Tagged "Mental Health"

Could Skipping Out on Sleep Be the New Smoking?

Posted by Amina AlTai on

Okay. Real talk time.  We’ve all had to pull the occasional all-nighter, whether it’s to finish up work, take care of your children or play a video game ( I know who you are!!) In my twenties, I co-founded a marketing agency, and there were a few times where I slept in the office because I thought “I didn’t have time to go home.” So, instead of wasting 1.5 hours on commuting, I would stay at the office all night, sleep for 1.5 hours and then get back to business.

I can’t stress enough how terrible this is for your body. My lack of sleep and incredible amounts of stress were big contributors my worsening autoimmune conditions. What's more, studies have demonstrated that keeping your body awake for just 17 to 19 hours straight impacts performance more than a blood-alcohol level of .1 percent* (the legal limit in most Western European countries). This seemingly innocuous level of sleep deprivation slows a person’s reaction time down by 50 percent compared to a person who is well-rested.  So, if you’re driving your children around, or attempting to deliver a killer presentation, just keep in mind that you’re basically performing drunk.

So, what is the optimal amount of sleep?

It’s not the 8 hours the old adage would make you think. Though every body is different and needs varying levels of sleep and self-care Daniel Kripke, arguably the world’s most accomplished sleep researcher, says people that get between 6.5 and 7.5 hours of sleep per night are the happiest and most productive, and they live the longest. When we sleep, our body is focused on much-needed repair work. It’s the key to feeling energized, looking younger, staying slimmer and having a better functioning brain. On the flip side, too much sleep (anything in excess of eight hours per night) is actually correlated with significantly higher mortality rates.  Though, the research does point to lifestyle factors as contributors. So when it comes to sleep, balance is everything.  

Can we make up for lost sleep?

Many of my clients suffer from imbalanced sleep—they’ll get roughly 4-5 hours per week night and then attempt to “catch up” on the weekends. But, can we actually make up lost sleep?  A recent sleep study found that sleepiness, inflammation and stress hormones all returned to normal after weekend recovery sleep. However, measurements on performance tests that assessed participants ability to pay attention, significantly deteriorated after sleep deprivation and didn’t improve after recovery sleep. That is to suggest, weekday sleep debt can’t be recouped over just one weekend.

So what’s a busy professional to do in order to get the healthy amount of shut-eye?

  • Turn off all phones, computers, TVs, etc. an hour before bed. The blue light emitted from them tricks our brain into believing it’s time to be awake.
  • Keep your temperature between 65 and 69 degrees, as this is optimal for a sound slumber. Studies suggest that is where our bodies find the best sleep. Rachel Salas, MD, a neurologist at Johns Hopkins University who specializes in sleep medicine, cites a National Sleep Foundation study that puts the magic number at 65 degrees. But this largely depends on your body and resting metabolic rate, so test temperatures in this range.
  • Cut out cured meats and cheese before bed. They trigger the release of norepinephrine which can make us feel alert and wired.
  • Try a few relaxing yoga poses such as corpse pose, relaxing hero pose or legs up the wall pose.
  • Enlist a professional. Acupuncture is proven to provide relief to insomniacs. If you’re in NYC, check out my dear friend and DAOM, Dr. Sarah Emily Sajdak.
  • Supplement! Melatonin, kava kava, Gabba and valerian root can also help to provide relief from sleepless nights. Don’t self-medicate though: Share your concerns with your doctor or healthcare professional for recommendations that are safest for you.
  • Set healthy boundaries. My clients who usually have to pull the all-nighters are often the ones who raise their hands first to volunteer for extra work.  While we know we might have to occasionally accommodate work at off hours, always self-sacrificing to “prove” yourself will only make you ill.  Set promises to yourself about what you’re willing to do and what you’re not.  If cutting into sleep consistently is on that list, make sure you have the necessary conversations to set you up for success in that way. 
  • Meditate or do some breathing. Another biggie with my insomniac clients is unmanaged stress.  They come home late and their minds are racing going through the day and all that took place.  When you’re trying to fall asleep it’s important to try and get out of your head and into your body.  A short meditation or breathing exercise like the 4-7-8 breath is a great place to start.  


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Refresh Your Work Day with These Simple Tips

Posted by Julia McVeigh on

It's one thing to need a new job. It's another thing to have garden variety the work blahs. You know what we're talking about: You feel uninspired, bored and unproductive. You can't stop staring at the clock. And you can't muster up even the most basic energy to answer that lingering email. 

Don't succumb to this everyday malady -- try out one of these easy tips below. (Missing any? Let us know by leaving a comment on @busyhappyhealthy!) 

Take a new route to the office

It may sound silly, but adjusting your morning commute to the office can have positive, stimulating impacts on the brain. Not only are exercising your analytical and problem-solving skills (how will you get there?), you are stimulating other, more creative parts of your brain by exposing yourself to new environments and new stimuli. Added bonus: You may encounter a cute coffee shop en route! 

Bring flowers for your desk

Sprucing up your desk with some natural beauty may help boost your mood in the short term. Moreover, it may give your space a sense of serenity that could be somewhat lacking with your current assortment of office supplies...

Listen to new music

As someone who loves jamming out while she works, sometimes all it takes for me to get reinvigorated is to put some new tunes on the shuffle. I'm not alone in this observation, as the act of listening to music literally lights up our brains. In particular, I find exploring old and/or "forgotten" music to be particularly helpful when I'm feeling in a rut: Try revisiting songs from your childhood or throw on some classical music. 

Spend some time in the break room or kitchen

Back when I worked for an ad agency, one of my favorite ways to break up work monotony and get reinvigorated was to plop down in the kitchen and have a chat with whoever happened to be eating lunch there. Oftentimes, this would be a person that I never worked with, so it was a nice opportunity to get to know someone new, take a break from the usual colleague gossip and discuss ideas I would have otherwise not been exposed to. 

Take a true lunch break

When's the last time you actually took a full hour and went out of the office for lunch? If you're like most Americans, it was a long time ago; in fact, only 1 in 5 of us actually take a lunch break. Unfortunately, research has shown this can be detrimental to creative thinking, which is why it's important to make an effort to do so -- even if it only happens once every couple of weeks. When you do step out, be sure to use your time in a fulfilling, uplifting way: Maybe it's meeting up with an old friend for a bite; perhaps it's reading in the park or going for a long (cellphone-free) walk. We'll meet you on the park bench! 


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How to Negotiate a Great Wellness Package

Posted by Julia McVeigh on

When it comes to pursuing a new job, many of us are solely focused on the bottom line: Salary, bonus, equity. No doubt about it, money talks -- and it's a large determining factor when taking a new position. But money, it seems, isn't enough to keep employees satisfied. In fact, a recent study via jobs website Glassdoor noted something we've kind of known all along: Money doesn't buy employees happiness. What can buy happiness? Well, there remains consistent evidence that being healthy -- emotionally, physically and mentally -- are all positive indicators for happiness.

If wellness directly impacts our professional happiness, then, shouldn't be negotiating as rigorously for our health as we are for our money? That's what we think -- and ahead, we're dishing out some of the ways in which you can negotiate a great wellness package. 


Let these stats sink in: The U.S. is dead last in developing countries for our maternity and paternity leave policies, with only 12% of U.S. workers in the private sector being able to get paid family leave through their employer. Given this dismal state of affairs, it has never been more important to insert maternity and paternity leave into negotiations, particularly if you're planning on starting a family soon. While we still have a very long way to go, companies are increasingly beginning to understand the importance of a reasonable leave and most HR departments will be willing to negotiate (we think 12 weeks paid leave is the goal). 


So, you may be making the big bucks, but how's your vacation time looking? This is a personal one for me, as I once worked for a company that payed me very well, but offered only one week of vacation in my first year (which I couldn't take until I had worked there for six months!) Not surprisingly, that type of culture didn't bode well for me and I left within the year. (And took a serious vacation!) I use this anecdote to emphasize that getting vacation and paid time off is a really important negotiating point, especially when it comes to mental health. Push for at least two weeks and don't forget to cover sick leave, too. 


I have a good friend who just had her first child and was able to negotiate working from home every Friday with her employer. She told me that it's the best thing she's ever brokered -- better than any raise she could have ever asked for. She's not alone; telecommuters consistently report having more control over their schedules, feeling less burnout and stress and being able to spend more time with their families. So, if you're starting a new job and prefer working from home (or have a family and would like that flexibility), make that a negotiation point in your offer discussions.


Okay, you have a guaranteed bonus. But do you have a discounted gym membership? Seek to clarify the various employee health offerings that are available under your contract, including wellness discounts. Moreover, many progressive companies will lower our health insurance premiums if you take regular fitness assessments -- ask about it! 

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How to Embrace Your Sunday

Posted by Julia McVeigh on

I’ve always had mixed feelings about Sunday. Growing up, I was notoriously blue and anxious come Sunday evening – it meant going back to school (and homework), back to sports practice (after only one day of rest) and …back to reality. In my college years, this feeling only intensified, as a weekend’s worth of work often loomed over my head (alongside a mild beer hangover), and Sundays were often spent cramming late into the evening at the library. And throughout my twenties, my “Sunday Scaries” only intensified: Adult realities like returning to work, paying bills and generally “figuring my life out” all seemed insurmountable come Sunday evening.

While I still get the Sunday blues from time to time, I now see Sundays in a more positive light. For one, while my Saturdays are usually filled with social engagements, errands and to-dos, I seem to spend Sundays in ways that are much more thoughtful, restorative and mind clearing these days. Moreover, I now structure my Sundays in a way that gets me prepped – and dare I say excited – for the week ahead. Ahead, I’m sharing just some of these ways – how do you spend your Sunday?



We’ve talked about the benefits of meal prepping on this blog before, and let me tell you: I consider it to be a form of therapy on a Sunday. It gets me organized, it releases stress and it adds a sense of control and certainty to the ensuing week. That’s to say, it’s great knowing that in the coming days, I have items readily on hand for lunch, snacking and even dinner – a boon if you’re a busy person like me. Furthermore, meal prepping is a must-do if you’re trying to stay healthy and keep your budget in check, as it eliminates the need for that last-minute takeout.

Along those lines, cooking on a Sunday is a great tradition to get into, especially if you suffer from the “scaries": It gets your mind off of the week ahead, it gives you an outlet for creativity and it is just a really nourishing act. Added bonus: You have all weekend to shop for a Sunday dinner, so there’s no excuse about not being able to get to the supermarket.



This may sound like the most depressing use of a Sunday ever, but hear me out. Putting in a couple of hours of work on Sunday can make a world of difference come Monday morning, since you’re already ahead of the game, so to speak. Furthermore, peeking at your email (or workload) on a Sunday feels infinitely less overwhelming when you know that your boss or client isn’t breathing down your neck. So, the next time you’re dreading going through your inbox on a Monday morning, try starting the process on a Sunday – I promise you’ll feel more relaxed come the start of the week.



On the other end of the spectrum, I often reserve Sunday (or parts of Sunday) for a total shutdown of my usual communication channels – emails, texts, et cetera. This can be a liberating and relaxing exercise; one that helps to clear your mind and get you ready for the onslaught on communication for the week ahead. Try doing this for an hour in the beginning, gradually working your way up over time.



Come Monday morning, the list of must-dos suddenly feels insurmountable. But oftentimes, it’s hard to even parse out what it is you need to do versus what you feel like you need to do. For example, if you’re in the process of looking for a new job, you may start your week thinking, “I need to start finding a new job this week.” Which is a totally overwhelming statement – and one that won’t get you anywhere, either. Instead, try making your to-do list on a Sunday, when you’re feeling the most clearheaded and relaxed. Be as specific as possible and try putting dates / timelines next to each item. (In the case of job searching, maybe that means something like, “Monday evening: Contact old colleague with resume.”) You get the picture…



We just covered self-care on the blog; coincidentally, many of our recommendations are a great way to spend a Sunday. Whether this means coloring like a kid, having a spa day or taking a time to practice some meditation, earmark the last day of the week to give yourself some love.



Which brings me to my final (and favorite) way to spend a Sunday. In lieu of wallowing in your sorrows, use this day to catch up with friends and family. Whether it's a walk with your BFF or a phone call with your mom, these weekly check-ins about life can really help provide clarity when you’re feeling frantic or overwhelmed, plus they help you contextualize the problems that you’re facing. After all, you probably aren’t the only person who is stressed about having to go back to work. 

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Managing Workplace Stress & Mental Health

Posted by Amina AlTai on

When I first started my career, I was just like everybody else:  I kept my head down and worked hard.  I'd only sparingly use my vacation days, or hoard them to splurge on a long week away in Southeast Asia or Europe.  But the months, and sometimes years, in between vacations took their toll and work-related stress, deadlines and adulthood became a sure bet for anxiety and burnout.  And as much as I longed for a day at home under the covers to mentally reassemble myself, mental health days weren't something that were supported nor widely talked about. I just kept on trucking... until I could truck no more.    

Over a decade later, I'm no longer shy about the "M" word -- mental health -- and I take breaks often and with pride. Burnout is a very real scenario in our always-on culture and executives are now acknowledging that it is negatively impacting their business’ bottom line in a variety of ways.

At a high level, it increases health costs and impairs productivity—which can have significant implications for our overall economy. According to the Harvard Business School, unmanaged workplace stress accounts for 120,000 deaths annually (!) and 8% of national healthcare spending.  Couple that with the fact that 18.2% of the US adult population suffers from mental illness such as depression, and we have a real issue that needs addressing at the corporate level.  

Despite all of this, many corporations fail to recognize the importance of mental health and its link to performance.  In fact, a recent survey from a UK healthcare company found that 70% of employers didn't believe that stress or anxiety was a valid excuse for time off -- even though 25% of those surveyed had suffered some the same symptoms themselves. Mind-blowing.   

Which begs the question: What can we do to meaningfully address the issues of stress and burnout that result from our “always-on” culture? 

1. Negotiate: If you're starting a new job or getting promoted within in an existing organization, use your negotiating power to ask for more PTO. If your company doesn't offer mental health days, ask for more vacation days or sick days.  The best time to ask for what you want is when you have leverage.  

2. Make work your happy place: Decorate your workspace to reflect the best of your life.  Display pictures of your friends and loved ones.  Put up your vision board.  Bring in an aromatherapy candle.  Do whatever you need (within reason) to make your desk and your space feel like a happy place. 

3. Find quiet space: Offices can be full of ringing telephones, clacking keyboards and heated conversations; if you're sensitive to distractions, it can make your day even more stressful.  If you don't have your own office, book out a conference room from time to time to allow yourself space and time to breathe, meditate and have some alone time.  If work overall feels too hectic, work with your manager on defining your work from home policy.  

4. Take breaks: Productivity experts generally recommend the 90/10 rule—that is a ten minute break for every ninety minutes of focused activity.  In those ten minutes, go for a walk, clear your head or eat some brain-boosting foods to support your wellbeing and output.   

5. Take vacations: Over 50% of the US workforce finishes the year with unused vacation days.  However, all the data suggests that time away from work is beneficial for your mind and for your work productivity.  A recent study of 481 US adults found that those who used their vacation days performed better, were more productive, and more satisfied with their jobs—not to mention happier.  

6. Enlist the support of HR: Many corporations support employee wellness programs these days.  However, if your workplace isn't one of them, talk to your HR manager about the ways you'd like to be supported in your office.  That could be anything from workshops, group fitness classes to an overall policy reform.  You never know what can change can occur until you ask.  

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