to you on an every day level?

Simply put, resiliency is an individual’s ability to bounce back from setbacks or challenges in life with confidence and self-esteem in tact by harnessing inner strength. Resiliency is our defense against difficult times in that, as a skill, it allows us to see past the immediate period of hardship and into the future of more hopeful times. Resilient people have the ability to make realistic plans and carry them out while maintaining their self-esteem and a positive view of self and their abilities, even when negative life events challenge their confidence and energy.

Difficult events that challenge an individual’s resiliency could include death of a loved one, loss of a job, a relationship break-up, financial issues, etc. although all life events, large and small, could have an effect on an individual’s ability to cope.

Having a better understanding of the term, do you recognize people who exhibit resiliency in their lives? While it may seem innate or that you’re born with certain defences against life’s challenges, resiliency is actually a skill that is developed and honed as a result of a strong personal support network and experience with manageable challenges that helped build problem-solving skills.

Without a certain level of resiliency, individuals can be more vulnerable to destructive coping habits, such as substance abuse, self-harm and poor self-esteem that can develop into mental illnesses requiring professional support, such as depression and anxiety. As mental health issues become more prevalent in Canadians, particularly Canadian children, the mental health industry recognizes the need for patients to develop coping skills as preventative measures to mental illness. With improved learning and academic achievement, reduced risky behaviour and improved physical health, developing resiliency is a skill that will continue to serve the individual throughout life.

How can YOU practice resiliency in your life, and encourage it in others?

  • Get connected: Resiliency is less about “going it alone” and more about your ability to recognize when you need other people and relying on this support network.
  • Experience emotions: Experience your emotions as you need to heal, but recognize when fully experiencing emotions at all times may inhibit regular functioning and focus on concentrating on your routine.
  • Avoid seeing events as never-ending crises: Find perspective and recognize when things are getting a little better as this will help you retain hope.
  • Learn from experience: Learn to be reflective about your experiences and take note of how you handled things in the past to channel these tactics in the present.
  • Be proactive: Don’t allow things that ARE in your control get out of control, such as bills, chores, errands, etc. Keep a sense of purpose and accomplishment in your life by managing tasks you can handle.

Do you recognize people with resiliency in your life? What tactics do you use to get through difficult life situations? I look forward to your thoughts below.


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Mental Health Coping Strategies You Can Try Today!

office exercise

If you cope with mental health issues in your life, you might be familiar with experiencing a stressful, anxiety-inducing or depressing episode during the workday. This episode can be compounded by discomfort because you may not want to show that you are upset while at work. With 1 in 5 Canadians suffering from some kind of mental health issue, it becomes vital for us to develop and hone coping strategies and skills that allow us to support ourselves through difficult moments if formal support is not available.

We all know that learning to manage stress and mental health is a life-long journey, but how can you help yourself when you experience an episode in the workplace?  The following are tangible strategies that can help you maintain a sense of calm and control of your mental health while at work.

Talk (or Write) it Out: If it is appropriate, talk with a trusted family member, colleague or friend about what you are currently experiencing. Releasing some of the pent-up anxiety or bad feelings brings relief to the immediate symptoms that can keep us from being productive. If you are not comfortable speaking to someone or prefer to write out your feelings, take a few minutes to do so. Take note of potential triggers, exactly what you’re feeling and how long the experience lasts. This can help you uncover patterns and predict stressful situations.

Accomplish something: If you are feeling overwhelmed with the amount of things on your plate, it may help you to accomplish something – even if it is unrelated or minor. For example, if you are worried about completing all the items on a task list for a big project, it may help you to clear your email inbox or complete a timeline of how you plan to tackle the work. Ensure that you channel this feeling of accomplishment and capability into your task list.

Endorphins are your friend: We are all aware of the health benefits of exercise. Even a short, 10 minute walk can do wonders in terms of clearing your head, getting some fresh air and pumping feel-good hormones into your bloodstream.

Coaching Up: Coaching up refers to the process of offering suggestions to your manager or boss about ways in which he or she can support you in the workplace. Sharing only as much as you feel comfortable, tell your manager how you prefer to receive instruction, how you respond to stressful situations, and what times of day you are most productive. This opens the lines of communication between you and your manager so that the work environment is a safer place for you even when you are experiencing a mental health issue.

Be kind to yourself: We are often our own harshest critics and when we become stressed, overwhelmed or down, we forget to be kind to ourselves! Be a friend to yourself and think of what advice or support you would give a dear friend if they came to you with the same feelings or worries that you are currently experiencing. As a friend, you would be understanding and highlight your friend’s strengths and positive qualities. Remember to be this kind of friend to yourself!

Anxiety, worry and even bouts of depression can be found at home and at work, and it is unrealistic to expect us to purge ourselves completely from these feelings or episodes of poor mental health. What we can do is improve the way we manage our symptoms and find ways to support ourselves through a difficult time. What do you do to get yourself through a stressful situation? Would you feel comfortable using any of the coping strategies listed above? I look forward to your thoughts below.


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Part 1 of 3: Today’s Post-Secondary School Student

o-MULTITASKING-facebookStudents entering college or university several decades ago lived a very different experience than today’s student: They used landlines, hand-wrote their essays and researched topics using only library books and encyclopedias. Today’s university student is a millennial, born between 1980 and 1994, and while this student benefits from smaller cellphones and Internet access, they embody a host of generation-specific difficulties when adapting to post-secondary education, most notably, mental health issues.

So what does today’s university and college student look like?

“Helicopter” Parents: The average student often comes from a very supportive familial unit, where parents are very involved with their child’s life, including their extra-curricular activities, academics and social calendar. Sometimes, this involvement leads to underdeveloped coping and problem-solving skills in children, because they learn that their parents want to protect them from difficulty or discomfort. This can result in university-aged students who have trouble managing stress and conflict when they experience the independent lifestyle of post-secondary education.

 Academic Pressures: Striving for individuality and well roundedness has become the goal for this generation, with a huge emphasis being placed on academic success. With this cultural pressure, a lack of consistency exists between school boards when it comes to grading and measurement of knowledge. Studies have found that students come into university or college with inflated high school grades, which can negatively affect self-esteem when entering post-secondary schooling where students are not earning the kind of grades they are used to.

Financial Stress: With the growing cultural expectation that you MUST have a degree in order to get a good job, many families cannot afford to put all of their post-secondary-bound children through school without help. Tuition rates are rising along with the cost of living, and many students rely on government funding to put themselves through school. And once students have graduated and have their degree in hand, they are left with monumental student debt and often limited job prospects.

Technology and Social Media savvy: Millennials are the most technologically connected of the generations, keeping in touch with friends and relatives all-too-easily through various social venues like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This constant barrage of information can lead to social anxiety and the idea that “everyone else is smarter, more successful, and has more friends than me”. With technology and mobile addiction on the rise, students are not developing vital interpersonal skills the way they have in the past, which can lead to feelings of social isolation – ironic when these are the same students with hundreds of Facebook Friends!

Today’s university and college student is bright, ambitious and well-connected and their unique challenges differ greatly from generations past. Part 2 of this series will discuss the need for change and implementation of more comprehensive support for this greatly underserviced demographic. With college and university student suicide rates on the rise in past years, mental health and mental illness need to be made a top priority. After reading this blog, do you notice any other characteristics that today’s post-secondary student embodies? I look forward to your comments below.

Sources:

http://www.collegequarterly.ca/2013-vol16-num01-winter/flatt.html

http://globalnews.ca/news/548478/young-minds-millennials-facing-increased-rates-of-stress-compared-to-other-generations/


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Feeling “SAD”? You are not alone!

WinterThis winter has been a particularly fierce one and with plenty of snow, grey skies and nippy temperatures, when you find yourself daydreaming of an exotic sunny getaway, just know that you are definitely not alone.

While most of us chalk up these feelings to mild cases of the “winter blues”, some of us feel the impact of winter on our mental health more negatively than others, which can be diagnosed as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.

As the sun’s rays has become weaker with the shortening of daylight, it can take a toll on mental health and symptoms of SAD begin to take shape, which can include extreme fatigue, sadness, emptiness, anxiety, decreased energy, lack of focus, or weight gain.

During the winter months, the winter blues and SAD could affect your productivity and motivation at in all parts of your life. Here are some ways you can combat these symptoms and make yourself feel better:

  1. Use food as fuel: It’s only too easy to reach for comfort food during the winter months, particularly food that “sticks to your ribs”, as they say. Ensure that your diet consists of vitamin-rich foods so that you can combat illness and unhealthy cravings.
  2. Every bit of exercise helps: Even if you don’t enjoy traditional winter sports, don’t put exercise on the backburner for the winter months. Bundle up and go for a walk, invest in at-home yoga videos or take advantage of indoor pools and gyms. Take a few minutes throughout the day to stretch at work, especially if you have a sedentary job.  The endorphins released while exercising increases your energy for the rest of your day.
  3. Take sun breaks: When the sun breaks through the clouds, try to take advantage! Spend a few minutes outside, soak up the vitamin D and enjoy winter’s small miracles.
  4. Honour your commitments: keep your schedule full and don’t let yourself back out of your plans. When you don’t have anywhere to be, hibernating in bed for 11 hours is only too easy.
  5. Plan ahead: When you have something to look forward to, whether that’s a trip, an event, a meaningful purchase or some other life change, every day that passes brings you a step closer. The winter will not last forever, so give yourself reasons to move forward.  It’s almost over!

How do you combat the winter blahs? Do you have any tips or tricks to making the most of the winter season? I look forward to your comments below!


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Back To School!

back-to-school1The 4-year old beginning school for the first time; the 6-year old starting Grade 1; the 14-year old beginning High School; the 18-year old starting College or University.  Yes, it is an exciting time for every student, but what they also share in common is anxiety due to the anticipation of a new environment and fear of the unknown.

As I write this blog a week before school starts, we should remind ourselves that the transition period to these new beginnings can be anxiety-provoking for most students, while overwhelming and even traumatic for others. For most people, It is all too easy to remember the anxiety often felt on Labour Day before the first day of school.

Although research shows that students experience anxiety adjusting to their first year at College and University (Canadian Organization of University College Health, June 2013), there is growing evidence that suggests the rate at which anxiety is affecting students at the High School (McGill University, April 2013) level and even as far back as Kindergarten (Canadian Paediatric Society, 2009) is increasing.

The good news is that usually this anxiety is transient, and its shelf life will terminate once the unknown becomes clear and familiarity sets in for the student.  But for some students, the period of adjustment will take longer to work through and can have numerous negative consequences including:

  • distraction
  • loss of concentration
  • falling behind in school
  • isolation
  • loneliness

As a parent, the role you play in your child’s transition periods is crucial. To learn how you can help your child cope with their new beginnings this fall,  visit the following link.

http://school.familyeducation.com/parents-and-school/school-readiness/33594.html?detoured=1

How do you support your children through periods of anxiety and discomfort brought on by new beginnings or experiences? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!