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Shedding light on osteopathy

June 17, 2021

Though it has been around for quite some time, osteopathy is still a relatively unknown practice. What is it, and what can it do for you?

What is osteopathy?

"Osteopathy is a non-invasive, drug-free treatment that uses hands-on manual therapy techniques to boost the body's natural healing abilities," says Pamela Kennedy, supervisor, benefit services at Manitoba Blue Cross.

Though osteopathy is a holistic treatment method and is not limited to one specific area of the body, it's often used to treat feeding issues, acute or chronic pain, digestive problems, muscle spasms, respiratory difficulties and postural issues.

What should you expect when you go to an osteopath?

As osteopaths are holistic practitioners, they start with taking a detailed health history to understand where your concern may be coming from. This will be followed by a whole-body assessment, and then a focus on specific areas as needed. You may be asked to do simple movements or stretches to allow the osteopath to analyze your mobility. They may also make assessments with a technique known as palpation that uses varying degrees of touch to determine the internal condition of the body.

Treatment itself consists of hands-on techniques, including stretching, resistance and gentle manipulation and pressure to release tension, increase mobility and enhance the body's ability to adapt. Like a physiotherapist, osteopaths focus on self-healing, so they may also give you exercises or techniques to follow at home, as well as other suggestions to improve your health and wellness.

What should you look for in an osteopath?

With osteopathy being a relatively new specialty in Canada, the answer is not cut and dried, Kennedy says.

"The best way to confirm if a provider is eligible with Manitoba Blue Cross is to call them and ask," says Kennedy. Or, you can also check with Manitoba Blue Cross customer service.

Manitoba Blue Cross bases our eligibility requirements on World Health Organization recommendations. When it comes to your benefits, eligible osteopaths must be members of an approved association, submit proof of education from an approved institution and submit proof of professional liability insurance. Requirements may also change based on the provider's prior training.

On top of ensuring your practitioner is eligible under your health coverage, the Manitoba Association of Osteopathic Manual Therapists recommends asking your practitioner how many years of training they have. With varying standards, not every practitioner will have the same experience. For reference, graduates of the Canadian College of Osteopathy have to complete five years of hands-on training and a research thesis.

For more information about osteopathy, visit the Manitoba Association of Osteopathic Manual Therapists.

Physical activity – how much is enough?

June 8, 2021

We all know physical activity is good for us – it decreases our blood pressure, improves our cholesterol, makes us stronger, improves our mood, reduces our risk of disease and has dozens of other proven benefits.

But how much activity do you really need? And is there a level that is "good enough?"

How much physical activity is recommended?

"If we're talking cardio, we're looking at 150 minutes per week," says Kelsey Bos, disability case manager at Manitoba Blue Cross. Certified with the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP), Bos works with injured and sick clients to help them get better and back to work.

On average, the CSEP recommends 30 minutes of cardio activity, five times a week. It can be broken up in smaller portions, as long as each session lasts at least 10 minutes, Bos says.

Why not shorter sessions?

"It's going to take a few minutes to get your heart rate up to where you want it to be to see the benefits," Bos says. However, getting up and moving at all, even if it's just for a few minutes, is better than remaining sedentary, she adds.

Doing less than 150 minutes per week doesn't mean you're not going to see benefits – but it's an ideal goal, Bos says.

However, it's not just about how many minutes per week, but also the type of activity. As the saying goes, variety is the spice of life.

"You shouldn't be doing the same exercise all the time," she says. "Our body basically has a memory. So, if we do the same workout every day, we notice that our body actually starts to remember the exercises and knows exactly what is coming next." Doing the same exercises every day is still beneficial to overall health, but it offers diminishing returns compared to a varied regime.

Heart rate, perceived exertion and the "talk" test

Exercise is all about getting the heart thumping and the blood pumping. But how do you measure your ideal heart rate?

Bos provides a simple formula – 220 minus your age is an accurate approximation of your maximum heart rate. The ideal range in which your heart rate should fall during exercise is between 60 and 85 per cent of that max rate.

For example: a 30-year-old would subtract 30 from 220, resulting in a max heart rate of 190 beats per minute. Sixty per cent of 190 is 114, and 85 per cent is 161.5 – meaning a 30-year-old would want their heart rate to land between 114 and 162 beats per minute during exercise.

If you're wanting a simpler way to tell if your heart rate is where it should be, Bos recommends the "talk" test. If, while exercising, you have no problem talking, you may want to exert yourself more. If you're barely getting out a word before gasping, you may not want to push yourself too much harder. Finally, Bos recommends the Rate of Perceived Exertion. On a scale of zero to 10 – zero being very little effort and 10 being the most exhausted you've ever been – Bos recommends your exercise lands you between a six and an eight.

Strength training

While cardio is vital, it's not the only exercise you should be doing.

"Strength training is good, because we want to be able to do our active daily living tasks, and we should have some sort of muscle mass to work with," Bos says. She recommends exercising each muscle group (e.g. chest, legs) one to three times per week, leaving 48 hours before exercising the same group again. For instance, if you do an upper-body workout on Monday, you wouldn't want to do the same workout Tuesday, because your body hasn't had enough time to rest and repair itself. Bos notes that strength training is not included in the 150 minutes of recommended weekly exercise.

"With strength training, it's not by time – it's by reps (repetitions) and sets," Bos says. "We usually say anywhere between the eight to 15 reps, one to three sets."

Keep up your flexibility

How often should we be stretching?

"We should be doing it every day," Bos says. The best time to stretch is after exercise, while you're cooling down. "We don't want to be doing static stretching at the very beginning before we do all our exercises, because our muscles aren't even warmed up," she adds. Static stretching before your muscles are warmed up can increase your risk of injury.

It's also important to warm up before you exercise or stretch. Getting the blood flowing before you start will help prevent injury and maximize your benefits.

This may sound like a lot. But it's important to remember that you don't need to jump in all at once. Simply trying to get more exercise in when you can and starting slow can still improve your health and well-being.

If you're already regularly active, try to push yourself. Try new exercises, increase your heart rate or work other muscle groups. Keeping things fresh will help you build on a solid foundation and ensure you see improved benefits for years to come.

To learn more about physical activity guidelines, visit the CSEP website.

Manitoba Blue Cross introduces new life insurance product

June 03, 2021

We've now made it even easier to get life insurance. With our new Blue Cross Life® Insurance, you can get a quote in seconds and apply online in just 15 minutes. Speak to an advisor only if and when you choose.

Simply choose the amount that best meets your needs — from $50,000 up to $4 million — and there is no medical exam for those under 45 (for coverage up to $999,999).

Plus, this affordable product combines life insurance with disability coverage. Add an optional critical illness rider that provides you with a lump-sum benefit if you are diagnosed with a critical illness, such as heart attack, stroke, accidental loss of limbs or kidney failure. Coverage amounts range from $10,000-$25,000. (Benefit is received after the insured completes the survival period specified in the contract.)

Life insurance is one of the easiest ways to give you peace of mind in knowing you and your loved ones are protected for life's worst-case scenarios. Get a quote today.

Announcing new Chair of Board of Directors

May 27, 2021

Manitoba Blue Cross is pleased to announce the appointment of Tom Bryk as the new Chair of its Board of Directors. Tom has been a Board Member since 2014 and has served as Vice Chair for the past two years. He succeeds Mark Neskar, who has served as Board Chair since 2015.

A Fellow of the Chartered Professional Accountants of Manitoba, Tom brings to the new appointment a wealth of senior executive experience in the financial industry. He retired last year following 21 years as President and CEO of Cambrian Credit Union and was CEO at Carpathia Credit Union for nine years prior.

Tom shares Manitoba Blue Cross's commitment to the community, as demonstrated through his involvement with many local organizations, both past and present. He is currently on The Winnipeg Foundation's Board of Directors and recently completed a three-year term as Chair of the Institute of Corporate Directors' Manitoba Chapter. He is a previous United Way Campaign Chair and has also served on the Board of Directors for the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, Winnipeg Airports Authority (past Chair), Mount Carmel Clinic, Phoenix Soccer Club and Rusalka Ukrainian Dance Ensemble, to name a few.

Manitoba Blue Cross is fortunate to benefit from Tom's continued guidance as he steps into this expanded role. His strategic mindset and strong business acumen have already proven to be great assets to the organization, and we look forward to his ongoing contributions.

Manitoba Blue Cross is also indebted to Mark Neskar for his incredible 18 years of service on our Board of Directors and tireless dedication to the organization. His contributions during this time have been invaluable and we appreciate his role in the growth and development of the organization.

An inside look into physiotherapy

May 11, 2021

Physiotherapy can help improve strength, reduce pain and build better exercise habits, among many other benefits. Physiotherapists can play a significant role in your health and wellness.

But the difference between physiotherapy, athletic therapy, chiropractic and massage therapy isn't always clear. What is physiotherapy exactly, and what can it do for you?

What is physiotherapy?

Physiotherapists work with their clients to improve mobility, well-being and function, getting them moving in a healthy way. Physiotherapists relieve symptoms while also treating them at the source through physical rehabilitation, injury prevention and health and fitness.

"There are so many aspects to physio, because we work in private practice, we work in general and rehab hospitals, community health centres, residential and assisted living facilities, homecare, workplaces and schools," says Rickie Walkden, director and senior therapist at the Sport Manitoba Clinic.

Physiotherapists are experts at ensuring people in pain can get back to their regular movements and activities. They treat a variety of conditions, but the most common include sprains, strains, tears, osteoarthritis and joint-specific pain.

According to Walkden, there is some overlap between physiotherapists and athletic therapists, but they're two distinct specialties. Athletic therapists do on-field management, while physiotherapists don't, she says. Athletic therapists tend to focus on more sport-oriented activities, whereas physiotherapists lean toward more day-to-day activities – but physiotherapists still work with athletes, and athletic therapists still work with everyday movements. Physiotherapists are also regulated differently than athletic therapists.

Physiotherapy can also sometimes be lumped in with chiropractic and massage therapy, but there's a distinct difference – both chiropractic and massage focus on symptom relief, while physiotherapy works to treat the source, Walkden says.

Physiotherapy misconceptions

There are several popular misconceptions around physiotherapy, according to Walkden.

"I think there's a certain percentage of our population that thinks we're massage therapists and that we only do what a doctor says," she says.

In fact, Manitoba physiotherapists have direct access to patients, meaning they don't need a referral from a physician.

"[Physicians] trust the fact that with our education and our clinical training, that if something needs to be seen by a physician or something that's out of scope, that we're able to recognize that and refer back so that we're not treating things that we shouldn't be."

Another common misconception is that physiotherapists don't have as much education as they do.

On top of a bachelor's degree (usually in kinesiology), Manitoba physiotherapists must complete a two-year Master's degree and a physiotherapy competency examination (PCE) to register as a physiotherapist in Manitoba.

Physiotherapy is also much more involved than just showing up for a massage or an ultrasound. When a patient comes in for an assessment and diagnosis, they have to be active participants in the healing process. On top of performing activities during physiotherapy sessions, patients have to put the work in and do exercises at home. Physiotherapists also work with patients to help them understand the mechanics behind the exercises and how specifically they'll improve outcomes.

"They know why they're doing their exercises, so it motivates them," says Walkden. "Understanding why they're doing them is huge."

What to look for in a physiotherapist

"In terms of private practice, you want someone who is going to communicate with you; who is going to educate you about your diagnosis and your plan, and participates in reassessment," says Walkden.

"You want to make sure that there's continuity of care, that you're seeing the same person each time, rather than seeing someone different," she adds, noting that being referred to another physiotherapist with a specialty is a common exception.

May is National Physiotherapy Month, a time to celebrate everything that physiotherapists do for their clients. To find a physiotherapist in your area, use the Find A Physio tool on the Manitoba Physiotherapist Association's website.

If you have Manitoba Blue Cross coverage, you can check whether physiotherapy is covered under your plan on your mybluecross account.

Mental health: Challenging the stigma

May 3, 2021

One in five Canadians will have a mental health concern in their lifetime. By the age of 40, about 50 percent of the population will have or have had a mental illness. Directly or indirectly, mental illness affects all Canadians at some time through a family member, friend or colleague. These are some serious stats, yet there is still a stigma attached to mental illness.

Many people are reluctant to talk about a mental health concern with friends, family, employers or even medical professionals. If someone is diagnosed with a physical condition, such as asthma or diabetes, it is not hidden away, but often people will try to conceal a mental health concern.

"Seeking help for an illness – of the body or the mind – is not a weakness," says Jodie Voth, program services coordinator for Manitoba Blue Cross's Employee Assistance Program. "Yet the shame that many people feel about experiencing mental health concerns often makes them hesitant to access support. Then, when they do seek counselling, they feel the need to keep others from knowing."

It's up to every single one of us to help end the stigma associated with mental health and subsequent treatment. There is no shame in asking for help, and the more people understand this, the more likely they are to make that ask if needed.

"When it comes to stigma around mental illness, we're making progress. Mental health and mental illness have taken a significant place in our conversations in recent years," says Voth. "The ongoing work is for each of us to continue the conversation on a more personal level – how does mental illness impact me? How do I maintain my mental health? Rather than just talking about this issue as though it only affects other people."

Here are a few things you can do to help combat the stigma around mental health:

Talk openly about mental health. Know that you are not alone if you suffer from a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety, or experience episodes of low mental health – something that we can all feel from time to time. Having someone to talk to – a trusted friend, therapist or a group with similar concerns – can help us work through our feelings and ease discomfort. When people are open about mental health issues, it can play a significant part in managing the illness.

Educate yourself and others on mental illness and mental health. Mental illness and mental health are not the same. Mental illness is an illness, meaning it can be diagnosed, explains Voth. It usually impacts the way people think, act, feel and relate to others. "There are many different mental illnesses and each affects people differently. Also, two people with the same mental illness can be affected uniquely, just like two people with the same physical illness may experience different symptoms and severity."

Mental health, on the other hand, is something everyone has and refers to someone's mental well-being, which can encompass our ability to function in life, work and relationships, as well as the way we think and feel, our resilience and our physical health. As with other aspects of health, the quality of everybody's mental health can fluctuate over time and that is normal.

Be willing to listen and learn. Misunderstanding mental illness can often lead to fear, judgment and lack of compassion. Be open to hearing others' experiences.

Show compassion. Be kind to those you know who are suffering, especially to yourself. People who are kinder to themselves are kinder to others. Often our judgements about others come from a place of fear about ourselves.

Treat mental illness as you would physical illness. It's important to treat a mental illness as something that is real. It's not "just in your head" and it's good for yourself and others to talk about mental health maintenance as we would our physical health, and to be proactive about all aspects of our health.

Be honest about treatment. Whether you see a counsellor or psychologist now or have in the past, be open about it. Even if you don't have a mental illness, we all need a little help now and then to process feelings, work through a difficult time or come to terms with a loss. There is no shame in this.

Ultimately, we need to support people whether they have a mental illness or are experiencing a difficult time with their mental health. Let's end the stigma and allow people to feel safe and understood when they ask for help.

May 3-9, 2021 is Mental Health Week.

Counselling support from Manitoba Blue Cross

If you're experiencing mental health concerns, reach out for help.

Manitoba Blue Cross members with Employee Assistance Program or Individual Assistance Program coverage can get counselling support. Begin the process here.

Unsure of your coverage? Confirm your eligibility in your mybluecross® account.

Three reasons to take a break this summer

April 21, 2021

Canadians miss out on an average of three earned vacation days every year. While you may feel that's a small sacrifice to make to get the job done, the consequences may be bigger than you think.

Canadians spend about a third of their lives in the workplace. Even though it might seem productive to keep our noses to the grindstone, when we fail to disconnect, our job performance can actually decrease. Plus, without work-life balance, we put our minds and bodies at risk.

If you think you're too busy with work to take your hard-earned vacation days, check out these three reasons to take a break this summer:

Time away from work can boost your creativity. One of the biggest perks of vacation time is the break in routine. By changing things up during your time off, you expose your brain to new experiences and allow for your creativity to flow freely.

Tip: You don't need to break the bank to try new things during your vacation. A staycation can be just as beneficial as a trip – go hiking on a new trail or check out that new restaurant in town.

Vacation time improves overall mental health. Time off from work provides an opportunity to focus on areas of your life that you may neglect when you're hard at work. This means you'll have more time for self-care, more time to spend with loved ones and more time to enjoy your favourite activities.

Tip: To make the most out of your vacation time, try your best to engage in "active leisure" such as swimming, golf or cycling. Using your free time to get active outside will maximize the mental (and physical) health benefits of your vacation.

Taking vacation time can reduce stress and re-energize you. If you've ever returned from a vacation excited to come home, you'll understand why taking time away from work is so important. Taking a vacation from work helps to relieve work-related stress and reduces the symptoms of burnout. Vacations allow you to recharge your battery; they help boost your energy so that you return to work ready to take on new challenges.

Tip: To make sure you're getting the full benefits of time away from work, make sure to really disconnect. This means signing out of your email account and resisting the urge to spend an afternoon working on an ongoing project.

Happy (almost) summer!

This article originally appeared as part of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) quarterly newsletter. Subscribe at https://cmha.ca/cmha-quarterly-newsletter to stay updated on the CMHA's latest news, events and mental health tips.

Parenting in the divorce zone

April 7, 2021

Divorce is one of the most stressful experiences a family can endure. For adults, divorce is a time when disappointments replace dreams, discontent replaces contentment, separation replaces closeness, and uncertainty replaces security. For children, divorce can be a time of loss, confusion and often, fear.

When parents take care to address the challenges of divorce, they can protect their children from potentially debilitating experiences. Here are some common-sense ways that parenting in the divorce zone can assure continued positive growth for children.

Tell the kids together. It's best for you both to sit down together to explain calmly to your children that you are moving apart. Explain what will change in their lives and what will stay the same. Let them know that they are not the reason you are separating and that you believe – even though it could be hard at first – that it will help everyone in the long run. Tell them that you love them and will work to make the changes good for everyone. Answer their questions if they have any and listen to their feelings without probing in the moment.

You're parents forever. Although your spousal relationship has ended, your role as co-parents is still essential. Work to achieve co-operative parenting in as many aspects of your children's lives as possible. If cooperation is not always possible, it's still essential to not interfere with the other parent's relationship with the children. Don't focus on their actions or behaviours, but instead spend that time and energy on your kids.

Keep disagreements from your children. Children are not able to solve adult problems and should not find themselves in the middle of their parents' disagreements. They cannot choose between homes or families. If there are ongoing conflicts, let your children know that they are adult issues that you are working out as adults, and that your children did not cause them and it is not their job to resolve them.

Support the child's relationship with the other parent. Children need to have a positive relationship with both parents. They need permission to love both parents and to know that arrangements are being made for contact with both, but that decision-making on which parents they see and when they see them is not their responsibility. Sometimes, parents in the divorce zone find it hard to hear their child's views about the other parent or about their experiences in the other home. Remember that seemingly neutral comments can carry subtle, implicit messages (e.g. "It must be nice for your mom/dad to be able to do all those fun things with you.").

Acknowledge the child's feelings regarding loss and conflict. Allow your children to talk to you when they're ready. Validate their confused or hurt feelings and remember not to blame the other partner or your child for those feelings. Simply listen and reflect back in simple words what the child is saying. It's important that your children feel listened to, but you don't need to fix their feelings. Be empathic toward their feelings and keep your own feelings or beliefs to yourself.

Acknowledge your differences in parenting. Reassure your children that it's not their fault or burden, and that you understand that these differences can make things hard and sometimes confusing for them. Avoid undermining the other parent's parenting. Ignore small issues and remember you cannot control what happens in the other house, nor can they control what happens in yours.

If co-operating with your former partner isn't working or if you're worried about how your children are adjusting to the changes, consult with a counsellor. Following divorce, many parents are understandably angry and mistrusting of each other, and keeping focus on their common goal in wanting the best for their children can be hard. Working with a counsellor can help both parents move forward and not compromise their children's formative years.

What to do about workplace bullying

March 23, 2021

By Pamela Howard, B.A., M.Ed.

This article is part two of a two-part series. Read part one, What is workplace bullying?, here.

Bullying in the workplace has a long-lasting impact on those who have been targeted. Many targets feel helpless and unsure of how to handle the situation or make it stop.

Gossiping about the situation doesn't work. Some suggest giving the bully a taste of their own medicine, but that isn't a good idea. Retaliation on your part only makes it appear that you and the bully have a "personality conflict" and need to share blame for the ongoing issues. Be honest and reflect on whether you are also making the situation worse. You may have become frustrated and angry as the result of being targeted and are now engaging in unhelpful behaviours.

Here are some useful strategies if you're being bullied at work:

Keep factual records of dates, times and details. Record names of witnesses and the outcome of each event. These records show the frequency and pattern of behaviours and can be used to show that bullying is taking place. Keep copies of any letters or emails. This information should be kept in a private and safe place.

Identify the specifics of what has happened, how it felt to experience it and the precise change in behaviour that you need to see from the bully.This is not about becoming friends but finding constructive ways to move forward. Stay away from generalizations. Instead of saying, "We need to communicate better," state that the yelling and profanity need to stop.

If you think that you can speak to the person directly, focus on the specifics and how it isn't acceptable to you. Tell the person what it will take for it to work better for you both going forward. Don't speculate on the person's motivation behind the behaviour. Focus on what the person has said or done (e.g., "Can you let me know what you want without doing that?" or, "I want to hear what you have to say, but not in this way"). You can ask a supervisor, union representative or other trusted support to be with you.

You might feel unsafe or unable to confront the bully directly. In this case, investigate the established workplace procedures to make a complaint. Go through your notes and select examples that best illustrate the bullying behaviours, particularly situations that are less open to interpretation. Speak to the person identified in the policy and/or to your supervisor or manager. If necessary, be persistent to ensure understanding of the seriousness of the situation and its impact.

If you are losing confidence in your abilities or dealing with misplaced guilt or shame, seek resources and support to help you. Your Employee Assistance Program can be helpful for this.

Resolution of bullying situations is often complex and takes time. After the immediate interventions are completed, it is useful to request follow-up check-ins to ensure that problems haven't resurfaced. Each case of bullying behaviour is unique. Some are resolved to make it possible to continue working together into the future. Some bullies are removed from the environment due to the severity of their behaviour or after demonstrating an ongoing pattern of unacceptable conduct and overall unwillingness to modify their behaviour. Some targets ultimately choose to move to another position within or beyond the organization.

Remember that work shouldn't hurt. It can take considerable time to heal from being the target of a bully. With support, individuals can learn from the experience, restore their equilibrium, respect themselves and move on to better times.

What is workplace bullying?

March 16, 2021

By Pamela Howard, B.A., M.Ed.

This article is part one of a two-part series.

Researchers at the University of Manitoba found that workplace bullying caused more harm to employees than sexual harassment. Workplace bullying is an emotionally and financially costly issue for individuals and employers. Negative consequences include higher stress rates, lower morale, reduced productivity, increased workers compensation claims, absenteeism and sick leave.

Workplace bullying usually involves repeated incidents and a pattern of behaviour intended to offend, intimidate, degrade or isolate the targeted person. Bullies put their personal agenda of controlling another above the needs of the organization. When bullying is allowed to take place, the workplace climate becomes unhealthy.

Bullies are often selective of when they exhibit negative behaviours and know how to present themselves well when they choose to do so. Some regard them as confident individuals, but evidence indicates that the higher the level of self-esteem, the more likely one will be to treat others with respect, kindness and generosity. Bullying behaviour is typically exhibited by people who aren't truly confident or self-assured and who lack the skills to communicate or get their needs met more effectively.

Bullying tactics include constant criticism through insults, belittling comments, glaring, unjustifiable blaming and even put-downs about the target's life that are irrelevant to work (e.g. appearance, choice of friends).

There can also be rumours, gossip and social isolation. Bullies can choose to cut the target out of communication needed for work or deliver the silent treatment. Some bullies create a sense of dread and intimidation with explosive behaviour, outbursts, threats, profanity, invasions of personal space, interruptions and rejections of targets' thoughts and feelings. Sometimes, there is a pattern of offensive jokes. Some might tamper with personal belongings or work equipment. Bullies often adopt one or more of these methods based on opportunity and circumstance.

Expressing differences of opinion is not bullying. Neither is offering constructive feedback and advice about work-related matters. Reasonable action taken by an employer to manage work performance, give assignments or take appropriate disciplinary actions is not bullying.

If you are not sure whether an action constitutes bullying, ask yourself whether most people would consider the behaviour as unacceptable. Get a second opinion from a trusted source. Review your workplace policy related to respectful conduct and harassment.

It is important to understand that anyone can find themselves targeted by a bully. You can be competent at your job, self-confident and well-liked by others. It is a misconception that only individuals who appear vulnerable in some way become targets. The target may initially want to deny that this is happening to them or minimize the experience as a way of mentally coping with the discomfort caused by the bullying.

As it continues, there can be a range of impacts to one's psychological and physical health. Targets report impacts to work performance like decreased focus and concentration, difficulty with decision making, anxiety, dread in going to work and being constantly on guard wondering what will happen next.

Stress symptoms often include disrupted sleep, obsessive thinking, fatigue, headaches and poor digestion. The targeted person may talk about the situation constantly with family and friends, and they may lose the ability to enjoy other parts of life. Home life and time outside work can eventually become compromised as the anxiety and dread associated with work bleed into all corners of life.

Most of our waking time is spent at work and everyone deserves a mentally, emotionally and physically safe work environment. Remember that work shouldn't hurt. It can take considerable time to heal from being the target of a bully. With support, individuals can learn from the experience, restore their equilibrium, respect themselves and move on to better times.

What to do about workplace bullying, part two of a two-part series, will provide tips and strategies to handle a bullying situation.

Simple ways to connect with your partner

February 18, 2021

This article is a continuation of Love is in the little things, which was published on February 9, 2021

When couples in therapy talk about activities that connect them, the topic of date nights usually arises early in the conversation, and you might be surprised to know that the therapist isn't the one raising the subject. Couples and families are busier than ever. Although a date night is a great idea, we often lack the time or other resources to have an elaborate night out. The last thing a therapist wants is to further overwhelm a struggling couple with something that should be positive but ends up feeling like a chore – or another problem to solve.

Below is a list of small ways to connect with your partner that have serious value, because they're manageable and easier to weave into your daily life than a date night that requires a babysitter. Most of them require little time and no money. Try making up your own list, too! This works especially well (and is easiest to do) when you recall the ways that you have connected in the past and intentionally incorporate them again or more often.

Simple ways to connect

  • Make a meal plan together
  • Shop for groceries together
  • Dance to a song
  • Hug for 20 seconds
  • Finish the sentence, "I appreciate [blank] about you."
  • Offer an apology
  • Have a staring contest
  • Ask your partner, "If we could do anything you like for 15 minutes, what would you choose?"
  • Do the thing your partner chose
  • Play a board/card game
  • Have decaf coffee or tea together in the evening
  • Make a "No devices in/at the [blank]" rule
  • Take a 10-minute walk together
  • Make up a new pet name for your partner
  • Write a love note in seven words or less
  • Identify a need that your partner has met
  • Identify a need that your partner hasn't met yet
  • Play a sport together
  • Schedule a weekly 30-minute "talk time"
  • Have a re-run of your first date or remember your first date together
  • Set a goal together that you can achieve in a week
  • Tell your partner about a worry you have
  • Ask, "How could I make your day better today?"
  • Talk about the kind of relationship you'd like your child to have with their future spouse

Relationships require consistent and intentional effort, even more so in times of crisis or stress. If your relationship is in a place where the above list feels impossible or unhelpful, it might be a good time to check in with a therapist. The Employee Assistance Program at Manitoba Blue Cross offers relationship counselling for couples at every stage, with service delivery methods and appointment availability to suit your needs.

Love is in the little things

February 9, 2021

Healthy couple fact: happy couples are couples who regularly make time to connect. Connection is most meaningful if it happens in the form of small, consistent actions.

Couple relationships are complex and unique to the individuals who co-create them. Every couple will at some point in their relationship be faced with challenges that may bring them together or pull them apart.

When we speak about this dynamic of coming together and moving apart in relationships, we refer to it as an attachment pattern. We usually learn our patterns of attachment in our family of origin – the family we grew up in.

When we form couple relationships in adulthood, we take the things we learned in those developmental years and combine them with the things our partner learned in their family to co-create the dynamic that we experience in our intimate relationship.

When we face challenges as a couple, this dynamic is magnified. So, if things are shaky under normal circumstances, they can break down quickly when we're under stress. However, if we typically enjoy a strong, connected relationship, stress might bring us closer together – or at least, we'll ride it out more smoothly. What defines whether we thrive or struggle as a couple comes down to our attachment patterns and our level of connection with our partner.

Think of attachment patterns as the music of a relationship. When we're in a relationship with another person, the music is playing, and the music is created by the instruments we learned to play in our growing years. Our level of connection to our partner is like the tuning of those instruments. If we regularly invest time and energy into meaningfully connecting with our partner, the instruments are in tune, the music is beautiful, and the dance we do together is smooth. We can even laugh about it when someone gets their foot stepped on.

However, when we're disconnected, the song plays out of tune and everything sounds like nails on a blackboard. If there is a dance, it might feel more like a poorly executed version of the "Thriller" music video, and no one is laughing at the foot stomps.

So, a functioning relationship requires couples to nurture their connection, so that the instruments play in tune and they can enjoy the beautiful music of being mutually attuned.

Many couples get a deer-in-the-headlights look when asked about connection, either because they aren't aware of how they've been successful at connecting in the past, or they're not sure where to start to weave in new sources of connection if their relationship has undergone a fundamental change that requires some adaptation.

Fortunately, meaningful connection isn't intellectually challenging – there are countless ways to do it! However, for couples who are already in a rough spot, they may not be in the emotional space necessary to make efforts at, or benefit from, connecting activities. These couples are best directed to a relationship therapist who can offer support and help begin the healing process before things get worse.

Winter is here, and so is COVID-19 – how do we stay active?

January 25, 2021

With gyms closed for much of 2020, many Manitobans got used to exercising outdoors.

But with the entire province in code red, Manitobans are living with restrictions and facing sedentary lifestyles – all during the coldest months of the year.

How do we keep active during a Winnipeg winter, when many indoor activities are nearly impossible?

Be proactive

Think about your unique situation and plan activities you feel could be done safely/comfortably throughout the winter, even if social restrictions stay in place. And consider the things that might have stood in the way of a winter exercise regime in the past.

For instance, if you live near a well-groomed path, you might be able to easily plan a walking or jogging route. If the paths near you are typically icy or hard to navigate, you can order clip-on shoe accessories that can help give you traction.

If you're looking to stay active while staying indoors, you could also look at ordering a treadmill or exercise bike (on the pricier side) or some cheaper supplies to help you do basic strength training in your living room.

Another thing to consider is potential equipment shortages. COVID-19 has prompted mass supply and demand issues for various items, including workout equipment, computers and bikes. This made holiday shopping a much larger challenge for many.

With all of this in mind, you should start looking for any equipment or items you need sooner than later. You may need to shop online, and while some businesses are closed due to restrictions, many are offering curbside pickup for safe shopping.

Get out of your comfort zone

For some, staying active may require moving out of our comfort zone, as the prospect of outdoor activity when it is –30°C does not always sound appealing. However, trying new activities can be exciting and lead to the start of new hobbies.

You may surprise yourself and find that you actually do enjoy our cold Manitoba winters. Manitoba has a lot of trails to explore, and cross-country skiing or snowshoeing might prove a worthy substitute if you're not into jogging.

Although the cold is not always appealing, fresh air (even in the frigid temperatures) does assist us with our overall physical and mental health. And by moving around, you may even find you're not as cold as you expected to be. Please remember to dress appropriately for the weather – wear layers to take off if you get too warm.

Be resourceful

Trying to get fit indoors, but can't get any equipment? You can find almost everything online these days. For instance, the Fitbit and Nike Training Club apps feature tips on body-weight fitness – using only your body and items you have around the home to keep in shape.

Yoga tutorials and exercise videos are also very easy to find at low cost (and often free!) on sites like YouTube, meaning money doesn't have to be the deciding factor in staying fit.

If you're not ready to take the full plunge into a new exercise routine, you can simply do some push-ups or jumping jacks while your coffee is brewing.

And if you're worried about bothering your downstairs neighbours or family members with your new regime, you can even find tutorials online that outline quiet ways to build strength.

Take that first step

Starting a new fitness regimen during a pandemic may seem like a lot to ask of yourself.

But improving your cardiovascular health during the COVID-19 pandemic is a great way to set yourself up for a healthier routine down the line, and a healthy heart can prevent long-term health problems from popping up (or getting worse).

Once you start regularly exercising, you may question how you ever lived without it. Starting is the hardest part – but once you put that first foot forward, the next steps will be even easier.

Virtual health care now a permanent part of personal health coverage

January 4, 2021

With the second wave of COVID-19 upon us, seeking in-person care might not be feasible for everyone. However, attending to our health and well-being is more important than ever.

Earlier in the pandemic, we partnered with EQ Care to offer a virtual health care platform for members covered under our personal health plans.At the time, we announced that coverage would be available throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we are now including EQ Care as a permanent part of our personal health coverage moving forward.

When surveyed by Abacus Data, 38 per cent of prairie residents (Manitoba and Saskatchewan) said they would prefer a virtual visit as the first point of contact for future appointments.

With virtual health care growing – and with Manitobans increasingly preferring it as an alternative or supplement to in-person care – ensuring our personal health plan members have access to virtual care is vital.

What is EQ Care?

EQ Care offers members access to confidential, 24/7 digital medical support. Supports include access to physicians, prescription drug management, referrals to specialists and guidance from a virtual care manager.

How does it work?

  1. Visit the EQ Care login page at mbbluecross.eqcare.com or download the EQ Care app via the App Store or Google Play.

    Reference your Manitoba Blue Cross ID card. Enter your Client number under the "Group Number" field and your unique Certificate number under the "Certificate Number" field.

  2. Create an account by simply filling in the required fields with your personal information and contact details and then select your secure password.

  3. Start your visit! Describe your symptoms and within minutes, a Care Manager will welcome you personally to EQ Care and connect you with the medical team. You can choose to receive immediate care or book an appointment for a later date.

EQ Care can address a wide range of medical needs, including:

  • Chronic disease management
  • Coordinating and scheduling
  • Dermatology
  • Eye infections
  • Lab requisitions
  • Medical testing
  • Migraines and sinus infections
  • Prescription home delivery service
  • Prescription renewals
  • Sexual health
  • Specialist appointments
  • Stress and mental health

If you're a personal health plan member, don't forget to register today!

Manitoba Blue Cross responds to Harvest Manitoba's call to action
Helping our fellow Manitobans have a healthy holiday season

December 21, 2020

Manitoba Blue Cross is donating $10,000 to Harvest Manitoba to help the organization ensure no Manitoban goes hungry this holiday season.

"As a homegrown organization with deep roots in this community, we're strong advocates for Manitobans helping Manitobans," said Manitoba Blue Cross President & CEO Benjamin Graham.

Manitoba Blue Cross commends Harvest Manitoba for their exceptional efforts on a day-to-day basis to care for and nourish our community. "We understand how stressful the holiday season is on a regular year. The pandemic has elevated these stresses, creating even more challenges that are impacting the physical and mental health of so many in our province," Graham said.

As a company invested in the health and well-being of Manitobans, stepping up to support those in the community is a priority for Manitoba Blue Cross. The company has taken several actions to address needs in the community during the pandemic, including the introduction of virtual health services, free grief counselling for all Manitobans and offering additional mental health supports and immediate access counselling lines for those with assistance coverage.

"In times like these, it's crucial that we ensure Manitobans have access to the right supports," Graham said. "We don't want any Manitoban to feel like they are facing this alone and don't have the supports they need, including knowing where their next meal is coming from."

Mental health support for members with employee or individual assistance coverage

December 1, 2020

Sometimes when you need to talk, you need to talk now.

Along with many other stresses, COVID-19 has left many of us feeling disconnected. And with the entire province being in code red, the most severe level on Manitoba's pandemic response system, worries may be stacking up.

Safe counselling during COVID-19

At Manitoba Blue Cross, we're adapting to our ever-changing situation by ensuring a variety of service mediums are available for counselling, including phone, online video, email and text-based options. To abide by public health guidelines, in-person services are currently suspended.

Connect Now

As part of our efforts to support you during COVID-19, we launched Connect Now earlier this year. This resource is a clinical, personal and immediate support line where members can call to connect instantly with a professional counsellor from our EAP without the need for an appointment.

How does it work?

If you have employee or individual assistance coverage, you can access Connect Now:

  • Directly at 204.786.8880
  • Toll free at 1.800.590.5553

Calls to Connect Now are not deducted from (or counted towards) the sessions covered under your plan – you can still utilize the remaining sessions available to you.

Connect Now is meant to provide immediate support in the moment and intended for those who may not be able to participate in on-going counselling at this time. If there is a need for regular contact, you can discuss options with your Connect Now counsellor. If you know you'd like to start ongoing counselling, you can also call us directly to initiate the intake process.

Don't want to talk about the pandemic? No problem. While we launched this temporary service to help alleviate some of the pressures that have arisen during the pandemic, in no way do we want to limit conversations to COVID-19 concerns specifically.

Counsellor Connect

If you have employee or individual assistance coverage, you can now access our online scheduler, Counsellor Connect.

Through Counsellor Connect, you can complete your intake online and use the tool to request your first appointment with a counsellor.

How does it work?

To access this online feature, visit mb.bluecross.ca and select the Counsellor Connect option under Mental Health & Wellness.

At the current time, Counsellor Connect is limited to conducting intake and requesting an appointment online (which means a counsellor will follow up on your online request to schedule the appointment), but once our in-person services resume, members preferring face-to-face counselling will be able to schedule their first appointment directly through Counsellor Connect by choosing from a comprehensive list of session types that ensure members are matched with the appropriate counsellor.

Commitment to flexibility

Coping in this unique environment takes flexibility. We want to ensure our members' and their family's needs are met by being flexible and understanding in our service delivery. Please don't hesitate to contact our intake lines directly to learn how we can help.

  • Directly at 204.786.8880
  • Toll free at 1.800.590.5553

A Manitoba Top Employer for the 11th year

November 25, 2020

For the eleventh time in 15 years, we're proud to be named one of Manitoba's Top Employers by Mediacorp.

In our most recent employee satisfaction survey, 96 per cent of employees said they were proud to work at Manitoba Blue Cross while 97 per cent of employees reported enjoying working here.

"We do our best to create an environment where an employee feels they can bring their whole self to work," says Brenda Slikker, Chief Operating Officer. "Life is complex, especially as we navigate through the unknowns of the pandemic, and personal stressors don't take a vacation while we're at work. That's why we feel it's essential to provide benefits and resources that care for the whole employee and help foster an overall sense of well-being."

Read the Winnipeg Free Press article or learn about why we were selected.

Learn more about working with Manitoba Blue Cross.

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