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Exam Season Strategies to Maintain Your Mental Health

With the first semester of the school year coming to a close, there’s one final obstacle that remains, separating you from a peaceful holiday respite with family or friends: the dreaded exam season.

Depending on your major, you might find yourself facing a series of multiple-choice exams or a number of essays with daunting word count requirements.

Don’t fear: if this is your first pass through the gauntlet, know that with a bit of hard work and organization, you’ll emerge victorious. If it’s not your first, even more reason to be rest assured: you’ve conquered the syllabi before and can do so again.

It’s no secret that exam season can be overwhelming for students, including those that haven’t reached post-secondary education yet. Many schools have begun adopting approaches to planning increased mental health service availability based on their arrival. Take advantage of these resources if you need them – they’ll help make sure that you get through your exams and be stronger for it. Here are some other tips and tricks that’ll make sure you can head into your post-exam holiday with some swagger in your step:

Healthy Body = Healthy Mind

In the quest to conquer our exams, we sometimes take a single-minded approach to studying and neglect the thing that matters most: our health. Late-night cram sessions, fueled by Red Bull and Snickers Bars isn’t a recipe for success, it’s a recipe for sleeping in past your exam time with a stomach ache, to boot.

Structure your exam studying schedule so that it accommodates meal times and short breaks for a workout.  Consider getting even a bit of exercise right before the exam: a study has shown that 20 minutes of activity beforehand can boost test scores. Similarly, there’s a link between food quality and student test scores. So trade in that chocolate bar for some baby carrots. Your body will thank you and your mind will too.

Don’t Go it Alone: Get a Study Buddy

When exams are upon us, it’s easy to transition into a survival mode where we’re so focused on getting ourselves through this that we forget that there are dozens of others in our classes in the same spot as us. There’s strength (and smarts) in numbers: recruit a classmate or organize/find a study group to boost your chances of acing the test.

Some of the benefits: you both can motivate the other to stay on top of studying, you can divide and conquer different parts of the course materials and teach it to each other, they can more objectively judge whether your answer is right or wrong and you can rely on each other to make sure you don’t miss the exam! Not to mention, the isolation of studying alone can be stressful. With a study buddy, you’ve got a partner to fight the loneliness and perhaps, a new friend.

Find Your Zen Place

You know that person that claims they’re constantly studying but when you find them at the library, they’re either on Facebook or chatting away to someone across from them? That’s not a model that you want to emulate. When it comes to studying, channel your Zen focus by finding a good place to study, ignoring distractions and avoiding multitasking. In a study from the University of Connecticut, students that multitasked while doing homework ultimately did their work for longer and achieved lower grades.

Responding to a new notification on your phone might seem harmless but distractions can really hurt your studying regime. Once distracted, on average, your brain needs 25 minutes to get back to the task at hand.

Your best bet is to put your phone on silent, find a quiet place to study and if you lack the discipline to police yourself, consider installing an app to block you from browsing the web while in study mode.

All Work and No Play is No Fun

From the immortal words of Park and Recreation’s Donna, its important to “treat yo self”. In this case, treating yourself doesn’t necessarily mean rampant consumerism but instead, giving yourself permission to take a break and enjoy yourself, whether that’s going out with friends, playing a video game, watching a movie or taking a nap. According to the Atlantic, the optimal formula for productivity is 52 minutes of work and 17 minutes for break. Obviously, not all activities can be accomplished in 17 minutes but budget your time responsibly and you’ll achieve a good study/life balance.

Try also saving your social media consumption for your breaks – it’ll help you keep your Zen-mind for studying and you’ll feel better with that many more notifications to respond to.

Your Mental Health is More Important than the Exam

We’ve saved the most important tip for last: never think that this exam matters more than your wellbeing. It’s tragic that suicides tend to spike in exam periods and good, young lives are lost to the stress of questions on a paper. Yes, they can determine your academic success but they’re by no means definitive or final. You can always retake a class, seek an exemption or work with your school’s mental health services to find an accommodation. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, talk to someone, whether that’s your professor, classmate or mental health service provider and develop a plan to take control of your mental health.

 


Work Holiday Parties: How to Navigate the Season Like a Professional

With this year coming soon to a close and 2019 waiting in the wings, the season of the work holiday party is upon us. It’s a time to unwind and celebrate your achievements together, all usually at your employer’s expense.

On average, we spend 40 hours a week with our colleagues, for a grand total of 2,087 hours a year. Compare that number to a British study of 2,000 families that found the average time spent with family, “undistracted”, weekly, was just over 6 hours and you’ll start to wonder if the concept of the “work family” is really such a stretch.

With all that considered, how we present ourselves – and how we’re perceived by our coworkers – matters. This is especially true of holiday celebrations, where a lowering of workplace formalities and the introduction of alcohol into the mix can either be great for office or shop morale or a recipe for poor decisions.

In today’s blog, we’ll provide you with some helpful tips that’ll help you plan and/or navigate your workplace holiday festivities like a professional.

Celebrate Diversity

For many employers, the end of the year party is often billed as the “Christmas Party”. While there’s nothing wrong with celebrating the holiday, it’s important to be mindful of your workplace’s diversity of cultures and religions in doing so.

That means making sure the party doesn’t focus on religious elements associated with the holiday that could make your colleagues from different backgrounds uncomfortable. Stick to decorations and themes that celebrate the seasonal and secular elements and substitute the nativity scene for a nutcracker. This will help ensure that your party is inclusive and doesn’t alienate anyone in attendance.

At the same time, make sure that your catering options accommodate different dietary restrictions. Include vegetarian, vegan, kosher, halal options and make sure to also accommodate those with allergy restrictions as well.

Alcohol: Keep Within Your Limit

The cliché of one-too-many drinks at the office holiday party is one because it’s a mistake committed far-too-often. There’s no easier way to tarnish a good year and reputation with colleagues than to imbibe past your limit and to say things that you may not remember but will most certainly regret. There are a number of strategies to handling libations, including imposing a two-drink limit, subbing in water every other drink or most effective, leave the drinking for another time. That way, you’ll wake up with a clear head and an unburdened mind.

Another important alcohol related note to consider: if you’re drinking at the party, don’t drive. There’s no better way to ruin your career, your life and potentially, someone else’s than by getting a DUI and not showing up for work the next morning. Many employers today offer taxi-chits for employees to get home. Besides looking after their employees, there’s a good reason to do so: employers could be held liable for overserving employees at parties.

 

Keep Conversation Light and Cheery

One of the joys of the workplace holiday party is enjoying a holiday party with a minimal focus on the workplace. You have the next day or the Monday after to discuss the finer points of the new report or project – this is a time to connect with your colleagues and learn more about them and let them know about what you’re passionate about.

Keeping things light and cheery also means avoiding meanspirited gossip. Avoid talking negatively about another colleague, the party or something related to your job. Not only will this keep people merry and in festive spirits, but you’ll also be able to steer clear being labelled a holiday Grinch and have it come back to haunt you like it did to Mr. Scrooge.

Show Up and Know When to Leave

You might be thinking, “I could avoid all of these potential pitfalls and problems if I just skip the party”. While you could stay home, you might want to think again about whether you’re really playing it safe. Many companies look at events like these as mandatory – unless you have a valid reason, like a religious holiday conflict or a prior obligation, you’ll miss out on establishing stronger bonds with your bosses and colleagues. In turn, this could potentially affect your social relationships and ultimately, your career.

In terms of timing, don’t arrive too early or party too late.  Too early and you might aggravate those setting up (or get enlisted into doing the job yourself) and too late and you might overstay your welcome and running afoul of tip #2. Stay for the speeches and toasts and find an appropriate time to leave after you say your goodbyes.

Conclusion

There are plenty of other strategies to handling the holidays gracefully. Employ them so that you stay employed, just the same!


Seasonal Affective Disorder: Stay Cheery This Holiday Season and Light Up Your Life

You might’ve noticed but something is afoot: the air is crisper; the trees a little bare and the sun doesn’t shine as it used too. It’s that time of the year again – winter is soon around the corner.

And while it’s a time for celebration, from winter sports, to family time and social occasions, you might find that your energy is waning and your holiday cheer isn’t in full festive force.

You’re not alone: it’s estimated that 4-6% of people feel this way during the winter. The culprit? Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD for short) is a form of depression tied to environmental changes, most often related to the arrival of the fall or winter. SAD can be a depressive disorder on its own or it can also exacerbate pre-existing depression or other mood disorders.

If you’re a woman, you’re also much more likely to experience SAD: four out of five people who experience it are female. You’re also much more likely to experience SAD if you’re between the ages of 20 to 30. Researchers aren’t exactly sure why those of advanced age are at less risk.

While the exact mechanism behind SAD isn’t entirely understood, there is a consensus that reduced sunlight is part of the reason why this happens. For one, serotonin – a mood regulating chemical that the human body produces – is produced in greater quantities when sunshine is more plentiful.

Melatonin is also understood to be play a prominent role in SAD’s development. With the shorter period of daylight, our circadian rhythm (think of it is as the body’s internal clock) is disrupted and the body overproduces melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone that helps us sleep; explaining why SAD can make you feel lethargic.

For these reasons, one of the most popular treatments for SAD are light therapy lamps, designed to replicate sunlight by producing a very bright light that can “trick” your body into optimizing its serotonin and melatonin production. The experts typically recommend a 10,000-lux light box with 30 minutes of exposure upon waking to start your day off right.

It’s also important to note that you need to have your eyes open while using a SAD lamp, otherwise it won’t be effective. However, due to the potential for eye damage from staring directly into the bright light, you should position the light above you or off to the side. Try reading a book or doing some journaling while using the light to make the most off your time.

Just like any mood disorder, SAD’s severity can differ significantly from person to person and light therapy may not be effective enough on its own to help you handle the winter blues. Talk to your doctor about medical treatments for SAD, including antidepressants; especially if you’re experiencing significant disruption in your day-to-day life.

In previous blogposts, we’ve already shared the benefits of exercise for regulating mood as well the importance of a full night’s rest. These are both critical components to any self-directed approach to addressing SAD.

If you’re waiting for the sounds of spring on a cold morning as an indication that your gloom may soon be gone, try giving these SAD treatments a try and you might find yourself merrier and full of holiday cheer.


How Keeping a Journal Could Help You Maintain Strong Mental Health

We’ve all heard the saying, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”, but how about journaling everyday can keep depression at bay?

A growing body of evidence suggests that writing is a potent form of therapy that can help practitioners better manage their mental health, including as a helpful tool for those diagnosed with major depressive disorder.

Further research is required but there’s also evidence that suggests narrative writing recounting traumatic events could also provide an approach to addressing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Given the stereotypes of famous writers that suffered from depression and other mental health challenges, we might be led to the assumption that the emotional and solitary activity of transforming thought into written expression can be a mentally and spiritually exhausting pursuit.

Leave it to Dan Harmon, celebrated storyteller and show writer to explain that by putting pen to page or finger to keyboard, you unleash a way to get those “dark thoughts” out of the “walls of your skull” that brings forth a “miraculous magic”.

Some more magic: James W. Pennebaker, a social psychologist researcher and professor at the University of Texas even suggests that journaling even works to strengthen your immune function; making you more resilient mentally and physically to past trauma and future challenges.

Another study found that asthma and rheumatoid arthritis patients that wrote for 20 minutes on each day about stressful events and daily activities saw improved health and deteriorated less, compared to the control group.

But how does it work? WebMD writer Kara Mayer Robinson found that journaling helps its practitioners by:

  1. Providing greater self awareness of yourself and emotional process
  2. Reducing the overwhelming burden by making the stressors appear more manageable
  3. Allowing you to retrain your brain by writing about happier events and focusing on the positive
  4. Detect patterns and triggers and help you avoid them later on

Not sure when to journal? Any time of day will do: it really depends on when it’s convenient for you and when you feel the need to put pen to paper. But if you want to put a happier tone to the text, try the morning: a study that analyzed the data from millions of public Twitter messages found that individuals awaken in a good mood that tends to deteriorate as the day progresses.

The other important part of journaling is sticking with it. If your pressed for time, try the Five Minute Journal technique. Famous self-help author and master of skill and time management Tim Ferriss is also a big fan.

Ultimately, journaling helps you to understand you and in turn, provides the opportunity for you to reorient yourself by focusing your written words on what affects you and what you want to achieve. So whether you’re typing a note on your phone or filling lined sheets with cursive, give journaling a shot –  it’ll give you insights into who you are and who you can become.

 


Managing Back to School Stress

The changing of the seasons are not singular events. They’re a multiplicitous experience: our wardrobes, routines, leisure activities, commutes, and even our diets, change. As the traditional school year starts and summer vacation ends, the roll-over from August to September is exciting and opportune for many folks, but for others, this is a time of year that spikes stress levels.

The reasons for this, too, can compound: change is not as welcome for some as it is for others. After months of sunny days spent outside, a return to classrooms and academic rigor is jarring. It’s important to identify and address stressors before they begin to handcuff our ability to participate in the day-to-day of our education.

To this end, we’ve put together a short list of stress-managing strategies to practice when you’re feeling overwhelmed by the schoolroom grind.

Use A Day Planner

This is admittedly elementary (pun fully intended), but using a day planner is something many of us think about, and few of us actually commit to. We’re not talking about a digital calendar—we mean a good, old-fashioned, analog, paper-and-pen planner. There are a few reasons for this. First, and maybe most importantly, writing information down on paper has been shown to improve information retention. Second, it’s helpful to cement our commitments in physical form. This gives them a sort of permanence that can help to hold us to them. It also leads us to address and analyze our capabilities: if we see a stacked day planner, we might better be able to prioritize which tasks need our attention first. This development of a sort of ‘plan of action’ can help us to feel like we have a handle on our stressors, and having a feeling of agency over our stress is of paramount importance.

 

Talk About Your Stressors

When we’re stressed out by something, one of the worst things that we can do is internalize it. This habit can lead to or exacerbate both mental and physical health issues. On the other hand, when we externalize stress via speech or writing, it can help to relieve some of the pressure caused by it. Not only might this lead to productive understandings or even solutions to our stressors, but it also grants them legitimacy and validity. This is important, because often we’re frustrated or ashamed by what’s causing us stress: discussing it in the open strips it of that stigma.

 

Develop A Healthy Routine

As school and its associated time constraints take over our schedule, it can be easy to feel locked into a routine that doesn’t allow us time for the leisure activities we enjoy. But in some cases, this comes down to a question of time-management, and developing that skill is key to leading a healthy, well-balanced life during the school year. Making time for a full breakfast might mean waking up half an hour earlier. Squeezing in a workout might mean cutting an hour of Netflix. Going to bed before midnight might require wrapping up homework early in the evening. Whatever the struggle is, it’s critical to assess the situation, and decide where you can make concessions to create a routine that keeps you on top and thriving.


Being ‘Yourself’ at Work

As workplaces change to adapt to the pace and characteristics of 21st century business practices, finding a foothold on personal operating habits can be challenging. On one hand, progressive, personalized, and idiosyncratic approaches are heralded as ‘the future.’ On the other, these traits, when unaccompanied by increased profitability, are ostracized as impractical and frivolous. The modern worker is caught between the desire to exercise and be recognized for their individual tenacity and creativeness, and the fear that these qualities might be met with disdain or, worse, professional repercussions.

 

This tango of ‘being yourself at work’ has become blurrier still as workplaces become diffuse and increasingly mediated by digital technology. How do we ‘be ourselves’ not just in person, but online? Do we pitch that bold idea via email? Do we look too eager if we replace the period with an exclamation mark?

These are the strange new frontiers of professionalism at work, and they’re growing. Between Gmail, Slack channels, and a broad range of social media, how we conduct ourselves is a constantly-mediated and always-watched affair. This adds to an ever-building layer of personal pressure in our work environments.

 

Navigating these quandaries can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Developing a set of skills and interests is just as important as enacting strategies for the deployment of those skills and interests. This means that, as workplace standards fluctuate, we can, too: we should learn to tailor who ‘yourself’ is to the needs of our workplaces.

At times, this might mean compromising on an idea or explicit vision for a project. At others, it might mean code-switching, or bouncing between ways of communicating with coworkers. The point of this isn’t to police personality, but rather to keep it attuned to the demands and realities of any given workplace. The loose uniform policy at your last office might not fly at your new one, but just because you’ve strapped on dress shoes and a button-up doesn’t mean your essence is compromised; it means you’re adjusting your presentation of that essence.

 

This is really the core of the issue: we tend to feel that if we give an inch, we’ve given a mile. This is especially true when it comes to personal issues. But for workers, learning to take these shifts in stride is a trick of the trade. Social morals and ethics are, in many cases, worth taking a stand over. Your right to wear your wacky tie to work is not. And one of these is significantly more indicative of ‘yourself’ than the other.

 

The key to this struggle is to recognize the fluidity of ‘yourself,’ and where it can and can’t be applied at work. You, as a person, are not being shut down when you don’t get to embody your preferred aesthetic. Instead, focus on the contents of your work: if the means aren’t your thing, is the end at least a product that reflects ‘yourself?’ In other words, it’s not about how many exclamation marks you put in an email. It’s about what you’re saying between them.


Get Vaccinated: Spread Facts, Not Disease

In August, the National Public Health Information Coalition (NPHIC) in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sponsor National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM) to build awareness about the importance of vaccination.

We’ve come a long way since 1796 – that’s when Edward Jenner developed the first successful vaccine: the Smallpox vaccine. In the 20th century, it’s estimated that Smallpox has killed 300 to 500 million people. But thanks to vaccination, there has not been a reported case of Smallpox in the world since 1977 and the disease was officially declared eradicated in 1979.

However, since the advent of vaccines and their application to prevent, cure and eradicate diseases, there has been a simultaneous reactionary movement that has sought to portray vaccines as a form of mind control or as a cocktail of harmful chemicals that cause more harm than they’re worth: as they’re commonly referred to, “anti-vaxxers”.

This topic might seem more public health than mental health and you’d be right: vaccinations are not just about individual wellbeing but collective immunity. But as far as the anti-vaxx movement goes, they’ve incorrectly linked vaccines to disorders like autism and mental illnesses. And in terms of their mental health, anti-vaxxers are likely guilty of having a disproportionate tendency toward certain behavioural issues, like a higher than normal tendency toward conspiratorial thinking and reactance.

Interestingly, in that same study, which included more than 5,323 people across 24 countries, also found that the level of education had little effect on individual’s attitudes on vaccination.

For these reasons, anti-vaccination hysteria, while still an education issue shouldn’t be treated simply as a symptom of socio-economic status or access to information but as an offshoot of anti-social behaviour. As Robert Stoker, Professor at George Washington University adds, those that chose to immunize themselves or their children were noted to identify altruism – simply the concern for the well-being of others – as a motivating factor.

One of the leading contributors to the proliferation of anti-vaccination views has been social media. Being provided a platform to freely publish disinformation, seek out others within your community and to anonymously attack others has given the anti-vaxx movement a greater foothold than ever before.

That’s bad. As the effects of “Fake News” begin to take hold, younger generations without the experience to discern the difference between truth and fiction are more susceptible than others to anti-vaxx disinformation.

What can we do about it? Given that those inclined toward anti-vaxx beliefs tend toward conspiratorial paranoia and anti-government views, providing access to the facts through alternative channels has been shown to work. Leveraging the same social media networks that are used to spread misinformation and providing facts through shareable, easy-to-read content is also another possible angle of approach.

If you know an anti-vaxxer, perhaps all it could take to help is to reach out: a study found that ostracization can enhance one’s beliefs in conspiracies. Socializing the truth can become a gateway to education and defeating misinformation.

While vaccinations help provide a collective immunity so that people can live longer and thrive, anti-vaccination misinformation is seeking to undermine that hard earned freedom. It’s important that we treat the anti-vaxx community in a way that acknowledges their public health threat instead of as an idle curiosity and take action to spread facts, not disease.

 

 

 


Drug Addiction and Death: Don’t Become a Statistic

At the end of this month, people from across the world will recognize a struggle that in 2016 alone, killed more Americans than the entirety of the Vietnam War.

But this battle isn’t being fought with guns and bombs in a faraway country. It’s being fought in your home country, in your hometown, in the streets, in the hospitals and perhaps, in your home.

August 31st is International Overdose Awareness Day: a decades strong initiative designed to shine a spotlight on the hundreds of thousands of near-fatal and fatal overdoses every year and reduce the stigma so that compassionate, evidence-based policy can take hold and wipe out this deadly epidemic.

And while you might think that this isn’t something that could affect you, the answer is a little closer to home: The United States experiences approximately one quarter of estimated global drug-related deaths. Of that, overdose related deaths – particularly driven by opioids – have tripled between 1999 and 2015. That number only appears to be rising, with increasing availability of synthetic opioids like fentanyl and stronger analogs like carfentanil a major factor.

In 2017, The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimated that a minimum of 190,000 people die prematurely from drug overdoses; with the “majority attributable to the use of opioids”. In reality, the true number of premature deaths is likely exponentially larger than reported: in many places, drug users are a “forgotten” people, a marginalized demographic unlikely to report overdoses for fear of persecution for illegal drug use and at the same time, discounted by indifferent governments and law enforcement agencies.

With International Overdose Awareness Day, the intent is to make this issue everyone’s concern: not just the problem of drug users, their families and those involved in relevant social work and law enforcement roles. If we can hold a conversation, as a society, we can bring those affected out of the shadows and create policies and initiatives that can prevent future overdoses.

We don’t have all the answers right now but there is evidence behind several approaches to curbing drug abuse and overdoses. For instance, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified that the amount of opioids prescribed per person had tripled between 1999 and 2015.

Remember a few paragraphs above where we identified that fatal overdoses attributable to opioids had also tripled during that same period? You should – because of the over prescription and highly addictive nature of opioids, a medical script can often be a gateway to other opioids, like heroin. That’s way many public health experts are calling for reductions in opioid prescriptions through different medical interventions. One floated solution: medical marijuana as a means to treat chronic pain.

Other evidence-based policies that have been shown to work are providing free or subsidized access to addiction services. Disproportionately, people on Medicaid or are low-income are disproportionately at a higher risk for a prescription drug or opioid overdose. Often, the cost of rehabilitative services can be prohibitive to someone suffering from addiction or they may not be able to afford the time off of work to effectively address their addiction in such a setting. Again, this is a public heath policy that requires legislative action to achieve – something that has proven difficult in a political climate focused on the “War on Drugs”.

Ultimately, what you can do right now is make sure that those in your life that might be dealing with addiction issues know that they are not alone and that you are ready to help provide the support they need to overcome. Materially, you can consider carrying Naloxone, a life-saving medication that can stop or reverse an opioid overdose. This injectable drug is now being carried by police officers in Canada and has been recommended by the U.S. Surgeon General for carry to help prevent overdoses.

Drug addiction is a complex issue that won’t be solved overnight or with one policy. But we can take steps right now to help ensure that those suffering don’t have to go it alone and have a better chance of beating the odds. On August 31st, spread the word about International Overdose Awareness Day. You could help save a life.


Revamping the culture of Men’s Health

It’s fitting that Father’s Day falls in the middle of June. The annual holiday arrives this year on June 17, right in the middle of another yearly event: Men’s Health Month. Each June marks a month of increased conversation and focus around men’s health.

 

The occasion is used to single out health issues that men face and raise awareness for them. The campaign focuses on preventability, encouraging men to become more active in caring for themselves. (Studies suggest that men visit the doctor for prevention purposes half as much as women.) Prostate cancer is among the most popularly-discussed diseases during Men’s Health Month, in addition to issues like heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and sexually transmitted infections.

 

But a critical link in the campaign is missing. These issues (preventability, lack of awareness, and a reticence to take care of themselves) can usually be traced back to men’s mental health. Indeed, the John Wayne stoicism of old might not be front and center anymore, but it’s imprint is still left on men who are told to ‘man up’ or, worse yet, ‘stop acting like a girl.’

 

These phrases are weaponized by men against men to police masculinity, and the results are bleak. If you feel your manhood (and, thereby, your personhood) will be jeopardized if you speak up about a pain in your gut, chances are you might stay silent. The same goes for mental illnesses, perhaps more so: according to Mental Health America, over 6 million American men are affected by depression each year, but most cases will go undiagnosed.

 

This is where that culture of stoicism and enforced silence can turn lethal. Undiagnosed mental illness increases risk of suicide, which disproportionately affects young men. In 2010, 79% of Americans who died by suicide were men, with high rates of suicide occurring among marginalized groups including gay and bisexual men. In much the same way an unaddressed tumor can lead to an untimely death, so too can unaddressed mental illness result in suicide.

 

What this tells us is that the narrative around men’s health is shaped by a toxic shaming and subsequent internalization that, often, results in severe or terminal illnesses that could otherwise have been prevented. This suggests, then, that changing the culture could not only reduce rates of preventable illness in men, but could even reduce rates of preventable deaths.

 

So where does that change begin?

That might depend on the situation, but a key shift is to deconstruct the reductive masculinity that most North American men have been conditioned to accept as the norm. This includes being able to have open, empathetic, and sensitive conversations about health, and implementing workplace policy that doesn’t hamstring men, making them choose between an income or their health. All illnesses, including mental illnesses like depression, should be recognized as legitimate cause for sick leave, rather than met with scoffs and, ‘Why don’t you just suck it up?’

 

We need to encourage men to view their pain, bodily and mental, as serious, and deserving of attention and treatment. This goes hand-in-hand with legitimizing men’s health issues when they express them: if a man expresses discomfort or hurt, the appropriate response is not, ‘Quit whining.’ If these off-the-cuff responses continue, so too will heightened rates of undiagnosed illnesses, and higher rates of suicide, in men. Changing our language is one of the first steps to changing the culture around men’s health.

 

This Men’s Health Month, concentrate your efforts on changing how you think and speak about men’s illnesses, and not just the kinds that affect men below the shoulders. Practice empathy and kindness, and encourage your friends to do the same. This culture and preventability are correlated, so with a few small changes, we can make the positive spirit of Men’s Health Month a year-round phenomenon.


Why Summer Vacations Matter – Even to Adults

In just a few weeks, millions of American kids and teenagers (not to mention, teachers) will be able to enjoy a well-earned respite over the next few months – why? As that old song goes, school’s out for the summer.

Summer vacation. For many, growing up, it was the favourite time of the year. The sun shone longer, and the classroom-free days meant we could spend hours on youthful adventure with friends.

Sure, many of us worked summer jobs or found ourselves occupied with more structured pursuits but it was summer vacation nonetheless. That time away from school allowed us to decompress and recalibrate after the stresses of making the grade; which might now feel relatively trivial next to those that many adult Americans now face daily in the workplace.

So why is it that so many working Americans are placing less importance on their need to take a vacation?

The answer might not be so obvious. According to the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), it can’t be blamed on job insecurity or economic anxieties alone. In a 2016 study, USTA researchers found no correlation between unemployment rates and vacation habits or found any evidence that vacations increased with higher consumer confidence rates. One of the culprits, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) is technology. Our greater connectivity has made the world much more accessible, but it’s also become a tether back to our desk and workplace responsibilities. AARP’s survey found that one-third of respondents worked while on vacation.

While in some cases this might be because of a sense of obligation rather than duty to our employer, in the end, it’s likely to cause employees to burn out faster: A Nielson poll found that 71 per cent of American workers who regularly take vacations are satisfied with their jobs, compared to 41% among those who don’t.

Dissatisfaction is one thing but what if not taking vacations meant that ultimately, you might have less time to take them in the future? The longest-running study of cardiovascular disease, the Framington Heart Study found that women who went six year between vacations “were eight times more likely” to develop significant cardiovascular problems, like coronary heart disease or experience a heart attack versus women who vacationed twice a year. Researchers also found that vacation time can also help rebalance sleep patterns, resulting in 80% improvement in reaction times after just two to three days of time off with quality sleep.

Vacations aren’t just for kids. While much of this post has focused on encouraging employees to speak up, plan and take time off, we must recognize that America can do more to ensure employees feel confident and are able to take vacations. According to CNN Travel, unlike every other developed nation in the world, the U.S. provides no required days off for employees. To the north, Canada’s provinces all provide for a minimum of two weeks paid vacation. Across the pond in the U.K., it’s a full 28 days. Employers that value their employees wellbeing – both mentally and physically – should provide adequate paid vacation time for workers to relax. They’ll likely see better performance out of those workers because of it.