Category Archives: Social Well-Being

The Power of Gratitude

A couple of years ago I read a fascinating and very practical book called “Positivity” by Barbara Fredrickson, PhD.  In the book, Dr. Fredrickson discusses her Broaden and Build Theory of positivity and the power of positivity to transform our lives.  Her theory states that positive emotions such as love, joy, and gratitude, promote new and creative actions, ideas, and social bonds which open us up to new possibilities and that these positive emotions can be drawn upon in times of stress to enhance our resilience and well-being. 

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Managing Your Post-Covid Re-entry

Over the last eighteen months, many of us have settled into life as remote workers.  While we had concerns at first as to what remote work might look like, we found that remote work brought significant benefits for our work–life balance, allowed for improved work efficiency, a greater sense of control over our work and more time with our families.  Now, just as we’ve gotten accustomed to working from home, it’s time for us to return to campus. 

Heading back to campus means we will have to adapt to and cultivate new routines yet again.   Our schedules might look different as we will have to commute again.  The time we’ve been able to spend with our families will be impacted.  We may experience challenges around child and/or eldercare as well as stress and anxiety associated with the uncertainty that this change might bring.  What will it be like to be face-to-face with our coworkers and students again?  Will norms in how we interact be the same or different?  How will we maintain the self-care routines we’ve worked so hard to establish?  These unknows can be overwhelming but we are resilient, and we will find our groove again.

Here are some strategies to help facilitate the transition and put you at ease:

  1. Get vaccinated: Getting vaccinated against Covid is the best way to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your coworkers.  The vaccine is safe and effective and will enable you to get back to doing the things you enjoy without having to wear a mask or practice social distancing (except where required by federal, state, and local law).  Click here to learn more about Covid vaccine and where you can get a vaccine.  
  2. Share your concerns and needs with your supervisor:  Your supervisor wants you to thrive at work and wants to do everything he/she/they can do to help you be successful.  Your school has policies in place which may include telecommuting and flexible schedules to support your work-life balance so explore these options with your supervisor. 
  3. Take advantage of resources to support your mental and emotional well-being:  Your EAP program and Cigna offer a suite of benefits to support all domains of your well-being.  EAP services are available to everyone in your household as well so if someone in your home is struggling encourage them to reach out.  
  4. Make your well-being a priority:  Allocate time each day to your self-care if even only for a few minutes.  Whether it be a walk, yoga or a fitness class, time knitting or reading, journaling, practicing mindfulness or engaging in a creative project, we all need to recharge.  Subscribe to the GMHEC well-being newsletter to stay in the know about the events happening virtually and on your campus. 
  5. Start adjusting your schedule before you return to work:  Think about how you will need to adjust your schedule and start making those changes now. Set your alarm earlier to account for your commute time. Practice meal prepping and packing a lunch.  If you have been enjoying a lunchtime workout, consider where your workout will fit into your day once you go back to the office. Think through the little changes that may disrupt your flow and how you can adapt to them now.  By easing into the return to campus you will likely find that once you do return it will be a much smoother transition.

Transitions can be difficult but with a little planning and a little support they don’t have to be.  Act now and make your re-entry a seamless and positive experience.

Managing overwhelm and enhancing our mental well-being

It is not news that there is a mental health crisis in our county.  We have been hearing about it a lot lately.  In August of 2020, the CDC reported that among U.S. adults, symptoms of anxiety had tripled, and symptoms of depression had quadrupled since 2019.  Pandemic fatigue, job losses and loss of income, living in a constant state of uncertainty about the future, worries about the health and well-being of our loved ones, a loss of the way of life as we had known it, living in a virtual world, and being constantly connected to our screens, juggling work and parenting…. it’s no wonder that our mental well-being is suffering.

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Living on a foundation of values

I have been enjoying a lot of time alone in the woods lately hiking up mountains, breathing in the cold, crisp air and being in awe of the magical wintery scenery unfolding before me.  These forays into the wilderness have afforded me the opportunity to reflect on 2020 and consider what I want for 2021.  For many of us 2020 was one of the most challenging years of our lives.  We saw or experienced egregious acts of violence, unrest, and suffering.  It was a year plagued by unbelievable hardship.  But 2020 may have also given us a most precious gift, the gift of reminding us of what we most value and how we want to live our lives. 

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Giving thanks

I am about five years old and am sitting on my dad’s shoulders in my one-piece red snowsuit and big winter boots.  I’m waiting with great anticipation for the parade to start.  My dad said Santa will be here!  It is Thanksgiving and we are at the parade of all parades, the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade.  The energy is palpable.  The crowd is thick.  I’ve never seen so many people in one place.  There are people as far as I can see.  People are clutching cups of hot chocolate to keep their hands warm.  Street vendors are selling balloons and hot pretzels.  Steam is rising from the subway grates and the noise of the crowd is almost deafening.  I hear the music of the marching band coming our way and I see clowns on roller skates and they’re throwing confetti.  The balloons are huge, and the floats are so beautiful.  My dad is grinning from ear to ear and I love to see him so happy. 

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Fire and the power of gratitude

5:30 am on a hot, hazy summer July morning.  I sit down on my favorite spot on the couch with a cup of coffee and look out the window.  I take a deep breath.  I love this time of day.  It always feels so peaceful…like the whole world is still asleep and I have it all to myself.  The clouds are low and I can almost see the humidity in the air.  It looks like the house in the clouds…like what you’d see if you were looking out the window on an airplane when you’re flying through the clouds.  I can see the clouds rolling over the roof of the breezeway.  I’ve never seen the clouds move like that before, move over the roof like that.  In that instant I’m thinking how beautiful it looks and at same time, how odd.  And then for some reason I get the sense that something isn’t right.  I put my coffee down on the coffee table and step outside….and I see it…and I smell it…smoke billowing out of the attic above our garage.  It wasn’t the clouds I was seeing rolling over the roof.  It was smoke.   I’m strangely calm as I step back into the house and yell to my husband, “The attic is on fire!” 

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Be here now

Have you ever felt distracted or found it difficult to stay focused on the task at hand?   Do you start a task and then find yourself starting something else halfway through?  Have you told yourself you’re going to do this or that and then forget what it was you were going to do?  I definitely have and this week those sort of behaviors and that mindlessness seem to be happening more often.   My brain has been hijacked by the monkey mind.  In Buddhism, the monkey mind describes a scattered state, a mind that jumps from one thing to the next just like a monkey jumping from tree to tree.  It’s a feeling of being unsettled and ill at ease and if you’ve been there, you know it’s not a pleasant place to be. 

While this has been happening I’ve also been getting messages from the universe about needing to slow down, to pause and to be present.  It’s funny how that happens.  The universe has a way of sending you the exact messages you need to hear.   Taming our monkey mind, like any other skill, is something we can get better at through regular practice.  In her book, “No Time to Lose”, author Pema Chodron says that “mindfulness tethers the mind to the present” (p.105) and that “all anxiety, fear and suffering disappear when we tame our mind” (p. 106).   Practicing mindfulness is the cure for the monkey mind.

There is a lot of misconception about how to practice mindfulness is and what it actually is.  Jon Kabat Zinn, professor of medicine and founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) describes mindfulness as paying attention on purpose without judgement.  That’s it….mindfulness just means paying attention and we can do it anywhere, anytime. We can practice mindful walking, mindful eating, mindful washing dishes, mindful teeth brushing and mindful breathing.  We don’t just have to sit on the floor with our legs crossed for hours on end to reap the benefits.   All we need to do when we find our mind wandering is to stop, take a pause and come back to the present moment.  The more our mind wanders, the more opportunity we have to practice coming back and it is this practice of coming back that enables us to be more present and focused.  Over time we find that we can sustain our focus for longer periods of time.  It is in this present state that we can truly experience and enjoy life.  The only time our lives are happening is in this moment.

To help myself practice coming back to the present moment I made a little sign as a reminder to “Be here now” and I’ve put it right next to my laptop.  When my mind starts to wander, I stop, take a breath, feel my feel on the floor and come back to the present moment.   If your mind has been hijacked by the monkey, try a gentle reminder like your own sign, set an alarm to remind you to pause and check in with yourself, try this mindful pause from Coach Cami, check out a meditation app like Headspace or Calm or enroll in an MBSR program online.  Training our mind to stay present doesn’t have to be a big deal or be time consuming and perhaps that’s why it seems so difficult.  Sometimes it’s easier to make a commitment to practice the big, hard things but it’s the little things that seem to make all the difference.

Grief and our mental well-being

Over the past week I’ve had many conversations with our faculty and staff.  Common throughout many of those conversations were people articulating feelings of overwhelm, worry, anxiety, a sense of hopelessness and a general sense of malaise.  Someone recently shared a comment made by her supervisor who said, “we are not all working from home, we are at home in a crisis, and having to continue to work.”  We are working in a way we’ve never had to work before, having to be teachers and caregivers, isolated from friends and family, unable to enjoy activities we once relied on as sources of energy and joy.  We are staring to refer to the days as blursday.  It’s no wonder we’re experiencing these feelings.   

As I was thinking about these conversations and surfing the internet for some insight, I came across an article in the Harvard Business Review (March 23, 2020) titled, “That discomfort you’re feeling is grief” and a lightbulb went off.  Yes!   Exactly…grief.  We are grieving the life we had.  We are grieving the loss of the future life we had imagined.  We are grieving for those that are suffering and who have lost loved ones.  We are grieving for our children who are not going to experience their graduations, sports season and time with their friends.  We are grieving the loss of our financial security.  We are grieving about how we will move forward in this new, unforeseen reality.  We are grieving our loss of our sense of safety. 

We are not alone in this grief and while for many of us the desire may be to retreat and withdraw within, the best way to move through grief is to reach out to others.  Friends and family want to help, to provide a shoulder to lean on, to listen, but they won’t know what we need unless we tell them. Our faith based communities are another resource for those that have that in their lives.  Finally, talking to a mental health professional may be the best course of action especially if our grief is complicated and/or we suspect we may be depressed. 

Cigna and your college have many wonderful resources to support you and your family through this complicated time.  I encourage you to reach out and to take advantage of these resources.  Taking action is the only way that each and every one of us will be able to bring our best selves to life and work every day.  Take care and stay well.

Employee Family Assistance Program: see listing in school specific resource guide under Career Well-being Resources

Cigna telehealth: Telephone and web based on demand care from medical and behavioral health professionals

Happify and iPrevail: These mental well-being apps are a new addition to the Cigna suite of benefits.  Happify brings you effective tools and programs to help you take control of your feelings and thoughts.  Complete a few activities on your smartphone, tablet or computer each week to start seeing meaningful improvement in your life satisfaction and your ability to fight back against negativity. iPrevail is a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) based program tailored to your specific needs. Every program provides you interactive lessons, behavioral tools, tracks your progress and enables you to connect with a coach and with community support.  

Coping with the anxiety “virus”

By now, you’ve heard about COVID-19 and its impact on world health. While the news media is filled with sensational stories designed to grab your attention, the coronavirus is real and you should take appropriate precautions based on the best data out there. Please visit the CDC website for the best, most up-to-date information. 

But there is another virus spreading.  The anxiety “virus” is also spreading quickly through a phenomenon known as social contagion.  We hear about worst case scenarios in the media, see the impact on the stock market, and discuss what could happen with family, friends, and coworkers. This extreme level of uncertainty gets passed from person to person at the speed of social media, driving up anxiety to panic levels.  

If you or a loved one is dealing with anxiety, here are three tools you can use today:

1. Understanding why our brains react this way to anxiety is an important part of controlling it.  Dr. Judson Brewer, psychiatrist, neuroscientist and author recorded a short video on three specific steps to combat anxiety. Watch it here.

2. The free “Breathe by Dr. Jud” app provides short, on-demand, anti-anxiety exercises that can help you deal with stress and uncertainty.  Download it for Apple devices or Android devices.

3. All of our member colleges provide free, confidential counseling and referral through their Employee Assistance Program. You can find out more about EAP on your schools’ human resources website or access the information here on your school’s Well-being Resource Guide under “Career well-being resources”. You can also access behavioral health support through Cigna at mycigna.com.

Stay safe, stay well.

Simplify

Over the last month I’ve been talking with many of my health coaching clients about what they would like to see in their lives in 2020 and what they would like their theme of 2020 to be.  Many spoke of their desire to simplify, to connect more authentically to others and to themselves and a desire to slow down and to be more present in their lives. Many also spoke of the impact of media and technology on perpetuating the speed and frenetic energy of their lives and described feeling powerless around taking back their time, energy and attention.  

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