Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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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.

 


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Cancer in the Workplace: What can you do?

Over 204,440 Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer in 2016.

This is an alarming statistic, one that we in the health care field together with employers need to address in order to support our workforce.

It’s safe to say cancer has a huge impact on all of us. This includes the families of those with a diagnosis, in addition to those directly affected. Unfortunately, people who have been diagnosed often feel uncomfortable disclosing their illness in the workplace, yet they desperately need our support.

Recently, my own company has had to deal with the impact of a cancer diagnosis in our office and being in the industry I’m in, we luckily had the tools and systems in place to address this. This is not the case for many organizations.

Although some employee assistance programs (EAPs) have introduced cancer support programs, we still have a long way to go to support this disease in the workplace.

As a business owner, HR manager, or supervisor, an employee is most likely to come to you with their cancer diagnosis to ask for support. I know how incredibly difficult this discussion can be, and to help you support a cancer diagnosis in the workplace, I have outlined a few tools below.

Be Prepared

A cancer diagnosis is often unexpected and inconvenient. Having a back-up long-term leave strategy in place can benefit the entire organization.

When an employee is dealing with an illness that interferes with their work, it can create tension in the office, especially if missed work impacts another employee. In the event of illness, a pre-determined strategy outlining the shift of responsibility among colleagues will allow an ill employee to feel more comfortable disclosing their diagnosis.

Have a Care Plan

There are details you need to know in order to set up a care plan that would be most beneficial to the employee. Your questions might include asking them if they know their treatment plan, if they will need to go on a work leave or long-term disability, and what accommodations you’ll need to make for them in the office. Your employee may not have all the details of their diagnosis yet, but asking the right questions will allow you to prepare an effective plan that will provide them the most support.

It’s also important to ask the employee how they would like to handle the situation in the workplace i.e. do they wish to disclose their diagnosis to other coworkers. Knowing who is aware of the situation will allow you to limit misinformation from circulating around the office and allow you to create a plan to deal with this situation.

Create a Safe Space

Dealing with cancer is both physically and emotionally exhausting, especially if someone is carrying on with his or her regular workload. One of the most important things you can do in your role is ensure the employee feels comfortable talking to you about their situation. Studies show that 40% of people impacted by cancer suffer from psychological distress. Ensure that you take the proper precautions to provide your employee with emotional support through this experience.

A cancer diagnosis impacts the entire workplace. Other employees might feel emotionally distressed by the news or may be experiencing a new, stressful workload as a result of another employee’s illness or absence. Encourage employees to reach out and talk to you about their feelings on the issue. By giving everyone an outlet for their pain, you allow them to release some of the stress brought on by this diagnosis.

 
Dealing with a cancer diagnosis in the workplace is incredibly difficult for all involved. Check in with The Canadian Cancer Society for helpful resources and ask your EAP provider if they have a cancer support service, or a program for your workforce to help those newly diagnosed as well as their partners and family members.

 


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How Do You Find the Time for Work-Life Balance?

Work-Life BalanceIt seems that in these times, more than in our parents’ day, we are trying to be everyone for everybody. The majority of Canadians have reported feeling overloaded with too many roles to juggle – employees, parents, partners, students, friends, siblings, caregivers of older relatives, volunteers…and we keep adding to the list. If we are not mindful of the stress that is inherent in managing each of these roles, it can take a serious toll on our physical and mental health. Technology has only increased expectations, with many employers expecting worker availability around the clock, never mind staying on top of your email and cleaning up your inbox on a regular basis! Staying connected doesn’t allow for as much downtime as we need and we don’t always see the signs of when good stress that motivates us becomes harmful stress that exhausts us. Ask yourself:

  1. Do I feel like I’ve lost control in areas of my life?
  2. Do I often feel guilty that I have neglected some roles at the expense of others?
  3. Do I find it increasingly difficult to focus on the task at hand?
  4. Does it seem like I always feel tired?

I’ve always believed we are unique individuals, sharing similar experiences. Thus, work-life balance has a different meaning for each of us, but the majority of us know when we’re not feeling balanced.

I’ve compiled some suggestions on how to find some ways to achieve that balance, whether at work or at home, that I’d like to share with you.

With wage freezes and budget cuts, I understand that getting your employer’s support can be achieved when you are clear on what YOU need to ensure optimal work-life balance. Take some time to look into the programs, benefits, and policies available to you.

During the daily grind, keep these strategies top of mind to help you balance:

  • Schedule 10-minute breaks every two hours (even a walk to the cafeteria or outside for fresh air). This will increase what you accomplish at the end of each day.
  • The to-do list you prepare for the next day needs to be realistic given the hours to do the tasks.
  • Turn off your email program to avoid distractions while focusing on tasks.
  • Turn off electronic devices when you are not scheduled to work, so there is no distraction during your “downtime”.

Prioritization is a key to balancing our obligations and desires. We want to be a successful employee, have a healthy and dedicated relationship with our partner, be an involved parent to our children and supportive caregiver to our elderly parents, and have time to spend with friends. When we determine what is important to us (eg. spending time reading with our children at the end of the day instead of working overtime to finance the dream house), we can put some things aside to do (or not to do) at a later date. . There are only 24 hours in a day, so if we are working towards our goals of achieving our masters degree while holding on to our 9-5 job, we need to check in with ourselves periodically to set ourselves back on a balanced track.

According to Statistics Canada, employees who considered most of their days to be quite a bit or extremely stressful were over three times more likely to suffer a major depressive episode, compared with those who reported low levels of general stress. I encourage you to take steps to protect your mental and physical health by bringing all aspects of your life into balance.

Do you think you have a good work-life balance? Is it possible in our world today to achieve work-life balance? I look forward to hearing what works for you for balancing work and family in “Comments” below.