Gather up your teammates and get ready to race across the Great Western Loop

Grab your coworkers and work together to be the first team to complete the Great Western Loop.  This 6,875 mile trail links together five long-distance hiking trails: the Pacific Crest Trail, the Pacific Northwest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, the Grand Enchantment Trail, and the Arizona Trail. It features some of the most remote, beautiful, hostile, and pristine environments in the United States, including the Mojave Desert, the Sonoran Desert, 12 National Parks, and 75 wilderness areas.  

Each participant on your team will be able to bike, hike, swim, paddle or engage in a host of other activities which will be converted to steps to move your team toward the finish line.  Each day participants will “check in” to the DIEMlife app and manually enter their type and duration of activity.  The app will automatically convert the activity to steps and move the individual and team along the leaderboard.  The team who completes the trail first will win the designation of “The Great Gallivanters”.  At the conclusion of the challenge all participants will be entered into a drawing to win one of ten prizes including Garmin Forerunner watches and $100 gift cards. All participants will have an equal opportunity to win a prize.

The challenge will begin on Monday, July 20th and will start and end at the Grand Canyon.  The challenge will conclude when the first team arrives back at the Grand Canyon.   

Registration and details for how to sign up, a link to the app and how to track your daily activity will be available at 5 pm EST on Thursday, July 16th. You will find all of that information here (this post will be updated then), on the well-being calendar and on our Facebook page.

I hope you’ll join us.

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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EAP…One of the most misunderstood resources you might be missing out on

Employee Assistance Programs, or EAPs, have been around since the 1950s and to this day remain one of the most underutilized resources provided by employers.  EAPs began out of a need to address alcohol related issues in the workplace but today’s EAP programs are so much more.  Today, EAPs address not only substance use and abuse but also behavioral and mental health, wellness promotion, and life event management.  EAP services are delivered at no cost to employees and all household members by via phone, video-based counseling, online chatting, email or face-to-face.  Services are completely confidential which means that no one, not your supervisor, manager or human resources team will know that you have accessed the service.   

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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.  

Need to see a health care professional?

We hear you and Cigna has you covered. The Cigna Telehealth benefit, offered through AmWell and MDLive, enables our Cigna members to see a medical professional right from your home or office. To access this amazing service, simply create a web account at either AmWell or MDLive or download one of the mobile apps available on the App store or at Google Play. Through MDLive you can also access behavioral health providers and get support with addictions, depression, grief and loss, parenting issues, PTSD and more. To learn more, check out the short video clips about AmWell and MDLive. Stay well and save time and money with Cigna telehealth.

The ergonomics of working from home

With so much to think about in our new reality of working from home, one thing that we often fail to consider until it’s too late is the ergonomics of our home work space.   Over time poor ergonomics can lead to musculoskeletal issues including carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, bursitis, back and neck pain as well as headache, fatigue and decreased productivity.  By using the simple acronym NEW we can get our ergonomics in check and stay healthy and productive when working from home. 

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GMHEC launches first digital wellness collaboration with DIEMlife

Shelburne, VT – March 25, 2020 – The Green Mountain Higher Education Consortium (GMHEC) and DIEMlife today launched their Wellness Quest initiative, the first digital health technology collaboration for faculty and staff at Champlain, Middlebury, and St. Michael’s Colleges. Participants will establish wellness goals (or Quests), identify the steps necessary to achieve them, and pursue their aims with the support of program coordinators and others.

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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.