Wellness

The university has supports for you, including the university’s Employee and Family Assistance Program.  

There is a list of other wellness resources available to the community on the Human Resources & Equity website which is updated frequently. 

Faculty of Medicine Health and Wellness is a Sharepoint site designed for administrative, research and technical staff to learn about new wellness initiatives at the University, participate in discussion forums with your colleagues, and to access great resources including self-help articles, yoga/meditation videos and much more. 

Physician wellness and burnout

Physician wellness: how research is investigating burnout - Dr. Julia Keith, Neuropathologist and Director of Wellness, Laboratory Medicine and Molecular Diagnostics at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and Associate Professor in LMP, reviews some of the literature around wellness for physicians. 

Words of wellness

Flourishing above languishing: May 2021

It has been fourteen months since COVID19 was declared a pandemic, and many of us are feeling exhausted, struggling to see light at the end of the tunnel. Recent articles in the New York Times caught my attention; they dealt with languishing and flourishing, two very different states of mind.

You may need a subscription to access these articles from The New York Times.

The first article, There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing, by Adam Grant, considered the state of languishing. This lies somewhere between thriving and burnout, where we are feeling ‘okay’ but lacking meaning and purpose. It was described as a feeling of “stagnation and emptiness”. The article made the point that thriving and burnout are not absolutes, but points on a scale with many stages, including languishing, between the two.

The second article, Don’t Languish, Flourish, by Dani Blum, spoke about the state of flourishing. She wrote “[flourishing] is living the good life … in a state in which all aspects of a person’s life are good.” We are thriving, living fully with meaning and purpose.

There are several actions that can help us move from languishing to flourishing and thriving. The good news is that these actions are accessible and simple!

  • Focus on small goals and celebrate small things. Tiny victories – finishing that report, cleaning a desk, finally getting to that email after 5 weeks – all these can and should be savored.
  • Practice gratitude. Creating a weekly ritual to reflect upon what we are grateful for. Personally, I feel good by doing this while commuting on Friday night.
  • Random acts of kindness. It is scientifically proven that helping others helps us flourish. Thanking someone for the role they play in our life. It can be a colleague, a family member or a mentor.
  • Look for significant others. As the weather gets warmer, reconnecting with those that fill a need in our life, those who help us smile, feel good and appreciated – someone to exercise with, a sports fan to commiserate with, or a dog park acquaintance.

Many of us are somewhere between languishing and flourishing. Using these few tips may help push the scale more toward flourishing. Thrive on!

Best,

Gino Somers

On Behalf of the Wellness, Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Committee

Supporting psychological safety: April 2021

There are many definitions of psychological safety. In essence, it is creating an environment where people can be themselves. This allows everyone to feel comfortable speaking their mind, trying out new ideas, making mistakes, and talking about vulnerabilities without fear of consequences. Psychological safety can cause subtle shifts in mindset; seeing the workplace as challenging (with rewards for work well done) rather than threatening (with punishment for mistakes).

Many studies have shown that psychological safety enhances team building, allows for innovation, and creates a more harmonious and happier workplace. On an individual level, it allows us to become more resilient, more open-minded, and more adept at finding solutions. At the institutional level, psychological safety improves the retention of staff and increases diversity, inclusion, excellence, and productivity.

So how do we foster psychological safety in our teams?

Each one of us can play an important role by setting the following examples:

  1. Ensure you give everyone on your team the chance to put forward their ideas and opinions. With so many virtual meetings, it’s even more important to make the extra effort to be inclusive and actively ask for ideas and divergent opinions before deciding on a course of action.
  2. Approach conflict as a collaborator not as an adversary. Strive for win-win situations.
  3. Treat the other person as you would yourself, with hopes, anxieties and vulnerabilities, and the need to be respected, just like you.
  4. Replace blame with curiosity. Be genuinely interested in exploring other people’s opinions and perspectives.
  5. Foster a sense of belonging – everyone has a different, but vital, role to play for the success of the team.

There's lots of online resources you can access if you want to know more about psychological safety. 

What is psychological safety? On the Friday blog

High-Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety. Here’s How to Create It in the Harvard Business Review

How to Foster Psychological Safety in Virtual Meetings in the Harvard Business Review

Gino Somers

On Behalf of the Wellness Inclusion Diversity and Equity Committee

This is the right decision…isn’t it?: March 2021

For all of us, decision-making is challenging at the best of times, and this difficulty is amplified during a crisis.

It’s well known that thoughtful deliberation about each alternative is important and leads to better outcomes. However, there’s a point where helpful deliberation turns into overthinking, and leads to fatigue and unnecessary delays.

If you can relate to this, here are some ideas to help with “thinking on your feet”:

  1. Perfection is the enemy of the good (Voltaire). You simply cannot know everything there is to know before deciding on a course of action. Ask yourself: “Based on the information I have at this moment and my experience, what’s the best next step?”
  2. Perspective and priorities. Problems come in all different sizes. Is this a problem worth obsessing over? If you’re unsure, ask yourself how you might feel about the problem in 10 days, 10 weeks and 10 months. This will help choose issues worth spending more time on.
  3. The science and art of medicine - trust your gut. Research has shown that by combining analytical thinking with intuition leads to better, faster and more accurate decisions than relying on intellect alone.
  4. Boundaries. Set aside time to make specific decisions. Give yourself a time limit, make that decision, and move on.

Gino Somers
On Behalf of the Wellness Inclusion Diversity and Equity Committee

This has been modified & condensed from a recent article in the Harvard Business Review by Melody Wilding: How to Stop Overthinking Everything

You need more ‘Significant Others’: February 2021

There was an interesting article in the New York Times a few weeks ago, simply titled “We Needed More Significant Others”.

The author’s husband had just had his right foot amputated after a diagnosis of osteosarcoma, and what followed, she said, was “the hardest year of our lives”. After surgery followed chemotherapy and pain management issues, and all of this during the year of COVID. What helped them get through this, she said, was the discovery of “other significant others.”

“Other significant others” is a phrase used by psychologists for people who meet different needs in your life.

I’m sure you all understand the concept: like team sport, or a choir, or an orchestra, each person plays a specific role, the sum being greater than its parts.

So, find those people – someone to exercise with, someone you can talk about work issues with, someone to commiserate with about sports, someone with whom you can discuss research ideas, or people at the park to swap dog stories with (it’s a real social event in our neighbourhood!).

According to the experts, this is something that allows us to thrive, not just survive.

Gino Somers

On Behalf of the Wellness, Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Committee

January Blues: January 2021

January often brings feelings of melancholy and dreariness. It’s a far cry from late November and December, when the approaching holiday season provides us with added energy and goodwill.

So why does January feel so ‘blue’?

There are several reasons:

  • the holidays are over, and we are facing another year of hard work and long hours;
  • debts need to be repaid;
  • we tend to eat more and exercise less over the holidays, which can make us feel sluggish; and
  • days are shorter and colder.

We also have COVID to contend with, with rising case numbers, another lockdown, and remote learning for students of all ages.

Also thrown into the mix are continued travel restrictions, which meant that many of us were unable to connect with family as we normally would this time of year.

So, it’s no surprise that in 2021, January might be particularly challenging.

What can we do to fight the January blues? Here’s some general advice and some COVID-specific developments that might help:

  1. Exercise and outdoor activities. Getting outside, exercising and soaking up some sunshine are all beneficial for your wellbeing and mental health. Simply a walk around the block can be beneficial.
  2. Actively gauge and reduce your screen time on all devices. I’ve been surprised that every week since early December, my screen time has increased. My aim is to decrease my nonwork-related screen time in the coming weeks. I’ll keep you posted on my progress!
  3. Do something that brings you joy. Clean one area of your house; read that book you’ve been meaning to finish; start a “January hobby” that you can ditch on the 31st if you want (I’ve started experimenting with a form of poetry called ‘cento’).
  4. COVID developments. Over the coming months, the vaccine will become available to many of us, bringing a greater sense of safety and the first step to increasing social activities and the ability to see family and friends more easily.
  5. Last but not least, the Temerty Faculty of Medicine has prioritized wellness, so an emphasis on your wellbeing will extend well beyond COVID.

I wish everyone a healthy, safe and productive 2021, and encourage you to reach out to friends, colleagues or mentors to share your thoughts and experiences.

Gino Somers

On Behalf of the Wellness, Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Committee

How did I get here? Imposter syndrome and how to fight back: December 2020

Have you ever felt like you don’t belong at U of T? You feel your evident success is based on luck or timing or some other undeserved twist of fate? That you’re just one failure away from being ‘found out’?

This is imposter syndrome, and it is common in highly successful, high-achieving individuals. It’s even more prevalent now, during these unprecedented times of COVID and all its upheavals. I’ve certainly had my share of moments where I’ve felt inadequate, unqualified or just plain useless, and I’m sure I’ll come across them again.

Here are some tips from the experts:

  1. Recognize these moments for what they are. Is there a pattern to these feelings? Do you find certain situations that trigger these emotions?
  2. Review the facts. Look at your CV. Remember how grateful your mentors, mentees and colleagues are for the work you do. You are qualified, you are capable.
  3. Talk about these feelings with a trusted colleague, mentor or friend. You’ll be surprised at how many of us have had similar thoughts and feelings.
  4. Be kind to yourself. Working during a pandemic takes courage, determination and compassion. We are ordinary people doing an extraordinary job in extraordinary times.

If you’re interested in further reading, here are some links:

Gino Somers

On behalf of the Wellness Inclusion Diversity and Equity Committee

Connecting across the great divide during COVID: November 2020

It’s already November, and the holiday season is fast approaching.

For many of us, this is a time to travel to reconnect with family, disconnect from work and immerse ourselves in holiday traditions.

Although this year has prevented us from traveling, there’s no reason we can’t still celebrate, albeit in a different way.

Several websites have devoted themselves to finding novel ways of reconnecting with loved ones during the pandemic. Here are a few highlights (I especially like #5!):

  1. Organize an online quiz or trivia night with family members. There are several websites that you can use for this, or you can design your own questions – the possibilities are endless!
  2. Try cooking together in a virtual kitchen. I’ve provided an example of one such service below (one that I personally tried as part of a recent conference I attended – it was great fun!), but I’m sure there’s many more out there that you can use to book a group cooking extravaganza.
  3. Watch a movie together. You can do this formally, through apps such as Netflix Party, or just hit ‘play’ at the same time and text/chat away while eating popcorn. ‘Christmas Vacation’ is my personal favorite!
  4. Take a virtual group tour of the Louvre (or any of the Smithsonians, or Tate Modern – whatever takes your fancy). There’s lots to choose from and it’s free!
  5. If you’re all Zoomed out, try writing a letter or card to someone. It’s such a lovely surprise to get a handwritten note, when most things are digital and disappear into the ether…

What are you waiting for? Start planning!

Cooking classes from the Institute of Culinary Education

Gino Somers

On Behalf of the Wellness Inclusion Diversity and Equity Committee

Self-care is not optional: November 2020

We are heading into the eighth month since the pandemic, and many of us have had a very different 2020 to what we imagined in February!

It's also November, with all that entails: shorter days, colder weather and less sunshine and outdoor activity. Add increased academic activities and deadlines, the upcoming holiday season, no wonder some of us are feeling 'pandemic fatigue'.

In the midst of all that, we have to take care of ourselves first.

You might think that you're too busy to practice self-care or even read about it - but it's during crises that we need to find time to reflect and recharge. Self-care is directly beneficial to your work performance - it improves decision making and boosts productivity, and is an essential part of maintaining resilience. It's like putting your own oxygen mask on first.

Here are a few tips

  1. Set boundaries. For example, set a hard deadline for checking emails and work messages, and stick to it. Turn off notifications while you watch your favourite show, read a book or exercise.
  2. Bring home to work. We all take work home, but try bringing a little of your home life to work. Schedule time for 'micro check-ins' with your significant others via text or phone. Put a sticker on your laptop (my favourite is Captain America); ask your partner/children to put notes in your bag; eat a favourite candy or treat from childhood.
  3. Schedule downtime at work. Set aside time for checking in with your favourite news or wellness site, sports team (go Gunners), YouTube channels, or social media apps. Take a moment to peer out a window and see what's outside or better yet get outside for a moment or two. Relish the escape from reality for a brief period.
  4. Be in the moment. Enjoy what you do, take pleasure in your amazing ability, and remember - we are ordinary people doing an extraordinary job in extraordinary times.

Resources

"Serious" Leaders Need Self-Care, Too an article in Harvard Business Review

Mental health awareness: October 2020 

October was Mental Health Awareness Month in Canada. Many people have been experiencing stress and poor mental health due to the fear and uncertainty that surrounds the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each year, 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental illness or mental health issue, but 5 in 5 Canadians has mental health – we all need social connection.

Social inclusion and social integration have been identified by the WHO and the UN as important protective factors for good mental health. During these times, it is important to check-in with yourself and others regarding your mental health and well-being or reach out to others for help.

The Ontario government has announced an expansion of online and virtual mental health supports like BounceBack. BounceBack is a free, guided self-help, life-skills program for people who are experiencing mild-to-moderate anxiety or depression. 

Anxiety Canada has been working to develop free digital resources based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) that teach people about anxiety and how to cope. You can download the MindShift CBT app for free here from their website.

  • Need Help? Call ConnexOntario at 1-866-531-2600
  • If you are in crisis, please call 911 or Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 . You can also contact crisis services at 1-833-456-4566 toll free (In QC: 1-866-277-3553), 24/7 or visit www.crisisservicescanada.ca
  • U of T also has a full list of resources or visit the LMP page: How to get help.

Asking for help: October 2020 

We have been trained throughout our personal and professional lives to be self-reliant and not to bother anyone. These days, more than ever, we are beginning to appreciate the healing power of asking for help and of lending a helping hand. In the next week, try asking for help from a colleague or a family member. 

“Pooh, what is the bravest thing you ever said?”, asked Piglet. “Help”, said Pooh. 

TED talk - How to ask for help by Dr Heidi Grant