Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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Good Mood Food: How to Eat Your Way to Better Mental Health

There’s no doubt about it – life at College and University can be tough. With exams to study for, papers to finish, and deadlines to meet, it’s far too easy to put healthy eating on the backburner. This is unfortunate, as our diet has a huge impact on our happiness levels. Considering the rising rate of mental health issues on school campuses, it’s becoming more important than ever for students to focus on eating healthy.

In celebration of National Nutrition Month this March, I’ve outlined 4 simple ways that you can boost your mood through the foods you eat.

Add More Omega-3 Fatty Acids

What’s your go-to snack that gets you through all those late night study sessions? If you’re like many students, chances are it’s one that’s packed with trans and saturated fats.

The average North American diet is much higher in trans and saturated fats and is lacking in the essential omega-3 fatty acids. This is troubling, as studies have shown that high levels of these fats can actually lead to depression. The good news is, research tells us that omega-3 fatty acids have a mood-stabilizing effect that can in fact reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.

How can you add more omega-3 fatty acids to your diet? Great options include oily fish such as salmon, trout, and anchovies. If fish isn’t quite your cup of tea, try leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale.

Choose Foods High in Antioxidants

I have some great news for you chocolate lovers: eating foods that are high in antioxidants is a great way to maintain positive mental health and wellbeing.

Antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene help minimize molecules in the body known as “free radicals”. Free radicals are detrimental to our mental health, and they are one of the leading causes of major depression. The silver lining? It has been proven that antioxidants help to fight these molecules, reducing symptoms of depression and improving our overall mental health.

On top of dark chocolate, foods that are rich in these mood-boosting antioxidants include tomatoes, blueberries, cranberries, artichoke, and kidney beans.

Increase your Vitamin B12 Intake

How many nights have you stayed up late studying only to find yourself feeling a little bit down the next day?

I like to think of vitamin B12 as a “miracle” vitamin when it comes to perking up and improving your mood.

Research has found that those who have vitamin B12 deficiencies have higher levels of depression, anxiety, and irritability. Vitamin B12 reduces these feelings by producing a chemical called ‘dopamine’ in the body. Dopamine is an essential chemical that helps to regulate our emotional response, boost our happiness levels, and improve our mood altogether.

To add more vitamin B12 to your diet, try eating more fish, beef, eggs, cheese, and milk.

Go for the Good Bacteria

Did you know that not all bacteria are bad bacteria? It’s true – eating foods that are high in ‘probiotic’ bacteria is a great way to improve your mental health.

Studies have confirmed that probiotics reduce inflammation as well as increase serotonin production within the body. This is great for your mental health, as inflammation causes higher levels of depression and stress, while serotonin helps boost your happiness levels. By consuming probiotics, you are effectively giving your body a natural antidepressant.

If you’re looking to add more depression-fighting probiotics to your diet, try making yogurt your snack of choice.

As a post-grad many, many, many years ago, I understand how busy your days on campus can get. It’s often much easier to choose quick, “on-the-go” snacks than to make a wholesome, nutritious meal. But if improving your mental health and wellbeing is something you value, consider taking that extra time. You’ll feel a whole lot better about it – inside and out.

To learn more about how you can improve your mental health through your diet, check out our Online and Telephonic Nutritional Service through your Student or Employee Assistance Program.


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Positively Productive

think-positiveAs we begin a new year, there is a sense of hope instilled in all of us. There are countless opportunities ahead, and a fresh beginning can inspire us in all aspects of our life. A lot of people make resolutions, and after a tumultuous year, I have as well: to be positive.

Positivity is a state of mind. It encompasses all elements of our life. So how can we be more positive, not only in our personal lives but at work as well? More specifically, as managers, how can we encourage this attitude amongst our employees when things get tough at work? Studies show that positive employees are more productive and exhibit more signs of motivation. So if you are looking to boost morale in your workplace this year, here’s a list of ways you can incorporate more positivity into your organization:

Be Social

In the workplace, we are often so busy working on projects and tasks that we forget to interact and be friendly with our employees and co-workers. The need to socialize started as an evolutionary method of survival. Not much has changed today; a study by UCLA researchers outlines the health benefits of social interaction, stating that social contact with others has a greater impact on overall health than cholesterol levels do.

So how can you create more of a social community in your workplace? While I am not suggesting creating a “party” atmosphere amongst your workforce, a simple “hello” to employees from higher-ranking staff each day, organized social events within the company, and encouraging employees to socialize and get to know one another are actions, among others, that can significantly boost morale in the workplace, and therefore increase job satisfaction and productivity.

Change your schedule

Most office employees work between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. each day. While this may be the overall average workday, it doesn’t always work for each employee. For example, a single mother may need to drop her children off at daycare by 6 a.m. and pick them up by 4 p.m. at the latest. The daily struggle to find the time to manage both her job and parental duties could create a large amount of stress.

While it’s not always possible, try to work around your employee’s personal schedules. Maybe they would prefer to come in earlier and leave earlier or start later and leave later As long as you are satisfied with the work being done, making these changes can increase employee’s job satisfaction while reducing stress levels. Additionally, according to an article in the Journal of Applied Psychology, workers who can produce their own schedules are more efficient and less likely to call in sick than employees who work a strict schedule.

Allow employees to control their space

A 2013 Workplace Study by design and architectural firm Gensler found that employees who had control over their own workspace were not only more satisfied in their roles, they had higher motivation and productivity rates.

For example, their study reported that tech firms had a higher happiness rate in an open-concept office space. Facebook, in particular, has found success this way by allowing their employees to customize their workplace layout based on the project at hand. By allowing employees creative control of their workspace, studies show an increase in organizational productivity.

While a major change in workspaces may not be possible for all employers, talk to your employees about their workspace needs and evaluate how you can make this work for them. If they require focus and attention to detail, a walled cubicle may make sense. If they need to interact with employees more frequently, an open-concept plan would be more efficient.

At the end of the day, we spend a majority of our lives at work. If we want to make sure our employees continue to perform well, have high levels of job satisfaction and are motivated, it’s our responsibility to create a positive and enjoyable workplace environment year round.

What other ways can you think of to improve the positivity of your workforce?


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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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Employee Recognition + Rewards = A Healthy Company

rules-good-co-worker-relationship1It has often been said that we spend more time at work than at home and recent studies back that up, announcing that 78 percent of people who work 30 to 50 hours a week spend more time with co-workers than with their families.

Although many employers want to increase employee engagement, there needs to be more attention placed on co-worker relationships because employees who have quality relationships with their co-workers are more likely to be engaged and happy at work. And happy engaged employees will mean increased productivity, and decreased time off, sickness and mental health issues.

Employers can boost employee engagement by creating a culture filled with healthy co-worker relationships. I have outlined below a few key ways employers can encourage employee engagement to create a healthy workplace.

1. Employee Recognition

Employee recognition is critical in preventing employee turnover and dissatisfaction in the workplace. Make sure you celebrate employee accomplishments, not just on a one-to-one basis, but with the entire company. Make a point to thank the employee in front of the whole department or even the entire company, depending on the size of your company. If the accomplishment has a large monetary impact on the business, then you may consider presenting them with a “high achiever” award or a gift.

2. Boost Morale

When employers encourage workplace friendships, they help boost employee morale, and encouraging supportive and trusting relationships help employees stay engaged and maintain a sense of belonging at a company.

In addition to setting up social events, which encourage employees to interact on a more personal level, employers can create an office space that encourages conversation. For example, have open office space or provide a space for employees to hang out in their free time (i.e. a small gym or even a lunch room).

3. Praise Milestones

Years ago, when an employee reached a 25-year anniversary, they were given a watch. Today, as employees do not tend to stay with the same company for a “lifetime”, employers need to invent creative milestone events to remind employees of their value to the company and how much they’re appreciated. Milestone events may include employee anniversaries, birthdays, anniversary of signing on a large account, memorable activities or other employee accomplishments.

Quite simple, if employees are engaged, recognized and appreciated they will feel happy, your company will be a healthy workplace and they will keep working hard and remain loyal to the company.

What are some ways your company has created healthy co-worker relationships in the workplace?


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Feeling Safe

SafetyMainAs I write this blog, I am reminded that today is Remembrance Day, a day dedicated to the men and women in Canada who lost their lives fighting for our freedom and safety.

In the past month, Canada has been rocked by incidents of violence toward our country and accusations of harassment in the workplace. Victims have come forward and shared their stories with the media and in turn, the public. Where we live and work should be a space that should make us feel safe and comfortable. It is a human right in a free society to feel safe. At work, the Human Rights Code, Workplace Violence and Harassment Legislation and the Criminal Code, are safety laws available to employees, yet harassment in the workplace are covered up for years, and still continues.

There are ways we can help create an environment that does not tolerate wrongful treatment of others, but also provides the resources should harassment issues still arise.

Every employee has the right to be treated with respect and has a responsibility to treat others with respect. If a person feels that he or she is being harassed, they should talk to someone that they trust, whether it be a co-worker, a family member or an employee in the human resources department, if one exists. It is important to document these incidents, and inform employees of the policies the employer has in place.

Harassment poisons the entire workplace and affects employee morale and productivity. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do as an employer or person of influence to keep your work environment safe and respectful:

  1. Clear Expectations
  • Make sure that the expectations in your workplace are clear – harassment of any kind will not be tolerated.
  1. Monitor the Atmosphere
  • Pay attention to the tone of interactions and comments made between co-workers and the use of offensive emails, inappropriate comments, derogatory language or jokes, and check for increased absenteeism or staff turnover.
  1. Lead by Example
  • Model respectful behaviours
  1. Maintain Open Communication Channels
  • Policies, procedures, and resources should be posted visibly in common areas, and senior management should offer an open door.

 

A workplace with an EAP and advanced health management programs that include trauma support will be able to help your employees in their time of need, and aid in their recovery in the workplace. We can all work together to create a safe place where we can work productively and feel supported. Let’s pause today and ask if the recent violence against Canada and harassment events reported in the media have caused you concern for your safety? What steps have you taken to make your office, which is a microcosm of the larger community, a “safer” environment for you, your colleagues, and your staff? Are we doing our part to make our work environment and country a safe place to work and live?

I look forward to hearing from you in the comments section below.


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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.