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Celebrating Movember the healthy way

Each November since 2004, countries around the world have gradually begun marking a new month-long event: Movember. The movement gained international traction around 2007, when it spread across Europe and North America. Now, it’s an institution: men across the world grow and fashion moustaches to raise both awareness and money for men’s health issues like prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and suicide. By 2012, Movember was listed as one of the top 100 non-government organizations in the world.

 

The stated goal of Movember is to “change the face of men’s health.” The campaign seeks to address the compartmentalized and stigmatized nature of men’s health issues, and a key part of this conversation is the role that masculinity plays in stigmatizing these issues. Masculinity has, to some extent, made it difficult for men to express weakness; perhaps more accurately, it’s made it difficult for men to express anything at all besides stoicness.

 

This performed toughness claims lives. Men are less likely to go see a doctor about health concerns than women, which results in unresolved health issues. In some cases, this means a cancer has more time to develop. In others, it might mean depression, gone untreated, culminates in suicide. These are extreme examples, but examples nonetheless: stigma rooted in masculinity directly impacts the wellbeing of men. These issues are compounded in racialized, gay, and transgender men.

If Movember is to be successful in its mission of changing the face of men’s health, it has to be rooted in open, progressive dialogue with men and masculinity. Growing a moustache is a good start, but the real goal is to change the way that men interact with themselves and their health. In order for that to happen, it’s important to approach Movember the right way.

That means letting each man celebrate the month in their own way. Movember is certainly famous for its reinvigoration of the thick upper lip, but even this is rooted in a somewhat sensitive issue. Many men simply can’t grow a moustache, or if they can, it’s an unfortunate, transparent peach fuzz. A thick crop of facial hair has been traditionally associated with the image of a virile, masculine man, so for those that can’t grow sufficient facial hair, the association of manhood and men’s health with facial hair production can be alienating. If someone you know isn’t growing a moustache, don’t badger them about it—there are other ways to further the conversation around men’s health. To borrow a Hallmark-ish platitude: remember the reason for the season!

 

Another way to forward the spirit of Movember is to simply talk to the men in your life about more than the weather. Opening up the floor for men to discuss how they feel is a key facet of improving men’s health. This doesn’t have to be a grand gesture or a drawn-out process; it can (and arguably should) be an effortless, routine conversation. Pop a question like, ‘How are you feeling?’ or ‘Is there anything you want to talk about?’ The inverse approach is to bring up a personal issue you’re dealing with, to signal that there is space for that sort of discussion. The routinization of these chats can help others to feel more comfortable in confronting and addressing their own problems.


Take a break from upsetting news cycles

There’s a new, sardonic joke cropping up more and more on social media. It has developed in response to an increasingly-concentrated news cycle which has been reliably upsetting. For many, exposure to this cycle is draining and tiring. The joke, which takes different forms or structures, is always a configuration of this formula: “Wow, this day has lasted for a year.”

 

It’s given to hyperbole, which is part of both the fun and the point—it’s risen in step with an increasingly severe deluge of concerning news stories. But it also articulates a very real and serious issue: citizens who are engaged with national and international news are being exhausted by it.

This is distressing not least of all because the goal is in fact to have an entire citizenry that is informed about and, ideally, involved with their nation’s top news events. But staying constantly attuned to this news can be traumatic, especially when the news revolves around allegations of sexual assault like those put forth against Brett Kavanaugh, or the Environmental Protection Agency’s relaxing of radiation protections. These are patently troubling topics for all, but for those who have personal associations with them, these news stories—which are hard to avoid—can be especially triggering for feelings of depression, anxiety, and hopelessness.

In light of this, folks across the world have begun to formulate coping strategies to insulate themselves from this omnipresent content. These include tools to curate what we’re exposed to online, to stepping away from the web altogether. Here are a few tips to try if you feel like taking a break from the troubles of the moment.

 

Use Keyword Blocks On Social Media

If you’re someone who often uses Twitter, Facebook, or other social media that expose you to news, you should consider employing the various keyword-blocking mechanisms that each of these platforms offers. Facebook recently installed their Keyword Snooze feature, which allows users to block content that contains certain words for a set amount of time. Twitter’s Mute function is pretty much the same in practice. It’s explained well here, and, like Keyword Snooze, will prevent tweets with specific words from entering your feed. You can use these tools to block triggering content from mucking up your timeline.

 

Decline Conversations About Tough Topics

An important note on these issues is that they will affect people differently. For example, someone who is a survivor of sexual assault is more likely to be upset by discussions of Bill Cosby’s trial than someone who isn’t. It’s important to remember that we aren’t obligated to participate in conversations that cause us discomfort. Feel free to say, ‘I’d rather not talk about that right now,’ or excuse yourself from the discussion.

 

 

 

Step Away From Your Screen

Even with keyword-blocking features on social media, unexpected bad news can still find its way to us through our computer, our phone, or our TV. It’s more important than ever to step away from these screens and center ourselves in our world with physical surroundings. Try going for a short (or long!) walk, or doing something else that requires simple motor skills. These tasks can help alleviate stress and help to calm senses.


Reap the benefits of biking to work

It’s a familiar Monday morning scene: you wake up, shower, graze on some breakfast foods, and haul yourself out the door. Now, there’s a fork in the road. You can either A) hop in your car and drive to work, burning a quarter of a tank of gas and an entire day’s worth of patience in commuter traffic, or B) hop on the cramped, sweaty bus in mid-summer morning humidity, and arrive at work crabby, sore, and a bus fare poorer.

Most of you might not have considered a third option: bike to work.

The benefits of riding your two-wheeled chariot to work are countless, and they range in scope from personal to global. As gas prices continue a steady march towards unaffordability and city transit fails to expand in step with booming populations, the bicycle starts to look rosier than it might have before. In many parts of the United States, biking to work is only tenable from April to October, but it’s not too late to start before the year is out. Here are some of the simple rewards you’ll reap if you decide to start taking the 21-speed steel stallion to work.

IT’S AFFORDABLE AND ACCESSIBLE

Biking to work will cut your costs in more than just the immediate ways. You’ll save a fortune on gas, but you’ll also save on maintenance that your car might require with extensive use. You’ll save money from transit fares, but you’ll also save health care costs in the future if you stay active. A decent road bike will be a significant investment up front (between $500-$1000), but it will pay for itself within the first two weeks of riding. Further, biking is for everyone: there’s no license required, though a familiarity with the rules of the road is of paramount importance.

IT’S HEALTHY

For years, studies have trumpeted the health benefits of biking, with some hailing it as a form of “preventive health care.” Biking is a relatively low-impact activity that contributes to a strong cardiovascular system, and many professionals think that promoting cycling and integrating corresponding infrastructure like bike lanes can actually save lives by combating diseases like obesity and reducing environmental damage. It’s even said to lengthen life spans. These happy side effects promote healthier lifestyles while contributing to a sustainable and cost-effective culture.

IT’S GOOD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

This is a no-brainer, but every car off the road is a plus for our planet. While it isn’t tenable or realistic to suggest that everyone ditch their car, if you bike to work, you can feel confident that you’re reducing your carbon footprint and, in a small way, working towards sustainability for our world. Most global change is composed of these cascading decisions, so the more bikes that are on the road, the better off planet earth (and its inhabitants) will be.

IT CONTRIBUTES TO HAPPINESS

All of the factors listed above contribute to the key selling point: cycling to work can help you feel happier. With more money in your pocket, a healthier lifestyle, and an eco-friendly approach to commuting, it’s logical that one would feel happy. Regular exercise like cycling has been proven to sharpen your brain and improve cognitive functions like reasoning and memory, as well as having a positive effect on mental health.


Beat the heat without breaking your daily routine

There’s a good chance that since summer began, your Instagram feed has been a deluge of beach and pool pictures. With record-tying (and record-smashing) heat waves across the globe, pilgrimages to these precious bodies of cooling water have likely spiked as well.

But of course, these trips are only feasible for those with time to spare. Many folks won’t have the energy, let alone the time, to reach the beach this summer, and for every happy Instagram influencer lounging at the beach, there are 100 workers without paid vacation or adequate days off slogging to and from work in the punishing heat.

This is exacerbated by the fact that the American work week is longer than that of many developed nations, and that margin is growing: a 2015 report found that the average work week for full-time workers in America runs 47 hours, an average increase of an hour and a half from a decade earlier. That leaves little leisure time to keep cool.

That means it’s important to develop ways to stay cool in your work-week routine. Especially given the breakneck pace of the work week, it can seem trivial to worry about beating the heat. But with deaths from heat stroke and dehydration on the rise, it’s more critical than ever to chill out. Here are some simple tips to stay hydrated and healthy without interrupting your daily comings and goings.

BRING A WATER BOTTLE EVERYWHERE

For some, this will be second-nature, and for others, it will be a big ask, but bringing a water bottle with you wherever you roam is an essential during these hot summer months. As you’ve probably heard by now, the U.S. National Research Council suggests eight to ten glasses of water each day, but keeping track of that can be tedious, and summer heat requires that we drink more as our body works harder to regulate our temperature. If you have a water bottle on you at all times, you’re more likely to stay hydrated, which will keep your body and mind functioning at full-tilt. Signs of dehydration include fatigue, muscle cramps, headaches, and lightheadedness, so if you notice these setting in, it’s time to take a hit from the water bottle.

PACK AN ICE PACK

Ice packs are for more than just keeping your lunch and beers cold. They’re also relieving and effective coolants for our bodies on particularly hot days. Placing an ice pack on spots like the back of your neck or the inside of your wrists can be a welcome respite from the heat, especially if you’re stationary and able to keep it resting against your body for a period of time. Leave one in the freezer at home and one in the freezer at work—this will give you some icy peace on your morning commute and as you go about your work day. Look for flexible ice packs that can be fastened against your body.

DRESS FOR THE WEATHER

One of the benefits of many modern work environments is a general relaxation of the stuffy dress codes of yesteryear. This flexibility is especially important during summer months, when extreme heat poses a health threat. No normative dress regulations are worth risking your life over, so make a point of dressing according to the weather: if temperatures are spiking, wear loose, breathable clothing that won’t retain heat or cling to your body. This will help your body regulate your temperature more efficiently, which means you’ll sweat less. Win-win!


We’re halfway through 2018, which means it’s time to check on your New Year’s resolutions

Every year, on the evening of December 31st, folks around the world are united in at least one respect: they’re all compiling a list of New Year’s resolutions. Whether scant or long, easy or ambitious, these lists represent a promise of change, progress, and hope as a new calendar year begins. At their essence, these resolutions represent something very simple and universal: we all want to be a little better. With these lists, we place a wager against ourselves—do we have the discipline and fortitude to follow through?

The trick of the matter is that the shift from December 31st to January 1st of a new year is rarely as monumental as we’d like it to be—it’s simply a new day. This reality makes maintaining our resolutions a challenging endeavour, and these convictions can often fall by the wayside as early as the next evening. But checking in on how we’ve done on these resolutions, whether we find success or failure, is a helpful and constructive practice. Now that we’re six months into 2018, it’s a good time to peek back at your resolutions to assess your progress (or lack thereof) and adjust your path accordingly for the rest of the year.

The point of this practice is two-fold. First, it’s to see where we’ve failed to live up to the expectations dictated by our former selves. If it’s true that failure is the greatest teacher, than we cheat ourselves of valuable lessons when we refuse to examine our own shortcomings. Acknowledging our weaknesses is the first step towards fixing them. Second, we can chart new paths for the rest of the year. It is easy to shrug this off as wishful optimism, but the alternative is another six months wasted. Instead of soaking in disappointment or chastising ourselves for lack of action, this step converts those feelings into something constructive, and sets a positive, practical course that can reinvigorate a tough year.

Assessment of your progress depends on both your metrics for success and the goals you set, so this is, like all things resolution-related, a personal exercise, but an important note is that resolutions do not have to be absolute. They’re an ideal to work towards rather than an iron-clad cut-off, so be sure to view steps taken towards your resolution as a success of sorts. A helpful comparison to use is, ‘Was I doing X at this time last year?’ or ‘Was I working towards X at this time last year?’ If the answer is no, then you’ve at least made some change. The lie of mainstream resolution-making is that change has to be radical. It’s untenable to try to change our personalities overnight; give yourself some time.

Similarly, if you haven’t made any strides toward your goal, perhaps it’s time to consider their importance. Does it still matter to you? If so, why haven’t you worked towards it? Analyze the barriers and reasons why you haven’t applied yourself to these tasks. This information will help you going forward. When a vehicle isn’t working properly, a mechanic runs a diagnostic—it’s important that we do the same from time to time.

The next part—recalibrating our resolutions for the next six months—is more ephemeral, but it’s reliant on the data gathered from the first step. Base your game plan for the second half of the year on that information. Contextualize it with how your year might have changed; perhaps your goals aren’t the same. This is the exciting bit. Half a year is a long time, and for the second half, we can commit ourselves to a wholly different set of personal screw-tightening. It’s like a new new take on 2018.

Regardless of how you started the year, there’s time to finish it out differently. Maybe you’re on a good path, in which case you’ll stay the course. But it’s been a trying, turbulent year for most, and stepping back to assess how we’ve been affected is key to moving forward in an effective manner. New Year’s resolutions are fun, but the mid-year resolution reset is the one we learn the most from.


Pride Month and Mental Health in the Workplace

June is a month for celebrating. Summer begins in the northern hemisphere on June 21, the days get longer, and the heat gets hotter. But most importantly, June is Pride Month, that most joyous of occasions that celebrates LGBTQ+ folks around the world.

It’s an exciting and inclusive month-long party, for sure. But Pride Month is also a critical moment of visibility for a community that’s often obscured, erased, and outright discriminated against by mainstream culture. Though every day of the year should offer an environment where LGBTQ+ individuals feel safe and confident celebrating their identities, Pride is explicitly about constructing this space in the broader culture.

Pride is an excellent time to think about how to make your workplace an environment that’s supportive, welcoming, and safe for LGBTQ+ folks. This is certainly not always the case; in 2015, a study found 36% of non-LGBTQ+ Americans were uncomfortable seeing a same-sex couple holding hands. Many states still don’t have laws in place to protect LGBTQ+ individuals from discrimination in the workplace. Unfortunately, prejudice is alive and well, and it’s important to make sure your workplace is committed to eliminating it.

Here are some tips for making sure your office is a place where LGBTQ+ folks can feel comfortable, for Pride Month and beyond.

Show Solidarity

Showing solidarity can come in many different incarnations. The easiest of these might be wearing a Pride rainbow pin, something visible that shows LGBTQ+ folks in your office, whether they’re out or not, that you’re an individual they can turn to for support. The more coworkers they see supporting them, the better they’ll feel at work.

If you want to take things a step further during Pride Month, consider collecting donations for a local organization that benefits and works with your city’s LGBTQ+ community.

Brush Up On Your Knowledge

For many, the ever-evolving nature of the LGBTQ+ acronym is a punchline, but it’s merely reflective of the fluidity and impermanence of gender and sexuality. It is indeed a community that frequently evolves, so consider booking an educational seminar for your staff to stay informed on the community and the issues they face, as well as how best to prepare yourself and your office to be a LGBTQ+ friendly space.

Implement Gender-Neutral Washrooms

It’s important to recognize critical difference in rights afforded to certain people in the LGBTQ+ community that others aren’t privy to. Transgender individuals often face harassment, verbal abuse, and even violence for trying to use the washroom. Binaried washroom facilities are the arena for this bigotry, so consider implementing gender-neutral facilities to erase this anxiety for trans folks in your office.

Develop Policies That Protect LGBTQ+ Individuals

This seems like a no-brainer, but many workplaces have gone only halfway in this fight. In most cases, this means they’ve drawn up policies that protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation. But reports show that folks with trans or non-binary gender identities still face blatant discrimination in the workplace. Developing company-wide protocols for eliminating and punishing discrimination and harassment based on gender expression is the next step in making your office a protective environment for LGBTQ+ employees. It’s worth noting that this isn’t a radical idea, but rather is becoming the norm—89% of Fortune 500 companies have implemented policy that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, while 66% of these have policy in place that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity.