Monday, March 31, 2014

take a little trip

I just got back from vacation last week. My wife and I had a wonderful time in Athens, Georgia and Asheville, North Carolina and when I returned I felt relaxed and refreshed and ready to get back to work. That got me thinking about the benefits of vacations. I often encourage clients to plan a vacation, but I had not looked into the research.

It turns out that vacations are therapeutic. In several studies it has been shown that taking vacations is good for physical health, mental health, relationships, and work performance/productivity. And they can even help you break an unhealthy habit.

Physical health. In the famous Framington Heart Study it was found that men who took vacations lived longer than those who did not take vacations and that women who took vacations twice per year were eight times less likely to develop coronary artery disease than those who vacationed less than once every five years.

Mental health. Several studies have shown that taking a vacation increases happiness levels. Interestingly, the planning of the trip seems to increase happiness more than the trip itself. The length of the vacation and the location of the trip make very little difference in happiness levels. People who take vacations twice per year have been found to be less tense, depressed, and tired than those who vacation once every two years.

Relationships. In couples counseling I often recommend that a couple plan a trip together. People seem to get along better when they get out of their routines and have new experiences together. Studies have shown that marital satisfaction decreased as the frequency of vacations decreased.

Work productivity. Henry Ford found that his automobile plants could produce as many cars when workers worked a five-day week as when they worked a six-day week. Working past a certain point decreases productivity. Taking even a short vacation improves performance and attitude in the workplace.

Breaking unhealthy habits. Twenty years ago, after having smoked cigarettes for 20 years, I decided to not take any cigarettes with me on our vacation. Staying busy, having fun, and being away from my habitual smoking patterns helped me to not smoke cigarettes for that week and I have been able to (one day at a time) remain smoke-free for the last 20 years. Whether it is a substance abuse problem like nicotine addiction or biting your nails or an unhealthy eating habit – a vacation is an opportunity to create a new pattern and then to bring it home with you.

So, plan a trip. I think that Tanner Health System’s paid time off (PTO) plan is very generous. I am already planning my next two trips – a long weekend to the beach with the grandchildren in June and out west this October.
Happy trails!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

weathering the winter blues

Some of us notice a significant change in our energy level, mood, and attitude during the cold and gray months of winter.  Research has shown that a lack of light, warmth, and exposure to natural surroundings can contribute to feeling the winter blues.  Many of us experience a hibernation response every year, particularly after the hyperactivity of the holidays.  We naturally want to sleep more with less daylight and stay indoors to avoid the cold.  So how do we survive the winter? How do we stay strong when our energy reserve runs low?
The winter blues, or what is often referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is similar to mild depression.  Those of us who struggle with this condition may feel lethargic, apathetic, and unmotivated for days on end.  We may have difficulty concentrating and completing tasks.  Social withdrawal and decreased sex drive are common symptoms, and moodiness and irritability often result.  It can be easy to lose perspective in this emotional context and begin to question our self-worth, sense of connection with others, and ability to reach life goals. So how can we stay physically healthy and emotionally balanced in spite of these cold weather challenges?
Here are some tips for weathering the winter blues:
1.      Get regular physical exercise.  Exercise is one of the most important and accessible strategies for shifting the tendency toward depression in our brains and bodies.  
2.      Spend time in the sun if and when possible. Vitamin D is produced by the body in response to sunlight.  Vitamin D helps support bone, muscle, and heart health and additionally helps to improve our mood. 
3.      Eat healthy foods and consider taking a daily multivitamin.  Although when we are tired and stressed we often crave carbs and sugar, healthy eating strengthens our body’s immune response and helps to maintain emotional equilibrium.  A balanced diet can increase energy levels, improve mood and stamina, and insure a wellness response during exposure to illness.
4.      Limit alcohol and caffeine intake.  Too much of either can contribute to anxiety, headaches, muscular tension, and gastrointestinal problems.  Although they may temporarily lift our mood, overreliance negatively impacts long term physical and emotional health.
5.      A lack of sunlight may contribute to a disturbance in the body’s circadian rhythms.  A consistent bedtime routine that allows your mind and body to relax and unwind is helpful for falling asleep more easily.  Yoga, reading, a bath, or relaxing music may help!
6.      If symptoms continue, you may want to consider: (a) making an appointment with a counselor, (b) talking with your doctor about an antidepressant, and/or (c) taking a recommended herb, such as St. John’s Wort, for depression.  Research your options online and talk to friends for suggestions!

We all survive in the ways we can.  Taking good care of our bodies and minds in the winter months is especially important for staying healthy and managing stress well.  To help take care of our physical selves, Tanner located a Health Source Gym near each hospital; to help take care of our emotional selves, Tanner established the EAP staffed with Licensed Professional Counselors. If Winter Blues have taken hold of you, take a proactive approach and access the services and tools available to help.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

now what?

The new year is almost one month gone.  You managed to avoid the usual family disagreements at most of the holiday get-togethers and maybe even resolved an issue or two.  The emotional roller-coaster had more ups than downs and you’re feeling pretty good about the future. So, now what?  How do you continue 2014 with the momentum that you had in mind when you made those New Year’s resolutions that (this time) you fully intend to keep? 

You might begin by not giving the tasks ahead the power to overwhelm you.  After all, regardless of how many good intentions you have, they can only be addressed one at a time.  With that in mind, consider setting some priorities and a basic time line for what to do when.  If like most of us, you discover that your time frame doesn’t always coincide with the real world, be willing to revise and re-start as you go.  If in January it seemed worth doing, it probably still is.

Build your self-confidence by learning from the past.  Friedrich Nietzsche is quoted as saying, “What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.”  Stronger because we pay attention and commit to not making the same mistakes.  Stronger because we learn valuable lessons for our experiences.  Stronger because we made it though “that” challenge and now know that we can do “it” again.  Learning from the past is not the same as living there.  Instead, learning from it allows us to let it go.

Connect.  Routinely connect with others that are important to you.  We are hard wired to be connected to others--that ability is why we exist.  Sure, interaction with some people can be the most difficult part of the day.  But connecting with those who are significant to us is a continual reminder that we are worthy to love and to be loved.  With those connections we make a contribution to the best of humanity and we feel safe to be ourselves.

Remain optimistic.  The most resilient of people are those who nurture their optimism, allowing it to pull them along through the toughest of times.  Optimism doesn’t come easily for everyone—it takes intentional practice and, again, is supported by feeling connected.

Dream of a better future.  Learn and grow from the past.  Be fully connected in the present.  See the glass as half full.  If speaking to someone in confidence will help, remember your Employee Assistance Program.  Call us.  770-834-8327.

Friday, December 20, 2013

some reasons folks come to the employee assistance program

It has happened a couple of times recently that someone said to me, “I didn’t know you could come to EAP for that”.

Some people think of the EAP as a resource to use if they are “going crazy” and many people don’t ever think of the EAP at all. I thought that people may be interested in some of the reasons people make use of this great benefit that many employers provide to their employees.

Work stress    Difficult boss, difficult coworker, changing responsibilities, needing to vent some anger/frustration in a guaranteed safe and confidential place.

Family stress    Marital or relationship difficulties, parenting issues, bringing their children for counseling, dealing with family drama, elder care issues, holiday stress.

Grief issues    Dealing with the death of a loved one, divorce, child leaving home, death of a pet, losing or leaving a job.

Health issues    Physicians often recommend counseling as an adjunct to other medical care. Conditions such as insomnia, anxiety, hypertension, depression, chronic pain, addiction, infertility, cancer, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses have all been shown to be improved and/or better coped with by participating in counseling.

Financial stress    If you feel overwhelmed by debt or other financial issues, having a safe place to bounce ideas around and look at options available can help.

Past trauma    Events from the past can affect our present-day functioning. Counseling can help one to deal with past emotional, physical, and sexual abuse as well as accidents, violence, and other traumatic events.

Career counseling/coaching    Some people come to EAP to get coaching on how to better present themselves, improve their people skills, management skills, or communication skills.

Premarital counseling    Some of the best advice I ever received was to get premarital counseling. Learning some communication skills, ways to strengthen a relationship and talking about some potentially “sticky” issues before they arise can prevent some problems and better prepare a couple for others.

Management consultation    Managers come here to discuss ways to handle situations involving their employees. This is a good place to brainstorm ideas and to learn how others have handled similar situations.

Anger management    Anger can be a tricky emotion that many of us do not handle so well. Some people fly off the handle, but many more just bottle it up inside which can be even more unhealthy. The EAP is a safe place to vent and to learn ways to deal with people and situations that may provoke feelings of frustration and anger.

Impartial sounding board    Sometimes when facing a decision it is helpful to talk to an impartial party. Sometimes family and friends are not the best ones to consult because of their preconceived ideas/opinions and/or because they might bring up these issues in the future.

Confession    Many of us carry around guilt from past events/decisions. Just getting things off your chest can be helpful, freeing and healthy. Confidentiality is a cornerstone of the EAP and the licensed professional counselors at Tanner EAP are bound by HIPAA and their licenses to keep things confidential.

Tobacco cessation    As well as getting help for other addictions such as gambling, pain pills, pornography, stress eating, alcohol, being addicted to an unhealthy relationship, etc.

Spiritual/existential questions    What is the meaning of life? Why am I here? What “should” I do? We don’t have the answers but we enjoy pondering the questions with you.

Management referral    Many times a manager will encourage an employee to make use of the EAP. This is not a punishment or “being sent to the principal’s office”. It usually means that the manager values and cares about the employee and wants them to get some help in dealing with a situation that might be affecting their work.

Feel free to be creative! You can come to the Employee Assistance Program for issues other than those listed above. We are also doing more telephone counseling these days if you just want to chat on the phone. Call us at 770-834-8327 to talk, ask questions, and/or schedule an appointment.

Happy Holidays from all of us here at Tanner EAP!

Director: Ken McGowan, EdD LPC CEAP
Counselors: Betsy Prince, EdS LPC CEAP
and Wes Webster, EdS LPC CEAP
Administrative Assistant: Lisa Rooks

Thursday, October 17, 2013

shifting gears

There was a time when automatic transmissions were usually an option in new cars.  Consequently, a new driver typically had to learn to operate all of the essential features of the automobile, learn the state laws that pertained to the rules of the road, remember to select either AM or FM, and, in addition, learn to smoothly “shift gears.”  Turning a corner was particularly tricky—right foot off gas, onto brake; left foot push in clutch; right hand on shift knob (column or floor); and SHIFT.  Thank goodness we didn’t have to text or make phone calls back then!

When I talk to clients about shifting gears, it usually has nothing to do with driving.  More often than not, we’re talking about one facet of work-life balance.  How does one transition from a busy day at work to the responsibilities at home and vice-versa?  Clearly, how we conduct the business of our family is not the same as taking care of patients or customers.  At work, interacting with sometimes difficult others, maintaining an exceptional level of competency and proficiency, and being an appropriate role model for new hires, is sometimes stressful beyond words. 

We are told that going home after work or having weekends off or taking vacation time is what helps us balance our lives and maintain good mental health.  But unlike newer automobiles, doing so is not always automatic.   It’s a learned skill that requires the mindfulness and practice much like driving an older car.  When the gears grind or the engine chokes down it likely means we’ve forgotten to do something essential for a healthy marriage, or family, or personal self.

Balance and shifting gears is not easy, but let me offer a few suggestions for when you find yourself grinding and choking:
·    Make a point of recalling your earlier practices when life was less complicated and more enjoyable.  What were you doing then that may need to be reclaimed now?
·    Examine whether your priorities have shifted and does your behavior match what you consider to be most important today?
·    Talk about your intentions to someone supportive of and important to you.  Words almost always sound different when spoken, than they do when they are only inside our head.
·    Plan to make changes.  Don’t just think about doing so.  Set some goals and time frames that are realistic for accomplishing what you need.  Then follow through, one step at a time, allowing for the occasional setback and restart.
·    Understand that personal balance and healthy relationships are not automatic.  They require you to shift the gears.
·    Ask for help if you struggle more with this than you think you should.  The EAP is a good choice for confidential assistance.

If you need to, call us—we can help.  770.834.8327