News & Articles
Returning to school during COVID-19
September 2, 2020
Back to school is a time when parents and students are gearing up for the new year with both excitement and apprehension.
The typical first days usually involve some feelings of nervousness as students begin to think about academic expectations, new teachers, new friends, and maybe even a new school.
But this year is exceptional, with many emerging questions and uncertainties due to COVID-19.
School divisions have responded to Manitoba Education guidelines and are communicating their re-opening plans to their school communities. Reactions to these plans may vary depending on a family and child's circumstances.
While some expectations have changed, other factors can remain consistent – including our response to stress, the importance of reassurance, the relationship with your child, the benefit of sharing information, and the significance of wellbeing.
Response to stress
Worrying about our children comes with parenting. Sometimes, we may even feel our children's stress as the new school year approaches. Our task is to help our children manage stress rather than to remove their worries.
This is not to suggest that when challenges present, we just say, "It is what it is" and push on with life. That is difficult for any of us to do. Yet, we can't wish the stress and worry away either.
So, we develop strategies to manage stress and build our resilience. As stated by Wilson and Lyons in their book Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents, "We build independence and the strength of courage by learning to tolerate uncertainty, to problem solve effectively, to step into uncomfortable situations, and to manage both risk and failure. Every child or teen, anxious or not, will benefit from these skills."
Reassure children by reflecting on your own reactions and leading by example. It is important for adults to understand how their reactions and responses may impact the experiences of a child.
The first step is monitoring your own response to the situation. You may ask yourself, "Is fear driving my bus?"
This may help you understand the motivation behind your decision making. It is essential we identify and accept our own set of triggers – we all have them.
The key is to acknowledge how we respond and then to reframe with healthy coping strategies (self-regulation). Self-regulation is applying skills for calming the body, expressing emotions appropriately, and managing thoughts to problem-solve effectively.
Children need their parents and other adults to offer reassurance through a calm and stable environment. It is often the little things we do that register with children and reassure them. Through these little things, we can reduce worries and anxieties and build confidence.
Stay connected with your children and provide encouragement. Give your children an opportunity to talk about going back to school and listen to their concerns. Listening carefully to their perspective builds strong relationships.
We seek connection. According to research from Harvard's Center on the Developing Child, "The single most common factor for children who develop resilience is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver or other adult."
We want our children to be able to cope with change, learn from setbacks, and work through difficult challenges.
"I think I can. I think I can. I think I can." These words from the book The Little Engine That Could are what parents and caregivers desire for their children: to believe in one's self and to keep trying.
This requires self-efficacy, which is the ability to persevere and to believe that one's efforts make a difference. We can help children develop self-efficacy by connecting with them and supporting their strengths as they return to in-class learning. As we listen and provide encouragement, we in turn build their resilience as they face the uncertainties of the coming school year.
Review expectations and routines
Talk with your children. While this year may come with some different challenges, children generally have some hesitation when it comes to starting school.
Keeping the tone positive will be helpful for children as they transition to new learning experiences. Having discussions about expectations and routines is another way to help prepare your child for going back to school.
Review resources such as A Guide for Parents, Caregivers and Students and check school websites for specific information.
Discuss school routines and expectations such as lunch protocols, social distancing practices, wearing masks, use of lockers and cubbies, and staggered break times.
Establish and practice routines prior to going back to school. For example, morning and bedtime routines, good hygiene protocols, wearing masks, and incorporating social distancing protocols. These practices will help to normalize the new school expectations and routines your child will experience.
Let your child know that other students are nervous about going back to school. Reassure your child there will be caring adults in the school to help resolve situations and you will be there, too. It's okay to have some worries.
Reach out to professionals such as school counsellors and administrators and/or healthcare professionals for help with physical and mental well-being questions.
Providing your child with basic information on routines and expectations builds their understanding and sense of empowerment.
Reflect and refocus
Reflect on your expectations for the new school year and refocus as needed. Emotional and physical well-being will also be of particular importance.
In his book Don't Sweat the Small Stuff with Your Family, Richard Carlson notes that, "Expectations are a part of life and seem to be ingrained into our thinking. However, if you can lessen your expectations (even a little bit) about how things are supposed to be... you'll be on your way to a calmer and much happier life."
Adaptation to differing expectations requires reflection, focus and patience. Schools have a plan for responding to learning gaps that may have occurred during the remote learning phase. Even so, some students may experience difficulties with academic and social expectations.
If a change in personal or academic progress is noted, speak with your child. If you have continued concerns, speak with the teachers, counsellors, and/or your health care professionals. Focusing on the whole child helps develop a healthy life balance.
These are certainly changing times. Moving forward will require flexibility and some creativity on the parts of parents, caregivers and school leaders. Each of us plays an important role in assisting our children in navigating changes as they return to school. As parents and caregivers, we are doing our best to help our children.
By focusing on relationships, reassuring our children, reviewing expectations, and reflecting and focusing on wellness, we can collectively promote a positive school experience that will continue to support the development of our children.
Parents and caregivers:
Raising Human Beings: Creating A Collaborative Partnership with Your Child by Ross Greene
Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents: 7 Ways to Stop the Worry Cycle and Raise Courageous and Independent Children by Reid Wilson and Lynn Lyons
No More Meltdowns by Jed Baker
The Power of Showing Up: How Parental Presence Shapes Who Our Kids Become and How Their Brains Get Wired by Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids and Their Parents by Eline Snel
Self-Regulation and Mindfulness by Varleisha D.Gibbs
Carol Dweck's TED talk (10-minute video, Growth Mindset)
How Do You Doodle by Elise Gravel
Talk to the Book by Jess Castle
Stress Can Really Get on Your Nerves by Trevor Romain & Elizabeth Verdick
Get Organized Without Losing It by Janet Fox
A Little Spot of Anxiety: A Story About Calming Your Worries by Diane Alber
My Anxious Mind: A Teens Guide to Managing Anxiety and Panic by Michael Tompkins and Katherine Martinez.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey
What to Do When you Worry Too Much by Dawn Huebner
Me and My Feelings: A Kids' Guide to Understanding and Expressing Themselves by Vanessa Green Allen
The Invisible String by Patrice Karst
What to Do When You are Scared and Worried: A Guide for Kids by James Crist
Help Your Dragon Deal with Anxiety: Train Your Dragon to Overcome Anxiety by Steve Herman
PROVIDING SECURITY IN UNSURE TIMES
August 13, 2020
Q: How do I reassure my returning employees that it is safe for them to return to our workplace?
Communication in this instance – as with most – is critical.
It's important that employees are provided more than just notification of the date to report back to the workplace. Your communication should include information regarding the measures undertaken by the company to prepare for the return and focus on measures supporting employee safety and wellness. Reference any requirements mandated by government and public health authorities and relay what the company is doing to comply with those requirements.
Review any additional measures that have been implemented, beyond the mandated ones, to support a safe and healthy workplace (e.g. supplementary facility cleaning, limited building access, staggered shifts to support social distancing, graduated return of employees to the workplace, protocols for visitors and customers, etc.). Advise that the company is monitoring the evolving guidelines and recommendations of public health authorities and responding accordingly.
Provide information about the company's re-entry plan – who will be returning to the site and when? Is the company back to pre-pandemic levels of service or a limited subset for a time? Relay as much information as possible to help eliminate the unknowns that can cause uncertainty and anxiety. If applicable, relay that consultation with union representatives and/or the company's health and safety committee has taken place.Commit to providing regular updates as circumstances change and plans evolve. If possible, share written documentation of any new protocols and procedures for employees to review in advance.
After sharing information about the company's re-entry plans and preparation activities, ask how your employees are feeling about the upcoming return to the workplace.
For those expressing concerns with respect to safety, ask what would allow them to feel more comfortable about returning. Consider if the solutions can be implemented, not only for that individual, but incorporated into the plan to support others with similar concerns. Remind employees of the support offered through your Employee Assistance Program.
Upon return of employees to the workplace, conduct training on any new safe-work procedures and workplace protocols. Confirm understanding, encourage feedback and incorporate suggestions as appropriate. Demonstrate the company's priority of providing a safe work environment by ensuring compliance with the established expectations. Depending on the size and nature of your business, consider designating a "pandemic procedures coach" whose job it is to observe behaviours during the initial days, identify where refinement of procedures is required, and provide gentle reminders and corrections when they see deviations from the procedures. Conduct regular debriefs with employees to review what's working well or where improvements can be made.
HOW TO LEAD IN THE DARK
August 11, 2020
Q: I am in a supervisory position. How do I best support my employees who express some apprehension about returning to the workplace?
It is quite common and completely normal for an employee returning from a leave to have some anxiety leading up to that first day back in the workplace. Think back to your first day on the job! Whether returning from a disability, maternity or paternity leave, plant shutdown, or a layoff, it is natural for one to have questions or apprehension when returning to the worksite.
Common apprehensions may centre on:
- Adapting to change: staff, workflows, technologies, expectations or physical space
- Performance: ability to deliver to the quality and volume standards upon return
- Job security: questions and doubts about whether skills and roles are valued and needed
- Personal circumstances: competing responsibilities and managing how returning to work affects roles and relationships at home
Additionally, it is common to experience a physical and/or cognitive re-acclimatization period to a changed level of activity with return to work, similar to the experience of starting a new exercise routine or education program.
Given that returning to work is now occurring within the context of COVID-19, there are some added complexities and challenges for employees and employers. First off, it is important to recognize that when an employee communicates with you regarding their apprehension, it is a very positive sign! Thank the employee for having the courage to speak up. Each and every employee matters, and what can be learned from one employee may benefit other employees and the company.
Ask open-ended questions
Ask questions and seek to understand the employee's concerns. Good listening skills are key. Summarize what you have heard and repeat back to ensure understanding. Ask the employee for what they believe to be a reasonable solution and engage in two-way conversation, acknowledging what can reasonably be expected from both employee and employer in this situation. As a leader it will be important to identify a specific goal and promptly follow through.
Be prepared, transparent and flexible
Successful reopening of the worksite involves providing information, tools and support for the most common questions and concerns relating to returning from leaves and the specific COVID-19 issues through the lens of your employees.
Provide information and training on new safety protocols, provide and use protective equipment, and set expectations on physical distancing and physical changes to the workplace environment.
Map any workflow changes and provide training for any new tools, technologies and processes. Clearly communicate any changes to expected individual or departmental performance standards. Provide flexibility for accommodation requests as the company is able. Recognize opportunities to include employees at all levels for input on further changes.
The adjustments and innovations you make will work toward an engaged, healthy and productive workforce!
LEAVING MY COMFORT ZONE
August 7, 2020
Q: How can I feel comfortable returning to work now?
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, life was what we considered "normal" – whatever that meant for us individually.
Normal may have meant continuously juggling the requirements of an active family life (kids' sports and extracurricular activities) while attending to our own needs (going to the gym and taking care of our own health). Someone else's normal may have meant embracing the single life by navigating a welcomed hectic schedule of social events or simply embracing much-needed solo recharging time. Whatever normal was, we engaged in our daily routine with little to no impending concern for our own and others health. Indeed, most of us thought we had control of our lives and our day-to-day activities.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, including all the restrictions and limitations (embraced by some and degraded by others) – all of which has had a direct impact on how we navigate our world. Nowadays it can feel as if nothing is in our control. Indeed, many of us have developed fear and anxiety regarding different aspects of our personal and work lives, questioning the how's, why's and when's of the return to our own "normal" in a safe, healthy and well-informed manner.
One of the most common phrases that we all hear when seeking advice is, "We are all in the same boat." However, as it relates to the navigation of this unprecedented time in history, this statement rings untrue. An unknown source has expanded on this sentiment and eloquently stated, "We are all in the same storm, but we are all on different boats."
In Manitoba, we're starting to see restrictions being lifted and along with that, the modified daily personal and work activities that we just became accustomed to are about to change on us again. We know our work and personal lives are not going to look the same as they did pre-COVID-19.
Many of us find this new change and the unknowns overwhelming, causing feelings of anxiety, worry and difficulty focusing. A way to assist with these feelings is to focus on what is in our control versus what isn't. For instance, we may not be able to control when our employer is able to accommodate the protocols of reopening – however, we can control the steps we take in respect to the physical distancing recommendations and health measures implemented for our and others' safety. This includes ensuring we have access to PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), including homemade or purchased non-medical masks, gloves and hand sanitizer.
We can have timely conversations with our employers about our concerns in respect to social distancing in the workplace and the steps they are taking to ensure we are all safe. We can advocate for workplaces that are well-prepared for the eventual return to work. If you are unsure of how to ask questions or express worries to your employers, try connecting with a counselor, friend or coworker. This may assist you and them in creating best practices on how you can approach the subject with your employer. Try to problem solve or think about worst case scenarios with solutions. All of this will help you identify the barriers associated with returning to work, not only for yourself as an employee of an organization, but for your organization as a whole.
An even more challenging task is working on our attitudes and perceptions of the task at hand. Changing your reaction from a negative one to a positive one (the glass is half full) can impact your overall success in returning to work. For example, "I am not comfortable/ready to return to work," can change to, "It will be nice to see people that I have not seen in a while," or, "I am excited to have my personal and work life separated again." Consciously make the effort to see the good in the bad. By controlling your thoughts and emotions, your reality can change. As Dr. Wayne Dyer said, "If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change."
WORK LIFE BALANCE
August 4, 2020
Q: Since I started working from home, my work-life balance has gotten so much better. How do I keep that up when I return to a busy office?
If you have found a way to bring more balance into your life, this has likely been a positive change. Better work-life balance is a change that we want to maintain!
Consider this: did you move from a clock-driven day to a "compass-guided" day? Clock time is about all the things that fill our waking hours (and sometimes our sleep as well)! Demands, deadlines, interruptions, schedules, emails, meetings – you know the drill. It results in feeling out of balance as we experience an "all things are urgent" pressure, resulting in a time famine and a diminished sense of self.
Now let's consider compass time: an internal guide that is about our values and priorities and making conscious decisions about where to focus our energy. In compass time we attend to our physical, emotional, social, intellectual and spiritual needs. It is a conscious and intentional way of being. A life guided by our compass is one in which we live by all that is important to us: our values, our priorities, our vision, our passion, our motivations, our joy and our love.
So the trick is, how do we return to a busy office or workplace guided by our compass and not tyrannized by the clock? Embracing internal guides doesn't mean that demands or deadlines won't be there. However, you can challenge yourself to show up with a compass-guided mindset. You have been doing this already – keep it going!
Rather than focusing on the "to do" list, deadlines and commitments, bring your attention to your values and priorities. Ask yourself questions that will keep you guided by your compass: "How can my work today be a reflection of my values?"
Following your compass is what you've experienced in these past several weeks – it's what helped you feel in balance. We often live by clock time, but we thrive in, and long for, a compass-guided experience.
Now, you might be thinking, doesn't the nature of 9-5 work mean that it's driven by the clock? Well, yes and no. The pull of a clock-driven day will be there, but stay the course guided by your compass. Talk about engaging approaches to work with your team as you return to this new normal. Your desire to maintain your work-life balance is your priority and it will also be top of mind for many of your coworkers.
So, bring your compass to work and be the change you want to see.
NO PLACE LIKE HOME
July 30, 2020
Q: I felt safer at home; I could control my environment. Washing hands, cleaning surfaces, wearing a mask, physical distancing – now what?
While we can appreciate that many of us probably feel safer and more in control of our environment, it is also considered healthy to return to what we knew as a normal lifestyle.
It is important for our well-being to return to work and to our regular workplaces when safe to do so. We look forward to returning to the outside world and enjoying our family and friends – remembering to respect the guidelines for the number of people gathering of course. We may want or need to return to our errands, whether that is grocery shopping, appointments or banking.
We can still do our best to control our environment by continuing to practice physical distancing. When we return to work for example, we can regularly clean the surfaces of our work station, including our keyboards and mouse for those in-office settings; counter-tops or kiosks for others.
If we drive, we may consider wiping the steering wheel. If the situation calls for it, we may also consider wearing a mask. A mask will help protect you and those around you.
Remember to sneeze into your elbow sleeve. Wear clean eye-glasses or eye protection. Do not touch your face, and especially avoid your nose and mouth. Remember the best protection for preventing the spread of infection and disease is practicing good hand washing.
GOING THE EXTRA MILE
July 28, 2020
Q: Since I didn't have to commute to work, I got used to the extra time and improved efficiencies. How do I keep the efficiencies that I am now used to and enjoy?
Although returning to the workplace will mean spending time commuting again, it doesn't have to be the end of your newly streamlined lifestyle. If you're enjoying the increased efficiency in your day-to-day life, congratulate yourself on adapting well and using effective tools to achieve change. Maintaining these changes is largely about identifying the tools you've used and continuing to use them with intention.
Think about where you've noticed the changes. If it takes you less time to get ready in the morning, what are you doing differently? Have you let go of practices or habits that weren't serving you well or aren't as necessary as you once believed? What new (or old) time-management skills have you put into use?
For those who live with another person, this is a good time to review your household roles and responsibilities. If being home more than usual has resulted in some rejigging of roles and an improvement in quality of life, consider whether you want to continue with the new system or if further adjustments could make things even better. Couples and families are dynamic systems, so it's important to review who does what regularly – not just when a major life event happens.
HEALTHIER AT HOME
July 23, 2020
Q: Since I started working from home, I have become a much healthier eater. What now – back to boring bagged lunches and eating out? How do I keep up with my new regime?
To put it simply: plan ahead.
Continuing with your new healthy eating regime means you need to plan and prep ahead of time. The foundations of a healthy lunch include a lean source of protein, colorful fruits and vegetables and healthy whole grains.
Prepping is not something you want to do just before heading out to work in the morning when you are still rubbing the sleep out of your eyes – unless you are an early riser and have the time. If you love to hit the snooze button, then you need to get into the habit of making your lunch the night before.
A quick and easy option is making extra dinner and packing up the leftovers. This feels more robust than your average "bagged" lunch. There are some great packed lunch ideas online to help you think "outside of the bag" and make your noon hour more exciting.
If on occasion you don't have time to pack a lunch, then healthy take-out is an option. Support our local restaurants and select items from their menu that include the foundations of a healthy lunch (a lean source of protein, colorful fruits and vegetables, healthy whole grains).
Lastly, remember to enjoy your lunch. Make a healthy environment, move away from your desk and actually enjoy your lunch break.
FLEXING MY SCHEDULE HELPED ME FLEX MY MUSCLES
July 21, 2020
Q: Working from home enabled me to get into a great workout routine because I could flex my day and use my breaks to work out. Now I fear that will go to the wayside. What can I do?
Freedom to exercise at any time might increase your likelihood of engaging in physical activity – especially if you're a fan of spontaneity. Many things have likely become easier to incorporate into our flexible schedules – watering our plants, letting the dog out in the yard, preparing a fresh meal.
How will we adapt and find time for any health or household tasks once we go back to work?
Think about the way you typically prepare breakfast, walk the dog after work or clean in the evening. Once upon a time, these were things that could not be done during a conventional workday, yet they were still completed because of their importance to your household.
We suggest re-examining the value of regular physical activity and thinking of it as an activity as important as the others. After all, with proven benefits like reduced feelings of anxiety, improved quality of sleep and improved immune system and increased energy – it will also help you return to work.
Perhaps we can reframe the question as: what aspect of your recent workout routine was more motivating than usual, and how can you apply that same concept now? Consider how good the physical activity makes you feel, and make a general plan that will enable you to continue.
As a quick exercise, try noting three of the most appealing descriptors of exercise. Then, think about how you can find a sustainable type of exercise using two or more of those terms.
What you find exciting and rewarding about exercise is likely vastly different than the next person. But take for example: "solo," "music" and "repetitive exercise" – this translates well into jogging with headphones or biking. Instead of going for a bike ride at lunch, try biking to and from work.
Say you like "competitive" aspects of exercise. Try out one of the many free apps available for download and track your personal bests for a given activity or compare yourself to others in a given segment.
If "unpredictable" is on your list, think of opportunities for a physical activity "snack" – take several of the idle moments during your day as an opportunity to briefly raise your heart rate. This might be taking the stairs two at a time, doing a few squats while your coffee is brewing, etc.
STRESSED ABOUT STRESS
July 14, 2020
Q: Since I started working from home, I have noticed I have less stress, fewer interruptions, and more control over my day – I am concerned that with a return to the office, my stress will increase. What can I do?
Not feeling like you have control over your day can be stressful. In fact, not feeling like you have control in general is hard for many of us. You've likely experienced this feeling before, whether at home, at work, or (more recently) trying to get some groceries from the store. But there are some things that remain within your control, despite all the changes happening around us.
As you're reading this, take some time to think back to what you used to like about working in an office, before transitioning to working at home. Perhaps the interaction with your coworkers, the structure and familiarity of the office or maybe even just the coffee station? What did you like about these aspects of your office and workplace? What were the aspects that made you feel like you had less control over your day?
One of the ways we can take control over our situation is by selectively evaluating what we can and can't control. By accepting the things we don't have control over – like traffic or pesky interruptions – we free up energy for changing things that we can.
Some variations in your level of stress are expected with any change, so be gentle with yourself. Try to think of ways you can keep some of the positive changes you were able to achieve when working from home. Take walks outside on your breaks, continue your healthy eating habits, listen to that new podcast you've just discovered on your way to work. Even a small blanket in lieu of your sweatpants may help you feel like you are more in control of your physical environment.
Be creative, be open to compromise, and if you can replicate some of the comforts of home (within reason of course!) go for it. These are challenging times, but you absolutely have the ability, the strength, and the knowhow to adapt and thrive in any situation. After all – you've come this far, haven't you?
July 7, 2020
Our modern world moves quickly and we must constantly adapt to the changes. The stresses of working full-time and managing a home, taking care of children, or perhaps aging parents, can fill up our days – not to mention create potential for some very difficult situations. Fitting in friends, exercise, hobbies or relaxation can be difficult.
And as rates of depression and anxiety continue to rise – especially in light of difficult situations – we need to manage the stress.
Have you ever wondered why some people are better able to adapt and go with the flow? They have developed resilience, which is a concept that has grown out of psychological research over the past 30 or so years.
But what is resilience?
Resilience is the ability to spring back into shape after being bent, stretched or compressed – sound like one of those days?
As it applies to people, resilience means the ability to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions. This definition needs qualifiers because there are many situations in life that we cannot recover quickly from, nor would we want to. Sometimes just getting through a major loss exhibits resilience.
The competencies of resilient people reveal some important skills for us to consider, and some fascinating new brain science indicates the simple ways in which we can enhance our own resilience.
Qualities of resilient people
Drawing upon research, highly resilient people often:
- learn from experience, assimilating new and unexpected information and integrating the insights that comes from them
- adapt quickly and are flexible mentally and emotionally
- have solid self-esteem and inner strength that can be a buffer against the unpleasant or hurtful things that come at us
- have strong self-confidence and know that future actions can be based on current experience and past success
- have good friendships and loving relationships
- know that talking to others who truly care diminishes the impact of difficulties
- can modulate their emotions
- can express feelings honestly and when circumstance warrants, can repress strong feelings
- expect things to work out well and have optimism based on values and beliefs, as well as tolerance for uncertainty
- view others with empathy – even the perspective of antagonists can be considered
- use intuition and trust creative hunches
- have curious natures and playful, childlike curiosity of wondering and asking questions
- have clearly defined boundaries and will not accept mistreatment
- know how to find resources and support
- can take difficult situations or misfortune, learn from it, and not feel victimized
While these all seem like wonderful qualities that many of us would love to possess, the intent is not to shame those who do not yet possess such strategies in their emotional or cognitive tool kit. We are not all raised on even footing and we know that we haven't been given equal opportunity to develop our resiliency to the same capacity.
Emphasizing the concept of resiliency does not undermine the challenges some have faced – in fact it is quite the opposite. The greater the challenge, the greater the testament to a person's strength and ability.
While there is no magic bullet for possessing the qualities above – we know it is completely possible to learn new skills.
Looking at an example from the list of resilient qualities – if we know that seeing the glass as half empty doesn't serve us – how do we become more optimistic? Optimism is a practice that can be learned. If we develop these skills, our stress levels drop. Worry and negativity can sap our energy and take away the potential for happiness.
Here are three concepts to think about as you go about your daily life. If you start to consider things a little differently, you will further develop the competencies of resilience.
Taking things personally
Have you ever come into work in the morning and said hello to a co-worker and had them quietly mutter a response? Did your mind go back to the afternoon before, wondering if you had done or said anything to them that would cause them to be angry with you? How about a situation with a family member who may not have wanted to talk to you? Did you wonder what you had done to cause their withdrawal?
We misinterpret the world frequently by taking things personally that have nothing to do with us. We can ask people we're close to if there's a problem, but it is also up to others to let us know if we have offended them. We can waste a great deal of energy worrying about problems that don't exist.
The ABCs of cognitive understanding
This skill can be very helpful in managing our emotional responses and developing empathy and optimism. We can also gain insight into what is behind our behaviour.
- A stands for Adversity, representing the difficult things we have to deal with in life.
- B stands for Belief – what we believe about the adversity will determine C.
- C is the Consequence. This is the emotional response we have.
Here is a simple example:
- A Someone cut me off in traffic.
- B How dare they do that to me! That is not right.
- C The emotional response could be anger or frustration.
- A I remember the last time I cut someone off.
- B It was a mistake.
- C That person doesn't know me, why should I take it personally?
The new emotional consequence could be little or no emotion – just an acknowledgement that the person made a mistake as we all do. This quick self-analysis comes in handy for many of life's frustrations.
Change your brain
In Hardwiring Happiness, author Dr. Rick Hanson puts forth new brain science and some surprisingly simple techniques to literally change the structure of our brain. Dr. Hanson states that parts of our brain are primitive and lean towards awareness of negative stimuli because that is what humans had to pay attention to in order to survive. However, the research being done in neuroscience indicates that new pathways are always being created in the brain by positive experiences as well. This malleability is called neuroplasticity.
Dr. Hanson says that our positive experiences can be fleeting, but all we need to do to create positive pathways that lead to greater happiness is to hold onto the experience and take it all in for 20 more seconds. If we do this six or more times a day, the pathways become hardwired. The positive experiences can be small moments such as holding a baby, seeing something beautiful in nature, feeling love, or being absorbed in something creative. He states that taking in the good is the deliberate internalization of positive experiences in implicit memory.
- Have a positive experience
- Enrich it
- Absorb it
- Link positive and negative
There are simple things we can do to increase our resilience. We can take things less personally, look for the beliefs in our head and change them to create less emotional stress, and make a point of absorbing wonderful moments in our lives. We have much to be thankful for, and in our busy lives it is important to value and pay attention to what matters.
MYTHS, FABLES AND FACTS ABOUT SEEKING HELP
July 2, 2020
In some cultures, there is a belief that if you are worried, anxious or stressed, you should tell your worries to a worry doll, place the doll beneath your pillow before you go to bed, and then in the morning all of your worries will be gone.
From a psychological standpoint, it is easy to understand why maintaining a worry doll makes good sense. It signifies your firm intention to solve a problem, it embodies an optimistic attitude that problems can be solved, and it suggests that you have faith that help is available to you.
Unfortunately, many attitudes embraced in North America can actually keep people from seeking help.
We can recognize the problems – but not the need to seek help
Most people would agree that there seem to be as many different problems out there as there are different human beings. We struggle with multiple types of issues that can include addictions, anxieties, depression, fear, loneliness, anger and relationship problems, to name a few. These problems can consume our lives and they can greatly interfere with our personal desires to not live a life imprisoned by our problems.
Despite this desire, why do so many people carry the weight of their problems with them daily and allow them to take up full-time residence in their lives rather than facing them? What prevents many of us from seeking the help we need and developing the abilities necessary to overcome the problems in our lives?
Myths and beliefs that discourage us from seeking help
For years, popular media has painted the image of a troubled individual lying on a couch in a "shrink's" office while the good doctor digs into the patient's murky unconsciousness and determines the nature of their problem. This process was said to take years and cost a king's ransom.
Myth 1: I will have to hash out painful details
We now understand that solving problems does not always involve rehashing a person's history. Exploring solutions to problems can be more beneficial, for some, than solely discussing the problem itself. Sometimes the idea that problems require in-depth analysis for a person to feel relief prevents the person from seeking the help they need or from recognizing that they can make changes quickly.
Myth 2: I should handle my own problems
We can also be kept from seeking help by our own embarrassment at having a problem. We live in a culture that encourages a rugged self-reliance and a stiff upper lip. This attitude remains a bigger obstacle for men than women, yet it factors into everyone's reluctance to talk about their problems with a professional. It is an unfortunate belief of many that admitting to having a problem is a sign of weakness.
However, if we have a toothache or a chest cold, we immediately seek the help of a dentist, doctor or a pharmacist. We need to embrace the fact that seeking help for personal problems is as wise as seeking help for our physical ailments.
Myth 3: There is something wrong with me
Another fear that prevents many people from seeking help is the belief that those who experience problems are somehow abnormal. There is a saying that states "the problem, not the person, is the problem". This saying conveys the impression that "problems are problems" and "people are people." However, people can be taken by problems. It is a normal circumstance of living our lives. When we are swept up by the emotional stream of a problem, it can be very difficult not to become overwhelmed and feel like we are drowning in our problems. At these times, it makes sense to seek an outside perspective and find a coach, counsellor or therapist who can help us find perspective.
Myth 4: Therapy won't work for me
Finally, a major obstacle to many people choosing not to seek help is the belief that talking to someone will not really make a difference in how we are feeling. At times, our problems can seem so insurmountable or numerous that we are unable to see the forest for the trees. Finding help and talking about problems can be a major step in identifying solutions that will defy a problem's hold on you. You will discover that speaking with a counsellor can be a huge relief, as it will allow you to be open about your thoughts and feelings in a safe setting. This can restore balance in your life and enable you to restore or gain your own sense of control.
Important ideas to keep in mind when you need help
Keep these tips in mind when you feel ready to take your life back and conquer a significant problem.
- There is more than one way to look at a situation. You likely experience unique moments during your day when the problem's hold on you feels less profound. Ask yourself, "How is this possible?" A counsellor can help you find different ways to view the situation.
- You are not your problems. Your problems don't own or define you. You have the strength, resources and ability to resolve the challenges that you are facing in life.
- There is nothing so wrong with you. A counsellor can help you see the strengths that you possess that the problems don't want you to see.
- What you are going through is normal. Remember that the one thing we can always depend on is that life is full of change and as a result it is always possible for you to make more changes happen.
- You don't need to understand what caused a problem to resolve it. Emphasizing solutions and not just problems can lead to positive changes and problem resolution.
Reach out to your EAP
If you have EAP coverage with us, our intake lines remain open to assist and support anyone seeking counselling services. We will be providing telephonic, text-based and video counselling options to all clients seeking support. Please call: 204.786.8880, 1.800.590.5553 (toll free) or 204.775.0586 (TTY)
Talk to friends and family
You will likely be surprised at how many people you know who have sought help from a professional and benefited from it. A friend might also be able to steer you in the direction of someone who they feel would be the most helpful for you.
A note on finding the right fit:
It is important to be aware that not every counsellor will be the right fit for every person. Be assured, however, that there is a counsellor out here who is a good match for you.
Telling your worries to a worry doll and placing it beneath your pillow at night, in the hope that all of your problems will be gone in the morning, is certainly one method of finding the help that you need. However, there are many more ways of finding help that make it a less solitary activity.
Perhaps taking that first step in asking for help will be the beginning of a behaviour change on your part that will help you take your life back from the hold a problem might have on you.
THE WHAT'S, WHY'S AND HOW'S OF STRETCHING: AN UNCOMPLICATED PERSPECTIVE
June 30, 2020
"Stretching is good for you." Somehow, this five-word sentence has the potential to spark heated debate. Controversies surround the underlying mechanisms, purposes and perceived benefits of the pre- and post-workout activity. Hot topics range from when and how one should stretch, to whether stretching is a physical or a neurological adaptation. But can we uncomplicate the issue for a few minutes?
To make a long story short: moving is beneficial. Below, I will briefly define stretching within its anatomical context, before explaining its mechanics and sharing some advice on how to partake at home, should you wish to "indulge."
What is it?
Simply put, stretching is reaching body positions that elicit tension within our muscles. Our muscles allow us to move our limbs by altering their lengths. They are connected to bones by tendons. As muscles and tendons meet, two different types of human tissues unite (picture red meat fusing into a nylon rope). This is where most of the "stretching," physically speaking, happens (a lot happens in our brains, too). The desired sensation is a strong pull within a targeted structure – often a group of muscles. The goal is doing it often and long enough to cause our bodies to adapt, ultimately leading to more flexibility.
Why do we do it?
This is where it gets a bit tricky. Many of the theoretical benefits of stretching, like enhancing sports performance, reducing injury rates and improving blood flow lack scientific evidence. This is where some of the debate stems. Some of us will simply enjoy the sensation of a good stretch, particularly following hours spent sitting at a desk or in a vehicle. In my professional opinion, that reason alone is enough.
How are we supposed to do it?
Stretching is achievable through various techniques, many of which involve partners, equipment or specific knowledge and training. We will therefore focus on static stretching – that bending-down-to-touch-your-toes-style stretch that most of us experienced in physical education class.
Static stretches should be held until the onset of relaxation (a decrease in tension), but possibly for much longer, if circulation isn't compromised. It normally takes a few deep breaths to achieve a desired effect (around 30 seconds). As the stretching sensation decreases, you may push or pull the stretch further or simply enjoy the recently achieved relaxation.
Going through the motion a few times is beneficial. I recommend staying on one side, prior to switching to the opposite limb and holding each stretch for 5-8 deep breaths, going through each limb 3-5 times. This can be performed multiple times per day, every day or simply when the need is felt.
Remember: move slowly, gradually and simply seek a gentle pulling sensation. Avoid pain, numbness or tingling.
For those of us hoping to loosen up while working from home, stretching the following muscle groups may help relieve tension. Additionally, moving regularly and thus avoiding prolonged postures can help you mitigate the effects of sitting at a desk. At the very least, the following suggestions will offer a few minutes to clear one's mind. They have been divided into a few main body parts.
- Neck: Avoid neck circles if possible as they can irritate sensitive structures. Instead, slowly bring your right ear to your right shoulder, ensuring your left shoulder does not rise (you may sit on your left hand to prevent this). Repeat on the opposite side, adhering to the guidelines previously mentioned. To target different muscles within the neck, start the stretch in the same way (ear to shoulder), and once a stretch is felt, alter the position of the chin, pointing it up and out or tucking it down and in.
- Wrists/forearms: Lift your right arm in front of you, keeping your elbow straight. With your forearm and palm facing up, use your other hand to gently bring your right wrist down. A stretch should be felt in the right forearm. Repeat on the opposite side. You may also perform this in the opposite direction: with your forearm and palm facing the ground, use your other hand to gently push down on your wrist.
- Back: While seated, firmly ground your feet, squeeze your belly and arch back as far as comfortably possible, moving slowly through deep breaths. Another seated option is chair twists. As before, firmly ground yourself, contract your core, and gently rotate your torso as far to the left as possible. The use of hands on chair handles and/or knees is allowed. While cracking your back should not be the goal, it should not be concerning either, if no pain is present.
- Legs: Sit down on the floor, possibly with your back resting against a wall. Now hinge at the waist, trying to keep your back neutral (don't arch or round it too much). Do you feel the pull in your hamstrings (back of thigh)? If not, keep going. Touching one's toes is a common goal, but as you may have noticed, bending at the hip properly might lead to a stretch being noticed well before that is possible.
- Hips: Stand up with your feet together. Take a big step forward. With your legs now staggered, your shoulders up and back straight, bend your front knee, allowing your hips and back leg to lower, until a gentle pull is felt within your back hip/leg. Don't feel it yet? Squeeze all the muscles at the back of your hip once down into the position. Still not feeling it? It's okay. You got up and moved – you win.
COPING THROUGH TURBULENT TIMES
Job insecurity and job loss
June 26, 2020
The ongoing upheaval resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic has imposed large scale disruption in our lives.
This article is directed to individuals who are now faced with job loss or insecurity about existing and future work. Much of the content also applies to other types of loss and uncertainty during this time.
If asked about personal wishes when this year started, many people would have wished for more time, more rest, visits with family and friends, space to focus on health and generally a less busy and hectic lifestyle.
It is ironic that at this point, we may now have many of these wishes – but in exchange, we are required to deal with great uncertainty, no clear answers, feelings of fear, anxiety and grief and an overall sense of living in The Twilight Zone.
People often say they think they could cope if only they knew how long this would last and had the reassurance that they would get through it and back to a good place.
The major complication to experiencing these changes and the transition that follows is that we are often asked to travel without a clear time line, a roadmap, or even an idea of how life will look in the future.
How stress and feeling on edge can impact us during times of uncertainty
A range of feelings emerge, and they are natural. These include sadness, loss, vulnerability, loneliness, fear, and irritability, among others. The feelings often come in waves of intensity and then subside for a while.
Our self image
As time goes on, some people notice that they are losing self confidence, becoming lethargic and not practicing good self care. Some will deny that they are concerned, others will spend most of the time imagining better days ahead – but in the end, most will deal with much inner turmoil along the way.
Excessive time on the couch, junk food and a whole range of other impulsive and poor choices will take you on a downward slope. During these times, you are well served to focus on things that build personal strength in body, mind and spirit. You want to strive for realistic and grounded hope and optimism.
Supports for an uncertain road
While many things may feel out of your control – you can find the areas in your life where you do have some choices and control. It is helpful to create a plan that fits your personal circumstances and places you back on level ground.
Think about other difficult passages that have occurred in your life and what helped you get through them. You will find clues to positive choices that you can make right now.
You can try to go through this alone, but most people greatly benefit from seeking out sources of support. When you think of friends, family, colleagues and people you know from the community, touch base with those who have gifts to share, like listening, generosity with their time, reassurance, humour, wise counsel from their life experiences and presence through the tough times. You may know someone who walks their talk and inspires you.
You can also be supported through online resources and through available counselling services. While you need support for yourself, you can also use some of this time to support others. Whether you help a neighbour in need or listen to a friend who is struggling, these small acts of service can also lift you up.
During this "in-between time," work on small projects where there is a beginning, a focused effort and the satisfaction of an end result.
You could complete an online tutorial or course, do some self-directed study or find another activity to increase your work skills. There are some options that are provided free or at minimal cost.
You could do a small renovation or spring-cleaning home project. You could work on an exercise or improved nutrition plan.
Self-work/the job search
When dealing with job insecurity or job loss, carve out blocks of time each week to revise your resume, reflect on the skills you have to offer, prepare for interviews and gather references and background information on potential employers for work in the future.
Develop a budget and reduce your expenses to the greatest extent possible as you move through this transition.
Rest and restoration
Outside these blocks of time, allow yourself relaxation and the time to do enjoyable things. Some people feel that they can't enjoy themselves until they find work. But you only have control over taking dedicated blocks of time to make progress on your job preparedness, and that is sufficient and helps you move forward. If you have the skills to complete some forms of temporary work or self-employment on an interim basis, you may want to consider your options.
When you are struggling with difficult thoughts and emotions, allow them to come to the surface but don't attach to them. In the present moment, you can take some deep breaths to calm yourself. You can take time during the day to sit in nature or in meditation and bring focus and calm back to you.
How mindset makes a difference
It has been said that our experience of life is 10 per cent what happens to us and 90 per cent the attitude or perspective that we practice. Work to make your thoughts strengthen and support you. Many people find that writing in a journal or reading faith-based or self-development literature helps. Use music to soothe or energize you.
Remember that you choose your attitude and you are responsible for your life and well-being. Limit the amount of time you spend talking with people who chronically see the worst-case scenario in all situations. You can try to offer another perspective by sharing what you are doing.
Be flexible when considering your future work options. Think of the work environments that best fit your personal style and jobs where you can use and further develop your skills. If you make an impulsive decision to take any job, you will likely soon regret it. This suggestion may be difficult to accept if you are feeling financial stress, but do your best to focus on both immediate and bigger picture needs.
At this time, you also need to safely protect yourself by limiting your exposure to bad news and all forms of doom and gloom. Be grateful for the good things in your life as you prepare for the future. When you are required to cope with big changes and turmoil in your life, starting on this journey can make you preoccupied with the losses, the difficult thoughts and feelings, and an overall sense of unreality.
You want answers about why this has happened and what it will mean for your future. But there will be no clarity for some time, and you are left residing in that in-between space. Identifying and being true to your needs will help see you through.
When you develop practices for self care and take time to prepare for your future, you can productively move forward until the next stage comes together and you begin again – perhaps in a revitalized direction.
BREAKING FREE OF FEAR
June 24, 2020
All of us experience fear. It is our best-known, worst-hated companion. It holds us back and pushes us forward. It stops us in our tracks. It limits our freedom and takes a toll on our emotional and physical well-being.
So how do we break free of it?
Whatever we focus on tends to expand in our vision. When we feel fear, it is like using a close-up lens on a camera. The subject of our fear fills up the whole picture and becomes all we can see. Our thinking becomes distorted and we tend to overreact to situations and what others say or do. We lose the ability to see the long-term consequences of our actions. We can no longer relax and enjoy the moment.
Emotional symptoms of fear
Physical symptoms of fear
Fear triggers a genetic response in our bodies known as the fight-or-flight response. This automatic process was designed to protect us from an external threat by stimulating a part of our brain called the hypothalamus. Stress hormones such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol are released into our bodies to prepare us to fight or flee. Our breathing becomes shallow, decreasing the amount of oxygen we take into our cells. Our pupils become dilated, our sight sharpens, and our awareness intensifies. Our perception of pain is diminished. Blood is diverted from our digestive tract to our muscles and limbs. We perceive our environment as a threat to our survival. We see everyone and everything as a possible enemy. The physical changes taking place in our bodies can trigger emotional and physical symptoms.
We are so used to planning ahead, being in control, and having our hands firmly cemented to the steering wheel. We need to let go of trying to control things. When we feel fearful, we are in a state of resistance, and we struggle.
It is often said that what we resist, persists. So when we resist what is going on, the challenges we face not only feel more pronounced than they actually are – they also tend to hang on longer. We rarely look at the good things in our lives and celebrate that we did something right. Instead we focus on the tiniest negative things and believe we messed up. When we can let go of the struggle, we can make space for the things we fear to change.
One of the simplest ways to decrease fear is to breathe deeply into the abdomen for five minutes, closing your eyes on the last breath. Deep breathing sends a message to your body that you are safe, and when you feel safer, you calm down.
Meditation is a practice that involves noticing our thoughts and seeing how they affect our emotions. Thinking the same thoughts over and over can actually form a belief. If we activate our internal witness by witnessing our thoughts, we can then let them pass by. That is what meditation is all about. It is not about stopping ourselves from thinking. We have the power to choose the thoughts we want to keep and which ones to let go.
Any exercise you do that makes you perspire for five minutes will metabolize excessive stress hormones. Yoga is particularly helpful because it helps you to focus, quiets your mind and lessens your fear.
When you yawn and stretch, your brainwaves automatically slow down and you enter an alpha brainwave state. This brain state is the same as when you are doing a light meditation and will alleviate fear.
Progressive muscle relaxation
Contracting and relaxing each muscle group from your head to your feet will promote relaxation.
Listening to music
Modern recordings are made using binaural beats where the sound of one frequency goes into one ear and another frequency goes into the other ear. The difference in cycles results in musical beats at an alpha frequency and the brain resonates with this, producing a state of relaxation.
Anything you do that helps you to become calm and more peaceful when you are fearful is the perfect thing to do. Reminding yourself of all of the times you faced challenges in your life and survived them will boost your confidence.
Practice, practice, practice
A daily breathing and meditation practice would be highly beneficial. Five to ten minutes a day would be a good start. As with learning any new skill or exercise, we need to be patient with ourselves. It is always harder to do something at the beginning, and it gets easier the more we do it. If we practice breathing and meditation on a consistent basis, we will not only become more successful at letting go of our fears, we will begin to notice other positive changes in our lives.
If we practice when we are calm, it will be easier to remember to do it when we are in fear. It will become more automatic, like a muscle we use frequently. So we breathe, we change our focus, we meditate, and we let go of needing to control things. Most importantly, we let go of judging and criticizing ourselves. Judging what we are experiencing is a form of resistance. It intensifies our negative feelings and makes it more difficult to do what we need to do to become calm and more peaceful. We remember to be patient with ourselves, we persist, and we break free of fear.
Notes from a non-meditative type
June 23, 2020
Registered Psychiatric Nurse | Manitoba Blue Cross Case Management Services Leader
I love working in an office! There, I said it.
I love the drive to and from work because it gives me a few moments between the chaos of home and the chaos of work. I thrive in my regular work setting – people popping their heads in my office, my inbox filling up with meeting invites, new projects pulling me in different directions. But that's all changed.
Since mid-March, like many others, I am now working from home. My days are spent working alone in my new office (read: I moved a desk into my kids' old playroom). The only regular chatter I hear is that of local news hosts talking about the state of our world. And the only meetings I attend are via video conference – and yes, I keep the camera on.
Both my children are also at home – my daughter forced to return from a year abroad travelling and working in New Zealand, and my son forced to complete grade 12 through self-directed study and getting ready to attend a modified graduation ceremony later this week.
And while I am usually quite adaptable, I am not finding this transition super easy. I am surrounded by the disappointments my children are experiencing. I am working in such an independent (read: lonely) setting. And I worry – and not just about the current impacts. I worry about the future. And I probably watch too many newscasts.
Sometimes it's hard for me to find the motivation to face the day in this new reality.
As a Registered Psychiatric Nurse, I know that mindfulness is a technique used to calm inner anxieties, gain focus and clarity and align our conscious thinking. I know that mindfulness can have many psychological and physical benefits and that it is a great antidote for stress. I also know it can be very challenging for non-meditative types, like myself.
So, as a very work-oriented person, I forced myself to embrace mindfulness in the best way I know how – I made it into a routine.
I have found the following practice helps me start my day with a purpose. I recommend doing this as soon as you wake up – that means before checking your phone or emails.
Set up your space.
Find a quiet and comfortable space where you know you can be uninterrupted for a few minutes. Sit in a comfortable position. Close your eyes.
Take three long, deep breaths (breathing in through your nose and out your mouth). Pay attention to those breaths – notice how your breathing settles into a rhythm, and note the rise and fall of your chest.
Think, notice, reflect.
Think about the day ahead. Think about the people and activities you will face. Ask yourself some questions (e.g. how will you show up and have the greatest impact? What do you need to do to improve your sense of well-being? How can you better connect to your peers?).
Set an intention.
Set an intention or purpose for the day. Make it about something that is important to you, something you know can enrich your life (e.g. being more patient, accepting others, having more fun).
End with three more nourishing breaths.
After a few moments, you will be ready to start your day. And remember, it's not a one-and-done. Check in with yourself throughout the day. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and revisit your intention.
You can find many mindfulness and meditation resources online, through videos, podcasts or apps as well as in various literary sources. You might even create a mindfulness process of your own.
It may seem like work now, but it only takes a few minutes. And if it helps calm inner thoughts and live more intentionally (read: do the things you set out to do), your new routine might grow on you. It might even become a much-needed oasis during a somewhat chaotic time.
ONLINE INTERVIEW TIPS
June 19, 2020
Due to COVID-19 many workplaces are looking at alternative ways of interviewing potential candidates. The following tips may help you prepare for an online interview:
- Prepare as if the interview was in person.
- Research the company (LinkedIn can help here!) – what is the company's philosophy or mission statement?
- What is their history? Are they a startup or well-established company? What are their products and services? What's their structure? How are they unique?
- By researching these questions, you can help prepare for interview questions (e.g. What do you know about us?).
- Prepare potential questions and answers. For example:
- Tell me about yourself.
- What is an area that you consider a weakness and would like to improve in?
- Why do you want to work here?
- Tell me about a time when you used your communication skills to solve a problem.
- Be on time. Log on 10 minutes early to check your technology, camera, audio, microphone and internet connection.
- Choose a good location for your interview. Pick a quiet, well-lit space with few distractions, (no children, partners, or pets).
- Dress appropriately for your field, from top to bottom – it helps to set the interview mood.
- Use good body language, sit up straight, smile, and make good eye contact (look at the screen, not away).
- Speak clearly and slowly and listen carefully. Remember to take your turn – try not to interrupt or cut off the interviewer.
- Become familiar with software like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts as many employers and recruiters are using these formats for interviews.
- Be upbeat and positive and use a friendly tone. Be careful with humour – it can be misinterpreted and backfire.
June 18, 2020
What is family stress?
Family stress can mean troublesome relationships or crises that create distress. Stressors can include conflict in the family, circumstances external to the family that affect family members or significant changes that make life difficult to manage. Distress can be short term, long term, easily resolved or even difficult to imagine getting past because it seems so overwhelming.
Some signals that family members are overwhelmed can be the inability to sleep or eat, loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyed, persistent negativity, excessive discouragement or increased conflict in relationships.
A visit to the family doctor or a counsellor is a courageous first step to developing a better understanding about what's behind these signals and recognizing that something may be off track.
Different family developmental stages can present different types of stresses. Families with small children often experience caregiver overload or marital/couple problems with the demands of raising children. The teenage years can bring conflict as parents and teens negotiate independence – balancing good judgment with freedom to make one's own choices. Young adults leaving home can be a challenge as both parents and children develop new relationships.
Other stress factors
Mental or physical health issues can occur throughout the family lifecycle and often create distress for the person experiencing the illness. Distress is also a symptom for other family members who worry, take on more chores around the house or experience a loss of income. The term "sandwich generation" describes those parents who take care of children and aging parents at the same time. One of the primary concerns with this group is caregiver burnout. Research shows that women are still most often the primary caregiver. Personal time for caregivers is often put aside in the interest of looking after others and therefore women often experience stressors due to lack of self-care.
What is self-care?
Self-care is a balance of well-being where one feels able to manage and enjoy life. Usually this involves a balance among physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, economic, and social factors so that no one area of life has become central at the expense of all the other important factors for well-being. Parents sometimes recognize the importance of developing a balanced lifestyle when reminded that they are modelling a life path for the next generation.
We can develop coping strategies to handle challenging situations. Coping and self-care strategies can include:
- sharing chores at home to help achieve balance while modelling life skills for your children
- enjoying activities that offer comfort such as taking a hot bath, phoning a friend or getting absorbed in a movie
- eating, sleeping and exercising regularly and practicing smart money management
- taking time to enjoy your spouse's company or being on your own
- having one-on-one time with each of your family members
- cooking and eating meals with other family members
- scheduling family activities such as movies with discussion afterward or special board game nights
Aim to balance fun activities, household chores, working tasks and relaxing time together.
Develop problem solving skills
One of the easiest problem-solving skills is the principle that is expressed in the "Serenity Prayer" – to separate the things you can change from the things you can't. We have influence over some things in our lives and no influence in others – and it is important to let go of the things we can't change.
The problem is that sometimes we are so embroiled in our situation that we can't get a good perspective on our relationships or problems. That's where good friends or a counsellor can be helpful for talking things over.
Freeing children and parents from restrictive roles
Sometimes it is easy to get locked into a role like the "troublemaker child," or the "disciplining parent," or the "good child," or the "fun parent." In the end, everyone in the family loses out when someone's role has become too restrictive. Parents can practice looking beyond the most immediate behaviours and search for slight variations or differences from expected roles.
Then parents can strategically attend to the desired behaviours or reactions. If children are "seeking attention" then why not offer attention for positive contributions? It is much more difficult than it sounds to comment less on behaviours we don't want to encourage. It is a bit like planting a seed and waiting for the germination and growth with patience.
Other coping strategies
Learn some simple ways to diffuse conflict by using humour, side-stepping the issue temporarily or dealing with your own temper. These approaches can be most useful when teaching calmness and conflict resolution to children.
Understanding more about reasonable expectations for different developmental stages can be very helpful. Self-help books and parenting classes are useful to assist parents and children in developing problem-solving skills.
EXERCISE DURING PHYSICAL DISTANCING
June 16, 2020
With its capacity to reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep and cardiovascular health and offset our increased sitting time in quarantine, physical activity is a helpful addition to your self-health kit.
Physical distancing and outdoor exercise
As the weather gets warmer, walking, jogging and bicycling seem more appealing. While many of the provinces endorse a recommended distance of two metres to reduce the risk of transmission, no formal guidelines have been developed for distancing during physical activity.
Early research suggests the two-metre distance is insufficient when accounting for another person's wake while in motion. Try to leave five metres for walking and ten metres for jogging to mitigate exposure to droplets. A staggered position where you do not pass directly behind a person (e.g. passing on the side) requires significantly less separation as seen below. Learn more about these guidelines.
You may already naturally stagger yourself with others while jogging or running – who wants to rear-end another jogger because they stopped to change their music? What might be less natural is giving oncoming individuals enough space. If cycling, make sure to stay on the road and move with traffic flow. If walking, jogging or cycling on a trail, be prepared to move to the side to accommodate a safe passing distance.
Do masks help?
Although masks can decrease the spread of droplets, their effectiveness decreases as they become moist from respiration and perspiration. The best way to reduce your risk while exercising outdoors is aiming for non-peak times, less frequented areas and by doing it as an individual activity versus going out with a friend.
If you are just getting started on a fitness plan and intend on making walking your activity of choice, be sure to check out Manitoba in Motion's Walking: The Activity of a Lifetime guide.
Options for exercising indoors
Exercising in your home or yard is the best way to eliminate risk of transmission. There is an array of options for home workout programs – whether you wish to exercise on your own or by using an app or video or taking advantage of the many free resources available online.
Many fitness facilities, such as the Reh-Fit Centre (one of Winnipeg's two medical fitness facilities) offer free online exercise videos with certified staff. Many chain and boutique fitness facilities around the world are offering free classes – even some in a live format. Yoga is an option too, such as with Yoga to the People's free (donation-based) daily classes. All of these options can raise your heart rate and are thus considered aerobic exercise, something that provides you with the highest return on investment in terms of health benefits.
Trying out new exercise programs or methods can boost your fitness literacy and help you build a mental library of exercises that you love (or hate!). Another bonus is that you can exercise independently if that is your preference.
Do I need equipment?
Although you can engage in an effective exercise routine using no equipment (and we'll show you how below), having a few basics on hand, like resistance bands, suspension training straps or a kettlebell can provide variety in your routine. These are go-to items that are easy to store, available through online retailers and are often part of thoroughly equipped gyms. You can find detailed instructions for use online.
Thinking of "sitting it out" until things go back to normal?
We have likely spent a significant amount of time sitting during this pandemic. Although there are many negative health impacts of sitting for long periods of time, this can be offset by physical activity. And the most sedentary individuals need only increase their physical activity by just eight minutes per day for a reduction of negative health impacts. Not a bad return on investment. How about using the end of a TV episode to trigger a few minutes of movement?
Even if your exercise is just getting up to walk up and down the stairs, it makes a difference. In terms of long-term health outcomes, sporadic exercise (moderate or vigorous exercise lasting less than 10 minutes) gives the same results as the more traditional continuous exercise (moderate or vigorous exercise lasting more than 10 minutes). The most important message is that something is always better than nothing.
Wondering if exercise is safe for you due to health concerns?
Talk to your doctor about your health as it relates to exercise. Exercise is important for everyone, even if you have had major health events. Fit individuals who have had a heart attack, heart failure, coronary bypass surgery and other events have been shown to live longer than unfit individuals with an unremarkable health history.
If you were scheduled to participate in an exercise-based chronic disease management program, such as cardiac rehabilitation, that is now cancelled, talk to your doctor about other resources that may be available. Heart and Stroke Foundation's Living Well with Heart Disease is a great resource that is available for free online.
Getting started with some basics
Area targeted: core
Perhaps the simplest looking exercise, your goal here is simply to...not move! By activating your transverse abdominus muscle (which acts as a sort of girdle for your core), you will be working to stabilize yourself while you maintain a straight line from your hips to your head (aside from the natural curve of the spine). An excellent cue to engage the transverse abdominus is to draw your belly button in towards your spine – not by taking a breath, but by muscle contraction.
There are no conventional reps for this exercise, so simply hold it as long as you can while maintaining good form. Don't forget to breathe!
Area targeted: chest, arms, shoulders
At its most basic level, push-ups strengthen our upper body by pushing against resistance. It is the body-weight equivalent of a bench press and can be modified to suit different abilities. We have arranged these on a spectrum from easiest to hardest. Once you can do more than 12 of one variation, try the next! For each variation, remember to keep your core activated and breathe as you push.
Area targeted: quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, abs, back
That's a lot of benefit from one simple motion. Squats are what we call a functional exercise, which means they are useful for everyday life, instead of just at the gym. You use these muscles when you walk up the stairs, jump, pick something up, stand up and more. They also help with flexibility and balance. Squats may appear simple, but they are one of the more complex exercises. The goal is to lower your hips towards the ground by hinging the hips and spine forward together and bending at the knees.
Below you can see the basics of the squat with our "skeleton." If you feel unable to squat with correct form, try starting with a chair to sit on, a wall to shift weight onto, or try some more frequent stretching.
Squat best practices
- Look forward to reduce the stress on your lower back muscles.
- Contract your abdominal muscles to help prevent the spine from curving forward.
- Keep your heels flat on the ground.
- Keep your knees positioned over the middle of your feet (as opposed to falling towards each other).
- Stay within a range of motion that feels comfortable for you. If you've heard the "knees to 90 degrees" instruction – it's just a guideline. Always stay within your own comfortable range.
THE JOB HUNT: BEST PRACTICES FOR YOUR SEARCH
June 12, 2020
If you have experienced job loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic, use this time to concentrate on your job search. Be proactive, rather than reactive and use this time productively. Prepare, don't panic. Use the many online resources available for your search.
Use the online resources available to you:
- Many recruiters and employers are using LinkedIn as their main source for filling job vacancies.
- It can also be used to research potential careers and learn more about industries.
- You can network virtually and go to online job fairs.
- LinkedIn also has a wealth of articles with tips about job searching and interviewing during COVID-19.
YouTube is a great resource to learn about resume building, interview strategies and job search tips.
Use your social media channels to network and offer your expertise and skills. Create a blog, online portfolio or use Facebook, Instagram or Twitter to connect with your professional network.
Tips of the trade
- Develop your references
Reach out to your references ahead of time and confirm you can still use them, rather than scrambling at the last minute when an opportunity arises.
- Update your resume and cover letter
Update your resume with any updated dates, position or title changes, new courses, accreditations or information, and ensure your contact information is up to date.
- Start writing out your accomplishments
Have you taken any online courses? Have you recently volunteered for a non-profit organization? These are great additions to your resume and will help you prepare answers for future interview questions.
- Practice interviewing
Practice interviewing, especially through online platforms and over the phone. Enlist your friends and family for help.
- Don't go at it alone
Find a job search buddy to help you share ideas and offer support.
DIFFICULT EVENTS IN THE WORKPLACE
June 11, 2020
As we all face unprecedented changes to our work environments during the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it is important to draw from our bank of resources on the impacts of stressful events in the workplace.
A variety of events that happen in a workplace can impact a person's emotional well-being and ability to do their job.
Sometimes these events are critical incidents or "near misses" where a person's life is threatened. However, an event doesn't need to be critical to be stressful. Something like seeing a child the same age as one of your own, injured in the emergency department where you work, could be just as impactful.
Other events, although not critical, may still be upsetting. Examples of such events are grief at the loss of a colleague, a breakdown in workplace relations or conflict with colleagues.
People may also be affected by experiencing an accumulation of events – such as in the case of compassion fatigue, which happens when people repeatedly deal with the distress of others. It's important to remember that the results of these incidents can reach far beyond the individuals directly impacted or injured.
Stressful events impact us all differently
No one is immune to the effects of these types of events, but everyone is affected differently. Several factors work together to influence how deeply an individual may be impacted by a difficult event.
The first of these factors has to do with the amount of stress that a person is already experiencing in their life. This includes both current issues and past stressors. Think of a drinking glass with water in it. The amount of water in that glass represents the current stress in an individual's life. If the glass is already full, it won't take much to make it overflow. One difficult event may overwhelm our usual ability to cope.
In addition, a person is more likely to be overwhelmed by an event if it reawakens difficult experiences from the past. Even the most diligent employees may be unable to concentrate if stress is too high.
Second, the more directly involved a person is with the event or those impacted by the event, the more likely they are to experience a greater degree of distress. For example, a person is likely to be less affected if they were simply to hear or read about the event than if they were present when it occurred.
Third, a person's ability to utilize healthy coping strategies will help. Healthy coping strategies may involve talking to friends and family, maintaining a good balance between work and home, exercise, and good eating habits.
What happens to people when difficult things happen?
Following a distressing event people may experience physical, mental, behavioural and/or emotional aftershocks. Physical complaints such as headaches, upset stomach, chills, feeling tired, and trouble sleeping may occur. As well as these physical reactions to the incident, confusion, difficulty concentrating, and a sense of reliving the event in one's mind can happen. Some may notice changes like being easily startled, avoiding the place where the incident occurred, or withdrawing from friends and family. Others might feel irritable, angry, sad, guilty, afraid, lost or numb.
Individuals may experience some or all of these effects as well as others not listed. Even though these reactions are normal responses to a stressful event, people may feel overwhelmed and unable to cope with day-to-day demands. For most people, things go back to normal quickly but for some, symptoms may last longer. If this happens, it is important to seek additional assistance.
How to respond
Because these types of events may seriously affect emotional well-being, how we respond can affect a person's recovery and limit further risk. This means there are things that can be done right after an event by the people affected and the organization that will help people return to their lives and work.
There are several things that people can do to help manage the effects of a stressful event. Many of these activities are healthy lifestyle habits that become especially important during a time of distress.
- Regular exercise
- Healthy eating
- Social connection
- Rest and relaxation
- Normal routines
- Avoiding drugs and alcohol
- Avoiding life changes or big decisions
*Remember that your reactions are normal and that you are allowed to feel out of sorts.
The whole workplace may suffer when people feel overwhelmed by a stressful event. People may become disillusioned with their workplace if they believe their problems are not being taken seriously or that they are not being given adequate support.
Leaders can play an important role by providing support to their employees following a difficult situation at work. Shortly after an event, it is essential that those affected be provided with a chance to talk about what happened. Getting people together for a few minutes to acknowledge the event can help to restore some stability in the workplace. During the current pandemic, leaders and organizations may need to substitute various digital platforms or channels to do so.
This is a time to talk about what people experienced and decide if additional support is needed. If those involved feel that they would benefit from additional support, it is a good time to talk about what might be helpful and to tell the group that it will be arranged. Sharing information about what has occurred is often useful to staff as this can answer questions about the event.
It is important to remind the group of the supports that are available to them, both inside and outside the organization.
Finally, make sure everyone has information on how to get in touch with these supports. Staff and management can both be impacted by an event in the workplace. When those in leadership positions are affected, helping others to pull together may be difficult. In such times, leaders may draw on extra support. Our Employee Assistance Program offers consultation about how to respond in a manner that is supportive and appropriate to the event that has taken place.
In any workplace there is the potential for difficult events to happen. We know that each person will have a different reaction to the same event. The correct response to difficult events helps the individuals involved and improves the health of the organization as a whole.
PRACTICING SLEEP HYGIENE
June 10, 2020
Healthy bedtime routines and rituals
A consistent bedtime routine includes activities that encourage rest and relaxation before sleep. Examples of healthy pre-bedtime activities include reading, taking a hot bath or shower, meditation, listening to calming music and having a light snack. Avoid screen time in bed – put your smart phone or computer away and turn off the television. As well, avoid stimulating activities like eating or working in bed.
Regular sleep-wake schedule
Consider keeping a consistent wake-up and bedtime schedule seven days a week to maintain the body's circadian rhythm. And note that short (less than 30-minute) daytime naps have shown to improve cognitive functioning.
Monitored caffeine intake
Caffeine is a stimulant and has the potential to interfere with the quality and quantity of your sleep. Remember, we're not just talking about coffee – many types of tea, soda, energy drinks and other specialty beverages all contain caffeine.
Monitored alcohol intake
Alcohol disturbs the regular phases of the sleep cycle, and as a result, decreases your quality of sleep. Alcohol consumption can result in shorter sleep times and/or frequent arousal periods during the night.
Healthy sleeping environment
A good sleeping environment includes a comfortable and supportive mattress and pillows, a moderate temperature in the environment and limited background noise and light. Invest in comfortable and properly fitted bedding. And when nestling in, sleep on your back or side and try to avoid stomach sleeping, which could lead to back and neck pain.
Physical activity can reduce stress and anxiety. It can also improve the quality of your sleep. There are many ways to keep up with exercise while working from home. Consider taking up regular walking or running or try something different like martial arts, yoga or weight training via video or online instruction. However, timing is important. If you exercise too close to bedtime, it could actually interfere with sleep.
Sleep and productivity
The "no time for sleep" mentality has many faults. We know that the poor sleep will directly impact and influence your work performance by:
- cognitive functioning and memory
- ability to learn and problem solve
- focus, attention and attention span
- response time
- risk for accidents and falls
- negative thinking and mood
HELPING CHILDREN DEAL WITH STRESS
June 4, 2020
Children may respond to a difficult situation in different ways:
- Clinging to caregivers
- Feeling anxious
- Feeling angry or agitated
- Having nightmares
- Experiencing frequent mood changes
The following tips may help children deal with stress:
Allow children to express and communicate their feelings
Encourage active listening and an understanding attitude. Children usually feel relieved if they can express and communicate their feelings in a safe and supportive environment.
Help children find positive ways to express difficult emotions
Every child has their own way to express emotions. Sometimes engaging in a creative activity, such as playing or drawing can facilitate this process. Help children find positive ways to express difficult feelings like anger, fear and sadness.
Provide a sensitive and caring environment
Children need adults' love and often more dedicated attention during difficult times. If appropriate and depending on the age, parents/caregivers are encouraged to hug their children and repeat that they love them and are proud of them. This will make them feel better and safer.
Manage your own emotions well and remain calm
Remember that children often take their emotional cues from the important adults in their lives, so how adults respond to the crisis is very important. It's important that adults manage their own emotions well and remain calm, listen to children's concerns and speak kindly to them and reassure them.
Keep regular routines and schedules as much as possible
Keep regular routines and schedules as much as possible or help create new ones in a new environment, including learning, playing and relaxing. If possible, maintain schoolwork, study or other routine activities that do not endanger children or go against health authorities.
Provide facts about what is going on and give child-friendly information
Provide facts about what is going on and give clear, child-friendly information about how to reduce risk of infection and stay safe in words they can understand. Demonstrate to children how they can keep themselves safe (e.g. show them effective handwashing).
Avoid speculating about rumors or unverified information in front of children
Provide information about what has happened or could happen in a reassuring, honest and age appropriate way.
Support adults and caregivers with activities during home isolation
Adults should explain the virus but also keep children active when they are not at school. For example, provide hand washing games with rhymes, or tell imaginary stories about the virus exploring the body.
Make cleaning and disinfecting the house into a fun game
Draw pictures of the virus or microbes for children to colour and explain Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to children so that they are not scared.
NUTRITION TIPS: STAYING ON TRACK WHILE STAYING HOME
June 2, 2020
We are all facing various challenges and stresses during this pandemic – financial, emotional, mental – not to mention the impact this can be having on our relationships. Many of us are now working from home, which means taking on new roles like assisting with self-directed teaching or becoming the household hairdresser. And among all this masking and gloving (both the physical and the figurative) how much time do we really have to keep our nutrition in check?
You may have started 2020 out strong, making healthy food choices, kicking off an amazing workout regimen in the new year (or new decade, for that matter). But now the struggle to keep it up is real. Making good healthy nutritional choices can be tough when your home is your office, and your workwear may or may not be sweatpants. But now more than ever it is so important.
Let's take this masking and gloving to the next level with a bit of role play!
You're on a conference call and somehow make your way into the kitchen. Suddenly there is food in your hands... how did that even get there?! Before you know it, you're eating animal crackers and dry cereal right out of the box.
Perhaps you got so busy working on a project that you suddenly realize you haven't eaten a thing all day.
You told yourself you would only have a couple of chocolate chips, then suddenly find yourself sitting at the laptop with the entire bag and realizing you no longer have any left to make chocolate chip cookies.
Plan and portion
Just as you plan to shower, brush your teeth and workout, planning and preparing your meals and snacks should be a part of your daily to-do list. If you used to plan and prep the night before work, keep up the routine. Your hours and daily schedule may look a bit different from home, so plan around your new schedule. Treat food the same way you would at work. Likely, you are not grazing all day long at work – therefore, you can't be doing that at home.
Part of planning is portioning out your meals and snacks. Use the package serving size to guide you. Use a nine-inch plate at meal time, sectioned off to provide half a plate of nonstarchy vegetables, a quarter of the plate with a lean protein (poultry, seafood, beans, eggs, tofu, cottage cheese or Greek yogurt) and a quarter of the plate with a high-fiber carbohydrate (fruit,whole grains or starchy vegetables).
Keep your workspace away from the kitchen
Temptation can hit and you may find yourself wandering over to the kitchen or going through the pantry – especially if it's constantly in your line of vision. The only time you should be in your kitchen during the workday is when you're getting ready to have a planned snack or meal. This is when Post-It notes can come in handy. Put up some notes on your fridge and pantry to remind you that the kitchen is closed until the next scheduled meal or snack. It might seem silly, but notes can be very helpful reminders. A bonus – no one is coming in your home right now to see them anyway!
Remember to eat
For some, getting into the groove of a project can mean tunnel vision, making it hard to take a coffee or lunch break to actually eat the snack or meal you planned. Remember it's important to be mindful of your hunger cues and realize that not eating can negatively impact your alertness and productivity. Setting a break alarm on your phone can be helpful. Remember: not eating through the day = unstoppable, mindless eating later on.
Don't stockpile on comfort foods
Remaining in the comfort zone of your home can really let the unhealthy, comforting temptations creep in, especially during stressful times – and you all know I am not talking about celery and raisins! The chocolate stash, the chips and cookies, the tub of ice cream and not to mention the cooled soft drinks lurking in your fridge – those are the culprits. Your kitchen is not a vending machine, so don't stock it up like one. Try your best to keep the most tempting items out of your house, especially foods you know can trigger a binge for you.
Keep the spotlight on real food
Balanced, nutritious food keeps your engine running smooth and your brain fine tuned, which from a work perspective makes you way more productive. What you eat has a huge impact on your mood and energy level. Focus on protein, fiber, healthy fats, fruits and veggies. Having a great source of healthy items readily available makes it easier to prevent munching on whatever looks quick and appealing at the moment.
When we're reaching for a sip of something during the workday, it's fair to say it'll be from our favourite mug. But your cup of java – or should I say pot of java – is far from thirst quenching. Limiting the amount of caffeine we take in is wise, since too much is known to cause headaches, anxiety, digestive issues and even fatigue – sounds like a recipe for disaster!
Aim for no more than two, eight-ounce cups of coffee per day to avoid the jittery feeling. Perhaps rethink the flavored creamers and other high-calorie add-ins while you're at it.
Where does this leave us for beverage options? Well, good question. We need to ensure we are maximizing our water intake. Dehydration can lead to headaches and fatigue – sounds similar to the effects of too much caffeine, doesn't it? Have a water bottle with you just as you would at the office. If you have water within arm's reach, you're more likely to drink it, helping you reach your daily goal of at least 64 ounces per day.
Move it to lose it... or gain it, depending on your goals!
You will need all that water to keep you hydrated so you are more productive AND to keep you cool through your amazing new workout regime! You didn't think that I'd skip physical activity, did you?
You might have been used to exercising before or after work at your workplace's on-site gym. Maybe you attended exercise classes or perhaps you biked or walked to work. Think this all must come crashing down when you start working from home? Guess again.
Our new reality just means that you get to plan a new workout routine. This can even be a good change, as sometimes we plateau after doing the same workouts day in and day out. Take this opportunity to create a new schedule for yourself, and work with what you've got. Get outside. Utilize the many online resources, videos or apps that keep you moving. This is a great time to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. Be sure to get up and walk around, as sitting for hours on end is not healthy – we were made to move!
You may have noticed a common thread in all this – planning. Planning is key and is needed in order to create great healthy habits in your eating and activity level to keep you going strong during this transitional time. Working from home is not an excuse to hibernate and develop unhealthy habits. Embracing the above advice can help you stay productive, healthy and strong. But if you feel like you'd like a bit more support, meeting with a Registered Dietitian is always the best choice when it comes to looking beyond fads and gimmicks and getting evidence-based nutritional guidance.
JOB LOSS DURING COVID-19
May 29, 2020
If you are experiencing job loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you are not alone.
Many people are experiencing lay offs and job loss: some are being temporarily laid off while others are being permanently laid off. Losing your job can be very stressful – add to that a health pandemic and physical distancing, and the stress increases.
However, you are not alone. There are many resources and supports available to you and it's important to use them to maintain your mental and physical health.
Here are some suggestions that may help you get through this challenging time:
- Keep in touch with friends and family
Use one of the many means of online communication and good old-fashioned phone calls.
- Keep busy and stay active
Go for a walk or run outside and make exercise a part of your day. There are many free, online workouts you can do at home.
- Focus on others
Volunteer from home using the skills you have – many non-profit organizations need help (e.g. project management).
- Focus on staying positive
Remember the people who are important to you and the things that bring you joy.
- Start a hobby
Do a puzzle, paint, write, work on a craft or do anything that you enjoy.
- Make use of free opportunities to learn
Take a free online course to learn a new skill or build on a skill you already have.
- Try not to feel discouraged
The current circumstances have placed heavy loads on many of our shoulders. Try to remember that you are not alone and that these circumstances will pass.
- Remember the essentials
Attend to your basic physical health by eating right and getting plenty of rest.
- Focus on what you can control
Focus on things within your reach – such as your job search strategy.
MESSAGES FOR TEAM LEADERS OR MANAGERS
May 28, 2020
If you are a team leader or manager, keeping all staff protected from chronic stress and poor mental health during this response means they will be better able to fulfill their roles.
Promote open dialogue about mental health at work
Regularly and supportively monitor your staff for their well-being and foster an environment that promotes open communication about mental health.
Ensure accurate information and updates are provided
Ensure accurate information and quality updates are provided so staff can help mitigate any worry about uncertainty that workers may have and help workers feel a sense of control.
Allow for rest and recuperation
Rest is important for physical and mental well-being and this time will allow workers to implement their necessary self-care activities.
Provide space for employees to air their concerns
Allow workers to express their concerns and ask questions and encourage peer support amongst colleagues. Without breaking confidentiality, pay particular attention to any staff who are experiencing difficulties in their personal life or have previously experienced poor mental health.
Support training where possible
Training in Psychological First Aid (PFA) can benefit leads, managers and workers in having the skills to provide the necessary support to colleagues.
Facilitate access to supportive services
Make sure staff are aware of how they can access mental health and psychosocial support services, including on-site Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPS) staff – if available, or other remote-service options.
Ensure you have access to the supports you need
Managers and team leads will face similar stressors as their staff, and potentially additional pressure due to their role's level of responsibility. It is important that the above provisions and strategies are in place for both workers and managers, and that managers are able to demonstrate self-care strategies to mitigate stress.
HOW TO SET UP AN ERGONOMICALLY SUPPORTIVE HOME OFFICE
May 26, 2020
As employers and businesses around the world have closed their doors to stop the spread of COVID-19, many of us have been forced to set up workspaces in the confines of our homes. And like any new arrangement, working from home will undoubtedly bring both benefits and challenges. Below you will find some tips to help ensure your home workspace is set up as ergonomically friendly as possible.
If possible, have a designated space for work. This will help signal your brain that it is time to focus on work. If space allows, stay away from your work area after hours.
Perhaps you have a task chair at home with some adjustability features. But if not, choose a chair with a firm, supportive seat that allows your knees to be level with your hips and leaves 2-4 inches between the back of your knees and the seat of your chair. Any chair can be made more supportive with a rolled towel tucked into the lumbar area (your lower back). Wrapping your winter scarf around the chair will hold the towel in place.
Your desk might be your kitchen table, a folding card table, or your child's old desk. It's likely the least adjustable feature of your new workspace, but we can work around it. Your legs need to fit comfortably under your desk – raise your desk with sturdy boards or old textbooks if necessary. While seated in your chair with your elbows bent at 90 degrees, your hands should rest comfortably on your keyboard. If you are having to reach up instead (with more bend in your elbows), you need to raise the height of your chair. Don't worry if your feet don't touch the floor anymore – we'll get to that next.
Your first instinct may have been to adjust your chair height based on your leg length, but as you learned in step two, your chair height should be adjusted according to the height of your desk. Once you adjust your chair to your desk height, are your feet still flat on the floor? If not, use a footrest. If you don't have a footrest at home, make your own with a stack of books, a shoebox or a rolled-up yoga mat.
If you use one monitor, it should sit directly behind your keyboard. The top of the screen should be at eye level. Raise the monitor with a few books or a package of printer paper if necessary. When you reach straight in front of you, your fingertips should just reach the monitor screen. If that seems too far and you are slouching forward or straining to view your monitor, consider increasing the font or the size of your display. If you wear bifocals, you may prefer your monitor to be one to two inches lower.
If you have two monitors, keep your primary monitor in front of you and your secondary monitor right beside it. If you use the two monitors equally, line them up so that you are sitting directly in the middle of the two.
Using a laptop as your primary screen poses a challenge but adding an external keyboard and mouse will allow you to raise the laptop monitor to a more appropriate height.
Keyboard and mouse
These should be used on the same surface, with the mouse right next to the keyboard. When using the mouse, keep your elbow at your side and move just your forearm. Avoid reaching.
Place your telephone on your non-dominant side to avoid cradling the phone in your neck while taking notes during a phone call. If you use your phone frequently during your workday, consider using a headset.
Ensure you are getting up to move at least every hour to reduce muscle tension and eye strain. Stand up when you can – perhaps to read paper documents or make telephone calls.
A DIFFERENT SEASON: ACCEPTING CHANGE DURING A PANDEMIC
May 22, 2020
Distinct seasons in the prairies have created rituals that have taken hold and become part of the fabric of our being. Spring is the time we greet our neighbors, shake hands and share a hug with that kind of shared neighbourly pride that says, "Yes, we have made it through another winter!" We walk our communities looking for signs of new growth as we breathe in the promise of a summer to come.
This spring has not come with that kind of connection to our neighbors and the shared joy of the anticipation of summer. Rather, we are in a global pandemic that has brought with it uncertainty, fear and anxiety. Many of us feel like we are without a blueprint or a road map – we have set out on a journey without knowing the final destination. We commit to behavior changes to slow the spread of COVID-19 and we hope that others do the same. Hand washing, physical distancing and isolating in our homes are done with the optimism that compliance will slow the pandemic.
How we experience our day-to-day lives at this time is influenced by multiple factors. Some of us are on imposed isolation and others have been able to choose to work from home. Some of us are laid off from work as our business doors are closed. Many of us are essential and front-line workers, implementing new protocols in response to COVID-19 and each day at work brings new challenges. All of us have had our work and home life dramatically altered by the global pandemic.
Why am I feeling this way?
Our lives have been turned upside down. Change and transition impact us in a variety of ways. Change often happens quickly; but transition happens more slowly and at its own pace. The current pandemic is an example of a change that is an external event in our lives, yet greatly impacts our internal world. Our transition through change is a very individual internal response. So how do we cope with our new normal?
The experience of transitioning through change (isolation, separation from family, physical distancing, fear of testing positive for COVID-19, job interruption or working extra and longer shifts) resembles the stages of loss. Many of us feel loss of control, loss of belonging, loss of meaning and loss of the future we imagined and planned for before the pandemic.
What can I do to feel better?
Gain control: Identify what you have control over and take action. Remember you cannot control the change we are going through with the pandemic, but you can control your transition. Implement behaviours that public health officials have encouraged us to follow. Behavioural changes help break the mental commentary that plays in our mind. We can take a momentary break from our thoughts by attending to our bodies and our physical environment. The extra cleaning, disinfecting and washing are time-consuming rituals, but they give us a sense of control. Daily rituals help us transition through this time. We are not able to control the actions of others, but we can ensure that our own actions are creating a sense of safety and security.
Gain a sense of belonging: Commit to staying connected and strengthening relationships. In addition to phone calls and virtual meetings, we are also enhancing feelings of belonging when we offer our time and our craft. Many are sewing masks, delivering meals and helping neighbours. These acts of kindness create connection. A felt sense that we are in this together and that we will get through this together creates optimism and brings satisfaction.
Gain meaning: Self-care is required now more than ever. Our relationship with ourselves is the most important of all. You may be physically distancing, but this is not the time to distance from yourself and your personal power. While much in our external world is closed, we more than ever now benefit from being open to ourselves. Take time to take care. Make time to do that which anchors you – be it listening to music, walking, getting extra rest or eating well. In times such as these we often reflect on our values and beliefs, on what matters in the grand scheme and what might shift for us when this passes.
Gain a sense of the future: The best way to trust in the future is to manage today. Notice how your thoughts influence how you feel and how you act. In times such as these, our minds are constantly scanning our environments for threats to our security. This is a survival response deeply seated in our brains. We can become exhausted with overthinking, overwhelming feelings and bodily aches, and pains such as headaches, muscle tension and general fatigue. Notice your thoughts and let them pass like clouds in the sky or like a leaf floating in a stream... allowing the commentary to go on in our minds feeds fear. If our attention is always placed on our thoughts, we are at the mercy of whatever arises. Our thoughts can be a constant source of stress. Conscious breathing (as discussed in Being Mindful!) can lead us to a deepened awareness of our body, allowing for the release of worry and tension. Focusing on the simple act of breathing can increase feelings of inner peace and well-being. Limiting media time helps us find a balance between keeping informed and not perpetuating fear. Talking with those who can assist us regarding financial, work, child or elderly care changes can help us plan for today and tomorrow.
We adapt to change by giving time and attention to the ways in which we transition. By planting the seeds for tomorrow's garden, we can be in the present today while planning for tomorrow.
COVID-19 IMPACTS US BUT IT DOES NOT DEFINE US
May 21, 2020
Reframing the current pandemic as an opportunity for community and compassion.
As much as we have been encouraged to manage the physical space between one another, social distancing does not mean cutting off emotionally. Practice staying emotionally present for one another. Talk, share, live, love and laugh.
Let's encourage each other to share our fears and anxious moments. But also – let's give ourselves permission to take a break from COVID-19's emotional hold. Plan activities to facilitate this, even frivolous and light-hearted ones!
- Finding ourselves through a storm
Our inner compass, the part of us that drives our decision-making, is really tested during a storm. However, it's our values and principles that can help see us through. Take time to strengthen these by talking about what is important with your loved ones and then living out those values.
Sometimes it takes a challenge to gain a sense of mastery. When we take an active role in helping others and doing good deeds for those impacted most, we foster a sense of community. We can talk with our loved ones and ask, who is the most vulnerable right now and how can we help? We can also consider how we can do our part in the community by acting responsibly to help mitigate the COVID-19 spread. And within our own family unit, we can exercise random acts of kindness between one another.
- Modelling compassion for children
When we model kind and compassionate behaviour for our children, it is comforting for them. Engage children in talks about others and about how we can do our part to help. Children have wonderful means of expression through play, drawing and painting. When they paint a picture or make a card for someone they love, they exercise self-mastery over the conditions of worry and fear. And compassion is the best antidote to fear.
- Appreciating what is
We can also celebrate our normalcy. The surreal nature of COVID-19's influence has disrupted our sense of what's normal, our sense of routine. Mark and celebrate small achievements, appreciate moments where we are able to just be, and remember it is okay that some things are outside our control.
This pandemic has triggered hard economic times for many. We can generate a culture of understanding around not being able to do some of the "usual things" that involve money. We can take this as an opportunity to reconnect to simplicity.
Right now, there is only so much within our control, so let's put our energy into things that are within our circle of influence.
- Reframing COVID-19 as a means of connection – not one of distance
Although we are in an unprecedented time of socially distancing, our sense of community transcends the physical. We can maintain connections through whatever virtual means we have at our disposal, and encourage our children, family members and friends to participate collectively.
Isolation is as much a psychological state as anything. We all have times of feeling isolated or distant from others. And isolation, ironically enough, has many companions – depression, anxiety, fear and worry to name a few. It may feel as though this pandemic is here to trick us into further isolation and loneliness – and we shouldn't underestimate this situation's ability to trigger conditions from the past or reinforce loneliness. But there is more at play.
Our sense of family is one of our primary connections and one of the most powerful means to keep space from COVID-19; our ability to find empowerment in connecting collectively to a greater purpose can drive a sense of community; and through connecting with others who are facing the same struggle, we can learn that we are by no means alone.
- Leaving space for difference and practicing acceptance
COVID-19 has brought us into a world of extremes. While some have been lured, others have had a sharp entry. And as much as we share commonalities, we are different. Our unique circumstances, histories, personalities and coping styles all contribute to the impact we feel.
For some, COVID-19 is akin to the apocalypse – and for others this may seem like an over-reaction. For people who have elderly parents or a weakened immune system or personal hardships like the recent loss of a loved one – COVID-19 is a real danger. For those without such experiences, conditions or hardships – not so much.
Wherever possible, we must leave space for difference and accept where people are at, even if we are in a different space. When appropriate, encourage a balanced perspective through listening, validation and dialogue. Fear and anxiety thrive in the shadow of judgement – so too does denial.
- COVID-19 may not discriminate – but that does not mean we are equally impacted
As we are called to isolate within the safety of our own homes – what about those for whom home is not a safe place; those who are trapped in the cycle of abuse; or our homeless, who already live in adverse situations. What about those who reside in locations where access to services and supports are limited? What about our newcomers who already struggle to integrate and build stability; or our Indigenous peoples, who already face greater health vulnerabilities and fight daily for an equal footing?
If we take the opportunities available to us to care for our vulnerable populations and to cultivate a sense of compassion and community, we can help re-define this crisis.
Our compassion, ability to support one another and our sense of community are the most powerful means we have to take back space and transcend the isolation of COVID-19.
This pandemic is a condition that influences us but does not define us. What defines us is how we respond to it.
Blue Cross is Canada's Top Ranked Benefits Provider
May 20, 2020
For 23 years, Leger Marketing has measured the reputation of organizations across the country.
This year, Blue Cross was named the 71st most reputable company in Canada – the top ranked benefits provider in the country.
Read Leger's 2020 report to learn more.
Blue Cross® supports Canadians with free access to mental health program Stronger Minds by BEACON® through COVID-19 crisis
May 4, 2020
The digital program offers free guidance from a leading team of psychologists, to support the emotional well-being of Canadians during the pandemic.
To support mental well-being through the COVID-19 crisis, Blue Cross® has joined as a sponsor of Stronger Minds by BEACON® – a free digital program available for all Canadians. This resource is a supplement to the suite of health and wellness offerings provided by each Blue Cross Plan, including their respective employee assistance programs.
For more than 70 years, Blue Cross has been dedicated to caring for our communities and improving the well-being of Canadians. May 4-10 marks Mental Health Week in Canada and there is no better time to announce our investment in the Stronger Minds program. Blue Cross recognizes this has been a challenging situation for so many Canadians. Our sponsorship of Stronger Minds will help provide mental health guidance and emotional support to people across the country.
"With our team of clinical psychologists, along with trusted national health and wellness advocates, our organization is dedicated to helping people strengthen their resiliency and manage through unique emotional challenges stirred by the pandemic crisis," says Sam Duboc, Chair and CEO of MindBeacon Group. "Canada is in this together, and we're wholeheartedly committed to helping Canadians protect their mental well-being so they can successfully face every day as it comes."
In addition to guidance from the BEACON team of clinical psychologists, Stronger Minds presents personal perspectives from beloved Canadian Olympic rower Silken Laumann, TSN sports commentator Michael Landsberg, as well as guidance on physical activity from GoodLife Fitness.
"It's been a rollercoaster of emotions through this pandemic crisis. I've had moments of hope and sadness. I've really had to work on my fears and worry for the people in my life and for the world," says Silken Laumann, mental health advocate. "I hope through my contribution to Stronger Minds by BEACON, my perspectives on coping through these difficulties will help people across Canada cope better too." Through the BEACON digital platform, Stronger Minds offers resources focused on resilience building, videos and quick reads from mental health experts. The program provides participants the opportunity to engage as much or as little as they wish to access guidance that addresses their challenges; however, unlike one-to-one therapy, there is no clinical assessment required to participate.
Topics covered continuously evolve based on participants' requests and include overcoming worry, isolation and parenting. Stronger Minds will be offered indefinitely, in recognition that this crisis has an uncertain timeline.
Information on Stronger Minds by BEACON is available at mindbeacon.com/strongerminds.
Support for front-line workers in the COVID-19 response
April 29, 2020
Stress is something you and many of your colleagues are likely feeling right now – and it is quite normal given the current situation.
You may feel that the weight of the world is suddenly on your shoulders, that you are not meeting the expectations that have been set for you – that the demands being asked are too high. You may feel additional new pressures, including following strict Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) procedures.
How to make sure we are taking care of our own needs
Stress and the feelings associated with it are by no means a reflection that you cannot do your job or that you are weak, even if you feel that way. In fact, stress can be useful.
Right now, the feeling of stress may be keeping you going at your job and providing a sense of purpose. Managing your stress and psychosocial well-being during this time is as important as managing your physical health.
Take care of your basic needs and employ helpful coping strategies. Ensure you rest and have respite during work or between shifts, eat sufficient and healthy food, engage in physical activity and stay in contact with family and friends.
Avoid using unhelpful coping strategies such as tobacco, alcohol or other drugs. In the long term, these can worsen your mental and physical well-being.
Finding social connection
Some workers may unfortunately experience ostracization by their family or community due to stigma. This can make an already challenging situation far more difficult.
If possible, staying connected with your loved ones through digital methods is one way to maintain contact. Turn to your colleagues, your manager or other trusted allies for social support – your colleagues may be having similar experiences as you.
Being gentle with yourself
If your stress worsens and you feel overwhelmed, you are not to blame. Everyone experiences stress and copes with it differently. Ongoing and old pressures from your personal life can affect your mental well-being in your day-to-day job.
You may notice changes in how you are working. You may experience mood changes such as increased irritability, and you may feel low or more anxious. You may feel chronically exhausted, or it may feel harder to relax during respite periods. You may also have unexplained physical complaints like body pain or stomach aches.
Chronic stress can affect your mental well-being and your work and can affect you even after the situation improves. If the stress becomes overwhelming, please approach your lead or the appropriate person to ensure you are provided with the right support.
Have EAP coverage with us?
Manitoba Blue Cross's Employee Assistance Program is dedicated to supporting you through this difficult time. Our intake lines remain open to assist and support anyone seeking counselling services. We will be providing telephonic, text-based and video conferencing options to all clients seeking support.
To speak to an intake worker, please call:
- 1.800.590.5553 (toll free)
- 204.775.0586 (TTY)
Inter-Agency Standing Committee. (2020, March 17). Briefing note on addressing on mental health and psychosocial aspects of COVID-19 Outbreak - Version 1.0. Retrieved from Inter-Agency Standing Committee: https://interagencystandingcommittee.org/
What to remember when submitting your claim
March 9, 2020
As part of our goal to make your claims experience easier, we asked our Claims department about the most common reasons a claim may be delayed.
When submitting photos or photocopies of your receipts or referrals, double check your submission to ensure none of the information is cut off or blurry. Missing or partial information can delay a claim.
Some providers will staple the receipts together – convenient, right? But when you're taking a photo or photocopy, those stapled receipts can cover necessary information for your claim.
When taking a photo or photocopy, you'll want to arrange the receipts to ensure all information is visible.
We want your autograph! The most common reason a paper claim is held up is a lack of signature. Before you send in your claim, double check you've signed it.
For faster claims processing, you can also submit claims through your mybluecross® online account. It's quick, it's easy and it saves some trees – why not?
And if you receive claim payment through cheque, you can sign up for direct deposit on mybluecross and get your money even faster.
You've remembered to schedule that much-needed massage – but did you remember to include your referral in your claim?
For benefits like massage or medical equipment, you'll need to get a referral from a qualified professional to be eligible for reimbursement.
Be sure to check if you need a referral before you purchase the equipment or service.
To check if a referral is required, you can find a list of your benefits with eligibility information under View Coverage in mybluecross.
Coverage with another insurer
Submitted your expenses to another carrier first? We'll need a copy of their statement of payment/denial as well as copies of the receipts to process your claim. If you have HSA coverage, your HSA will be last payer.
Shipping and handling
Shipping and handling charges are not eligible for reimbursement. When submitting your claim, ensure shipping and handling isn't included in your expenses.
Common, benefit-specific tips
- While a chiropractor may sell products on top of offering chiropractic services, not all are eligible for reimbursement – and some are only eligible if you have certain coverage.
- For example, a chiropractor may offer orthotics, but those are only eligible if you also have orthotic coverage.
- When submitting a massage claim, please don't include tips or gratuities when adding your expenses, as they're not eligible for reimbursement. Hammam therapy is not considered part of massage coverage.
- When submitting a naturopath claim, please don't include the tax in your claim. Naturopath products and supplements are also not eligible for reimbursement.
- Claims for glasses or contacts must always include a copy of your prescription from your optometrist or ophthalmologist.
Insights from a psychologist from our Employee Assistance Program
February 20, 2020
Sadness is a part of life – but sometimes it can be so much more than just feeling down.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, around eight per cent of Canadians will experience major depression in their lifetime.
We talked to a clinical psychologist from our Employee Assistance Program to learn more about depression.
Clinical depression versus "feeling low"
With over 40 years in clinical psychology, Dr. Leigh Quesnel has extensive experience treating clients with depression.
"The significant difference between 'feeling low' and something more serious is the business of hopelessness," he says.
When you're feeling down, you know you'll feel better in a few days, Dr. Leigh says. But when you have clinical depression, you're more likely to feel like you'll never get better – that what you're feeling now will last forever.
He lists the other typical symptoms of depression:
- Lack of interest in usual activities
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Insomnia or too much sleep
- Progressive fatigue
- Lack of concentration
- Suicidal ideation
These symptoms really get his attention when they come with a sense of hopelessness – that feeling that it's never going to change, Dr. Leigh says.
Risk factors of depression
A family history of depression is a significant risk factor, Dr. Leigh says.
"That family effect is not just genetic, but also one of learning and seeing it in your family members," he adds.
"We also know that the risk is higher for women, and it's also higher for seniors."
Other risk factors include:
- Substance abuse
- Childhood trauma
- Chemical imbalances
- Physical illness
- Life changes and stressors
- Lack of social supports
Depression isn't a life sentence, nor is it a result of being a weak person, Dr. Leigh says.
"These are both critical assumptions that rob you of hope."
Treating depression often involves cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT is a therapy technique that helps manage clients' thought patterns to subsequently affect their actions.
On top of feeling hopeless, people with depression often think that they don't have the capacity to change, Dr. Leigh says.
"We need to correct the notion that hopelessness is ever real," Dr. Leigh says. "To do that, we want to help people recognize that they do have the competence and capacity to survive and thrive, and that if they don't as yet, they have the capacity to learn both."
Reframing a person with depression's worldview is critical to their recovery, Dr. Leigh says.
"It is important for clients with depression to develop the characteristics of resilient people," he says. "Those characteristics include a very accurate reality check and a very accurate sense of not only their own capacity, but also the capacity they can access around them."
Problem solving, critical thinking, skillful planning and taking action are all critical elements of treatment, Dr. Leigh says.
Support goes a long way
Of all the risk factors, a lack of social support is one of the most critical, Dr. Leigh says.
"When we have a challenge, a large stone to move, it is not nearly as big when there are three of us to push it. But if I'm alone, it now becomes an overwhelming task," Dr. Leigh says. "And if my life is full of such challenges, or boulders, then there's a risk of becoming depressed."
Part of treating depression involves techniques to identify support and eliminate the barriers to accessing support.
But this is no small challenge, Dr. Leigh says.
"The biggest complication [in treatment] is securing the support that is required for effective problem solving and subsequent action," he says. "That's complicated for a therapist, because the therapist can rarely access those support people."
It is critical for friends and family to be willing contributors to a client's support network, Dr. Leigh says.
"They need to be willing to contribute to the therapeutic process of cognitive restructuring, effective problem solving and ultimately resilience."
People sometimes feel they have no support to rely on. Dr. Leigh would suggest that those feelings are often inaccurate assumptions.
"It's a very rare occasion when an individual has no support," he says. "But it's very accurate to say that you sometimes have got to go out and work to find that support. And even then, it is sometimes not easy.
"However, if there is no one, there is the therapist you're speaking to, and that's important to remember," he adds.
A message of hope
"It will get better. Not it can get better – it will get better," Dr. Leigh says.
"The message always has to be one of well-considered, well-thought-out hope. Not nonsense statements, like, 'You'll be okay, you'll be okay' – but a very considered message that says if we bring together the best resources with a clear understanding of what's happening in our lives, we can problem solve ourselves to a better place. We can make things better."
Our Employee Assistance Program
Manitoba Blue Cross members with Employee Assistance coverage can access counselling services through our renowned Employee Assistance Program, based out of our headquarters at 599 Empress Street.
Our professional network of multidisciplinary providers spans the province, including 23 rural and northern communities.
Counselling services include:
- anxiety and depression
- marital and relationship
- family and parenting
- emotional or behavioural
- occupational stress and adjustment
- violence or abuse
- information and/or referral
- critical incident or trauma
When in-person counselling isn't feasible, our Employee Assistance Program also offers email counselling and interactive video conferencing.
To find out if counselling is covered under your benefit plan, contact our Employee Assistance Centre at 204.786.8880, toll free at 1.800.590.5553 or TTY 204.775.0586.
For more information about Manitoba Blue Cross's Employee Assistance Program, visit mb.bluecross.ca.
Which travel plan is right for you?
Hear from our travel benefits expert
January 29, 2020
While there are many exciting things to plan when booking a vacation, buying travel insurance is a less thrilling – but essential – item for everyone's to-do list.
Most people know that health expenses incurred outside of Manitoba aren't fully covered by Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living. But not everyone knows which travel plan fits their needs.
With so many options out there, how do you ensure you're picking the right plan?
We talked to Nikki Makar, Individual Benefits Consultant at Manitoba Blue Cross, about the ins and outs of choosing a travel plan.
If you're taking a single trip out of province
You've scheduled your flights, you've booked your hotel – before planning your itinerary, your next step should be the Deluxe Travel Health Plan.
"The Deluxe Travel Health Plan is by far our most popular" Nikki says. "It provides you with affordable coverage for your trip."
The plan protects you from unexpected medical expenses on a single, out-of-province trip. It includes:
- Emergency Travel Health – covers sudden, unforeseen and unexpected medical costs
- Automatic Extension – extends your coverage under certain circumstances
- Accidental Death & Dismemberment – covers loss of life, limb or sight
- International Travel Assistance – a toll-free help line to contact before treatment
If you're taking more than one trip this year
So there's that family vacation in Mexico, that conference in Vancouver, and come to think of it, you may still attend your cousin's wedding in Utah this November – needless to say, if you're taking more than one trip, consider our Annual Travel Plan.
"Rather than buy travel coverage separately for each trip, our Annual Travel Plan gives you year-round coverage on trips that are 32 days or less," Nikki says.
Each trip must originate and terminate in Manitoba.
The Annual Travel Plan includes the following benefits:
- Emergency Travel Health
- Accidental Death & Dismemberment
- International Travel Assistance
If you've booked a pre-paid tour package
Excited for that all-inclusive cruise in the Bahamas or tour through Europe? Why not carry on in that spirit and book a complete coverage plan? If you bought a tour package where transport, accommodations and attractions are all included, consider our Tour Package Plan.
"Having the added benefit of emergency travel health and baggage protection makes this coverage great value for you and your travelling companions," she adds.
The Tour Package offers complete coverage for all aspects of your trip. Benefits include:
- Emergency Travel Health
- Accidental Death & Dismemberment
- International Travel Assistance
- Airfare Cancellation – covers pre-paid airfare for unexpected cancellation
- Holiday Cancellation – covers pre-paid transportation and land expenses for unexpected cancellation
- Air Flight and Common Carrier Accident – covers you for death or dismemberment during transport
- Baggage Protection – covers lost or damaged luggage
If you want cancellation coverage
"Sometimes, you just need to cover the cost of cancelling your airfare or house rental," Nikki says. "In that case, Airfare or Holiday Cancellation plans are the way to go."
If you're interested in Airfare or Holiday Cancellation coverage, you must purchase it within 72 hours of time of deposit, cancellation or penalty period.
"Quite often, a trip is planned and paid for several months before the date of departure," Nikki says. "Making sure you purchase the coverage within 72 hours of paying for the trip ensures you are covered should you need to cancel because of one of the risks covered."
Other benefits of choosing Manitoba Blue Cross
- We've been voted the most trusted travel insurance brand in Canada in a nationwide survey for the fourth year in a row.
- We are Manitoba's choice for benefits, with half a million Manitobans covered under our plans.
- We provide access to a local call centre or walk-in Customer Service Centre, located right here in Manitoba, should you have any questions about your benefits.
"It's important to understand that travel plans are not all the same," Nikki says.
Always read the terms and provisions and be sure you purchase coverage for the full duration of your trip. Eligibility, risks covered, exclusions, terms and conditions and definitions are all explained in that document. Be sure to understand if you have a pre-existing stability period associated with your coverage and how that may affect you. Take your policy receipt and terms and provisions with you and leave a copy with someone at home.
"Unexpected health emergencies can happen when you travel," Nikki says. "Having a travel plan that meets your needs will ensure you can focus on your trip."
It's a new year
Important benefit reminders!
January 8, 2020
It's a new year – and a new decade. And as we move through January, it's just as important as ever to make your health a priority.
Here are some reminders as we start off 2020.
Put your mental health first
January can be a taxing time – the holidays are over, but the cold and dark remain.
For many people with coverage for mental health services, Employee Assistance sessions or psychology benefits refresh at the beginning of the year. Seeking help if you need it is the perfect way to start your 2020 on the right track.
Not sure if you have Employee Assistance coverage? You can view your coverage information at any time in your online mybluecross® account or call 204.786.8880, toll free 1.800.590.5553 or TTY 204.775.0586.
Learn more about our Employee Assistance Program.
Schedule your appointments
This time of year can be busy – but don't neglect your regular appointments!
For many people with dental and extended health coverage, benefit usage resets in January. If you haven't been to the dentist in a while, or if you're due for a physiotherapy session, it's a great time to check your schedule and make plans to prevent problems down the line.
Fulfill your resolutions
Trying to quit smoking in 2020? Wanting to get in better shape? Manitoba Blue Cross members can access discounts on services throughout the country through Blue Advantage.
Among hundreds of other deals, you can find savings on gym memberships and smoking cessation programs. And you qualify for every deal, regardless of your coverage.
Check your HSA
If you have an HSA, it's important to check your coverage to see if you're using it to its fullest potential.
HSA coverage and deadlines vary from plan to plan. For example, those with a HSA that runs January 1 to December 31 sometimes have a Claim Limitation Period (CLP). If your CLP is one month, you'll have until the end of January 2020 to submit claims from 2019.
Through mybluecross®, you can access plan details and applicable HSA information. This includes which kind of HSA plan you may have (On Request or Automatic), how many credits are available to claim and what has already been claimed in the past year.
Members with On Request can apply their HSA credits online towards applicable claims.
Members with Automatic HSA will have HSA claims paid automatically once their minimum trigger is reached or a payment on core benefits is made.
Note: Health expenses must be considered tax deductible by the Canada Revenue Agency to be eligible for claims through your Health Spending Account. For a list of eligible service providers by province, visit the CRA website.
If you are coordinating with another carrier, ensure you submit an explanation of benefits to Manitoba Blue Cross for proper coordination of benefits. There is a particular order to how claims are processed when coordinating benefits through another carrier.
To make the process more convenient, On Request members can upload any EOB statement directly from the On Request page on mybluecross® and we'll process any applicable claims.
You may wish to review all HSA plan deadlines or submit your explanation of benefits as soon as possible to maximize your benefits.