Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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Good Grief: Managing Loss in Your Workplace

shutterstock_160641419Dealing with the death of a loved one is one of the most difficult challenges we face in life. I have experienced grief in my own life, so I know that it can feel like your entire world has abruptly collapsed, which is why returning to work after a personal loss can be incredibly tough.

In Canada, employers are required to give their employees three days of paid bereavement leave when a member of their immediate family passes away. While I appreciate that employees are given time off to grieve their loss, I know that it takes longer than three days to recover from a death in the family. I recently spoke with a friend of mine who had returned to work after the loss of his mother. He said, “It was strange to return to work and act professionally when inside it felt like my whole world had been turned upside down.”

Grief doesn’t just take an emotional toll on employees. A recent study found that 85% of management-level employees ranked their decision-making skills from very poor to fair in the weeks and months following the loss of a loved one. When someone is dealing with the complex emotions associated with loss, it can be hard to focus on projects and assignments. This, in turn, can impact other employees who rely on this individual for their work, therefore creating a stressful workplace environment.

So how can managers of people deal with grief in the workplace? While everyone deals with death differently, here is a list of tips for managers on how to manage grief in the workplace.

Make accommodations: While the grieving individual is away, understand that they might not be completely “back” when they return to work. Depending on the individual’s role in the company, you can try to alleviate some of their daily work stress by asking others to help pitch in. Having minor stresses eliminated from their workload will allow the grieving individual to ease back into their role more comfortably.

Incorporate grief training into your workplace: We spend a majority of our lives at work, so we are bound to experience grief at some point in our career. Knowing this, a proactive plan to deal with grief in the workplace could resolve a lot of issues. Teach your employees about the grieving process and how to deal with an employee who has lost someone. That way, if and when the time comes, they will understand how to better deal with the situation.

Give them a chance to talk: Some people want to talk through their emotions while others prefer to internalize them. No matter who the employee is, as a manager, make it your responsibility to let them know that you are there for them if they ever want to discuss their grief.

Get help: While there is a difference between grief and depression, the loss of a loved one can trigger depression. If an employee is having a difficult time adjusting after they have lost someone close to them and they continue to show signs of depression, contact your organization’s EAP provider. They can provide mental health support that will help your employee through this difficult time.

Loss can be overwhelming. Knowing your organization has the tools in place to help employees through this difficult time will make it easier to cope with grief in your workplace.

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Dealing With An Empty Nest

While thousands of Canadian students are adjusting to their first few weeks of university or college, parents are facing a new challenge as well. For many, this is the first year their children have gone away to school and moved out of the family home. While seeing our children grow up and mature as adults is exciting for any parent, we can also be left with feelings of emptiness and sadness.

The first year of university or college symbolizes the beginning of adulthood for incoming freshmen, but it can feel like the end of an era for a lot of parents. The concept of ‘attachment’ is well documented in the work of John Bowlby, a psychiatrist who in the late 1950s, developed a theory of personality based around attachment. Bowlby defined attachment as a ‘lasting psychological connectedness between human beings, one that is universal among all cultures’. Bowlby believed that attachment can be understood within an evolutionary context in that the caregiver provides safety and security for the infant. He believed that children have a universal need to seek close proximity with their caregiver when under stress or threatened.

Fast forward to 2016 and we find that when that close proximity to the family home is removed, like when our children go off to live at university or college, the impact is not only felt by the child, but also by the parents.  So what happens when the attachment between a parent and child is disengaged?

We start to feel what we commonly refer to now as ‘Empty Nest Syndrome’. The Mayo Clinic defines Empty Nest Syndrome as feelings of depression, sadness, and/or grief experienced by parents and caregivers after children come of age and leave their childhood homes. While the term “Empty Nest Syndrome” is relativity new in the mental health world, the sadness associated with children leaving home is not.

I recently read an article on the subject in The Washington Post, where author Michael Gearson wrote about his son, “He is experiencing the adjustments that come with beginnings. His life is starting for real. I have begun the long letting go.” Sometimes as parents, we focus on our children so much that we forget what life was ever like without them.

When my children left for university and college, I distinctly remember how quiet my home felt. Letting go of the role we’ve had for 18 plus years was a difficult adjustment. It felt like I had lost an extension of myself like a part of my identity had been taken away. In single-parent households, Empty Nest Syndrome can be especially difficult to handle, as children are often the parent’s primary companions.

Although I am a firm believer that a major role as parents is to teach our children to become independent so they are prepared to thrive without us, the adjustment for not only our children, but for parents, can be difficult.

The first few weeks of a quiet home without our children are always difficult As you settle in to your new life as an empty nester, here are some tips to get you through the initial transition:

  • Keep in touch. With modern technology, our loved ones are only ever a phone call or a Face Time away. While it’s important to give your children some space to grow, it’s comforting to know you can contact them anytime.
  • Develop new hobbies. With more free time, parents can participate in new activities or take interesting classes to give themselves more of an identity outside of being a parent.
  • Reach out. Friends and family members are sure to have gone through a similar experience, it’s important for parents to talk to someone about their feelings of loss. If feelings of sadness and loneliness persist, consider counselling or look into your company’s EAP.
  • Stay Positive. This new freedom allows parents to indulge in dreams they’ve been putting off for years, like taking that trip you’ve always talked about!

Letting go of your children is hard. As parents, it’s important to remember that while we might have a hard time dealing with their absence, our children are growing into the independent, educated, and well-rounded adults we always dreamed they’d become.

And just remember, whenever it feels like you miss your child too much, they’ll be home for Thanksgiving with a truckload of laundry for you.

 

 


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Keeping Your Cool in the Workplace this Summer

10459716_xxl_1600_536_c1_c_c_0_0_1The warmth of the summer months beckon us to spend time with family and friends outdoors and away from work to enjoy these precious days of sunshine. However, there are challenges to maintaining our mental well-being when these days come. I would like to share with you some facts about working in the summertime, and how you can help your staff feel their best.

Spreading the hours around

A study noted in the Huffington Post found that 26 per cent of Canadians are not using paid vacation days provided by their employer. The majority of those said it was because they felt they had too much work to do and taking time away would leave them behind in their work. Others are saving their vacation days for emergencies, and still others claimed to not want a vacation. By encouraging staff to take time away, even for a staycation, the benefits in creativity can be reaped when returning with a fresh view and feeling more relaxed. Time away also decreases burnout and subsequently can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Covering for others

According to CMHA Ontario, the summer months of vacation time can be a cause of stress for those filling in for others in their absence. Whether it is on the assembly line or in an office, taking on the job of another, often one that they may have little experience doing, can make those employees feel anxious and stressed. When personal life stressors occur during this time, the pressure at work can seem overwhelming. To make vacations work for everyone, discuss with everyone the upcoming workload so you can plan deadlines around vacation dates. Knowing who is on vacation and when will also help you plan your projects. Ensure staff that is covering for others are clearly aware of new tasks and responsibilities, and check in to see how manageable the workload is while other staff is away.

Seasonal Depression

Seasonal Affective Disorder typically affects some in the winter months with shorter and colder days, but there are some individuals who are affected by depression in the summertime. Increased humidity is unbearable for some, who may stay in their air-conditioned home to avoid the heat, and are likely less active as a result. When it’s too hot to cook, many choose to eat out or order in and poor food choices are often made. Changes in routine and schedules can bring on feelings of depression, such as having bored school children or university students now at home. Financial strain with camp and entertainment costs is increased, as well as the costs of going on a destination vacation. Wearing shorts or bathing suits can increase feelings of poor body image, and may inhibit some from joining friends at the beach or poolside. Some signs of summer depression to look for in your staff could include difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, weight loss or gain, and feelings of anxiety. One way to stave off symptoms of depression is to maintain physical fitness, so encourage employees to use their employee discount at the air-conditioned gym, even for the summer months. Another way to maintain mental wellness is to stay connected, so hosting a BBQ for staff to enjoy each other’s company outside of the workplace and engage with each other in a social environment helps build camaraderie, minimize isolation and enhance work relationships.

I hope you take the time to enjoy your summer, with your co-workers, family and friends!


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PTSD and Your Workplace: Tips to Understanding and Supporting Your Employees

PTSD blogThis past week, we were asked once again to commemorate Remembrance Day, and the men and women we have lost in battle, as well as those who have returned to Canadian soil with not just physical but also mental wounds. The citizens of Paris, and the world at large (mainly through 24/7 media), are currently being impacted by the senseless terrorism of this past weekend to the point where people may be asking themselves: “is the world at war?”

Trauma can affect anyone, not just our brave soldiers, and the emotional scars can affect our personal and professional lives, deeply.

There are many difficult circumstances we all must cope with at some point in our lives, but some individuals will experience sudden or unexpected devastating events that can be psychologically impactful. When individuals with this kind of experience “re-live” the situation that caused fear and shock through: sleepless nights, nightmares and fear, loss of appetite, interest, concentration, and flashbacks among others – and these feelings persist in their daily lives long after the event – they may be diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can be caused by a psychologically traumatic event involving actual or threatened death or serious injury to oneself or others. Often, the symptoms of PTSD can emerge even three months after the incident, and for some, a stressor can cause symptoms to surface years later. When symptoms are delayed, those with PTSD don’t often make the connection between the traumatic event and the feelings and behavioural symptoms.

These signs may first become apparent in the workplace as performance-related issues. There may be changes in behaviour that seem out of character, as well as social and interpersonal conflicts, resistance to authority, bullying, or emotional eruptions. Avoidance of certain activities (such as driving if involved in a car accident), sleep disruptions, difficulty concentrating, and being easily startled or irritated are some additional indicators of PTSD, and mental health issues such as depression or addictions may also be present.

Some occupations such as soldiers, firefighters, doctors, paramedics, police officers and nurses – namely first responders, have double the risk of experiencing PTSD, but the disorder can affect anyone. With about 8% of Canadians experiencing PTSD at some point in their lives, some of your employees could be suffering in silence, and that has a direct impact on their personal wellbeing, productivity, and on your organization.

People with PTSD may feel shame or guilt, and because of this, they may be hesitant to disclose. So how can you help your employees cope if they’re afraid to reach out? Ask your employee what would be helpful to him/her.

I’d like to share with you a number of tips to accommodate some of the more common issues that arise among sufferers of PTSD in the workplace:

  • Memory: provide employees with written instructions and meeting minutes, verbal prompts and reminders and encourage employees to use organizers and lists
  • Lack of concentration: reduce workplace distractions, increase natural lighting
  • Coping with stress: allow time off for counselling, assign a supervisor, manager, or mentor to answer employee questions. Encourage employees to walk away from frustrations and confrontations, allow frequent breaks
  • Working effectively with a supervisor: provide positive reinforcement, give clear expectations
  • Dealing with emotions: refer employees to your Employee Assistance Program (EAP), a safe haven to speak freely about PTSD
  • Panic attacks: allow employee to take a break and go somewhere s/he feels comfortable to use relaxation techniques or contact a support person. Identify and remove triggers (noises, smells, or visuals).

In what ways do you accommodate your employees? How are you raising awareness in the workplace of PTSD and resources that are available?


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Robin Williams: Depression in the Spotlight

Robin-Williams-diedAlthough people suffer from depression everywhere and too many individuals decide to take their own lives as a result of their pain, mental illness will always get the spotlight when society loses a well-known figure to suicide.

While we probably don’t know him personally, we feel close to Robin Williams through his various movie and comedic roles. Whether you remember him best as Mork, the Genie, Mrs. Doutbfire, English teacher John Keating or Dr. Sean Maguire, Robin William’s warmth was always felt by his fans through the decades.

As the details of Robin William’s suicide surface, many have wondered how someone could bring so much joy to others around the world while quietly suffering from his own demons. Williams was believed to have suffered from bipolar disorder, an illness defined by its range of manic and depressive mood swings. It appears as though Williams had been battling an extended period of severe depression when he decided to take his own life.

What Robin Williams’ death most poignantly illustrates is that depression can overwhelm even successful, talented, wealthy and perceivably happy individuals. There is no common denominator or predictor of who can suffer depression, and everyone has a unique experience with the illness, where sometimes medications, treatments and coping skills are simply no match. For whatever reason, Williams felt that suicide was his only way to find relief from his suffering, and he is not alone in this feeling.

Can anything be learned from the terrible loss of this well-loved actor, as well the loss of so many whose names we don’t know and will never have the chance to meet?

For those who are suffering, perhaps it is the realization that, while your feelings of sadness are yours and are valid, you are not alone.

For those who know a loved one is suffering, we must learn to reach out, again and again and again, to show them how much they are loved.

Amongst the posts I’ve read over the past few days commemorating Robin Williams, nothing struck me as strongly as the following:

“If you feel isolated, I see you. If you wonder whether it all matters, I will help you find out. If you feel worthless, know that you are valued by me. If you feel the darkness closing in, there is always a little light. I will walk with you there.”


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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.