By Melissa Lafrance on March 7, 2018
This month we feature Steve Bohnen, UBC Campus Security Crime Prevention & Community Relations Officer as our Thriving Campus feature.
How do you thrive at work?
I love our UBC environment and believe most people who work here strongly desire to establish a ‘higher and better social contract’ within this community. My role at Campus Security allows me to contribute to that mission, and I’m superbly grateful for it. The endless flow and variety of our challenges exercise my talents, skills and training daily. I enjoy a great balance of responding to real-time calls for assistance and assessing/analyzing occurrence patterns to promote better outcomes for both the University and the greater community. It’s a wonderful balance of challenges and creative opportunities.
I couldn’t do this work without respectful, highly supportive and like-minded colleagues who realize that we bring our total selves to the workplace every day, and understand that we must engage fully with one another to be most effective as a workgroup. We share our challenges, use check-ins regularly and maintain ongoing training and certification to stay at the top of our game.
How do you thrive at home?
Music has been a lifelong passion for me (yes, guitar players are actually considered musicians) and playing, whether alone or with others, has provided amazing rewards in relaxation, problem solving, left/right brain balance and just plain joy.
I’ve been playing since 1965, and am regularly privileged to sit in sessions with four or five people who bring 200+ years’ worth of talent and experience to the room. These moments transcend language and are a gift I wish everyone could experience. I encourage everyone to find their creative passion or instrument and get into the flow with it regularly. I play daily and wouldn’t be without it. This is Your Brain on Music is highly recommended reading.
I’ve been blessed with a superb partner in my wife Mary, a social services professional who brings a balance of compassion and deep expertise in her field to our family and our marriage. She’s an absolute champion and my best friend.
In three words or less, what does Wellbeing mean to you?
Fully, peacefully energized.
Steve Bohnen has worked at UBC Campus Security for 23 years. He is a certified BCSSA Security Consultant and Advanced Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) practitioner. Steve studied Arts at UBC from 1966 to 1968, left the Lower Mainland for work on the BC North Coast and later returned to UBC in 1986 after widely varied work and life experiences in several parts of the province, including Vancouver Island and the Okanagan. He has been married for 38 years and has four children, one of whom graduated with a Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering from UBC. His passions are his family, his work, music and the outdoors.
Photo Credit: Don Erhardt
By Melissa Lafrance on January 11, 2018
Thriving Campus features testimonials, contributions and personal experiences linked to health and wellbeing from UBC staff members. This month we feature Liz Hudson, inventory manager at UBC Press.
Thriving at Work
My first secret to thriving at work is my daily bike commute. My bike commute clears my head in the morning and gets oxygen to my brain [so I’m] ready for a day of work; then it clears my head at the end of the day before my evening activities at home.
Second, I thrive because I love to learn and connect with others. At UBC we have so many opportunities to do activities, interact with others and learn new things. Either with office mates or solo, I’ve participated in a multitude of activities on campus including mindfulness training, tennis lessons, Pick your Peak Stair Challenge, Museum of Anthropology’s yoga classes (MOGA) the UBC Library/United Way Spelling Bee, Staff & Faculty Sports Day, Recess for Adults, Bike to Work Week and Toastmasters — and this is a curated list. With each activity, I’m grateful to work in a place that offers this wide range of activities.
I’m also really grateful for an office environment that is positive and supportive. Within the UBC Press office, we do regular clothing exchanges and potlucks. Each event that UBC offers or that our office organizes makes me feel part of a community and that, for me, is the key to thriving.
Thriving at Home
I thrive at home by maintaining a positive attitude and making my health a priority. I play on a soccer team and hockey team, and I enjoy playing tennis. Belonging to a team is the perfect activity: it satisfies my need for social interaction and physical exercise. I’m also an avid cook and love to try new healthy recipes (and some unhealthy ones!)
I also do volunteer work as a member of the Hockey Helps the Homeless committee here in Vancouver. I’ve coached my daughter’s soccer team and was manager of her soccer teams over the years. Similar to my work environment, I thrive at home by building a community of like-minded people and appreciating all that I have.
Liz Hudson works at UBC Press in the marketing department. She feels lucky to have landed a job at UBC Press after many years selling textbooks to universities across western Canada. With a degree in French and English from Western University, Liz previously taught high school French in Ontario and Alberta before moving westward and settling in Vancouver. Liz has a husband, two kids in elementary school and a few fish. Liz enjoys playing sports, hanging out with her family and hosting dinner parties with friends.
Photo credit: Liz Hudson
By Miranda Massie on September 13, 2017
Welcome back! The familiar September hum, indicative of the start of another academic year, is all around us and faculty, staff and students are as busy as ever. In particular, for those of our colleagues working in front-facing, advising or instructional roles, this time of year can be challenging as they are often required to put the needs and priorities of others well ahead of their own.
Our dedicated, passionate and enthusiastic staff and faculty are a huge part of what makes our UBC communities so unique, and in order to ensure that we remain at the top of our game for others, we must not forget ourselves.
Have you taken a lunch break this week? When was the last time that you stood up from your desk and stretched? Did you drink any water yesterday? Have you socialized with colleagues today?
The truth about caring for others is that it can leave us feeling amazing and exhausted. We can feel positive, proud, fulfilled and rewarded, yet experience anxiety, fear, resentment and frustration at the same time. These emotions are natural and even have names :
- Burnout: Gradual mental and/or physical feelings of detachment, exhaustion and negative feelings associated with frustrations or a perceived inability to make a difference
- Compassion Satisfaction: Positive emotions and satisfaction received from helping others
- Compassion Stress (a.k.a. Secondary Traumatic Stress): Negative reaction experienced by a caregiver in response to an indirect event (something experienced by someone else)
- Compassion Fatigue: State of burnout or exhaustion as a result of prolonged compassion stress
When our roles are so tightly tied to the successes and achievements of others, it can be challenging to remember to care for ourselves. To be the most effective and successful in our work, we need to continually maintain our vitality and resilience. 
So how do we find the time to look after ourselves and recharge in meaningful ways? The key is to find small, manageable and affordable things that can be done on a daily basis to promote renewal while reducing immediate stress. A note of caution: we run the risk of setting lofty self-care goals that may not be realistic or attainable. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy and failure or make it easy to send goals to the bottom of the to-do list.
This month I invite you to consider your own needs along with those of the people that you are working for and working with. Reflect on what you do for your own self-care and try to find ways to incorporate these things into each day.
Self-care ideas :
- Read a book on your own or with your child
- Listen to a favourite playlist/song
- Savour a bath or shower
- Find ways to laugh
- Keep your work environment bright and cheerful (plants, flowers, pictures, art)
- Snuggle with a pet
- Write in a journal (try The Five Minute Journal!)
- Meditate, reflection or prayer
- Take breaks
- Spend time in nature
- Establish a sleep routine
- Check out this video of people sharing their self-care routines (BuzzFeedBlue)
- Use the Self-Care chart below (@instadoodles)
Here’s to an exciting and resilient September!
All my best,
 Mental Health Commission of Canada (3rd ed.). (2016). Mental Health First Aid.
 Skovholt, T. M., Trotter-Mathison, M. (2016). The resilient practitioner: Burnout and compassion fatigue prevention and self-care strategies for the helping professions (3rd ed.). New York; London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. doi:10.4324/9781315737447
 Riordan, M.M. Self-Care Advice for Caregivers. Human Development, 22(4), 27-31.
Photo Credit: Melissa Lafrance
Posted in Editorial, Mental Health, Miranda Massie | Tagged boundaries, burnout, compassion, fatigue, health benefits, Higher ed, satisfaction, self-care, Stress, stress management, UBC, work, workplace | 3 Responses
By Melissa Lafrance on September 13, 2017
Thriving Campus features testimonials, contributions and personal experiences linked to health and wellbeing from UBC staff members. This month we feature Jessica La Rochelle, Assistant Director of NITEP, UBC’s Indigenous Teacher Education Program, and the Manager of Indigenous Education (Faculty of Ed).
How do you thrive at work?
I am so grateful to work in an environment that fuels my passion for Indigenous education and feeds my spirit. My roles allow me to travel to Indigenous communities to engage with potential students and educational leaders to recruit them to our programs, work with an amazing team of educators and strong advocates, engage with leaders in Indigenous education to promote and facilitate reconciliation and resurgence, and connect with colleagues within the Faculty of Education and across campus to support and empower Indigenous students. As a Wellness Liaison, the lead for the NITEP Mental Health and Wellness program and member (former chair) of the Aboriginal Mental Health and Wellness Working Group, I am passionate about creating and maintaining safe spaces for students to have meaningful discussions about mental health and also what it means to be an Indigenous student at a mainstream university.
I thrive on creating and maintaining respectful connections and relationships with students, colleagues and community partners.
Tsel xwelchesem late lhwelep. Respecting the protocol of the lands on which I live and work, I raise my hands in thanks and respect to all those who have come before me and alongside me to clear a trail through an increasingly visible Indigenous landscape.
How do you thrive at home?
Working full-time while pursuing a graduate degree has been challenging over the past two years. I have struggled to maintain balance, but thankfully I have a wonderfully supportive and understanding husband who pushes me to keep calm and decolonize on. I thrive on spending time with family and friends, whether it’s quiet time together, family potlucks, movie nights with my husband or other super fun activities! I am so blessed to have a huge and supportive family: our homes are full of fun and laughter. I love to read, especially getting lost in stories and finding new parts of myself. Knitting! I love to knit; my husband might say I am obsessed and I would not argue with that.
I strive to be a good role model for my family and for my community. Coming from a small community of about 1,000 people, it was a huge adjustment for me when I moved to Vancouver to pursue post-secondary education. Now I’m thriving in the big city.
Éy swàyèl, Lhkwemiya tel skwix. Telitsel kwe Sts’ailes. Tsel Stó:lō qas te Okanagan qas te Trinidadian. Tel sísele Siyamtelot qaste Swelímeltexw. Ey tel squalawel kwels kwetslole. Jessica is Stó:lō from the Sts’ailes First Nation and lives and works on the Skwxwú7mesh and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm territories respectively. She is also Okanagan on her mother’s side and Trinidadian on her father’s. She is the Assistant Director of NITEP, UBC’s Indigenous Teacher Education Program, and the Manager of Indigenous Education in the Faculty of Education. Jessica has a BA in Sociology from UBC and is currently in the final year of her MEd in Educational Leadership and Administration with a focus on Leadership in Indigenous Education at UBC.
Photo: Courtesy of Jessica La Rochelle
By Melissa Lafrance on June 7, 2017
Thriving Campus features testimonials, contributions and personal experiences linked to health and wellbeing from UBC staff members. This month we feature Dionne Halyk, a human resources administrative assistant within Development & Alumni Engagement.
How do you thrive at work?
Taking classes: I love taking classes and there is so much opportunity for staff and faculty to learn at UBC. I’ve taken classes ranging from Adobe InDesign to Ethnographic Film Methods to Writing for Multimedia and the Web. I also love to attend the “lunch and learn” classes put on by UBC Health, Wellbeing and Benefits. It’s a wonderful opportunity to eat my lunch while learning things like mindful meditation techniques, debt and saving strategies, and nutrition tips.
Taking part in things around campus: We’re lucky to have so many things available to us right on our doorstep! I’ve joined yoga on Fridays in the Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre, gotten vitamin advice at the UBC Pharmacists Clinic, visited the Museum of Anthropology (multiple times), watched in awe at UBC’s Baccalaureate Concert, ate delicious Hot Lunches, competed in the Staff & Faculty Sports Day (shout out to my HR team, Team Fabulous, who just won this year’s Team Spirit award!), and so on. The list of things to do here is unending!
Collaborating with colleagues: I’m genuinely lucky to work with such kind-hearted, hard-working and very fun colleagues. Everyone – from my cubicle partner Masa to our very own President Ono – embodies the true UBC spirit of positivity and collaboration, and every day at work I see this. Working in HR means I connect with multiple people across campus daily and I can honestly say they make my job a joy. Thank you to everyone at DAE, IT, Central HR, Payroll, Benefits, Building Ops, Admissions, etc. for your help! We have a saying in my office – one team, one dream – and I can tell you that truly exists here.
How do you thrive at home?
All things artistic: Painting, writing, photography, filmmaking, sewing – I even made a willow chair once! I love being able to express myself and create different things.
All things outdoors: Hiking on the North Shore, snowboarding at Mount Seymour, being a beach bum at Kits Beach – mountains, forests and the ocean are happiness therapy for me.
Travel, travel, travel: I’ve been to 29 countries so far with plans for number 30 this fall. New people, cultures, art, architecture, foods and languages…these are a few of my favourite things.
And finally, my family and friends: Movie nights, board games or just sitting around telling stories and laughing – nothing makes me thrive more than spending time with them!
Dionne Halyk is a human resources administrative assistant within Development & Alumni Engagement. She has a BA in Sociology and a BComm in Marketing, both from the University of Saskatchewan. Dionne is originally from Saskatoon and has travelled, worked and studied in locations that range from Banff and Quebec City to Chile and Ireland. She is currently working on a short poetic documentary, blending her love of travel with writing and filmmaking.
Posted in Guest Contributor, Thriving Campus, Uncategorized | Tagged artistic expression, collaboration, connection, creativity, Dionne Halyk, team work, thriving campus, travel, UBC, work, workplace health | 10 Responses
“Sometimes I force myself not to work at night or on weekends, but it’s worth it to maintain my health and productivity.”
By Melissa Lafrance on May 4, 2017
Thriving Faculty is a monthly column that highlights UBC faculty who exemplify the integration of health and wellbeing into their classrooms, research, departments and communities.
This month we feature Kyle Danielson, a lecturer in the Department of Psychology.
What does thriving mean to you?
For me, thriving is orienting one’s body and mind to live constantly in the present moment. Paradoxically, living in the present moment requires a lot of planning in advance. I think that we’re most successful at being present when we stick to our physical and mental routines: for me, that means eating well and consistently, exercising intensely and often, devoting weekly time to spend with my small group of friends and daily time to spend with my family, and spending as much time as possible outdoors in my natural habitat. By prioritizing these things over everything else, including our careers or our educational endeavours, I believe that we become better caretakers of our own bodies and minds, in turn making us better workers and better students.
What are some of the central challenges you face in your role as a faculty member?
One of the biggest challenges of a faculty job is how the work doesn’t have a natural beginning or end. When I was an undergraduate and graduate student, I worked at a coffee shop, which came with its unique set of challenges (some of which were, in their own way, more stressful than being a faculty member at UBC!). But at the coffee shop, my work ended when my shift ended. I wasn’t lying awake at night (most of the time) thinking about how to make the best cappuccino foam.
As a faculty member, however, there is always work to be done. At the very least, there are always emails to be answered or article submissions to be revised. Moreover, academia promotes a culture of working all the time. People send emails in the middle of the night that require responses, and – from many faculty members’ perspectives – a 40-hour work week is an unthinkable luxury. However, I devote a lot of energy to crafting my schedule so that I work when people in other industries work (from approximately 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on weekdays) and so that I focus on my physical, mental and familial health during the other times. Sometimes I have to force myself not to work at night or on the weekends, but it’s worth it to maintain my health and my productivity.
Based on your experiences, please describe the relationship between student mental health & wellbeing and learning?
Student mental health is one of my primary concerns as an instructor (and perhaps particularly as an instructor of psychology). I find that many UBC students are unaware of how many people around them suffer from mental health problems, with the result that these students feel alone when they themselves are suffering. Moreover, I have learned that students here may be at particular risk for mental health problems because they are often so high achieving and put so much pressure on themselves. All of this pressure negatively affects students’ learning and performance, which in turn stresses them out even more! It’s a bit of a vicious cycle. The most important thing that I can teach my students is that they are not alone: more than half of the UBC students that I have met experience anxiety or depression at some point during their education. UBC has so many resources available for students who are facing these issues, and often these resources are more accessible (and cheaper!) than they ever will be once a student has left UBC. We can’t learn well or work well if we aren’t prioritizing our mental and physical health above everything else, and it’s essential that we support each other in this endeavour.
What strategies do you use in your own life that help you thrive as a faculty member?
As someone who has suffered from clinically significant anxiety and depression, I have had to develop a lot of strategies to keep myself working and moving. The most effective things that I can do are to exercise frequently and to be outside where I get plenty of light and fresh air. We are so fortunate to live in a natural paradise here in BC – one that provides for us so many opportunities to thrive outside (even when it’s raining!). It’s also important for me to compartmentalize my life, devoting myself to work when I’m at UBC and to my family and myself when I’m at home. In the end, though, the best strategy I’ve come up with is to constantly revert to thinking about the present. Whenever I catch myself in an anxious loop thinking about the past or the future, I try to centre myself back in the physical, current moment, even if what I’m doing is unpleasant or uncomfortable. It makes life feel so much more manageable!
Kyle Danielson, PhD, is a lecturer in the Department of Psychology, where his primary responsibility is the instruction of undergraduates in developmental and basic psychology courses. Currently he teaches PSYC 302 (Infancy) and the Psychology Department’s two introductory courses (PSYC 101 and 102). His research examines the ways in which infants learn language using their visual, auditory and tactile systems, and how learning two languages at once affects them cognitively and socially. In addition to teaching and research, Kyle is the faculty adviser for Psi Chi, the Psychology Honour Society, and for graduate teaching assistant training in the Department. Prior to starting his career in psychology here at UBC, Kyle was a Spanish teacher in the United States, where he’s from. He tries to spend as much time as possible on the beach or in the mountains when he’s in Vancouver, and exploring off-the-beaten-path and remote destinations when he’s not.
Posted in Guest Contributor, Mental Health, Physical Health, Thriving Faculty | Tagged balance, Exercise, Kyle Danielson, learning, mental health, Nature, Psychology, relationships, Stress, thriving at ubc, Thriving faculty, work | Leave a response
“Cultivating a work environment where laughter and smiles are genuine, and happen often, is a huge part of my day”
By Guest Contributor on April 5, 2017
Thriving Campus features testimonials, contributions and personal experiences linked to health and wellbeing from UBC staff members. This month we feature Lynn Santiago, residence dining room manager of Open Kitchen and Hero Café + Market in Orchard Commons.
How do you thrive at work?
I am passionate about what I do and am incredibly fortunate to have found my “calling” very early in my career. It’s highly rewarding to relate to people about something as personal as food, and to see those familiar faces returning to dine at Open Kitchen over and over again.
Being part of the dynamic food program at UBC makes me highly motivated to take quality and food values to new levels, and to be part of the evolution of tearing down the “institutional cafeteria” stereotype. This includes introducing fresh new things to people’s palates and also learning from their dining experiences. Working closely with the culinary team, I contribute healthy and appealing menu ideas. In particular, I focus on being able to bring variety to guests with dietary needs.
Cultivating a work environment where laughter, smiles and “pleases” and “thank yous” are genuine and happen often is a huge part of my day. I am inspired whenever the wheels keep moving forward in a positive direction, exploring unchartered territory!
I thrive on lists. Honestly, I would be lost without my written notes and phone notepad. Another important technique I use is to keep a flexible schedule and set early deadlines, allowing for the constant detours that happen in my day.
For me, eating healthy isn’t an option, it’s a necessity. Open Kitchen Vegetarian Curry Chickpea Bowl and the Fruit Parfait Bar are my staples, and a beautifully crafted cappuccino at Hero Café is my daily treat.
How do you thrive at home?
My work week is very energy consuming and people focused, so my down-time is about self-nourishment and pressing the reset button. I tend to push myself so I am careful to listen to my body and get rest when I need it.
Wandering food shops and foraging for new ingredients to play with is my happy place. I devour books, lose myself in movies and connect with my people to stay grounded. Being out discovering and supporting owner/chef-run restaurants and travel feeds my constant curiosity of what’s going on in the culinary scene. I seek balance through travel, hiking, kayaking and camping – and embracing spontaneity keeps things fun and entertaining.
Lynn Santiago is the residence dining room manager of Open Kitchen and Hero Café + Market in Orchard Commons. A food and beverage management professional and entrepreneur, she is a graduate of Hospitality Administration at Vancouver Community College. Going into her 24th career-year, she has a diverse resumé that includes working with Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Marriott International, Kimpton Hotels and Diva at the Met with Iron Chef Michael Noble and Pastry Chef Thomas Haas. She has also offered consulting services and owned a specialty food store and an award-winning restaurant.
Lynn has competed at the national level in ball hockey and was a member of the 2011 Women’s Floorball Team Canada.
By Melissa Lafrance on February 2, 2017
This month we are featuring Senior Athletics Director, Gilles Lepine as our Thriving Thunderbird.
Thriving Campus features testimonials, contributions and personal experiences linked to health and wellbeing from UBC staff members.
What are your top three things for thriving in life?
Finding and respecting myself and my values.
My mirror is my best judge. If I can look myself in the mirror and be completely honest with my convictions and myself, I am on the good path. I always say to my children, “Listen to your little voice”, your passions; your interest will drive you where you are supposed to go.
Discovering new persons and new cultures.
I love to discover new natural sceneries, but where I find the most satisfying is to encounter new people, new cultures. To see how much we are different and so similar. I can understand their reality and it helps me to understand my reality.
Having and creating stimulant challenges.
I once heard that happiness is out of our comfort zone… Where some are seeing problems, I try to see challenges. Having challenges is more stimulating than having problems.
Sport is in my DNA. I heard that when we practice a physical activity, it could be compared to meditation. I have to admit then when I’m playing beach volleyball I’m very focusing on the ball coming to my face.
What is your top tip for thriving at work that you want to share with others?
Try to work smarter, not harder.
Could we take the time to stop swimming and look where we are going? Could we do things differently? Do we have the courage to ask others or ourselves “Why we doing this? Could we have some help?”
Think like an entrepreneur.
A budget is a mix of Revenues and… Investments (not expenses). I am always looking for a win-win situation. In a perfect world, every colleague feels they are running their own business. Accountability bring creativity.
Having fun. Life is too short. Humor is a social lubricant…
Is it possible to work hard and have fun? I am convinced the answer is yes.
Injecting some humor make everybody more comfortable and open to collaborate.
Gilles Lépine is the Senior Athletics Director for the UBC Thunderbirds. He was the former Director of Excellence for Laval University’s Department of Athletics for 12 years and now leads the Thunderbirds Athletics program. Some of his past experiences as a student athlete, coach, administrator, and builder of championship varsity program makes him well-suited to lead the Thunderbirds to further excellence. He has played multiple sports competitively and dedicated his time to introducing sports to athletes of all ages through charities and volunteer work.
By Miranda Massie on December 7, 2016
Welcome to December everyone! However hectic your fall term may have been, I hope it was meaningful and filled with success. We now find ourselves getting ready to launch into another busy season, one that can sometimes be overshadowed by consumerism, gift buying and all manners of excess.
I saw a really great ad the other day that urged: “Create memories, not garbage this holiday season”. In keeping with the newsletter’s theme of spiritual health this month, I want to share a gift with you that I hope will serve as a reminder of the true meaning and spirit of this time of year. My wish is that this gift will support you in making wonderful memories with family and friends as we approach the new year.
Give yourself the gift of self- compassion
What is self-compassion? It is taking the time to treat ourselves the same way that we would treat a loved one or dear friend. It is acknowledging that we too deserve care and comfort during stressful and difficult times. It is the act of silencing our internal critic in the hope of accepting that we, like everyone else, are human and entitled to a break.
Experts believe that self-compassion involves three main actions:
- Self-kindness instead of self- judgement: Accepting our imperfections with sympathy instead of shame and criticism. The more we cling to aspirations of perfection, the more we judge the end result.
- Common humanity instead of isolation: Acknowledging that we may face difficult situations, and that we are not alone in this. Trials and tribulations are part of the common human experience.
- Mindfulness instead of Over-identification: Ensuring that we process negative emotions in a constructive way in order to avoid reactivity and negative thought patterns.
Why is this important? I am reminded of the saying “Charity begins at home”. I believe that compassion begins within. In order to truly experience compassion and kindness for others, we must be willing to do the same for ourselves. We at UBC are fortunate to work with some of the most amazing, selfless and dedicated colleagues on this campus. If we truly want to continue supporting colleagues and serving students, we also need to be willing to go to bat for ourselves.
This holiday season I invite you to give yourself the gift of self-compassion. Cut yourself some slack. Silence that negative critic in your head and replace it with one of kindness and charity. Forgive yourself. Leave pessimistic self-talk and resentment behind and as 2016 closes, prepare to greet the New Year with fresh eyes and an open heart.
Posted in Editorial, Mental Health, Miranda Massie | Tagged care, compassion, editorial, forgiveness, giving, Holidays, humanity, kindness, Mindfulness, Miranda Massie, self-care, self-compassion, spiritual health, Support, UBC, work | 2 Responses
By Guest Contributor on May 3, 2016
Guest contribution by Dr. Thara Vayali
The world is changing at a rapid pace and the number of conflicting health studies and recommendations published daily can be overwhelming. When it comes to health information, more isn’t always better – what matters is how we as individuals process, integrate and decide on the information that’s in front of us.
The factors involved in addressing our health are grounded in the very real context of our emotions and our experiences. Digesting the deluge of information coming at us requires us to become more aware of how we are feeling and how we are perceiving; a practice of mindfulness coupled with developing skills in emotional literacy.
What is emotional literacy?
Emotional literacy is a layer of health, including mindfulness practices, where we hone the ability to express our feelings and understand others as they respond within their unique contexts .
The development of emotional literacy helps us understand how we perceive the information we are surrounded by: Are we reacting to information out of curiosity, habit, fear, something else?
The primary reason that emotional literacy is challenging in today’s world is that we have far too many opportunities for our attention to be distracted by notifications, reminders, news content, deadlines and digital clutter.
To begin developing our emotional literacy, the first step is to build resilience to the internal and external distractions that keep us from accessing mindful behaviours. The information overload – from professional advice, to work education, to general news and lists for life – is constantly distracting us from our reactions and internal world. We can choose to implement mindful practices that keep us present.
But before we dive into mindfulness practices and emotional vocabulary, let’s tackle the information overload with our desks and screens: a little digital decluttering.
Monotasking Moments – Many of us are thinking about multiple things at once. Usually when we are doing one task, we’ve got the laundry list of “to-dos” hovering over us. Multi-tasking isn’t just about “doing” multiple things, it also includes having mental distractions while in the middle of an action.
Choose one task a day – it could be anything from having your morning coffee to finalizing the details on your latest project. During this time, commit to doing only that – turn on the virtual and literal “Do Not Disturb” signs around you, within you and on screen, and give yourself a time frame/limit. The time limit is key, so that you and those around you know when to check in and continue with other tasks of the day. Without the predetermined time frame, procrastination or mental distractions can take hold.
If you find that procrastination is your crutch, write out the day’s tasks in time chunks, so you can get a visual sense of how little time you actually will spend on this task. Sticking to time limits while mono-tasking will assist in creating personal deadlines and time prioritization in a day. If your task is quiet it may feel difficult to not fill it with thoughts, and this is when mindful breathing techniques become an important tool. For more on why mono-tasking is a key part of stress management and energy demand, check out my previous article, Stress and the Multi-Tasking Brain.
Love it or Lose it – The state of our screens and workspaces is often an overlooked contributor to our daily distractions. Often photos of peaceful scenes or loved ones are covered over with a mess of files and folders that we wade through daily. If we are faced with multiple options/decisions each time we come our screens, we are setting our brains up for multi-tasking before we’ve even started our day. If you don’t love what you see when you open your screen, change it!
Spend 1 hour a week rearranging your desktop computer/smartphone. Here’s how:
Step 1: Delete it – Take a look at your desk or screen. What do you look at every time you arrive? Is it a flood of apps/documents/folders? Where is the mindful space in your digital world? If you haven’t used an app or a file in over a month, it’s likely you don’t need it in your immediate visual field. This step is one of the hardest tasks with digital information; getting rid of digital clutter. Tidying/rearranging is only effective if you can separate the valuable from the trash. Choose one object/file that you really don’t use, and delete it! If you do this once a week/day it may be easier to manage than having to make all your “love it or lose it” decisions at once. Be patient.
Step 2: If there’s something you haven’t used, but you don’t have the heart to dismiss out of your life permanently – Create a “To delete” folder that is placed far away from sight, where you can access it when feeling nostalgic, but it is not within your daily workspace. This folder is not so much a “digital junk drawer”, as it is the location where the digital clutter you don’t use gets a holding space before eventually you are ready to choose delete and “take out the trash”.
Step 3: Create folders. Once you have cleared out what doesn’t serve you, now it’s time to organize! This step can take more time than expected, as systematic organizing takes dedicated mental energy. It requires a calm state of mind, the ability to step back, and time to reflect on your own way of thinking and accessing information. Be patient with yourself, and tackle this one day at a time. This means you may create just one folder a week, when you decide which files to collate and label as a group. But, once you’ve created that folder, you know exactly why it’s there, and exactly what types of information you’ve put in there.
Step 4: Clear your visual field. At this point, you’ve done a bit of deep cleaning on your digital world, but you still may have many folders of well collated information sitting right in the middle of your screen, covering over the smiling faces or sandy beaches that you love dearly. This is when digital “tidying” up applies. Since you have selected just your most important files/folders to be around visible, find a place for them along the perimeter, so that you can once again see your favourite image on screen. If you have more than 5-10 separate items sitting across your desktop, ask yourself – could I create 5-10 broader categories that all these could go within?
When you arrive at your desk/computer, the space can welcome you to decide what task you want to take on given your own priorities of the day. Too often our workspaces are filled with “to-dos”, and when we arrive fresh each day, we end up drowning in a never-ending list of tasks, without much of a choice. Clear your workspace/screens, clear your head.
These two tasks, done regularly, can help us sort through the information overload that is of our own doing. Next time, we’ll talk about tools on how to manage the information coming at us from external sources.
Our aim when faced with an excess supply of stimulation/information is to become an appraiser of knowledge – to know when to let something pass, and to know when to hold on. This appraiser’s skill comes from getting clear, being mindful and learning our own biases/emotional responses to situations. Learning how to see the ocean of data we are sailing on, and choosing what feeds you on a daily basis, is the beginning of creating space for emotional literacy and health.
Thara Vayali is a Naturopathic Doctor & Yoga Teacher in Vancouver and is also a UBC alumnus. She is obsessed with intestinal and immune health, hormones, and pain-free bodies. She is the creator of Change Natural Medicine: Budget conscious, membership based health consulting.