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Mental Health

Mental wellness is critical to employee's health. We at AspenHR, encourage you to share these articles as part of your mental health program to help improve the lives and wellbeing of your employees.

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May is Mental Health Month and each year more community groups and organizations are using this time to raise awareness and reduce stigma around the challenges that impact more than 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. These statistics can look different depending on your geographic location and population demographics. Regardless, it is important to recognize the reality of mental illness within our communities and workplaces to also understand its ripple effects beyond the individual.

Two years ago, like most of the world, I was home and sheltered in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, I remember being relieved that there was finally a moment to slow down without the guilt or pressure to show up anywhere in person. Conversely, I was also managing an internal angst with the unknown of what a pandemic really meant for the future. I worried about the stress on family members working in essential services and the burnout of fellow caregivers of loved ones at home. Overall, I worried about the well-being of many others with unique living situations that became intolerable or unsafe through the elimination of daily routines and activities during the pandemic.

Given my own understanding of and experiences with mental illness, even before the pandemic, I knew that these stressors had to be affecting other people too. Without proper support, these worries could begin to impact other areas of life including physical health and of course, work. When thinking about the ripple effect, it is important to understand that some individuals may have an increased risk of developing chronic diseases like diabetes or cancer due to serious mental illness. From a global perspective, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide and costs the global economy over $1 trillion each year in lost productivity. All these factors and more were the motivation to develop a Mental Health Month initiative for our organization so that we build awareness and action to support mental wellbeing at work.

The month-long Mental Health program was built around weekly themes and educational topics to normalize the difficult experiences we face but do not always discuss. Employees were provided with a variety of safe spaces to discuss and learn about mental health. This included live webinars with mental health professionals, mental health Mondays to share facts and coping techniques, along with a resource list to help employees seek help from a counselor or coach. The goal was to bridge the gap between awareness and action by providing the tangible steps that can be taken to start prioritizing mental wellbeing, even during a global pandemic, and to remind individuals that they are not alone.

Since the launch of our Mental Health Month initiative in 2020, there has been a ripple effect across the organization at all levels to continue prioritizing mental wellbeing. This is possible due to partnership from our Leadership and People Operations teams in collaboration with our employee-led wellbeing committee. In addition to existing benefits, Newfront now offers extra mental health days for employees to take separate from regular time off. To model how to disconnect from work for a mental recharge, we also implemented a companywide Mental Health Day shutdown this year. The feedback from the team was positive in that it allowed folks more time to connect with family, enjoy time in nature, shut down emails, and ultimately, relax in whatever way they need. It makes a difference in the way employees utilize the rich benefits offered at work when there is clear support from the C-suite to take time away from work for mental health.

While many organizations offer regular and frequent companywide Mental Health Days, this may not be possible for everyone to implement right away, if at all. In these cases – consider starting small with one or two mental health days a year that coincide with Mental Health Month or even World Mental Health Day in October. We know the negative impacts of mental illness can be widespread, but there is also an opportunity to normalize mental health within an organization to create positive ripple effects within the company.

Here are a few questions to consider when creating your mental health strategy:

  • What does Mental Health Month look like in your organization now?
  • What type of support do your employees ask for related to mental health?
  • How will you bring the conversation to the executive leadership level?
  • How are you currently communicating the importance of mental health and resources available within your company?
  • Who is missing from the mental health conversation as you think about individuals and groups to offer support?

Are there benefit vendors or community organizations you can partner with to bring your strategy to life?

Although we are more than halfway through the month of May, there is still time to create impact and drive change toward the normalization of mental wellbeing as a business imperative. Consider forming a cross-functional wellbeing committee to help address some of the above questions. Mental Health Month continues to be more recognized by organizations every year which is a positive sign toward destigmatizing how we talk about mental illness at work and beyond. As you consider your organizational approach, remember that culture shifts to support employee mental health and wellbeing cannot happen without leadership commitment, action, and accountability.

Article written by Newfront.

 

How to Fight Burnout

May 12, 2022

This year has been both physically and mentally draining. We’ve had to adapt to remote work, juggle careers and homeschooling, miss out on important celebrations and milestones, and distance ourselves from friends and family. If all of this, plus constantly evolving lockdown restrictions and worries about the COVID-19 virus itself, has left you feeling exhausted, you’re not alone. A survey by the Harvard Business Review found that 60% of respondents felt burnt out often or very often during the pandemic, while 85% felt that their well-being had declined over the last year. Meanwhile, a study by the American Psychological Association found that 84% of adults experienced emotions associated with prolonged stress over the course of the pandemic. With all the change that has occurred in the last year, feeling worn out makes sense. Our bodies have been overexposed to stress, leaving us feeling depleted of energy and like we’ve hit a wall. While stress in normal doses is a natural part of life and can even be motivating at times, chronic stress can lead to burnout, which can wreak havoc on our health, happiness, relationships, job performance and daily functioning. Here’s what you need to know about burnout:

What is burnout?

The term burnout, first coined by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, was originally defined as, “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.” Simply put, burnout is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion caused by excessive, severe, or chronic stress. It is typically characterized by a lack of energy or motivation and a sense of hopelessness or cynicism, as well as increased mental distance from one’s job. Unlike with regular fatigue, those experiencing burnout may feel overwhelmed or incapable of coping with stress or handling responsibilities. Burnout can also lead to trouble concentrating and reduced job performance. Though typically related to one’s job, factors such as child care, work-life balance, societal pressure, and social media, can also exacerbate feelings of stress and anxiety and lead to burnout.

Preventing and Managing Burnout

The good news is that burnout is avoidable. Whether you’re feeling burnout already or sense you’re heading down that path, here are some ways to protect your mental health.

1. Practice Healthy Habits

Taking care of your physical health is one of the best ways to improve your mental health. In times of high stress, it’s important not to let good habits fall through the cracks. This means maintaining a healthy diet, getting a good night’s sleep, practicing good hygiene, and exercising regularly. Try to eat nutritious foods, while being mindful of your caffeine and alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a depressant and can significantly affect your mood, motivation, energy, and sleep, even days after. Meanwhile, caffeine is a stimulant that we can become overly dependent on when we’re already burnt out. You should also moderate your sugar and refined carb consumption as well, as both can leave you feeling sluggish and low energy. Try to go to bed at the same time each night, and aim for at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep. Research shows that getting less than 6 hours of sleep can increase your risk of burnout, as it can impact your productivity, concentration, and motivation. Likewise, regular exercise will boost your mood, improve your concentration, and help you sleep better. Even engaging in just 10 to 20 minutes of exercise a day can significantly boost your overall happiness level and relieve stress.

2. Set boundaries

One of the biggest contributors to burnout is a lack of a healthy, work-life balance. For many, though, it’s been difficult to have a clear separation between the two while working from home.

Without a commute or physically leaving the office, it can be easy to get wrapped up in a task and work longer or later hours. One Medical Mental Health Specialist, Sherese Ezelle, LMHC recommends creating a “virtual” commute for yourself to give yourself time to unwind. “Create a new at home commute by taking a quick walk around the block and listening to a podcast or music.” said Ezelle. “If you used to read on the subway or train on your way home from work, pick up a book or listen to an audiobook at home when you finish working. Replicating this commute time can help you disconnect and more easily transition to your non-work activities.” Do the same in the morning, by having a cup of coffee or reading the news before launching right into work. It can also be helpful to designate a specific part of your home for work only. This could be a guest room, desk, or even just a corner of your apartment. This space should be separate from where you go to relax, watch TV, or decompress, in order to prevent the stress of work from pervading your other activities. Likewise, try to set clearly defined working hours by logging off from your computer and turning off email notifications at a regularly scheduled time each day.

3. Make time for fun

Oftentimes, we get so caught up in our day to day responsibilities or caring for others, that we forget to make time just for pleasure. Engaging in activities you enjoy can actually help you recharge and destress, and return to your work or chores with a more positive attitude. Hobbies can also distract you from everyday stressors, help you feel more in the moment, and ultimately boost your work performance. You don’t have to carve out a huge amount of time for these things either. Do a 10 minute yoga session, work on a puzzle, read a book for bed, try a new recipe for dinner, or even just play with your pet for a few minutes. Even just finding ways to enliven your everyday tasks can help, “Ask yourself, ‘What brings me joy?’ Then find and create structured opportunities to incorporate that into your day’,” said Ezelle. “ if you love to sing, sing while doing the dishes or taking a walk. Practice incorporating these fun and meaningful activities in your daily life.” Avoid checking the news, social media, or you email during these moments and enjoy the activity at hand.

4. Take regular breaks

When we’re feeling burnt out, we aren’t as productive or creative as we normally would be. Whether you’re working from home, homeschooling, caring for children, or facing other stressors, it’s important to take regular breaks throughout the day in order to return to your work or responsibilities with a fresh, renewed perspective. Try setting an alarm, leaving yourself reminders, or scheduling recurring breaks into your calendar. This could be for lunch, a quick snack or coffee, a walk around the house, or just for a few minutes of stretching.

5. Practice mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness can reduce stress, help you feel more rooted in the present, and help you stay in touch with your emotions. For some people, mindfulness may mean breathing exercises like this body scan, or starting a gratitude journal. “Spending time being aware of your surroundings is a great way to stay present and positive in times of increased stress,” said Ezelle. “A great way to practice mindfulness is to engage as many of your senses as possible in one activity. For example, wash dishes with fragrant dish soap, be aware of the sensation of the bubbles, and hear the squeak of the gloves.” For others, it may mean getting outside and observing the world around you, paying attention to the sounds, smells, and sights of the outdoors. Studies have shown that physically placing yourself in nature has the ability to reduce stress and anxiety, as well as boost your mood. You can also try focusing your attention on something that requires active thought and focus, like reading a descriptive novel or going on a bike ride.

6. Take time off

While microbreaks each day can be a great way to alleviate stress, time off from your normal routine can be especially rejuvenating. Use your well-earned paid time off to plan a vacation and give yourself something to look forward to. If you can’t afford to take a vacation right now, even just giving yourself a mental health day can help your recharge. For some this may mean, taking a day off from work, while for others it may mean just using a weekend day to sleep, eat well, and relax “Give yourself time to reset and remind yourself that taking the time to recharge makes you more productive and efficient and can lessen your stress and feelings of burnout,” said Ezelle.

7. Reach out to loved ones

Burnout is often accompanied by feelings of loneliness, but it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Many people are struggling with similar feelings right now and it can help to share your experiences with supportive loved ones or keep a line of open communication with your supervisors or colleagues. Sharing these feelings can help you feel less isolated and more optimistic, as well as figure out ways to better manage your workload.

With all that has gone on in the world in the last year, it’s understandable that you may feel burnt out or exhausted. Luckily, these feelings are not permanent or inevitable. If you feel like you are struggling with your mental health right now, reach out to your primary care provider so that you can work on a treatment plan.

Article written by One Medical.

 

When it comes to your health, it’s natural to occasionally experience some level of concern. Whether you’ve noticed a new mole or want to make sure your blood sugar falls within a healthy range, paying attention to your body and noting any unusual changes can help you get ahead of any potentially serious health issues. While the occasional worry may be helpful in keeping you on top of your health, however, excessive worry can be counterproductive.

Individuals who experience health anxiety have an unrealistic fear of having or developing a serious or life-threatening illness, despite having few or no symptoms. Those with health anxiety might worry excessively about the state of their current or future health, spiral down internet rabbit holes Googling their symptoms, or assume the worst about mild symptoms. If you have health anxiety, you might even continue to worry even after medical tests reveal nothing abnormal.

In other words, people with health anxiety over-focus on what they feel, and consider worst-case scenarios as serious possibilities.

“It is reasonable and healthy to become concerned or seek medical attention when your body sends you signals indicating that you may be ill, such as pain, discomfort, functional change or impairment,” says One Medical licensed clinical psychologist, Juliana Tseng Psy.D. “But individuals with health anxiety might worry about the state of their health even if they aren’t experiencing any symptoms or despite having received confirmation of good health from a medical professional,”

Along with causing emotional distress, Tseng says health anxiety can interfere with people’s ability to focus on other important areas of their lives, such as hobbies or social activities (both of which can help boost mental and physical health). This stress and anxiety can even cause physical symptoms and further worsen your overall well-being.

If you’re struggling with persistent worries about your health, it’s worth taking steps to find a better balance. Here are a few tips for managing your health anxiety.

1. Remember that your body sends you signals all the time.

People with health anxiety often misinterpret normal physical sensations as signs of illness or disease. For example, if your muscles feel sore after a workout, you might worry you’re coming down with the flu or COVID-19. If you have a tension headache after a long day of work, you might think something’s wrong with your brain.

No matter what’s concerning you, remember it’s totally normal — even healthy — to experience different physical sensations. “Remind yourself that your body is sending you signals all the time, and these signals sometimes just remind us that we’re alive,” says Tseng. “If you run up 10 flights of stairs and as a result, experience rapid breathing and a quickened heart rate, these are just signs that your body is functioning the way it should and not an indication there is something wrong.”

2. Get comfortable with new sensations.

Exposing yourself to physical sensations that make you nervous can, over time, make them feel less overwhelming and scary. “Practice healthy behaviors that allow yourself to experience various bodily sensations in order to increase familiarity and comfort with new sensations,” says Tseng. “For instance, you may consider trying yoga to stretch or strengthen muscles you do not normally engage, or going for a jog in cool weather.”

3. Try not to self-diagnose.

If you’re nervous about a medical condition, you may think seeking out more information (for example, searching online) will help alleviate that anxiety. Think back to other times you’ve done that. Chances are, seeking to fill those holes yourself only made the anxiety worse. While the internet can be a helpful tool when used correctly, it’s easy to spiral down a rabbit hole of worst-case scenarios. If you look hard enough, you’ll end up finding something to confirm any anxious thoughts you’re having. It’s important to remember though that the internet doesn’t know anything about your personal health or family history or lifestyle. Your healthcare provider, however, does. If you’re concerned about a particular change in your body or symptom, reach out to your primary care provider, rather than assuming the worst or self-diagnosing. If you’d like to do additional research, however, just be sure to seek information from reliable sources such as Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, or the One Medical blog.

4. Recognize and challenge unhelpful thoughts

Many types of anxiety involve catastrophizing thoughts or assuming the worst will happen, even without evidence. Tseng compares this to a block of Swiss cheese. “The cheese itself is the information that you have (for example, “My head hurts”) and the holes are the information you do not have (the cause of the headache),” she says. “People who experience anxiety have a tendency of creating scenarios in their minds to fill in those holes of information, and these tend to be worst-case scenarios.” 

If you struggle with healthy anxiety, it’s easy to jump from a thought like ‘I think I might have a heart condition’ to ‘I have a heart condition and I’m dying.” It’s important to remember, however, that not everything you think is true or real. Just because you have a thought, does not mean it’s factual or rooted in reality. Questioning and challenging these thoughts can help prevent your anxiety from interfering with your daily life.“Anxiety is like a bully,” says Tseng. “It tells people how they should be feeling. Just like with any bully, it’s important to practice not giving into those demands.Try to recognize the difference between a factual thought, and one that is created by anxiety, then ask yourself, what is a different way to think about this?”

5. Seek help.

Everybody experiences worry from time to time. But if your anxiety isn’t going away or is beginning to impair your daily activities and routines, it may be time to seek the support of a professional. If you’re concerned about your mental health, start by reaching out to your primary care provider. They can help you by ruling out any physical issues, as well as develop a care plan tailored to your unique needs. This might include lifestyle changes, medication, or referral to a behavioral health specialist.

It can be hard to ask for help, especially if you feel like health anxiety is keeping you safe. But with the right support, you can gain tools that help you de-stress and participate in activities you enjoy — both of which can go a long way in protecting your long-term health.

Have more questions about health anxiety? Our primary care team is here to help. At One Medical, we aim to provide exceptional care designed around you and your unique health needs. Book an appointment with a provider through our app today or get 24/7 virtual care on demand.

Article written by One Medical. Clinical Editors: Christine Celio, Ph.D., Andrew Bertagnolli, Ph.D., and Juliana Tseng, Psy.D.

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