By Miranda Massie on September 3, 2013
Our long time readers may notice that our newsletter looks a bit different this month. Our Health Promotions team has been hard at work this summer renewing and refreshing the content and design. We feel that it is important for this newsletter to grow and develop in order to continue to bring the most up-to-date, relevant and accurate health information to UBC staff and faculty.
Summer is typically a quieter time for those of us working on campus; however, this summer has gone by in a flash and I expect things to continue picking up as September begins.
In working to put together this newsletter, and in planning our staff and faculty programming for the year, we thought it was a good reminder to ourselves to prepare for what awaits as the new school year begins. As staff and faculty on campus, we work daily to support others and to facilitate learning, teaching, administration, maintenance and more. However, we can be of no help to others if we do not first look after ourselves.
For a lot of us whose workload will increase this week with the influx of energetic students on campus, it might be valuable to put some healthy habits into practice before our work gets too hectic. Building up our capacity for resiliency before we experience stress can enable us to manage our stressors in more productive and successful ways.
Factors involved in building resiliency and managing stress: *
Appraisal of the situation: How we perceive a stressful situation and how well prepared we are for the situation will affect how well we deal with stress. Managing our thoughts and preparing for potential stress leads to more successful coping.
Acting vs. Reacting: Being proactive in managing stress leads to more resiliency in difficult situations. Levels of stress can increase if we are consistently reacting instead of acting proactively.
Normalizing challenges: It is normal for everyone to experience challenges; working to overcome these challenges can build self-esteem and self-efficacy. This increase in self-confidence will serve as a protective factor when faced with future stressors.
Recently, the Canadian Mental Health Association released a free e-course aimed at helping people better recognize signs of stress in themselves and others, and to provide strategies to address and cope with stress in the workplace. This quick course is a great resource that can serve as a way of preparing for the school year ahead.
Seeking out support through relationships and resources is also another great option for managing stress. UBC has a wealth of support for staff and faculty on campus and in the community.
Wishing everyone a healthy and happy September!
*Rutter, Michael. (1985). Resilience in the face of adversity: Protective factors and resistance to psychiatric disorder. British Journal of Psychiatry, 147: 598-611.
Steinhardt, M., & Dolbier, C. (2010). Evaluation of a Resilience Intervention to Enhance Coping Strategies and Protective Factors and Decrease Symptomatology. Journal of American College Health, 56:4, 445-453.
By Colin Hearne on September 3, 2013
An apple a day keeps the doctor away, right? Well, not exactly. It can help, as what we eat greatly impacts our moods and emotional health, as well as our overall well-being, but the apple in this saying is not what we should concentrate on – it’s the ‘a day’ part, the habit-forming inference.
According to Healthlink B.C.:
‘Building and maintaining healthy habits is a key part of a creating and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. There are many changes you can make depending on what your body needs to get healthy. If you have problems with your lungs or heart, you may wish to find help to quit smoking. If you are overweight you might want to find tips on eating healthy and adding physical activity to your day’.
With September having crept up sneakily, and as we wave goodbye to the beautiful July and August sun, one promise to make yourself this September is to become more habitual in a way that replaces the unhealthy habits with healthy new ones.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Healthy New Habits for September
- Face Fears
An important step in managing anxiety involves facing feared situations, places or objects. It is normal to want to avoid the things you fear. However, according to the online self-help resource, Anxiety BC (2013), ‘avoidance prevents you from learning that the things you fear are not as dangerous as you think’. Similarly researchers at Northwestern University have found that just one positive exposure to a fear had lasting effects in people six months later. Write down the fears that hold you back, whether it is fear of heights, fear of joining a new gym or exercise class or even the fear of public speaking; and identify resources where you can gain the tools to make the first step.
We all know it’s the best medicine, but laughter is also an effective preventative, which, according to an article in Psychology Today titled The Benefits of Laughter (Marano, 2003) “establishes-or restores-a positive emotional climate and a sense of connection between people’.” This article also highlights that “laughter in relationships can decline dramatically as people get older”. Change this. Start watching funny movies, read humorous novels, or spend time with people who make you laugh – it’s contagious!
- Become a Pet Person
Scores of studies have shown that people who own pets tend to live longer, happier and healthier lives. In The Role of Pets in Enhancing Human Well-Being: Physiological Effects (Friedman), a study looking at the relationship between pet ownership and cardiovascular health highlighted the positive effect of having a pet. In particular, it found that pet owners were more likely to be alive one year after spending time in a coronary care unit than non-pet owners. While scooping poop may be an annoying task, the unconditional love and often silly behaviours intrinsic to our animal friends’ makes happiness come all too easily. Caring for another is one of the best things for our health.
- Be Adventurous
“Novelty-seeking is one of the traits that keeps you healthy and happy and fosters personality growth as you age,” says C. Robert Cloninger, author of the study Understanding Our Need for Novelty and Change . The study also highlights how being curious about life and the world has helped throughout human history, citing examples of explorers discovering new places and our ancestors learning valuable survival skills. Be adventurous and try something new!
Healthy Habits at UBC
Making changes and adopting new habits is fantastic, but it can also be daunting. Support is available through UBC’s Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP). Our EFAP provider, Homewood Health, has a comprehensive and confidential counseling as well as Plansmart and Health Management services as well as a range of e-courses and an extensive online Health Library available to everyone enrolled in the UBC EFAP – so for any changes you feel you’d like to make you can receive up to date advice and trusted, professional information
If you do one thing for your health this month
Finally, keep yourself current on the health and well-being resources and tools available to you by continuing to read our monthly Healthy UBC Newsletter. New behaviours do not have to be radical, so let us help you through our latest health articles, lists of free workshops, EFAP information, health events on- and off-campus, the latest corporate discounts, and much, much more….make it your first step to good health this month!
- Background on Mindfulness Meditation
- Stress Response
- Mind-Body Medicine
- Mindfulness Practices for the Month
- Share Your Mindful Moments
Mindful Moments is a new monthly column in the Healthy UBC Newsletter that will explore all things mindful, including the concept and practice of mindfulness in various contexts and with different populations. Each month, I will highlight research being done in the field of mindfulness, outline principles and specific mindfulness practices for the month, share some of my grapplings with the practice both on and off the cushion, as well as highlight opportunities for UBC faculty and staff to participate in mindfulness practice/learning groups. I welcome you to be a regular reader of this column, and participate in this community; to explore the practices, contemplate the principals and research findings, question what you find to be true in your experience, and to share your insights from your practice and/or research in this area.
Over the past thirty years, there has been a proliferation of research on the science of mindfulness, the art of mindfulness meditation, and the effectiveness of mindfulness-based interventions as medicine. Mindfulness is inherently part of our human experience; a quality of awareness that connects us more intimately with the present moment. However, we can often become very mindless in our day-to-day, and pass by opportunities for smelling the roses. Mindfulness meditation is a secular form of mental exercise that helps to tune the brain for being more in the moment, and less caught up by discursive thoughts. Mindfulness meditation is no longer mis-perceived as trying to blank one’s mind, adopting dogma, or only being practiced by monks in monasteries or yogi’s on mountain tops. Mindfulness has become part of the vocabulary articulating a science of mind-brain-body as well as a common used catch-phrase within popular culture. My inaugural column will provide a brief introduction to mindfulness and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), and discuss the relationship between mindfulness and stress.
Background on Mindfulness Meditation
The study of mindfulness meditation as mental exercise has been shown to aid stress-related chronic diseases, mental illness and promote mental health (Baer, 2003; Grossman et al., 2004; Chiesa, & Serretti, 2009). While the practice of mindfulness and mindfulness meditation dates backs thousands of years within various contemplative traditions, specifically Buddhism, the first mindfulness-based program studied within the context of health care in North America is called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). MBSR was first developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre in 1979, to work with patients with chronic pain. MBSR is an example of a mindfulness-based training that teaches formal practices for cultivating present-moment awareness such as meditation, as well as informal skills for reducing a wandering attention and emotional reactivity in daily life. Since the creation of MBSR, there have been numerous other mindfulness-based programs modeled from this original program to target other populations and contexts including patients with depression, as well as students and teachers in K-12 Education.
The concept of mindfulness stems from Buddhist psychology, a tradition over 2,500 years old that promotes the cessation of mental and emotional suffering, what we today refer to as stress. Alan Wallace (2006), a Buddhist monk who lived in India under the guidance of the Dalai Lama and received a PhD from Stanford University in Religious Studies, describes mindfulness as an unwavering awareness of the present moment; a non-forgetfulness that cultivates wholesome states of mind. Thich Nhat Han, Vietnamese Buddhist monk, author and peace activist, speaks of mindfulness as an acute awareness to the present moment; the ability to access and acknowledge each moment of life deeply, however quotidian or mundane (Nhat Han, 1975). Dr. Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience.
Research on mindfulness informs our understanding of the mind-body connection in relationship to stress, health and healing. Dr. Hans Selye was first to describe stress as a physiological response taking place in the body. Also known as “fight or flight,” Dr. Selye distinguished stress as a non-specific physiological response, and highlights that a range of experiences can trigger this physiological response. This means that although we may experience different stressors, the response in the body is the same. When the stress response is triggered, the body is in a state of imbalance in which the sympathetic nervous system is hyper-aroused, and the parasympathetic system (responsible for rest and relaxation) is depressed.
The stress response is a physiological response seen in animals, such as a zebra when being hunted by a lion. During the stress response, all available physiological resources are allocated to the systems in the body responsible for ‘flight’, such as increase in heart rate to pump blood to muscles as the zebra literally flees for its life. If the zebra escapes from the threat of the lion, the stress response shuts down and the body returns to balance. The stress response becomes problematic for humans because it is triggered over and over again in response to innocuous daily events like traffic jams – a distinction described by Dr. Robert Sapolsky, professor at Stanford University as episodic vs. chronic stress in his book Why Zebras Don’t get Ulcers. Dr. Sapolsky describes episodic stress within the realm of experience of a zebra, and chronic stress as increasingly part of the human experience. Typically humans no longer have to run away from physical threats in order to stay alive. Instead , we are triggered by psychological stressors, such as worrying about deadlines, interpersonal conflict, and imperfections. These stressors can repeatedly flood our bodies with the same stress response. Over time, as the stress response is chronically triggered and one’s physiology is bathed repeatedly with stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline), the systems within the body and brain start to function less optimally (Kabat-Zinn, 1990; Sapolsky, 2004).
Health and healing is promoted through homeostasis in the body; regulating our body systems to allow our sympathetic and parasympathetic systems to return to greater balance. To promote health, it is important to be able to prevent ourselves from triggering our stress response, and returning back to balance once the response has been triggered. Dr. Seyle also coined the term eustress to refer to an optimal amount of stress that helps us meet life’s demands, or the type of additional stress we seek in life, such as going on a rollercoaster ride. The key distinction is the tipping point from when one perceives oneself to be in control or taking a safe risk, to when one feels out of control by the external demands of the situation. Perception – our interpretation of an event, and awareness of our perception – plays a key role in triggering, and shutting down the stress response, and at the nexus between this intimate mind-body response, bringing us to the importance of mindfulness.
Many of our perceptions and behaviours occur without awareness, especially when we start running on automatic pilot. Patterns of behaviour, thoughts and emotions make up a complex web of interactions that can quickly emerge and trigger distress in the mind-body without full conscious attention. For example, ruminating on negative thoughts, experiencing feelings of fear and tensing your neck and shoulders: Those types of automatic behaviour keeps the physiology of the body stimulated at heightened levels of arousal, and this excess stimulation of the stress response breaks down regulatory systems and in time, even the ability to shut down the response. The practice of being mindful, coming back into the present moment by grounding attention in the body with the breath, is a form of self-regulating the parasympathetic nervous system back into balance with the sympathetic nervous system. Mindfulness is a non-conceptual, experiential practice that takes place in your experience of the moment. If mind and body were two blocks sitting on top of each other, breath would be the third block that sits on top which helps to keep the two together.
Mindfulness Practices for the Month
Formal Mindfulness Practice: This month, I invite you to bring greater awareness into each day and especially during stressful moments of your day. Begin to recognize points in the days when you are feeling dis-stressed at work or a home. As a tool, it may be helpful to complete a Three-Minute Breathing Space (opens as MP3) on a daily basis. Only three minutes!
Informal Mindfulness Practice: Try to notice one daily activity that you tend to do on automatic pilot – an activity you are doing physically while mentally distracted. We often tune out doing trivial tasks such as brushing our teeth, washing the dishes, driving to work. Try making this activity your informal mindfulness practice for the month, by bringing a sense of beginner’s mind to this activity. Beginner’s mind brings fresh eyes, and approaches experience by tuning in the details as opposed to tuning out toward the periphery. You may have to let go of being “productive” during this time as we intentionally focus on the task at hand instead of allowing our minds to wander off into thoughts about the past, or planning for the future.
While there is evidence to show the benefits of mindfulness practice, it is important also to let go of expectations for this practice. Investigate the practice for yourself to see what happens in your experience when you make the choice to cultivate this caring attention within the fabric of your life, both formally with a three-minute breathing space practice, as well as informally throughout the day.
Mindfulness at UBC:
- Mindfulness in The Workplace Workshop – Sept. 17th 10:00am
- Customized Mindfulness-Based Workshops for Faculties and Departments
- Organize a workshop for your Faculty/Department
- Inquiries can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Share Your Mindful Moments
If you would like to share your mindful moments with us, we’d like to hear about it! Every month we will highlight reflections from the UBC community on their moments of mindfulness. Please email your mindful moments to email@example.com.
Baer, R. A. (2003). Mindfulness training as a clinical intervention: A conceptual and empirical review. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10, 125–143.
Chiesa, A., & Serretti, A. (2009). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for stress management in healthy people: A review and meta-analysis. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 15, 593–600.
Grossman, P., Niemman, L, Schmidt, S., & Walach, H. (2004). Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits: A meta-analysis. Journal of psychosomatic research, 57, 35–43.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain and illness. New York: Dell Publishing.
Nhat Hanh, T. (1975). The miracle of mindfulness: A manual on meditation. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Sapolsky, R. (1994). Why zebras don’t get ulcers. NY: Holt Paperbacks.
Selye, H. (1974). Stress without distress. New York: Lippencott.
Wallace, A. (2006). The attention revolution: Unlocking the power of the focused mind. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications.
Thriving Faculty is a regular column highlighting individual or collective Faculty who exemplify integration of health and wellbeing into their classrooms, research, departments and/or communities. Thriving Faculty not only support others health and wellbeing, but also make a commitment to their own self-care. This column highlights both the personal and professional stories of Thriving Faculty with the intention to inspire the integration of wellbeing into life as faculty.
Read an interview with Professor Michael Lee.
Q. Based on your experiences, please describe the relationship between student mental health, and wellbeing and learning?
I like looking at wellness from a bio-psychosocial-spiritual perspective; which is a holistic way of looking at a person. To thrive, one needs to attend to all four aspects of one’s life. It is like a four-legged stool, which means lacking one will lead to imbalance, or even tipping over. Mental wellness is one of the essential factors that leads to thriving, including academic excellence. Likewise, in order to excel in learning, one needs to attend to all four aspects of life, hence mental wellness is essential.
I come across many students who invested their energy and time in certain aspects of their life, may it be attending to academic attainments, relationships, physical activities, etc., and neglected the importance of balance of all aspects. We all know the importance of a balanced diet. Likewise, a balanced life that also attends to mental wellness is important for a healthy living.
Q. What are central challenges you face in your role as Faculty?
Like students, I am often faced with too many things to do with limited time and resources. This is one of the challenges that we all face, like it or not, in this fast-paced world. Knowledge and information are growing exponentially, and we all are bombarded with pressing time lines. It is very easy for us to fall into the trap of racing with the fast pace world. Attending to the bio-psychosocial-spiritual aspects of life is a challenge that I face, especially when I am racing in a fast-paced world, or when I am doing certain things that I am very passionate about.
Q. What strategies do you use to support student mental health and wellbeing in the classroom/lab?
The best way to promote student mental health is to start from creating a healthy learning environment. Competition among students is contagious. Though competitions foster quality improvement, too much competitions result in excessive stress that is not helpful in creating a healthy learning environment. To me, learning is not all about how many “A”s you got, it is about how you can be a learning agent for the rest of your life, so that you can be a creative problem-solver. Hence, I always tell my students not to focus too much on how you score in your exam or in your assignment, but be reflective, and know how you can use what you learned to build new knowledge. To be a clever consumer, we look for merchandise that meets our needs. Likewise, to be a clever knowledge consumer, we make it clear that we are going after knowledge and intellect, not on having higher marks then the one sitting next to us.
I also tell my students to look at the classroom as an oasis of resources. In a class of 50 students, there are 49 other bright brains that can help you to learn the knowledge better and to understand the concept clearer. See your prof as the one whom you can identify as a mentor, not the one who is mean and holding back each and every mark in your exam. Look around to identify resources, not barriers.
Q. What strategies do you use in your own life, that help you thrive as Faculty?
To be mindful of your goals is like having a GPS that will help navigate and not be distracted by what is happening around you.
Know your capacity and maximize your strengths. You don’t have to do everything, but do things that you are good at. Build capacity. There are many resources around us that we are not aware of. Think about our environment as full of resources. Leverage these resources in order to help us to get to where we need to get to.
Q. Are they any specific initiatives and/or research you are involved in that promote health, mental health and wellbeing?
I worked with a group of students to bring mental health awareness on campus. The Mental Health Awareness Club is a student-led initiative, with the mandate to bring mental health awareness on campus; and to eliminate stigma on mental illness with the hope to create a healthier campus. Students from various disciplines, different faculties and various backgrounds work together to promote campus mental health awareness through various events and programs. One project that we started last year is a campus-wide mental health needs assessment. Using participatory action research approach, we invited students to tell us about their perspectives on stresses on campus, and identify ways to address these stresses. In addition to knowing more about students’ perspective about stress, this project helped participants to know more about stress issues on campus and supported them to develop strategies to build resilience against stresses. This year, the Club is rolling out another needs assessment to look at mental health stigma, and how stigma impacts on student life. Through these participatory research activities, we hope we can draw campus attention to mental health and mental illness issues and to enable our community to develop strategies to address these concerns. Our ultimate goal is to help the community to built capacity in creating a healthy learning environment for our future generations.
Q. In your role as faculty, please describe your experience balancing work-life commitments? Is there a metaphor that depicts this relationship?
I mentioned a four- legged stool. It is important for me to attend to all four aspects of my life, including not only my physical and psychological wellbeing; but also attend to my social and spiritual needs.
One of my mottos is “know your strengths, build your capacities.”
Michael Lee is the Senior Instructor with the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, as well as the Curriculum Coordinator for the Master of Occupational Therapy program. In addition to teaching, learning with his students and promoting mental health on campus, he enjoys his time with the family and having quite time to refresh.
Nominate a Thriving Faculty
Do you know a UBC faculty member who thrives? We’d like to know! Please send your nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org, and let us know why this person is a champion of wellbeing both inside and outside of the classroom.
By Colin Hearne on September 3, 2013
September can be a time for change and transition in every aspect of our lives. The University returns to its usual hustle and bustle, at home children trundle back to school, and we notice the leaves disappear and the days become shorter. For most of us, this is a time that passes by hypnotically and it is embraced or accepted. But sometimes, this time of year can be a little overwhelming. At UBC, employees have access to the Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) – a fantastic benefit with a wide range of services, from counselling to health and wellness support. Our EFAP provider, Homewood Health, has comprehensive Counselling, Plansmart, Health Management and Career Smart Counselling services. Alongside these services are also a wide range of e-courses and an extensive online Health Library for UBC staff and faculty and their dependents to access.
Some examples of these are:
- Taking Control of Stress
- Taking Control of Your Mood
- Embracing Workplace Change
- Taking Control of Job Loss and Transition
- Taking Control of Anger
- Taking Control of Your Career
- Respect in the Workplace
- Trauma, Crisis, and Distressing Events
- Workplace Issues
- Relationships and Social Connections
- Mental and Emotional Health
- Healthy Living and Self-Improvement
Accessing the EFAP Health Library and E-Courses
Accessing the online services is easy. All you need to do is visit the Homewood Health website here, enter ‘University of British Columbia’ as your employer, register some basic details to automatically gain access to the in-depth members’ only range of e-services
Want to know more?
For more information on your Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) click here – additionally if you would like to book a presentation for your unit that highlights all the EFAP services available, contact Colin Hearne, EFAP Assistant at 604-827-3047 or email@example.com.
Remember, the information you share with UBC’s EFAP provider is confidential between you and Homewood Health, and will not be shared with UBC. The University is not told the identity of those using EFAP services, including online services.
By Colin Hearne on September 3, 2013
Subscribe now to the Healthy UBC Newsletter.
September 16th 2013: Laughter yoga
Laughter Yoga is a blend of yoga-based deep breathing, gentle stretching, simulated laughter exercises and playful games and activities. Join Dr Farah Shroff, PhD, UBC faculty member in the Department of Family Practice and the School of Population and Public Health and let her guide you through how Laughter Yoga can be adopted into your lifestyle. Click here to register.
Research shows that increases in mindfulness are associated with increased creativity and decreased in the workplace. Some of the health benefits include lower blood pressure, a reduction of insomnia and improved memory. Mindfulness Meditation not only reduces the harmful effects of stress but can increase your energy, productivity and enjoyment of everyday life. Join UBC’s Health and Wellness Specialist Geoffrey Soloway for this intriguing workshop and explore how you can adopt mindfulness in the workplace. Click here to register.
Research shows that being authentic and having a healthy self-esteem are keys to a happy, healthy, more meaningful existence. “Just be yourself” sounds easy, but can be surprisingly hard to do. Tips on how to develop positive self-esteem and keys to living authentically will help you learn how to become more present and consciously aware of the choices you make in your life. Join keynote speaker and trainer Jay Timms in this workshop aimed at helping you ‘be yourself’. Click here to register.
Would you like to learn how to promote, educate and ensure musculoskeletal health in your department? The Ergonomics program at UBC strives to have an Office Ergonomics Representative for each department. Office Ergo Rep Participants will learn: Basic Ergonomic Risk Factors, Proper Computer Workstation Set-Up, How to conduct ergonomic assessment for minor issues as well as a quick screen for new hires. Participants will also be provided with training material which can be relayed to colleagues. Click here to register.
Take a time out for your mental and physical health. Join your campus colleagues for a lunch hour walk on Mondays or Fridays. Monday’s group leaves at 12.30pm while Fridays leaves at 12:10pm outside the General Services Administration Building (GSAB). All abilities welcome. For more information call 604-827-3047, email firstname.lastname@example.org or click here.
By Miranda Massie on September 3, 2013
Try out free yoga, dance, pilates, martial arts, health, and fitness classes at the SRC from September 9-15. Classes fill up fast so make a reservation to save your spot in a class.
View works by artists from New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.
Join your UBC staff colleagues for a BBQ and resource fair to celebrate the start of the new school year.
Register now to attend three available presentations at VanDusen Botanical Gardens. Presented by the Tapestry Foundation for Health Care.
This harvest festival brings together the best of BC chefs, farmers, ranchers, artisans and beverage producers to highlight sustainable local food systems.
The Positive Living Society of BC is hosting an all-ages walk on September 22nd to raise proceeds to help people living with HIV/AIDS pay for health related costs.
The September issue of the Alive interactive online magazine is available for UBC Faculty and Staff.
Posted in Community Health News, Events, Mental Health, Spotlight | Tagged alive interactive, Feast of fields, Museum of Anthropology, Scotiabank AIDS walk, Staff Welcome back BBQ, UBC Recreation | Leave a response