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#2 The Science Behind Improving Your Emotional and Psychological Wellbeing

20th May 2019

Thanks to neuroscience we don’t just have to take a stab in the dark anymore about what will help us improve our emotional wellbeing. We can actually pinpoint which neuro transmitters make us feel a certain way and in turn shift our behaviours to top up those ones that are depleted. In this blog series we take a look at each neurotransmitter system, which behaviours and moods it is responsible for and what you can do to optimise this neurotransmitter system to improve your wellbeing. Last week was serotonin – the willpower chemical, this week it is…

Norepinephrine – Brain fog or racing thoughts?

In general terms each different neurotransmitter contributes to a different symptom of depression or anxiety. Serotonin as we discovered in last week’s blog is responsible for a lack of willpower or motivation. Norepinephrine (or noradrenaline), generally, is responsible for concentration and focussed thinking as well as physical responses. If you are experiencing brain fog or an inability to concentrate it may be due to a lack of norepinephrine.

By way of explanation, norepinephrine is both a neurotransmitter and a stress hormone. It is released into your blood system as a stress hormone when your brain perceives that a threat or danger is imminent. In your bloodstream, it contributes to your heart racing faster, increases the flow of blood to your muscles as part of the “fight or flight” response. As a neurotransmitter in our central nervous system, it increases arousal and alertness. Low levels of norepinephrine have been shown to play a role in ADHD, depression, and low blood pressure and an inability to focus and concentrate. People with depression often find it difficult to concentrate and participate in deep thinking which is usually because of a lagging norepinephrine system. In fact, the most commonly used families of antidepressants target increasing norepinephrine as well as other neurotransmitters such as serotonin. As with any neurotransmitter, your levels can be either too high or too low. Too much norepinephrine, you’ll be more likely to experience anxiety and insomnia, with a sudden burst even triggering panic attacks.

So what can we do to get a healthy balance in our norepinephrine system?

Neuroscientist, Dr Alex Korb, explains in his book, The Upwards Spiral, that along with boosting serotonin activity, aerobic exercise also increases norepinephrine. So if you tend more towards feelings of depression and fatigue, it can be difficult to motivate yourself to go on a run. So maybe try rewarding yourself after a small burst of exercise with what you actually feel like doing, like watching TV or scrolling through your Instagram feed. Korb says this can be a good way to begin to insert a little activity in your inactivity.

Really need to top up your norepinephrine? Try a cold water plunge after your exercise or a sauna, both of these activities have been shown to increase your norepinephrine by 2 or 3 times. In terms of diet, caffeine triggers the release of norepinephrine so coffee and chocolate may be useful in moderation. Also meat, fish, eggs, nuts and cheese support higher levels of norepinephrine.  There are also some natural supplements that can increase the production of norepinephrine, but it is important that you talk to your doctor before changing what supplements you are taking as you want to be sure whatever you take will not have negative affects on your other symptoms if you are experiencing a mental health issue.

But what do you do if you are experiencing high levels of norepinephrine? You might become aware of this if you experience a racing heart, panic and anxiety as well as a wide range of physical symptoms like high blood pressure. Focus on calming activities, taking slow mindful breaths and trying to relax. At a more heightened level, those who have undergone cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to support them address maladaptive thinking and behavioural patterns for anxiety typically reported lower levels of norepinephrine after completion of a CBT program. Taking a melatonin supplement and then resting can also reduce your norepinephrine levels. Again, it is important to consult your doctor or a mental health professional before changing your natural supplements.

Norepinephrine is a complex neurotransmitter and stress hormone that plays an essential part in keeping us safe and moderating our mood and thinking. We can notice when we might be low in this important neurotransmitter and can try a few simple activities like exercise, caffeine and splashing cold water on your face to boost it. Techniques like mindfulness may help to reduce symptoms of excessive production.

So there you have it, norepinephrine; experiencing brain fog or fatigue - work at increasing its production in your brain, experiencing racing thoughts or panic attacks - work at decreasing it’s production. Next up; dopamine, helps to boost enjoyment and is key for changing bad habits.

#2 What would Rachel do?

29th April 2019

What do you do if you are going for a promotion, but there are competing co-workers?

In this blog series, I take common challenging scenarios in the workplace and give you my insights on how best to handle them from over 25 years of experience in workplace mental health and wellbeing.

Are you at the point of thinking it is time to take that occupational leap? Are you ready for the next thing to come? Job promotions are exciting but can also be daunting too. Opportunities for promotion may not come around that often, so when they do, you may want to be prepared. And you may not only need to consider how to best present yourself, but often you may find yourself competing with a colleague or a few for the same position.

In many instances, things may get messy or complicated. There are cases of backstabbing, putting other colleagues down, or a sense of bitterness. Or maybe there is jealousy or occasions of social comparison, which can do our mental health a disservice causing feelings of uncertainty and insecurity. Job promotions can come at the cost of workplace relationships. But, believe it or not, it doesn’t have to be that way! So, what can you do to best manage this journey?

The short answer is that I advise trying to keep yourself in check, making sure you are coping okay, while bearing in mind those around you.

More specifically, I’ll summarise what I would do below.

Don’t ignore the fact that there is competition. It may be tempting to avoid having a conversation with your colleague when you find out they are going for the same job. It will only make things harder if they know you are their competition. In actual fact, I would suggest doing the opposite. Don’t let the awkwardness bubble and overflow. Simply, checking in and saying something like, “hey, I heard that you’re also applying for the manager role too. I put my application in on Monday. I think you would be great as well!” By doing so, it creates a positive team culture that diminishes any uncomfortable feelings or tension. Furthermore, it addresses the elephant in the room, and as a result, you will probably be more relaxed throughout the process.

Don’t play dirty. It may seem tempting to undermine your competition in the hope of pushing yourself forward, but do not do it! Even if you think they are doing it to you. Be the bigger person, which should shine through to your boss at the end of the day. Playing dirty is only going to end in one way: as a poor reflection on you. Whether your boss sees right through you straight away and thinks you are too immature for the role or you lose a workplace friendship over the matter, it isn’t worth it. Channel your energy toward presenting yourself as the best candidate, rather than being caught up in putting the other candidate down.

Don’t be a bad winner or loser. Yes, it can be difficult to compose yourself when you hear really great news that you were hoping and striving for. Just as it is extremely challenging to keep it together if you honestly believed or thought the job was yours, but it was given to someone else. But, take a moment to process and reflect on the situation before saying or doing anything in the heightened emotional state. If you’ve obtained the job, bear in mind others’ feelings and the fact that they may have really wanted the job. Rubbing it in to the other person is not nice, whether it is intentional or not. And it does not reflect well on you as a leader or as someone who can emotionally regulate. On the other hand, if you have ‘lost’ this time around, maintaining your dignity will only serve you well. After all, who knows what is around the next corner?

It is important that during this process of applying, waiting and receiving news, that you are kind to yourself. Remind yourself that it is okay to be frustrated if you missed out this time. But redirect that energy to work on yourself. How can you be the best that you can be? What do you need to work on – within reasonable means – to develop your skills and development? In addition, reflect on whether you are coping okay as going for a job promotion can be stressful! Take some time out to debrief with a friend or your manager, where appropriate, and spend some time for yourself where you can detach yourself from the workplace and recalibrate.

#1 The Science Behind Improving Your Emotional and Psychological Wellbeing

24th April 2019

We run hundreds of training programs within organisations every year, looking to improve people’s wellbeing through positive behaviour changes. The thing is, most of us already know we could  be doing things to improve our wellbeing yet we can’t seem to bridge the gap between knowing it is good for us and actually doing it. With emotional and psychological wellbeing in particular, it can be difficult to pin point exactly what you need to do to shift your mood and patterns of behaviour in a more positive direction. Thanks to neuroscience we don’t just have to take a stab in the dark, we can actually pinpoint which neuro transmitters make us feel a certain way and in turn shift our behaviours to top up those ones that are depleted. In this blog series we take a look at each neurotransmitter system, which behaviours and moods it is responsible for and what you can do to optimise this neurotransmitter system to improve your wellbeing.

Serotonin – Will I or Won’t I?

Known as the willpower chemical in our brain, Serotonin is one of the inhibitory neurotransmitters responsible for delaying gratification and balancing out any excessive excitatory (stimulating) neurotransmitters like dopamine that are firing in the brain. In our daily lives we rely on our serotonin neurotransmitters to be firing to ensure we persevere with challenges to reach long term goals instead of giving into something that would provide more instant gratification.

Low levels of serotonin can contribute to us struggling to commit or follow through on commitments, feeling a little down, being annoyed easily, or struggling to control our impulses. The cause of low serotonin levels can be due to many things; it could be that your brain has fewer receptors or they aren’t grabbing onto the serotonin very well, or maybe your brain is making less serotonin to begin with, or maybe the serotonin being released is being sucked back into the neuron too quickly for it to have an effect.  This is where antidepressants can have a positive impact as many of them block serotonin sucking proteins, allowing more serotonin to be active in the brain for longer. While antidepressants are effective and best-practice for treating low levels of serotonin activity, so too are developing specific positive behaviours that directly improve our serotonin activity.

So what can we do to boost our serotonin activity?

Neuroscientist, Dr Alex Korb, identifies four ways you can enhance your serotonin activity and improve your ability to create positive habits to improve your wellbeing. These include:

  1. Sunlight: Vitamin D, among its many important functions in our bodies, promotes serotonin production and as most of us know vitamin D is produced when the UV rays in sunlight are absorbed through our skin. Bright sunlight also helps prevent the serotonin transporter from sucking it away so it remains active in the brain for longer, which is something that antidepressants also do.
  2. Massage: We know a massage makes us feel good but knowing why might encourage  you to book in for one on a regular basis or at least prioritise it in times of increased pressure, stress, or when experiencing symptoms of depression. A study published in the international Journal of Neuroscience showed a 31% decrease in cortisol levels, an average increase of 28% was noted for serotonin and an average increase of 31% was noted for dopamine, following massage therapy.
  3. Aerobic Exercise: You may have heard that exercise is the body’s natural anti-depressant, but aerobic exercise is particularly important for boosting serotonin. Running, biking, aerobics class, are all good options. Feeling forced to exercise doesn’t work though, it changes the neurochemical effect, so it is important that you recognise that you are choosing to exercise to have the desired boost to your serotonin.
  4. Remembering Happy Memories: It’s simple yet tremendously effective. All you have to do is remember a positive event  in your life. Remember it in detail with your senses sights, smells, feelings. You may find it helpful to write it down, or look at photo’s. The effect is two-fold, as studies show that remembering sad events decreases serotonin production, so when you remember positive events it not only increases your serotonin production, but it also stops you thinking of sad events.

So there you have it, serotonin; work at increasing it’s production in your brain for the next week and see if you notice an improvement in your mood and motivation to follow through and complete something you have been working on for a while. Next up; norepinephrine, responsible for enhancing thinking, focus and handling stress.

1# What would Rachel do?

11th April 2019

In this blog series, I take common challenging scenarios in the workplace and give you my insights on how best to handle them from over 25 years of experience in workplace mental health and wellbeing.

What do you do if your boss is not travelling well, how do you ask them if they are okay?

You may be under the impression that it is your boss’ responsibility to look out for you, and it is not your ‘role’ to look out for them. But what happens when they are not travelling well? What can you do? Is there a way that you can check in with them that is appropriate and respectful?

Research estimates that one in four individuals will experience a mental health condition at some point in their life. This means it is highly likely that not only your team members, but potentially also your boss, will at some point be going through a difficult time or will be managing a mental health concern. The question then might become, what do you do? If you notice warning signs in your boss that they are not travelling well, should you, and if so, how should you, ask if they are okay?

Considering this line of thought, the first thing I would ask you to think about is what are the warning signs that your boss is not travelling so well?

There are a number of warning signs that can be present. However, it may be even more difficult to identify in your boss as they may be more likely to try and mask them and hide them from their employees. A quick tip to keep in mind is to think about whether there are any evident changes in behaviour or mood. Can you identify when these changes first occurred? And what they are? They may manifest in a range of domains of functioning. These can include a drastic change in mood or affect. Is your boss indicating a sense of hopelessness, or appearing as more aggressive or irritable than usual? Perhaps, they are arriving late or spending less and less time in the office, or maybe it’s the opposite, and they are over doing it, working longer hours and never giving themselves a break. Do they appear exhausted and poorly slept? Has there been a drastic change in weight? Do they seem to be struggling to concentrate or keep up with their regular responsibilities? Bear these in mind and consider what they may mean.

The second thing I would suggest is to reflect for a moment on how you can approach your boss. Every workplace is different and every boss-employee relationship is different. What are the dynamics? What are you comfortable with, let alone what would they be comfortable with?

If you think you are the person to directly check in with your boss as you have a good relationship with him or her, I would suggest adopting and adapting some tips from R U OK? Take some time thinking about whether you are ready to have this conversation – are you in a good headspace to listen and show concern? Are you comfortable with maybe hearing that they are not okay, while at the same time knowing that it is not your responsibility to “fix” their problems? What about where you will have the conversation – is it somewhere where you have enough time and where it is private, yet informal and comfortable?

If you are still okay to proceed with having the conversation there are a few steps you can follow. After identifying a suitable time and location for having a chat, start the conversation by asking something such as “how are you going?” Remember to be friendly in your approach, while noting explicit examples of why you may be concerned, such as them working extra long hours of late. If they don’t want to open up or respond, respect that and tell them you are here if they need. If they do decide to open up to you, remember to be patient, non-judgemental, respectful and supportive. You could then reflect that it sounds as if things have been difficult or that it seems like they have a lot on their plate and it’s understandable that they may be stressed. If it seems appropriate, you could discuss options such as them seeking support, or taking some time out for self-care. After this conversation, you could check in in a couple of weeks, indicating your care and concern and making sure they are alright.

Another thing to consider is that if you can’t go directly to your boss – which may not seem feasible in some contexts – you could seek support from HR or from another manager. You could have a confidential chat with them, discussing your concerns, and asking how they – or you – could best assist. In this way, you are indicating your concern, but are appropriately handing it over to someone who may be more suitable to intervening.

I would also suggest that you ensure that you are doing okay yourself. It can be emotional and challenging being the person on the other side of things. Keep your wellbeing in check but understanding the boundaries, not taking on too much and looking after yourself by adopting self-care activities. You could also speak to a family member, friend, or health professional (including EAP) if you are feeling overwhelmed or distressed.

Vicarious Trauma in the Newsroom – Landmark Ruling

7th March 2019

Debra Brodowski, National Manager of Psychological Services, comments on the landmark ruling by an Australian court which spotlights the importance of media companies providing a framework for managing vicarious trauma, a major psychosocial risk factor for the industry as a whole.

On February 22 2019, the Victorian County Court awarded a journalist from The Age Newspaper $180,000 for the psychological injury experienced during the decade she worked for the newspaper. During her decade of reporting at the newspaper she reported on 32 murders and many more traumatic cases in her main role as a court reporter. When reading through the judgement it’s hard to imagine someone not experiencing some sort of vicarious trauma, being exposed to so many traumatic and at times gruesome details of these cases.

So what are the unique psychosocial risk factors of being journalists?

Working as a journalist, especially one who covers particularly traumatic events, comes with its own set of unique psychosocial risk factors which need to be addressed. These include:

  • A high work load
  • Extremely tight dead lines
  • Potential exposure to traumatic incidents
  • Witness to, or experience of, threats of harm or homicide
  • Relationships formed with victims of the stories they are reporting on
  • The quality of their relationship with their peers and direct manager
  • Lack of screening for suitability to a role such as a crime reporter etc.

Knowing these are risks, it’s important that media organisations understand their duty of care in relation to these risks.

What is the duty of care?

Not only do we have a social and moral obligation to support the wellbeing of others, we also have a legal obligation. Under the WHS Act, we have a duty of care to identify, assess, and manage the risk of an employee from a wellbeing perspective. This means that if we see or hear someone who may be exposed to psychosocial risk, we have a responsibility to provide support. 

What can media companies do to mitigate these unique psychosocial risk factors?

It is important for media companies to implement various risk mitigating services to create a buffer so the impact of these unique psychosocial risk factors don’t grip their journalists and swallow them whole. Our framework for the media organisations we work with here at the Centre for Corporate Health includes a three-tiered approach:

  1. Prevention
    1. Screening for job appropriateness
    2. Vicarious trauma training
    3. Peer support programs
    4. Training for managers on leading a psychologically safe team
    5. Training on resilience and recovery
    6. Well checks
  2. Intervention
    1. Implementation of the Mental Health Intervention Framework
  3. Recovery
    1. Early intervention
    2. Wellbeing assessments
    3. Ongoing counselling
    4. Psychological rehabilitation

For more information on our suite of services for mitigating psychosocial risk factors in the media industry, please contact us at or on 02 8243 1500.

Creating a Psychologically Safe Team

22nd February 2019

By Rachel Clements, Director of Psychological Services

Creating a psychologically safe team isn’t an easy feat, but the benefits are exponentially worth it. Amy Edmondson, a professor from Harvard Business School, defines a psychologically safe team as “A shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking”. As she mentions in her 2015 Tedx Talk, “nobody wakes up in the morning wanting to go to work to feel ignorant, incompetent, intrusive or negative”. In Edmondson’s research she has found that the top teams who make the fewest errors were not in fact the most productive teams, as it turns out better performing teams are the ones making more errors than worse performing ones. The reason behind this finding is that teams making the most errors but they feel able to admit mistakes and discuss them, learn more and enter into more of a growth mindset.

The biggest barrier to creating a psychologically safe team where individuals feel they can speak up about their opinion without having the fear of being shut down or criticised, is ego. The individual’s ego and the ego of their superior. Take, for instance, an executive who has only recently joined the company - she is involved in a meeting with other executives where they are all enthusiastically discussing a new merger which is almost complete. The new executive has knowledge of the company they are about to merge with and is of the belief that it is not a good idea, for some legitimate reasons. Instead of voicing her opinion she keeps quiet. In another situation a pilot notices that his superior has made an operational error, instead of speaking up, he remains quiet. Now you may think, if that was me, I would totally speak up, however it is surprising the amount of times we remain silent to protect our ego and avoid criticism.

So just how do you create a team culture where individual’s drop their ego’s and are able to voice their opinions without the fear for being shut down, criticised unfairly or judged if their opinion ends up being wrong?

As a Leader

  1. You need to drop your ego. You may think you already have your ego in check, however overcoming your ego is a constant challenge that you need to work at. As a leader it can be difficult to overcome the notion that your opinion is more important than those in your team, especially when you make the ultimate decision. Don’t get stuck filling meetings with words of wisdom from your last 20 years. Start being more concerned about the needs and accomplishments of other people than you are with your own.
  2. You too are fallible. Own up to your mistakes, in fact down right brag about them! The more you let people know you are fallible by using statements like “I may miss something” or “this isn’t my strength, I need to hear from you” the more your team will begin to feel they can do the same without judgement or repercussions.
  3. Be curious. Ask questions and listen. Really listen. Team members who feel heard are more likely to speak up instead of thinking ‘what’s the point, she never listens to me anyway’.
  4. Be accountable. The only way to call up your team to be accountable for excellence, is to do so yourself. John Miller, author of “The Question Behind the Question” identifies key words that indicate when a question is coming from a victim context and not from a place of accountability, “why” being one of them. “Why doesn’t anyone tell me anything?” “Why do things keep changing ?”Miller explains that accountable questions start with “what” or “how”, and must include the word “I” and end with an action verb. So get accountable yourself before calling on others in your team to do so.

When discussing psychologically safe teams, Edmondson refers to three categories; the “learning zone”, when leaders allow for questions and discussions and also hold their employees accountable for excellence, “the anxiety zone”, when leaders only hold their employees accountable for excellence without creating psychological safety, and “the comfort zone” when leaders only create psychological safety without holding their employees accountable for excellence.

So what are the benefits of shifting to the “learning zone”?

  1. “How can I out-perform?” becomes “what can I do to help?”. Instead of employees competing against each other to be seen the best at their job, which is a self-serving goal to feed their ego, in a psychologically safe team, employees develop healthy interpersonal relationships and work in collaboration towards the greater good i.e. achieving company goals.
  2. Being right is replaced by innovation. Instead of employees being concerned with being right all the time, in psychologically safe teams, employees are encouraged to think outside the box, innovate and test out their ideas without the fear of failure.
  3. “Everything is fine” becomes “I could do with some help”. Instead of a team member struggling with a problem on their own, in a psychologically safe team, employees don’t fear their weaknesses, they own them and call on others to help.

When all is said and done, psychological safety in the workplace is about providing a safe space for employees to be their full selves.

Want to learn more about how to create psychologically safe teams and workplaces? Register now for our Free Lunch Seminar.

20 Year of Insights - Penny Myerscough

22nd February 2019

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Centre for Corporate Health, that’s 20 years of insights into creating mentally healthy workplace, responding to critical incidents, strengthening resilience and improving wellbeing. So in honour of the last 20 years, we have asked our founders, senior leaders and senior psychologists to share their insights and most impactful stories from the work they have done with the Centre for Corporate Health.

Penny Myerscough, Senior Consultant Psychologist
1.  What is the most interesting insight you have gained from the work we do in mental health and wellbeing at work?

The importance of leadership in team wellbeing. That is, where leaders are supportive and invest in establishing trust with their team, it makes an enormous difference in how those team members manage and recover from mental health issues. For many managers, engaging in their people is not high on their agenda and they may have been promoted based on technical skills or profits made. It’s amazing to see the impact in those instances where managers recognise the importance of their words and behaviour and take steps to build a strong team culture.

2.  What is the most impactful story you have heard over the last 20 years that has made you think “this is why we do what we do”?

There have been many but one that came to mind was in the last 12 months we were doing some resilience training for a group of blue collar government workers. This group had been notified more than 12 months ago that many of their jobs will be made redundant. There was a bonus amount for them if they stayed on until the end of the their employment date if it was deemed that their roles were not ongoing. The groups were all very angry at the way the process had been drawn out, their morale was very low, the group were angry and had a higher sense of learned helplessness than any group I have ever worked with. The training that was provided to them was 3 lots of 2 hour sessions. In the first hour of the initial training session, we spent quite a lot of time debriefing on the purpose of this training, that it seemed like a band aid solution for what they were dealing with. There was a lot of venting and frustration. During this session, I presented them with the Circle of Concern and Influence which challenges participants on how they are investing their time and energy, and the choices that they have about this. We had a robust discussion about what aspects of their situation they were able to control and what they were unable to control.

The following fortnight when I arrived for the second session, the most aggressive of the participants came into the training room early. He announced that he had put the model of Concern and Influence into place and “it had turned my life around”. He related that he was no longer spending all his time being angry and frustrated. He described that he had decided to engage in a job search and if he was offered an alternative role, then make a decision about whether he wanted to stay in his current employment for the sake of the bonus or not. He had gone from someone who felt they had no control over their future to someone who could see there might be options and felt empowered.

3.  What is one strategy from our resilience and wellbeing training that you actually practice and that has had the biggest positive impact on your wellbeing?

For me, it’s about getting good at recognising when I’m getting overwhelmed with life. I am fortunate to enough to have both a job that I love as well as being primary care giver at home in a busy household of teens. I have worked hard on noticing my unhelpful thinking as a clear and reliable early warning sign that I need to take action to look after myself. I have gotten much better at noticing when my thinking is dominated by “I can’t cope” and “this is all too much” and challenging myself if there is a more helpful way to think about the situation. Mostly there is, and when I take the time to rethink things I am much more patient and present. And I can cope and it’s not too much!  


Up Up and Away! The Neuroscience Behind Boosting Positive Connections in Your Brain

22nd February 2019

By Debra Brodowski, National Manager of Psychological Services

Many of us have heard of the downward spiral of depression, but did you know there is an upward way out?

Our brain is made up of billions of neurones (around 100 billion to be exact) communicating with each other constantly throughout our daily lives. We have different circuits of neurones for enjoyment, worrying, mood, planning, sleep and the list goes on. Most of the time, the patterns in communication between these regions are regular and positive. Everyone does however, go through moments of difficulty and pain. While this is fleeting for most, and we get back to our normal patterns of thinking in no time, for others it may not be so easy.

The Neuroscience Behind the Downward Spiral

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has estimated that approximately 3 million Australians currently live with depression or anxiety (ABS, 2008). To break this down further, 1 in 6 people will experience depression at some stage of their lives. For these people, the feelings of difficulty may linger longer than usual and result in feeling bogged down and stuck, being unable to get out of the negative ways of thinking. Life events and decisions are viewed negatively which contributes to the downward spiral of thinking, resulting in negative changes to the way our brain communicates between its regions. This can snowball out of control, until it feels like we will never climb out of this dark hole. Emotions are replaced with an emptiness and numbness, and motivation is replaced with anxiety at even the thought of making future plans. This downward spiral of thinking impacts all aspects of an individual’s life, including their wellbeing, daily productivity, relationships and career.

The two basic areas in our brain that are affected by depression are the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the limbic system. Specifically, it is the miscommunication between these two areas. The “thinking” PFC and the “emotional” limbic system. Within these regions, our neurones communicate with each other through chemicals called neurotransmitters. Each neural circuit communicates using different neurotransmitters. All of our neurotransmitters are necessary for normal brain function and regulating healthy mood. Some of these include: serotonin, noradrenaline, dopamine, oxytocin, GABA and melatonin to name a few. A deficiency in the release or uptake of any of these neurotransmitters contributes to a different depressive symptom.

Introducing the Upward Spiral

There is good news however, with both neuroscience and positive psychology research providing evidence that our neural circuits also have the ability to work in an upward spiral bringing us out of the depths of depression into a more normalised and positive pattern of thinking. Alex Korb, author of “The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time”, indicates that many small, positive life changes have the ability to elicit positive neural changes. Even the smallest change has the ability to boost your brain into the upward spiral and overcome bad habits and negative mood. We know brain regions communicate between each other, so altering the neurotransmitter activity in one region can create a flow-on effect to other regions spiralling us up and out of the rut we may have been in. We will explore some of the small steps that Korb has found to trigger your upward spiral and alter the activity in your brain to create positive neural circuits:

  • Exercise: A quote from Korb states that “almost everything that depression causes can be combatted by exercise”. Exercise improves sleep, gives you energy, improves your appetite, enhances concentration and improves decision making, reduces anxiety and makes you more social. In the neuroscience perspective, exercise increases nerve growth factors which are protective to developing depression. As well, it boosts serotonin activity which in turn boosts mood, motivation and decision making.
  • Decision making: for people experiencing depression, they are in a negative spiral that every decision they make feels like the wrong decision. This is due to the “emotional” limbic system overpowering the “thinking” PFC. By making more decisions, it involves brain regions such as the PFC, that reduce worry and anxiety, overcome negative impulses (the striatum) and find solutions to problems by reducing activation in the limbic system. Like all muscles in the body, the more you use different areas of your brain, the stronger they will get. So start off decision making by setting intentions and goals (using your PFC) and strengthen this area and your upward spiral will begin to launch.
  • Sleep: poor sleep is strongly linked to depression. However, it is not enough to say “you need to get more sleep”. Rather, it is the quality of sleep we get. Poor quality can result in altering in neurotransmitter function, negative mood and poor learning and memory, as well as a range of physical consequences. It is important to set a good “nightly routine” including no technology in the bedroom, no screens two hours before bed, dimmed lights, regular bed and waking times, slowing down before bed such as by reading or doing breathing or relaxation techniques, as well as a good exercise routine.
  • Gratitude: for people experiencing depression, the gap between what you want and what you have seems larger than it may be, which is why gratitude is such a powerful tool. Gratitude is not dependent on life circumstances but a state of mind – we even have a gratitude brain circuit! Through activation of this circuit (and a release in dopamine), mood is lifted, sleep is improved, social connections are strengthened and even sleep quality is increased. Gratitude also boosts serotonin in the brain when recalling positive events.
  • Staying Connected: The downward spiral of depression is perpetuated by isolation, which is why social interaction is so important. Oxytocin is known almost universally as the “social hormone”. Having social interactions such as talking and physical contact boost oxytocin production and also change the communication in the fronto-limbic region. This works towards kicking off our upward spiral and improving out mood, decreasing stress as well as anxiety and even pain!
  • Professional help: psychologists and psychiatrists also play a vitally important role in providing tools to reverse depression. It is important to seek help with a mental health professional for evidence-based strategies and have extra support so you don’t have to feel you are going through this alone.

Everyone has times of low mood, and there is nothing different about the brains of people who have depression compared to those who do not. Most people have tendencies towards an upward spiral of thinking, however each individual has different ways of sparking this upward spiral and getting them out of the stuck rut. By starting small with any of the steps listed, you will be able to kick-start your upward spiral and boost your wellbeing!

20 Years of Insights - Nichola Johnston

20th February 2019

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Centre for Corporate Health, that’s 20 years of insights into creating mentally healthy workplace, responding to critical incidents, strengthening resilience and improving wellbeing. So in honour of the last 20 years, we have asked our founders, senior leaders and senior psychologists to share their insights and most impactful stories from the work they have done with the Centre for Corporate Health.

Nichola Johnston, Client Relationships & Communications Manager

1.  What is the most interesting insight you have gained from the work we do in mental health and wellbeing at work?

I think organisations that have a culture where impression management is the norm, and by that I mean employees focussing their energy on making sure they don’t look ignorant or incompetent and don’t ask ‘stupid’ questions in meetings etc. are at risk of that culture impeding an employees ability to feel safe in putting their hand up for help when they are struggling. In a culture like this employees mask what they really think and feel which is a sure fire way to not only hide symptoms of poor mental health, but also without a doubt, stifle creativity and rob the team of learning as employees are too worried about making mistakes or looking like they have failed. On the flip side, in workplaces where employees are not vilified for failures, feel empowered to ask questions without being ridiculed or shut down and their walls are down, employees learn, grow, innovate and feel more able to reach out for support when they need it.

2.  What is the most impactful story you have heard over the last 20 years that has made you think “this is why we do what we do”

We have done a lot of really impactful work in partnership with R U OK? Day, especially over the last 5 years and every R U OK? Day when I hear the story of it’s founder and his family, the Larkin family, I am always reminded that this is why I want to work at a place that does what is does. If you don’t know the Larkin family story, I’ll give you the headlines, but I recommend reading the full story on the R U OK? Day website. Gavin Larkin started R U OK? Day because his father took his own life back in 1995 and he wanted to create something that would honour his memory and so R U OK? Day began. Tragedy struck the Larkin family again, twice when Gavin was diagnosed with cancer which ended up taking his life in 2011 and their son Gus was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour which would eventually take his young life. In the face of such tragedy the Larkin family have continued Gavin’s legacy even in the thick of their own grief. So every year I hear their story I am in awe of their resilience and I am reminded why creating awareness on mental health and suicide prevention is so very important.

3.  What is one strategy from our resilience and wellbeing training that you actually practice and that has had the biggest positive impact on your wellbeing?

More recently I have made a huge commitment to quit complaining and blaming. Instead I hold myself accountable. If I am not happy in a situation I either accept it as reality if it is something I can’t control, like someone else’s behaviour, and move on quickly without dwelling or if it is something in my realm of control I make my decision and move on. It’s about choosing to be happy in spite of circumstances rather than letting circumstances determine my happiness. I am accountable for me and I control my life. Now have I completely kicked my habit of complaining… not quite, I’m a work in progress, but as soon as I find myself complaining I tell myself the situation is what it is, I either accept it and be happy inspite of it or I make the decision to change. I find myself feeling a lot less helpless and resentful as a result.

20 Years of Insights - Rachel Clements

20th February 2019

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Centre for Corporate Health, that’s 20 years of insights into creating mentally healthy workplace, responding to critical incidents, strengthening resilience and improving wellbeing. So in honour of the last 20 years, we have asked our founders, senior leaders and senior psychologists to share their insights and most impactful stories from the work they have done with the Centre for Corporate Health.

Rachel Clements, Director of Psychological Services

1.  What is the most interesting insight you have gained from the work we do in mental health and wellbeing at work?

My most interesting insight in the last 20 years of working in the space of mental health and wellbeing, is how our mindset of psychological wellbeing has changed dramatically during this time. 15 years ago I would see people working hard at work and doing well in their careers but it was often at the expense of, or the neglect of, one’s psychological wellbeing. In the last 15 years, work has changed dramatically and we are now working harder and faster than ever before and we know that mindset of working at the expense of our wellbeing, no longer serves us well. These days the more modern mindset is how do we work in a busy role by choosing to invest in and prioritise our wellbeing? It is only with this mindset that we are able to achieve our performance over the duration of one’s career, enjoy the journey along the way and best manage our recovery. People are often surprised to learn that there are a few quick tips and strategies that don’t take long to boost our wellbeing during the day and best manage our recovery at the end of the day.

2.  What is the most impactful story you have heard over the last 20 years that has made you think “this is why we do what we do”?

I have heard countless stories over the years of people who have attended our mental health workshops who, after the sessions have felt inspired and encouraged to reach out and have a conversation with someone from work or their personal life. So many have told me later on, that the conversation was life changing for the individual concerned and in many cases, actually helped to save another person’s life. Our partnership with R U OK? Day is something that I am very passionate about – encouraging meaningful connections is something we need to prioritise in our busy lives.

3.  What is one strategy from our resilience and wellbeing training that you actually practice and that has had the biggest positive impact on your wellbeing?

I try and practice resetting my mind when challenges or hurdles come my way. Like an athlete, being able to reset myself and conserve my energy to focus on all the things I can control is important, rather than wasting my energy becoming depleted by focusing on all the things that are outside my control. Our mindful gaps technique of digesting the challenge, resting by breathing, and then focusing all of my energy on what I can do next is something I practice on a regular basis especially during a busy day.

World Mental Health Day

10th October 2018

Today is World Mental Health Day. It is a global day for mental health education, awareness and advocacy and it could not have come at a more crucial time. The Australian Bureau of Statistics recently released new statistics, indicating that in 2017, 3,128 people died by suicide. This alarming number is an increase in numbers of 9.1% over the past 12 months. The reasons why people choose to take their lives is complicated. However, this finding can act as a reminder of the importance of coming together to help increase the awareness and work together to reduce the stigma and more importantly, this number of deaths. So what can we do about this?

There is no one body of work that has the correct answer. However, we know that openly speaking up in an empathetic environment, as well as early intervention and seeking help can make a difference. It is important that we are there for our friends, family and colleagues, as starting a conversation with them can inspire them to open up. It signals to the person that they are thought of and supported, that someone cares. It is not expected of you to have all of the ‘answers’ or to say and do all of the right things. But rather, just being there, listening without judgement and showing that you care is so valuable and beneficial. Extending on that, helping them to link in with their GP, a mental health professional or their EAP service may also be a helpful step forward.

The #YouCanTalk campaign website, a collaboration between beyondblue, headspace, ReachOut.Com, Lifeline, Black Dog Institute, Everymind, R U OK? and Life in Mind, provides resources, which can assist you in asking openly if someone is thinking of suicide and tips for how to talk about it safely.


Mindfulness in May

18th May 2018

With May fast approaching and winter drawing nearer, the buzz of summer and the holiday celebrations behind us, it’s fair to say we are well and truly settling into 2018. Here at the Centre for Corporate Health, we are committed to making May the Mindful Month (and not just because we like alliteration). It’s the perfect time to jump on the bandwagon and start enjoying the many benefits the practice of mindfulness has to offer.

The mindfulness movement is certainly not a new trend so we’re confident you have at least heard it mentioned before. Practising mindfulness simply means focusing your attention on the present moment. The goal is to be consciously aware of your thoughts, feelings, and surroundings in the moment they occur. It’s not about completely emptying your mind, but rather it’s about being aware of thoughts and feelings as they arise and letting them pass without judgement. In fact it’s quite normal to have thoughts pop up when you’re practising mindfulness. But the trick is to acknowledge them and then return your attention back to the present moment.

How does mindfulness differ from meditation?

There are a many similarities between the terms and both have ancient spiritual origins. Meditation is a more holistic term used to describe broad practices and techniques that drive people towards achieving total consciousness. Meditation takes many forms particularly in the modern age including techniques and practices like yoga, visualisation and prayer, and even emotional states like compassion and love. Mindfulness is therefore a form of meditation, a practice where you bring your full attention to the present moment. With time and patience, by practising mindfulness, it becomes easier and easier for a person to achieve this state of being in the moment.

What’s it got to do with breathing?

A common misconception is that mindfulness involves a deliberate and total focus on breathing. Of course this is one way to help you practice mindfulness (focus all your attention on the breath), but there are many other ways to do so! The point of mindfulness is to focus your attention on the present – the sensations, sounds, smells or feelings in that moment. The easiest way to focus on the present when you first start practising mindfulness is to focus on an object or process, such as breathing, and return your attention back to this when you begin to stray. Sure, the breath is an easy focal point, but it’s not the only option and the more experienced you become, the easier it is to practice mindfulness with less of a focus on these objects of processes.

While on the topic of common misconceptions of mindfulness, it’s important to note that mindfulness does not necessarily need to be a formal, ‘sit on the yoga mat with your eyes closed activity’. Practising mindfulness can be done in a formal way akin to how we stereotypically think of meditation. But it can be practised in far less formal settings as well. We can practise mindfulness in almost any activity we undertake. While drinking coffee for example, we can learn to be fully present and focus our attention on the coffee – noticing its warmth, colour, or the way it moves, paying attention to its taste and the sensations in the body when drinking the coffee. Hopefully understanding how seamless the practice can be makes it a little more appealing. Yes?

How can I benefit?

The benefits of practising mindfulness are far-reaching. From physical health benefits including healthier hearts, glucose levels and improved sleep habits, to psychological benefits including stress relief, higher levels of focus and control, as well as lower levels of anxiety and depression. Need we say more?

What can sometimes be difficult to understand is how to leverage these benefits in everyday life. At work for example, how can we see these benefits or use them to improve our work lives? Here are some ways mindfulness might change the way you perceive, interact or engage with work:

  • Mindfulness can increase levels of focus and attention meaning we are better able to complete tasks and can often do so in a shorter amount of time.
  • When we have more awareness of our emotions, we can control them more easily, which equips us to better deal with criticism or conflicts at work.
  • Practising mindfulness can mean we’re better able to listen to colleagues and really understand what it is they are saying – we may have thoughts on what they’re saying but we can learn to acknowledge those thoughts without judgement.
  • On that note, mindfulness has been shown to improve team relationships at work even though it’s a skill individuals develop personally.
  • Mindfulness can also help us think outside the box and innovate more easily.
  • Mindfulness is a core skill in developing resilience which helps us overcome stress and adversity (both at work and outside of work). 
  • Mindfulness can be a useful technique to help you switch-off from work and help you recover – this recovery process has numerous benefits in terms of your functioning and performance at work.
  • If you’re in a management or leadership position, mindfulness can help you clarify what’s happening in your team and understand where problems may exist.
  • Not to mention, mindful leaders generally have happier teams, which means they are less likely to leave the team and the organisation.

These are just some examples of how the benefits of mindfulness may play out in other areas of life. So, as the colours of the leaves change, we challenge you to change too. Incorporate mindfulness practices into your routine and make May the Mindful Month.

Forming New Habits - Why New Year's Resolutions Do Not Work

9th April 2018

As the next holiday in our calendar – Easter – comes and goes, you may have noticed that you have lost touch with any new year’s resolutions you made at the start of the year. It may have only been a few months ago where you were so keen and excited about the prospect of tackling new challenges or overall becoming a ‘better, healthier’ you. But nothing has changed. Why does this happen? Why do new year’s resolutions seem to fail and fade into the background year on end?

What are new year’s resolutions and why do we make them?

New Year’s resolutions are a tradition which are evident in the Western world, but also found in Eastern cultures. In a nutshell they are a promise a person makes for the new year, usually in the form of a goal. Typically, these goals are to change an undesired characteristic or behaviour or to improve one’s life in some way.

We live in a society where there is constant pressure to be the ‘better’ version of ourselves. The fast-paced developed world of today produces a sense of pressure to be constantly improving ourselves – in both our personal and work lives. Additionally, with the increase in social media use we are faced with ‘perfect’ versions of men and women on a daily basis. As such, when the new year comes around, many people feel as if this is the right opportunity to put to the test whether they can achieve goals of improving an aspect of their life.

Another common reason we tend to make these resolutions is that often by the end of the year we are so exhausted and feel as if life has flown by us so quickly, so we use the symbolism of a new year to start afresh and anew. But is it really that simple? Can we just erase what has just been and effectively start from scratch when it is a new year?

Forming new habits is difficult

New year’s resolutions are great in theory, but there is a caveat. Forming new habits is hard. It takes time, intentional effort and patience. And this is probably why a lot of people ‘fail’ to keep up with their resolutions.

The reality of habits is as follows: we are creatures of habits; old habits can be hard to break; and new habits take time and patience to create. It is believed that habit formation is derived from a ‘Habit Loop’, which entails 3 steps: cue, routine and reward. In other words, it is difficult to change our behaviour or to form habits unless we recognise what initiates the behaviour (reminder), that we continually practice it (routine) and receive a benefit from performing it (reward).

Behavioural patterns we repeatedly perform become automated responses and are etched into our neural pathways. Although this explains why it can be difficult to change an existing behaviour, fortunately it suggests that with time and through repetition we can form and maintain new habits. But even still, are resolutions worthwhile?

What can we do instead?

Maybe in this day in age we are so obsessed with trying to do everything. Many of us produce an endless list of resolutions which have somehow piled up over the years (and yet have never been tackled). Instead, it may be simpler, more beneficial and easy to achieve if we break them down. A few tips – not necessarily to all be used in conjunction – that you can take on board for the next year (or even now!) are summarised below.

  • Focus on changing one habit that creates the most change: Making one small change rather than attempting to accomplish 10+ things in the new year is a lot more realistic, but it is also more likely to have a positive effect on your life. It will help alleviate any resistance or hesitation you may have with change.
  • Break the goal down into smaller steps: In a similar vein, one big change that you may be considering may be overwhelming in its entirety and therefore may result in it not being approached, let alone accomplished. If you want to start running and lose that extra bit of weight, you can’t expect to run a marathon overnight. Set yourself weekly targets that all add up to the final goal. Not only will you receive continual gratification for each smaller task, but it will make you perceive the end goal as more achievable as you tick off the preceding steps.
  • Set realistic goals: Consider what is feasible – practically, physically and psychologically. We are not super human. If you don’t deconstruct the goal and reflect on whether it is within your reach, there will more likely than not be extreme resistance in trying to achieve it or you will face inevitable consequences in the pursuit.
  • Reflect on what you are motivated to accomplish: To be able to put in the time and effort, it goes without saying that there needs to be some motivation and level of compliance.

It is easy to get caught up in the hype and excitement that the new year brings. But some things are just unrealistic. It is exciting and can be stimulating to challenge ourselves and to target that ‘thing’ that we want to improve. But we also need to be kind to ourselves and know what is within our limits in order to achieve desired changes in our lives.

Bipolar Disorder

29th March 2018

Chances are you’ve heard the term Bipolar Disorder, its usage having well and truly entered the mainstream over the past decade. Previously known as Manic Depression, despite general awareness of the diagnosis, the nature, signs and symptoms of Bipolar Disorder remain broadly misunderstood.

Could you identify the signs and symptoms that an employee may be experiencing Bipolar Disorder? If a colleague has received a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, what does that mean for you and your organisation? What can you do to help? In this article, we address what Bipolar Disorder really is, what it might look like, and what you can do to help.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar Disorder is a term used to describe a group of mental health concerns (i.e. Bipolar I Disorder, Bipolar II Disorder, Cyclothymic Disorder). According to the DSM-5, Bipolar Disorder is associated with significant changes or “swings” in mood and energy levels, and each subtype differs in terms of its severity, frequency, and duration.

People living with Bipolar Disorder generally experience recurrent episodes of depression (low mood, feelings of hopelessness, extreme sadness, lack of interest and pleasure in usual activities) as well as episodes of mood elevation (also referred to as “mania” or, in its milder form, “hypomania”). Manic and hypomanic episodes are marked by a pervasive, extremely good mood, high activity and energy levels, agitation, racing thoughts, a reduced need for sleep, and the presence of rapid speech. It is the swing between these two extremes, or “poles”, that give the condition its name.

During manic episodes, individuals can engage in uncharacteristic and extreme risk-taking behaviours which can lead to damaging effects on career, finances, reputation, and relationships. Mood fluctuations for affected individuals can last a week or more, and are strongly associated with functional impairment across multiple domains (e.g., work, social, household, relationships). Severe episodes may also contain psychotic features (i.e. delusions and hallucinations).

What is NOT Bipolar Disorder?

Mood changes do not necessarily imply a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, as emotional highs and lows, as well as fluctuating energy levels are commonly experienced within the general population. More than just feeling good or feeling bad, a person experiencing Bipolar Disorder has sudden and extreme changes in mood, more so than having a “good day” or “bad day”.

Bipolar Disorder is a distinct phenomenon due to the intensity and severity of the moods experienced, and the level of disruption to the affected individual’s life resultant of the illness. Mood changes in Bipolar Disorder often occur out of context, and episodes can last for several days, weeks, or even months at a time. Bipolar Disorder is frequently misdiagnosed as depression, as depressive episodes occur more frequently for affected individuals in comparison to manic and hypomanic episodes, and accordingly depression can be more readily identified.

Bipolar Disorder in the Workplace

Mental health conditions reportedly cost Australian businesses between $11 to $12 Billion each year through staff absenteeism, reduced work performance and productivity, increased staff turnover rates, as well as compensation claims.

‘Every dollar spent on effective mental health action returns $2.30 in benefits to an organisation.’

(PWC, Beyond Blue National Mental Health Commission, 2014)

Approximately one in 50 (1.8%) adults in Australia experience Bipolar Disorder each year. Despite its comparatively lower prevalence, Bipolar Disorder imposes higher economic and non-economic costs to society than other mental disorders.

Research shows that the majority of mental illness seen in the workforce is treatable. Meaningful employment can also provide a supportive context through which recovery can take place. It is imperative that employers understand an employee’s subjective needs in a collaborative and supportive manner in order to then provide reasonable adjustments to the workplace conducive to an effective, productive, healthy and safe workplace for employees with Bipolar Disorder. 

In a broad sense, flexible work practices (e.g., frequent breaks, working from home) are conducive to job success for employees with Bipolar Disorder. Access to water at workstations is another provision often cited in the literature, due to the side effects of medications such as Lithium (i.e. increased thirst and urination). Barriers between workspaces may be appropriate for employees with Bipolar Disorder as social withdrawal is often a feature of depression. This might also minimise distractibility, a symptom of hypomania, mania and depression.

It is also important for organisations to understand and accommodate the affected employee’s self-management strategies (e.g., absence from occupational settings when symptomatic, reducing the employee’s workload, changing work activities, enlisting emotional or practical support from trusted co-workers and/or professionals, seeking help from the employee’s healthcare team).

Workers who do not seek accommodations or disclose their illness may be those most anticipating employer bias. In order to address employees’ fears about disclosure, organisations may benefit from developing formal policies and clear guidelines addressing how employees will be protected from discrimination should they chose to disclose their mental illness.

Recovery from Bipolar Disorder

The use of medication is of primary importance to assist recovery from Bipolar Disorder, however in order to promote long-term recovery, a preventative plan will ideally combine physical, psychological and lifestyle approaches to manage the illness. People who function well despite a significant history of Bipolar Disorder cite the following key wellbeing strategies as critical to the recovery process:

  1. managing sleep, diet, rest and exercise;
  2. ongoing monitoring of changes to symptoms;
  3. reflective and meditative practices;
  4. understanding Bipolar Disorder and educating others;
  5. connecting to others and;
  6. enacting a management plan to stabilise symptoms.

Employees with Bipolar Disorder often bring valuable skills to the workforce, including creativity, high intelligence, energy, passion, and productivity. Supporting individuals affected by Bipolar Disorder with greater sensitivity and responsiveness will not only benefit employees and organisations, but also the broader systemic and social context in which mental illness exists. 

World Bipolar Day will be celebrated on 30 March 2018 to increase awareness of the illness and to eliminate social stigma, and to improve sensitivity toward the illness.


#BullyingNoWay 2018 - Responding to Cyberbullying

16th March 2018

Bullying has become more pervasive as more mediums have become accessible for individuals to communicate, highlighted by the increase in cyberbullying across instant messaging and social media applications. As increasing news reports and popular media refers to the consequences of cyberbullying, the Australian Government has responded by creating the office of the e-Safety Commissioner in July 2015 with specific reference to Children safety online. This is not only an issue which affects children but also their parents and adults in the workplace.

What is cyberbullying?

The Office of the eSafety Commissioner defines cyberbullying as the use of technology to bully a person or group with the intent to hurt them socially, psychologically or even physically (Office of e-Safety Commissioner). Cyberbullying can occur in many forms including receiving abusive or hurtful texts, emails and social media messages, people sending images or videos of others without their permission, imitating others online, excluding others online, humiliating others online, spreading rumours or lies online.

Cyberbullying differs from other forms of bullying in that a lot of people can view or take part in it and the content (photos, texts, videos) can be shared with a large number of people. It is often done in secret with the bully hiding their identity and sending anonymous messages and it can be difficult to remove because it can be shared in multiple places online. It can be very difficult for the person being bullied to escape if they use technology frequently (Reachout, Kids Helpline). For all of these reasons it is the impact of cyberbullying can be serious and pervasive.

Impacts and Warning signs relating to your children’s use of online media

Research suggests that Cyberbullying impacts one in five Australians (Office of e-Safety Commissioner). Cyberbullying can have a number of negative effects on the person who is being cyberbullied, including:

  • feelings of guilt (feeling ‘It’s my fault’);
  • feeling hopeless and stuck, feeling embarrassed;
  • feeling depressed, rejected or unsafe; or
  • feeling stressed out and wondering why this is happening.

There are a number of key warning signs that indicate that a child may be a target of cyberbullying:

  • Change in appetite; or
  • Withdrawn from usual friends/family;
  • Oversleeping or not sleeping enough;
  • Appearing to be angry, depressed or frustrated after going online;
  • Appearing nervous when using a device;
  • Unexpectedly stopping the use of a device;
  • Avoiding discussions about what they are doing online, or are becoming unusually secretive, especially in relation to online activities (Hinduja & Patchin, 2015)

Evidence suggests that a child be may cyberbullying others if he or she quickly switches screens or hides their device when you are close by, uses their device at all hours of the night, becomes unusually upset if they can’t use their device, appears overly concerned with their social standing and status, appears overly conceited about their technological skills and abilities.

Responding to cyberbullying

If your child is showing any of these signs or are displaying other worrying and out of character behavior, it is important to talk with them and keep the lines of communication open, either directly with you or with a trusted adult. It can be helpful to keep the focus off the situation by also encouraging your child to do something offline that they enjoy.

Once you have had a conversation, the Office of the eSafety Commission recommends a number of important steps. Firstly, that the person experiencing the bullying does not retaliate or respond, they block the bully and change privacy settings. It is then recommended to report the abuse to the service and encourage others to also do so. If the social media service fails to remove the material within 48 hours of reporting it to them, you can make a complaint to the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner. It is also recommended to collect evidence, to keep mobile phone messages, take screen shots and print emails or social networking conversations.

If the cyberbullying is school related, most schools have a policy in place to address cyberbullying and should be able to provide support to students who are being cyberbullied whether the cyberbully is a student from the school or not. It is recommend to involve the school where possible.

Tips for ensuring online safety

Navigating the world of online can be a minefield. It is important to talk to your child early and often about e-safety and take an interest in what your child does online. This may involve letting your child show you how to participate in their online world and learning who your child speaks to online.

If appropriate, it is recommended to set boundaries and agree rules. This includes ensuring you’re your child only views content that reflects their age. There are a number of parental control tools available to filter, restrict, monitor and report content and protect your child’s personal information. In addition, regular communication will instill confidence in your child to involve you when dealing with any online safety concerns that may arise.


International Women’s Day #IWD2018 – Breaking the work-life balance myth

8th March 2018

This year, International Women’s Day will be celebrated on Thursday 8 March. It is a global day of celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity and provides the opportunity to acknowledge the role and contribution of women in the workplace and the importance of good wellbeing.

In considering all this, the day also provides the chance to rethink and perhaps bust the work-life balance myth: is there really such a thing as a ‘good’ and achievable work-life balance. Balance, in itself, is a dynamic and fluid idea and life is energetic and variable and can throw things at you when you least expect it. As such, some days will be more balanced than others.

Traditionally, society has created stereotypes where work is considered a part of life for men while women are expected to achieve a so-called ‘work-life balance’, especially for women with children. However, this idea of achieving a balance between work and life is not just relevant to women with children, but rather is relevant to everyone because in today’s day and age, work is a vital part of life and its contribution to wellbeing, meaning and purpose cannot be underestimated.

Each individual is unique, with their own commitments, interests and responsibilities and so achieving this ‘perfect’ balance would be different from one person to the next. As such it is important to do what makes you feel balanced, not what society tells you should give you the balance.

When we tell ourselves that work and life are incompatible and we attempt to separate the two, we may find ourselves struggling, feeling as though we are sacrificing one for the other.

In fact, telling yourself you cannot do any work on the weekend can be detrimental if your Monday morning is then spent stressed and attempting to catch up on everything. Instead, if you have a few hours free on your weekend where you could read that article for work, then why not do it? Your Monday is more likely to be less stressful and you will have more time to do other tasks efficiently.

In fact, many aspects of work are enjoyable, and if you find purpose and positive engagement in reading that article or planning the presentation for the following week, you should not feel guilty, even if it is a Saturday, a ‘life’ day. Recognising where you get your energy from is vital. Sometimes that will may be work whilst at other times, it may be non-work activities.

So instead of chasing an unachievable and unrealistic work-life balance, focus on work-life integration and stop to ask yourself, what activities (work or non-work) give me pleasure and positive engagement? The new work-life balance, is more about managing your energy levels from day to day.

What is work-life integration? And how is it different?

Work-life integration is an approach that assimilates all areas of life: family, friends, health, personal wellbeing, hobbies… and work!

As such, actively focusing on integrating work into this bundle of ‘life’ rather than attempting to separate it can actually improve your work sphere. It may boost your work efficacy while simultaneously providing you with more time to enjoy other aspects of your life, such as family, friends and hobbies.

When we focus on integrating our work and home life, we must ensure all other aspects of life such as our health and wellbeing are also being kept in check! Here are some pratical strategies to enhance our wellbeing.

1. Exercise regularly

Exercise increases energy levels, improves memory and concentration and helps you sleep better. Make sure you take time out of your day to exercise whether it be before, during or after work, remembering that integrating work and life means taking time to reenergise yourself and then be more focused and productive.

2. Practise mindfulness

Take ten minutes a day to practise mindfulness, whether it be on the bus to work, as a break from work during the day or right before you go to bed. Often at work we ‘tune out’ when engaging in simple, repetitive tasks and mindfulness helps us to ‘tune in’.

3. Remember to breathe

Did you know that breathing correctly gets rid of 70% of the stress hormone cortisol from our body, yet most of us don’t breathe correctly? Breathing techniques are highly effective for generating feelings of instantaneous calm. They are very adaptable and can be used anywhere and at any time, such as when walking, in meetings, when travelling and at home.

4. Get a good night’s sleep

Sleep is one of the most important pieces to the work-life integration puzzle. Without good sleep, our bodies cannot function properly and are more susceptible to burn out in both work and life. Try creating a routine before bed, avoiding sugar at night, turning off electronic devices one hour before bed and trying some breathing and relaxation techniques.

5. Drink more water

Lack of water is the #1 trigger of daytime fatigue. Increasing your water intake will improve your alertness and energy levels. Get a water bottle, drink water throughout the day. You can even use it as an excuse for a break to get up and stretch your legs when you need to refill your bottle.

In light of International Women’s Day, take a step back and think about your work-life situation. In order to overcome the stereotypical challenge of the ‘work-life balance’ for women, it is vital that you define what balance looks like for you personally and what you want it to be as well. It is important to remember that you need to seek it out for yourself as unfortunately it’s not as simple as it being provided to you. Focus on integrating your work and life commitments, but do not forget the importance of good wellbeing as a fundamental piece to the work-life integration strategy.

By Rachel Clements - Director of Psychological Services at The Centre for Corporate Health

How you can integrate mindfulness into your everyday life

29th September 2017

By Grace Kouvelis

Surely by now, you have realised that mindfulness has been the ‘flavour of the month’ for the last few years. But what you may not know is how flexible and easy it is to integrate into our daily lives. It’s about being present in the moment – but that doesn’t mean you have to be sitting on a yoga mat, with your eyes closed.

The misconception of mindfulness practice

Although the benefits are far stretching and widely acknowledged, many people may be disinterested to pick up the practice due to false beliefs of what it actually entails. There still exists a preconception (for some) that mindfulness is time consuming, limited to a certain time or place or that you have to be in a complete state of silence. Or maybe you believe it’s all about the “ommm’s” with incense burning and your legs crossed. Although this may suit and help some people to reach a state of mindfulness, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.

Mindfulness can – and should – be a part of our everyday lives. This may sound complicated, but in this way, with practise and patience, you will start to become more at ease and relaxed in how you carry out your daily routine. And as mentioned, this doesn’t mean that we have to put a dedicated 30 odd minutes aside, but rather, we can carry on with our day…in a more mindful manner!

How to be mindful in everyday tasks

Mindfulness doesn’t need to necessarily be a reactive way to deal with stress and a busy lifestyle, but rather it should be a proactive way to stay focused, calm and collected. Daily activities and tasks where your mind tends to wander are a great opportunity to try and focus your thoughts and be present.

It is an important life lesson to step back and appreciate the moment, clear your mind, centre your thoughts – not ignoring thoughts and feelings, but allowing them to come and go, freeing your mind from angst and noise.

Some important tips to consider:

  • Essentially, we want to build mindfulness into our routine activities. Great examples include while you are waking up, showering, commuting, waiting for the lift, drinking your coffee, to name a few. [Note, a more detailed example is provided below.]
  •  Keep it short and sweet: these daily mindfulness practices don’t need to be X-amount of minutes long every day. What is important to remember is that it is better to take 3 deep breaths every day rather than meditate for 10 minutes only every other week. It can be a simple moment, just taking notice of a particular sensation, e.g. ask yourself, “Is there tension in my shoulders?”
  • Notice 3 things around you. One great, easy way to try and become mindful, is to take conscious note of 3 colours around you, or 3 sounds around you. Savour this perception for a few moments before carrying on with the task in front of you.
  • Alternatively, notice 3 things about yourself. Instead of taking note of what’s around you, focus your thoughts for a moment on how you are feeling. Ask yourself, ‘What does my shirt feel like against my chest?” “Am I breathing softly…or deeply?”
  • Be gentle: it will take time and patience to effectively integrate mindfulness into your everyday life. Be nice to yourself, but supportive of your efforts and encourage your progress. Do not harshly judge or criticise yourself.

An example: Mindful cooking

For many, cooking can become a stressful task. Maybe you are exhausted by the time you have to cook. Or maybe you associate it as a chore. Although, not everyone will feel this way about cooking, adopting a mindful cooking approach will serve you many benefits regardless.

1. Decide what you are going to cook. If you are boiling, grilling or frying, then it is a great opportunity to remain involved, yet focused as you stir, flip, fry. Remember it is a good idea to remove any distractions – turn off your phone, don’t put the TV on.

2. As you cut up your ingredients, take notice of the different shapes and sizes. Are you cutting in a rhythmic pattern?

3. Begin cooking – place the water on the heat or pour the oil in the pan. Add you first ingredients. Take a moment to soak up the smells and sensations that rise. Can you notice the aromatics starting to develop their flavoursome essence?

4. As you start to add more ingredients, notice how each one adds something new to the overall fragrance, colour and appeal of the dish. If your mind wanders, bring it slowly back to the different sensations. What is the most prominent smell? Are your ingredients sizzling away in the pan? Or can you notice the water bubbling as you bring it to the boil?

5. Bring your attention to your mood. How do you feel? Do you feel calm? Is the heat on the stove too much? Are you a bit anxious, maybe trying to perfect every element to your dish? If you are a bit stressed – whether that is due to work, personal issues or the current cook – take a deep breath. Then bring your focus back to the dish you are creating.

6. Don’t fight any incoming thoughts. Just quickly acknowledge them, but then bring your attention back to the fragrances enhancing in your kitchen.

7. As you continue with your cook, take note of how your mind behaves. Is it comfortable being in the moment? Or does it tend to run off with reflective thoughts of the past or anxious thoughts for what’s ahead? Starting to become aware of how your mind works will assist you in mastering mindfulness techniques. With practise, turning an everyday activity such as cooking, into a mindfulness activity will become easier, allowing you to have a more serene experience.

The verdict?

Remember, you can apply these same principles and techniques to basically any activity. The main thing to remember is to centre your thoughts, try and remove any distractions and to focus calmly on the task at hand. By doing so, not only will you feel calmer and more at ease, but you will actually deepen your experience of that activity.

In the Spirit of R U OK? Day (at work)

14th September 2017

By Rachel Clements – Director of Psychological Services at the Centre for Corporate Health and expert member on the R U OK? Day Conversation Thinktank.

The experience of mental health concerns is much more prevalent than you may think. Did you know that in a given year, one in five Australians aged between 16 and 85 experience a mental health concern? In addition, almost half the Australian population will experience a mental health concern in their lifetime. However, only 46% of people living with a mental health issue access any treatment. These figures may come as a shock to you. But it’s pretty clear that the importance of R U OK? Day and the message it aims to spread across the nation is undeniable.

In 2016, R U OK? Day conducted a survey revealing that while Australians want to spend more quality time connecting with family and friends, the main barriers to connecting were:

  • Distance
  • Being too tired or lacking energy
  • Being busy with other activities
  • Catching up on housework
  • Long work hours

What we need to remember is that connection is vital in enhancing our wellbeing. As many as 75% of Australians feel that talking with friends is the best way to assist in feeling better.

Have you ever noticed a colleague at work ‘who is here, but not really here?’ The following are some warning signs to look out for which may indicate someone is not ok:

  • Constantly tired, run down or feeling unwell
  • Change in appetite or diet
  • The use of drugs and alcohol to cope
  • Absenteeism or excessive work hours
  • Increase in breaks
  • Sudden changes to work performance
  • Irrational, negative or rigid thoughts
  • Mood changes such as lacking confidence, angry, anxious or worried

So what can you do if you are concerned about someone you know? Below is a 4-step Conversation Model, which you can follow, if you feel as if you need to check in with someone who may not be travelling so well.

Step 1: Ask R U OK?

Be aware of the signs that concern you and explain succinctly why you want to catch up. Remember to adopt a relaxed and friendly approach, while being clear on your message and approach from a position of concern and care.

Step 2: Listen without Judgement

Manage your own emotional reactions by expressing empathy and not being judgemental. Try not to overact. Remember not to interrupt or rush the person and allow them time to respond. This will give you a better understanding as to why you have observed changes in their behaviour.

Step 3: Encourage Action

When initiating a conversation, remember it is not your role to fix the problem. However, it is important that you guide them towards a solution or further assistance. Try and agree on a clear action plan so both parties understand what the outcome of the meeting will be.

Step 4: Check in

The process does not end after the first conversation. Remember to stay in touch and be there for them. Try setting yourself a reminder to follow up regularly. If the proposed solutions aren’t working, you can assist again, considering other ways to support.

So, take today as an important reminder to check in with a co-worker, a friend, or a family member, on how they are travelling. Ask the question, R U OK? And remember – you’ve got what it takes. Not just today, but every day.

Building positive work relationships

28th August 2017

By Debra Brodowski 

It’s not to say that you need to be completely extroverted in all of your encounters at work. But, building positive work relationships is important for a variety of reasons including success in your career and creating a more pleasant work experience for you and for your colleagues.

As humans, we are innately social beings – we crave friendship and positive relationships. Given we typically spend about 30-40 hours a week working, it makes intuitive sense that we should want to promote positive social interactions in our work environment, and not just in our personal lives.

Why do we need good relationships?

Having and maintaining good work relationships means that you don’t need to spend that extra time and energy trying to overcome the problems associated with negative ones. If you struggle to ask a colleague a question or if there are awkward moments in the lift, it can interrupt your workflow or even cause angst. On the other hand, positive relationships enable you to focus on opportunities, ensuring you can work efficiently.

Good work relationships in your professional circle is also important. Ensuring you develop and maintain positive working relationships with customers, suppliers and key stakeholders will not only make conversations, transactions, projects etc. easier, but they are also essential to succeed in your career.

What characteristics define a good work relationship?

Although there are various traits and qualities that make up good relationships, let alone different personal preferences and perceptions, there are a few that are unquestionable. I’m sure you are familiar with some of the following:

  • Trust - the core of every relationship. If you can’t trust the other person, then the foundations of the relationship will crumble. Trust creates a strong bond between you and the other person, it helps you communicate with one another and it allows you to be open and honest in your thoughts and behaviours. It means you don’t need to need to waste time, worried about what they may be thinking or doing. Of course, you aren’t going to trust everyone right off the bat, but consciously trying to work towards a trusting relationship will only do you favours.
  • Communicate clearly - This may seem like an intuitive point, but many people fail to communicate effectively – whether that be they don’t express themselves clearly or they don’t listen effectively to their colleagues. Strong communication ensures everyone is on the same page, comfortable and satisfied.
  • Be mindful - Accepting responsibility for your own words, actions and work is important. No one wants secondary blame or annoyance shifted over to them. Additionally, if you don’t accept the outcomes of your actions, your colleagues may find it difficult to trust you or to value your contributions fairly.
  • Welcome other people’s perspectives - You are not always going to see eye-to-eye with everyone, including those who you may have a close relationship with. But it is important to be open to considering, compromising and accepting different points of view. On the one hand, you could open your eyes to a new (and even better) idea and/or perspective. But on the other hand, it will strengthen your relationship with your colleague, and exemplify your team spirit skills.
  • Be considerate - Keep all relevant colleagues in the loop about certain projects and updates, don’t leave anyone in the dark who shouldn’t be. Don’t ‘forget’ to CC someone in an email who should really be seeing the content.
  • Be true - Above all, you should always try to be professional. But also be friendly and patient. And stay true to your commitments and promises.

Not only is it good for our wellbeing to be a part of a positive relationship, but having good relationships in the workforce can also increase your productivity and performance. A workplace filled with positive work relationships creates a positive work culture overall, it makes it a place where people want to be working in. 

How to clear your mind of unhelpful thoughts

21st June 2017

By Grace Kouvelis

We as humans are emotional beings and every kind of emotion we feel is accompanied by a set of thoughts. We all have helpful and unhelpful thoughts which direct our behaviour, decisions and actions that occur throughout the day. Unhelpful thoughts tend to stem from negative emotions such as anxiety, stress, fear and so forth. And because they can direct your behaviour at an unconscious level, they can become problematic.

Why are unhelpful thoughts bad for us?

Due to the phrase, it should be no surprise that ‘unhelpful’ thoughts are well, unhelpful. But extending on that, they are detrimental to us as they can limit your potential, deny you opportunities, create additional problems to your circumstances, and can just generally make you feel terrible. 

When your mind if flooded with thoughts, it can prohibit you from living in the present, from being able to think clearly or to focus on any given task. It can become difficult to escape. Having constant unwanted thoughts can even cause a sense of feeling out of control. But it is important to remind yourself that this isn’t necessarily the case. Bring yourself back to the present moment, think about the cause of the unhelpful thoughts, whether it be because you are worried about something in particular.

It is so important for our mental health that we all take a moment to take a break. However, it is often difficult to completely escape from the persistent unhelpful thoughts that can circulate your mind for hours on end. In saying this, it is not all doom and gloom and there are techniques you can employ to help yourself clear your mind.

So how can you stop these unhelpful thoughts?

We endorse a multi-pronged approach in order to clear your mind of negative, anxious and troubling thoughts. And although there are numerous techniques that can be employed, a few of the most helpful strategies are summarised below.

  1. Distraction: Although it may be intuitive to think that distraction will help calm your mind, it can often be easier said than done. However the ‘power to ignore’ should not be underestimated. Distraction can be a highly effective way to shift your attention if you catch yourself ruminating on negative thoughts. Take a walk, watch an engaging TV show, call a friend. Whatever you do, try and completely absorb yourself in this activity to distract your mind.
  2. Focus on the present: Take a leaf out of the ‘mindfulness’ book and focus your thoughts on the present. By avoiding your thoughts becoming stuck on the past or the future, you can start to let go of what you cannot control. Constantly focusing on the past can be distressing and constantly focusing on the future can cause apprehension. By redirecting your thoughts to the present, you can start to learn to live in the moment, without getting too overwhelmed.
  3. Breathe: Take a moment to concentrate on your breathing and to slow down the process of breathing in and out. You should not only feel emotionally calmer, but physically your body should calm down as well. For instance, count to three as you breathe in, and to five as you breathe out for 5-10 minutes. This process shifts the fight-or-flight response of your aympathetic nervous system to the relaxed response of the parasympathetic nervous system.
  4. Challenge your thoughts: Many people find themselves convinced the ‘worst case scenario’ will be true in a given situation. But you should challenge these thoughts. Ask yourself how likely this will be the case? Think about whether there is any evidence to support these negative thoughts? Has this ever happened before? Most likely, the ‘worst case’ won’t be reality. Look for alternative explanations and try to put the situation into perspective.
  5. Use a mantra: A mantra is a simple word or phrase which you repeat in order to calm your mind. Research has found that repeating a mantra to yourself can reduce the activity in the brain that is related to self-judgement and reflection. This part of the brain is responsible for us spending too much time ruminating over past events and worrying about the future. The mantra you choose can be completely up to you, but can be something like, “Aum,” “life is good” or “I am what I am”. The important thing is that you repeat this word or phrase over and over again in your mind, focusing only on your mantra and distancing all other thoughts. It is normal for your mind to wander elsewhere, but just acknowledge this thought and then gently take you mind back to your mantra.
  6. Write things down: By recording thoughts down, it enables you to return to them later. This means that you don’t have to dismiss a thought or concern completely, making you comfortable knowing that you can revisit it whenever you may please. This method can reduce the chaos, can clear your mind and can be relieving to let ‘it’ go, in some form. It can also organise your thoughts and can help you rationalise the problem at hand. By detaching yourself from the unhelpful thoughts, you can view the situation from an objective perspective.

Final words

There are numerous techniques that can be employed in order to try and calm your mind. But the key point is that you should try and find what works specifically for you. Ask yourself, what helps to quieten your mind? Stay focused? To overcome distracting thoughts? Play with different techniques until you find the one that suits you, you may even find one of your own or you can tailor existing ones so that they accommodate you more easily. But remember, consistency and patience is often key. And if you train yourself to use your chosen technique, it will become second-hand nature and before you know it, your mind will become calmer.


Getting Help for an Eating Disorder

22nd May 2017

To bring our three-part blog series to an end, Sany Andrijic discusses where you can get help if you are concerned about yourself or someone you know who may be struggling with an Eating Disorder.

Have you ever found yourself in a difficult dilemma, and not knowing what to do next? Similarly, it can be extremely difficult for the sufferer of an eating disorder to seek treatment. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as noticing the presence of an eating disorder, and then seeking help for it. This is because opening up to a new person can be confronting, as we are talking about something that’s really difficult. It’s difficult because there can be a lot of secrecy and shame around the presence of eating disorder behaviours, and the isolation that this generates may unfortunately perpetuate this process1.

However, that is not to say that there is no accessible help or support. And despite the obstacles in seeking the support you may need, there are various things you can keep in mind. Some general tips to help you overcome this difficulty are summarised below2.

  1. Try to think objectively about what may happen when disclosing your eating disorder behaviours to a health professional. This may include challenging any negative automatic thoughts. When you have a thought  such as, “I will be misunderstood”, try thinking instead that the health professional’s role is to assist you to improve your quality of life, and that they have a duty of care to listen and assess you without negative judgment;
  2. Remind yourself that you will not have to hold the ‘secret’ of the eating disorder any longer, and you can start to reclaim a life without the eating disorder;
  3. Start thinking about who you’d like to tell first, whether this is a GP, friend or partner –  remember, this must be someone you know will be understanding, as it’s often used as a template for further disclosures;
  4. Remind yourself that you are moving toward improving your chances of recovering more quickly  and moving toward a fulfilling, valued life once you decide to seek help;
  5. Work toward accepting your own and others’ reactions to the knowledge of the eating disorder – everyone copes in different ways, and it’s important we permit space to do so for ourselves as well;
  6. You may want to disclose your eating disorder in an anonymous setting if you remain concerned about the implications of telling someone. Services to do this can be found in the previous blog in this series;
  7. You may also want to write down your experience with the eating disorder before you begin this step forward to aid processing and understanding of this for yourself first;
  8. Problem solve around any potential negative reactions you may encounter from others – whilst remembering, as per the point above, that everyone copes with difficult information differently – you are not responsible for their reactions, only your own; and,
  9. Remind yourself that you’ve taken a positive step in seeking help!

So you’ve decided to seek help? Great! The next step is choosing the right practitioner to provide treatment. Ideally, this person should have experience in working with eating disorders, and should be the right match for you in terms of their style. Other things you may wish to consider is how you feel in their presence:

  • Do you feel supported, heard and validated? Or do you feel misunderstood, ashamed and isolated?
  • Do you feel adequately challenged to change your behaviours in a positive way, and at the pace that suits you?
  • Do you feel that your recovery is a collaborative one, or one that is heavily dictated by the therapist?
  • Do you feel empowered to make positive changes in your life?
  • Do you feel safe and respected?
  • Do you feel as though feedback is provided regularly about your progress?
  • Do you feel hopeful about recovery?
  • Do you feel that your rights as a patient are being maintained, such as respect, dignity, autonomy, justice, confidentiality, beneficence and non-maleficence?

Be honest and keep searching until you find the right help or support for you. And most importantly, reward yourself for being brave in taking this step!


Getting Help for an Eating Disorder: Checklist Eating Disorders Victoria 2015 (accessed from

Mums the “word”

12th May 2017

The “word” on becoming a new mum
By Amelia Flores-Kater, Psychologist

As Mother’s Day approaches it is a good time to be reflective on how wonderful it is to be a mum and parent.  How rewarding and exhilarating it is to see your children grow, learn, develop and reach all those important life milestones.  As we reflect on this happy time, it is also time to recognise that the job is also one that is challenging and emotional, especially when you have become a mum for the first time. 

So this is the perfect time to be reflective on the process of becoming a new mum, what it really feels like and some general tips to be mindful of …

Parenting starts from the moment you discover that you are pregnant, the emotional wave commences, from pure adrenaline, excitement, joy to instant fear, uncertainty and anxiety, possibly all occurring at once. Life suddenly changes, and you head into a new direction, realising that life as you know it will never be quite the same again.  In saying this, the learning and changes you experience will be enriching and developing to who you are as an individual and as a parent.

Further, becoming a parenting team is a new experience, seeing your partner differently, and redefining your relationship together and as parents.  All of these experiences make you reflect on your life through a different perspective, in particular the moments from pregnancy, birth to the moment of parenting are challenging ones if they do not go to plan.

There are times that we find ourselves managing these challenges well, coping effectively and feeling “on top of things”. Then there will be times that parenting moments feel overwhelming, tiresome and anxiety provoking, in particular when we are deprived in other areas of functioning such as experiencing a lack of sleep, or when of ill health.

Becoming a mother can have its own individual pressures aside from general parenthood.  These may include physical pressures on your body including the birthing process, post birth recovery, breast feeding and mother/baby physical bonding.  In addition, the emotional toll of a mother to connect with your baby on a constant basis can place significant pressure on your relationship with the baby.  Further, social and family pressure to fulfill a role expectation in the community and within the family unit can feel burdensome, guilt provoking and distressing.  All these responses for a mother, both from a physical and emotional perspective, can have a cumulative build up resulting in physical fatigue and psychological distress/illness.

So, what if motherhood is not what you expected?

Firstly, you are not alone and it is normal to feel an influx of emotions and physical concerns.  This is a new experience that is both challenging and life changing, therefore it can result in emotional anxiety, distress but also heightened elevation of joy and happiness, all in one moment.  Feeling some emotions of doubt and feeling that you wish to cry, being irritable, easily triggered and at times quite miserable are normal.  There are many things that can make you feel that way including lack of sleep, baby being unwell or unsettled and or self-judgment that you are not being a good “mum”.

General tips

  • It is important to remember that mothering/parenting can be a very intense and unrelenting experience, especially in the initial stages post birth, so normalise these emotions for yourself!
  • It is important to remind yourself that parenting is a skill that you learn and it is a combination of both good and bad days.
  • Learning to parent your child (breast feeding, settling, nurturing) are all new experiences, but can be learnt over time.
  • Some babies/children need more support than others – that is normal and not directly related to you as a parent.
  • Parenting takes time to “bed down” and takes time to adjust too, and there are some days that you will not get it right.
  • Expectations of previous things that you used to do before, such as cleaning/cooking and even socialising may need to change, to allow yourself the opportunity to develop new routines and patterns that suit you and your baby/child.
  • There will be times when you have negative feelings about your child, but that does not mean you are a bad parent or that you do not love your child.

How can you get help if you need it 

  • Speak with your General Practitioner, Midwife or Obstetrician to seek guidance on persistent negative feelings or symptoms, both physical and psychological.  Seek a referral to a Psychologist if needed or arrange a visit with a Paediatric nurse if you feel you need assistance with breast feeding or establishing sleep routines for the baby
  • Speak with you partner/family/friends about any concerns or assistance that you need.
  • Join a mothers group or community group to meet with regularly for support.
  • Arrange access to a crèche or babysitting facility so that when you are ready, you can allow yourself some time without the baby.

Further resources and  help lines/contacts include:

Warnings Signs of an Eating Disorder

21st April 2017

Sany Andrijic, Registered Psychologist, continues our three part blog series on Eating Disorders.

Warning signs are not as easy to detect as you may think when it comes to pinpointing the presence of an eating disorder, but it is the first and essential step to receiving the treatment you may need1. It should be noted, however, that recognising the warning signs and acknowledging the presence of an eating disorder are very different things for the sufferer. It can take time for the person to seek the help they need. And so, if you are supporting someone as they recognise their warning signs, it is important to be sensitive and patient.

Although many people at some point in their life may develop an unhealthy relationship with food, there are certain warning signs that should call for caution. The major eating disorders – Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder – are explored below.

Some of the warning signs and symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa include:

  • Restriction of energy intake
  • Extreme or sudden weight loss
  • Being significantly underweight in relation to your age, sex and physical health
  • Fatigue, dizziness or fainting
  • Brittle nails, dry skin, hair thinning
  • Absence of menstruation
  • Sensitivity to the cold
  • Preoccupation with body image, food or food-related activities
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Not recognising the seriousness of current low body weight
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression or anxiety

The following summarises some of the warning signs and symptoms that may be present if you or someone you know is suffering from Bulimia Nervosa:

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating – eating within a particular period of time an amount of food that is larger than what would typically be eaten in a similar context
  • Normal or overweight
  • Self-induced vomiting
  • Misuse of laxatives
  • Excessive exercise
  • Weakness
  • Preoccupation with body image
  • Feelings of guilt or shame in regards to eating
  • Depression and irritability
  • Avoidance or withdrawal after meals

Some of the warning signs and symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder are summarised below:

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating – eating large amounts of food:

o   Quickly

o   Until uncomfortably full

o   When not hungry

o   Alone if embarrassed about eating

  • There are no recurrent compensatory behaviours that follow the binge eating
  • Lack of control when eating
  • Depression, grief or shame
  • Disgust or self-loathing in regards to eating

Having read through the warning signs and symptoms, you may start to wonder whether they apply to you. We are cautioned with this process though! Not everyone with an eating disorder presents the same way – it’s a highly heterogenous presentation that requires a skilled mental health practitioner to arrive at a proper diagnosis2. To be diagnosed with an Eating Disorder, certain criteria needs to be met, consistent with the DSM-53

But in any case, if you or someone you know presents with any of the above warning signs and symptoms, and or you have concerns that you or someone you know may be struggling with an eating disorder –  including anything that may not have been listed above – it is recommended you access the following support services for more information:

  • Butterfly Foundation
  • National Eating Disorders Collaboration
  • Centre for Eating and Dieting Disorders
  • Body Matters Australasia
  • A good local GP

If this piece has raised any concerns for you or for others you know, please phone Lifeline on 13 11 14.


[1, 2] Warning Signs and Symptoms Eating Disorders Victoria 2015 (accessed from

[3] Diagnostic Criteria from DSM 5 American Psychiatric Association 2013.

Why we should be spending more time to adopt a ‘growth mindset’

7th April 2017

By Grace Kouvelis

I’m sure most of you by now have heard of the concepts of a ‘growth’ and a ‘fixed’ mindset. And I’m sure many of you may think it is all just hype. But the ‘growth’ vs ‘fixed’ mindset theory is much more evidence-based than you may think and developing a ‘growth mindset’ is not merely as easy as telling yourself you are great and can do anything.

What does the research say?

Recent neuroscience research has demonstrated that the brain is far more malleable than we previously thought. Brain plasticity research has shown how connectivity between neurons can change with experience. With practice, neural networks grow new connections, strengthen existing ones, and build insulation that speeds transmission of impulses. This challenges the belief that skills, virtues and behaviours (e.g. intelligence, talents) are solely innate, or in other words ‘fixed’. Research indicates that through the actions we make, we can strengthen our neural growth. We can do this by using good strategies, asking questions, practicing and by maintaining a good wellbeing – such as following good nutrition and engaging in good sleep habits.

If I haven’t lost you already with summarising neuro findings, I’ll explain what I mean in more basic English. It refers to the fact that our mindsets are not ‘fixed’ and we can in fact change how our brains respond to certain situations. This is evidently backed up by research and what it means is that if we automatically respond to a certain stimulus, e.g. pressure of too much work, with a poor response, such as retreating and walking away from it, we can train ourselves, through time and practice, to respond in a different way, such as breaking the tasks into smaller steps, breathing slowly etc. This process falls under the premise of what a ‘growth’ mindset is. Your actions, responses and behaviours are not all set in stone. But by understanding, acknowledging and acting on processes of change, you can learn to enhance your performance. It is not about being “smart” or “dumb”. But it’s about how much effort you put in or how you approach a given task.

Why adopt a growth mindset?

Adopting a growth mindset has many benefits such as increased motivation and achievement. Research suggests that praising children for instance for their hard work and effort facilitates a growth mindset, rather than simply telling them that they are smart. Growth mindsets allow individuals to continually improve, to build new skills and enables you to maximise your potential. It equips you to be able to tackle a challenge, to learn from criticism and to find inspiration in situations.

We want to move away from having a ‘fixed’ mindset. The way of thinking that someone either has ‘it’ or doesn’t is very black and white and limiting. Thinking in that way prohibits growth, learning and development. So it’s no wonder that it is discouraged to think this way for our children. But what does it mean for adults in the workplace?

What does it mean in a workplace setting?

Mindsets have been linked to considerable differences in employee performance. In the workplace, leaders who embody a growth mindset have been linked to feedback seeking behaviour, improvements in leadership capability and more supportive and developmental approaches to leading others. They are more likely to coach employees and provide them with support and guidance than leaders with a fixed mindset. When entire organisations encourage a growth mindset, employees indicate feeling more empowered and committed and they experience more support for collaboration.

What is also of significance is the degree to which these mindsets seem to impact on performance. For instance, basic strategies like educating others about the concept neuroplasticity and growth mindsets, telling real life stories of the results that follow, by praising effort rather than ability, can all foster a growth mindset in itself and lead to performance enhancement.

Of course it is not as simple as just saying ‘adopt a growth mindset’. But it is clear that there are numerous benefits for this type of thinking. So broaden your horizons, be open to change and remember nothing is ‘fixed’. 

The early warning signs of Domestic Violence

31st March 2017

Although it is a sensitive topic, it is one that should not be avoided. Family and Domestic Violence needs to be spoken about in hope of trying to reduce and eliminate the offence. If you are worried about yourself or someone you know, seek help immediately.

Deborah Brodowski, National Manager of Psychological Services, reports on the Early Warning Signs of Domestic Violence.

Chances are that there is someone you know who has experienced or is currently experiencing family and domestic violence. With one in three women over the age of 15 years reporting to have experienced family and domestic violence in some form in their lives, it is important to know the signs to look out for which may suggest that they are experiencing family and domestic violence.

When thinking about the early warning signs and what they may look like, we can automatically jump to thinking, “I’ll know because I will see the bruises, injuries etc.” Whilst these are certainly some very important signs and symptoms to look out for, there are other less obvious, yet also important, signs and symptoms to consider. This is particularly important to consider given that people may mask or hide their physical injuries, or make excuses for them.

Other signs and symptoms can be seen via changes in physiology, mood, behavior, and thoughts. The person in question may:

·         Seem afraid or anxious to please

·         Be easily startled, jumpy, and/or on edge

·         Go along with everything their partner says and does

·         Check in often with their partner to report where they are and what they’re doing

·         Receive frequent, harassing phone calls from their partner

·         Talk about their partner’s temper, jealousy, or possessiveness

·         Feel extreme tiredness and fatigue

·         Frequently miss work, school, or social occasions, without explanation

·         Be restricted from seeing family and friends

·         Have limited access to money, credit cards, or the car

·         Have very low self-esteem, even if they used to be confident

·         Be anxious or depressed

The key to identifying these signs and symptoms early tends to start with a thought like “Gee, they haven’t been themselves lately. Something’s changed,” and then think about what has specifically changed according to the symptoms.

If you are concerned about someone who may be experiencing family and domestic violence, please link in with Human Resources for support in how to best address the matter with the employee.

For more information on our family violence services for workplaces, please contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at

The relationship between Eating Disorders and Self-Esteem

20th March 2017

Expert advice by Sany Andrijic, Registered Psychologist, Centre for Corporate Health and Resilia.

Are Eating Disorders as simple as just choosing not to eat? The short answer is no. Eating Disorders involve disturbed eating habits or weight control behaviour that disrupts an individual’s physical and psychosocial functioning. There is no one underlying cause and they are more complex than you can probably imagine. One important thing to consider is how our self-esteem relates to the development and course of experiencing an eating disorder.

Self-esteem is how we measure our worth based on perceived achievements1. The relationship between one’s self-esteem and the presence of an eating disorder appears to be a negative one2. Research has suggested that disordered body image can only be corrected with the improvement of one’s self esteem3.

Undoubtedly, we need to be conscious of the possible negative impact our relationship with food, dieting and body image can have. It is so important that we don’t allow these features to become inherent to our self-identity. So what can you do? The good news is that there are things we can do to improve our self-esteem, and thus reduce the focus on these food, dieting and body image matters. A few suggestions are summarised below.

1. The first thing we can do is to apply Affirmations4. A good example of an affirmation is one that is believable, and immune to automatic refutes. This will vary from person to person, but an example could be “Recovery from an eating disorder is achievable for me”, or “I Have the right to be understood, believed and supported by others"

2. Focus on Achievable Self-Care Activities5, such as getting enough rest, eating a balanced diet containing lots of nutritious and balanced meals, and exercise for enjoyment and vitality.

3. Challenge Negative Automatic Thoughts that fuel the ‘eating disorder voice’6. Do the following statements sound familiar: “You’re a waste of space…Nothing you do will ever be good enough!” Bring awareness to your inner critic, and be willing to let go of the need for control by using these unhelpful Negative Self-Statements. Perhaps at one stage of your life, it served an important function in getting you motivated, or in managing a stressful life event, but dichotomous thoughts rarely produce successful results – rather it creates two extreme alternatives that are usually not realistic, thus disappointing us even further. Have the will to be brave and stand up to your inner bully.

4. Spend time with positive people who empower you to focus less on external traits, and rather on your inner qualities.

5. Be willing to solve problems without food or eating disorder behaviours by actively problem solving around stressors, and becoming empowered by developing competency in more helpful based coping7. An example could be taking a walk instead of bingeing, or writing down your feelings instead of purging.

6. Practice self-compassion by acknowledging your positive traits and treating yourself kindly8. A good way to do this is by asking yourself “How would I treat a friend or colleague here? What helpful encouragement might I say to them if they were faced with a similar situation?” – and remember, fake it until you make it!

7. Align goals and actions with your core values9. Think about what you stand for in life, and align your activities with this. It is unlikely your eating disorder behaviours are aligned with positive or helpful values, hence why they cause you so much distress – this is called ‘cognitive dissonance’. Start by bringing awareness to the things that matter to you, and write a list of ways that you may get closer to these values in your day to day life.

8. Focus less on perfection10.  Empower yourself by challenging your need to be perfect.

9. Adjust the goal posts11. The reality is that your eating disorder developed over many years, and the fact that you’re reading this article is only the start of your journey. We refer to this as being ‘contemplative’. It means you are starting to think about your unhelpful coping behaviours, i.e. the eating disorder, but you’re not entirely sure what to do next. This is normal, and will take time for you to figure out the next steps. Don’t be too hard on yourself for slip ups, as these are normal in the contemplative phase. Focus more on what you can do, and how far you’ve come thus far.

10. And finally, celebrate your successes12. A little positive reinforcement can really have such an impact on promoting helpful behaviours. Reward yourself by catching up with friends or taking up a painting course.

Hopefully, you can work on some of these tips provided to boost your self-esteem. And hopefully, in time they will help to combat your disordered eating patterns. It should be noted that this blog was not intended to try and solve every problem, and it should not be taken as a ‘best practice’ treatment option for any Eating Disorder. But rather, it offers insightful tips that can help one aspect that could be related to an Eating Disorder that you or someone you know has.

If you continue to feel anxious, distressed or concerned, or you feel as if things aren’t getting easier, reach out and ask for help. Speak to your GP about a referral to a Psychologist or counsellor.


[1, 3, 5, 8] 10 Strategies for Building Self-Esteem (2017). Accessed from BodyMatters Australasia, Retrieved on 2 March 2017.

 [2, 4, 6, 7, 9-12] Self Esteem (2014). Accessed from Eating Disorders Victoria, Retrieved on 2 March 2017.

How much do our lifestyle choices affect our sleep?

10th March 2017

To wrap up our three-part blog series, PENNY MYERSCOUGH explores how our lifestyle can impact on our sleep.

Are our sleep patterns fixed? What ensures that we get enough zzz’s each night? Is it all about just going to bed at a decent hour of the night? I’m sure most of you have had some trouble with sleep at a given point in your life. And I’m guessing many of you can’t pinpoint one cause to the struggle.

The internal mechanisms that regulate our sleep and wake patterns are a delicate and complex web. This blog explores a number of common lifestyle factors that can play a significant role in determining how healthy our sleep patterns are.

Jet Lag and Shift Work

Normally, light serves to set our internal clock to the appropriate time and reflects when we need to sleep according to the absence of light among other factors. However, problems can occur when our exposure to light changes due to a shift in work schedule or travel across time zones. Typically, those who work shifts or do long haul flights have one of two symptoms. One is insomnia when they are trying to sleep outside of their internal phase, and the other is excessive sleepiness during the time when their internal clock says that they should be asleep. Half of all night shift workers regularly report nodding off and falling asleep when they are at work. This is a concern both for individuals and society, given that airline pilots, air traffic controllers, physicians, nurses, police, and other public safety workers are all employed in professions in which peak functioning during a night shift may be critical.

If possible, don’t work too many late night shifts in a row, keep your workplace brightly lit to ensure alertness (and avoid sleepiness on the job) and try to avoid caffeine towards the end of your shift as it can disrupt your sleep when you get home.

Caffeine and Alcohol

Many common chemicals affect both quantity and quality of sleep. These include caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and antihistamines, as well as prescription medications including beta blockers, alpha blockers, and antidepressants. The pressure to sleep builds with every hour that you are awake. During daylight hours, your internal clock generally counteracts this sleep drive by producing an alerting signal that keeps you awake. The longer you are awake, the stronger the sleep drive becomes. Eventually the alerting signal decreases and the drive to sleep wins out. When it does, you fall asleep.

Caffeine tends to block the chemical that enforces the sleep drive. However, its effects are temporary which is why we feel elevated for short periods and then tend to “crash”. At night, consuming caffeine generally decreases the quantity of slow-wave sleep and REM sleep and tends to increase the number of awakenings. The duration of its effect depends on the amount of caffeine ingested, the amount of time before sleep that the person ingests the caffeine, the individual’s tolerance level, the degree of ongoing sleep debt, and the phase of the individual’s internal clock.

While coffee is one of the world’s most popular drinks and is a social mechanism for people catching up, many health practitioners recommend not drinking caffeine after midday to minimize your chances of having disrupted sleep.

Alcohol is commonly identified as a substance that assists in getting to sleep. While alcohol can help a person fall asleep more quickly, the quality of that individual's sleep under the influence of alcohol will be compromised. Ingesting more than one or two drinks shortly before bedtime has been shown to cause increased awakenings—and in some cases insomnia—due to the arousal effect that alcohol has as it is metabolised later in the night. Alcohol also tends to worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea, which will further disrupt sleep in people with this breathing disorder and those who may be sharing a bedroom.

Alcohol can be enjoyed in moderation in many social situations. However, stopping at three drinks is advised as is allowing a few hours between your last drink and when you go to bed.


These are the more basic and pragmatic factors that you might like to review in order to maximize your chances of a good night’s sleep. Such considerations include, light and noise. In most instances we have limited capacity to control how much we are exposed to these things. Other considerations are temperature which might relate to how heavy your bedclothes are and the fabric of your bed linen. Pure cotton breathes more easily than artificial fibers and brushed cotton or flannel sheets are warm in winter but no good in the summer months. Mattresses are generally designed to last for ten years yet many people go for much longer without examining the impact that the mattress might be having on them.

Of course there are numerous other external and internal factors involved in how well and long we sleep. Obviously many of these will be unavoidable. But consider this: try and manage these known lifestyle factors. Ensure your room is comfortable and dark enough to get some shut eye. Avoid blue-light right before bed and keep external noises (to the best within your control) to a minimum. Watch what you are eating and drinking in the later times of the day and work out a suitable sleep regime if you are a shift worker.

If you persistently have trouble falling or staying asleep, seek medical advice from your GP or speak to another healthcare professional.  

Is the ‘2pm slump’ a myth?

6th March 2017

By Rachel Clements 

Do you ever notice by around 2pm that your energy levels start to drop, you are scratching your head as to why that coffee hasn’t held out and you are constantly checking the clock? You are not alone.

The ‘2pm slump’ is a real thing. Well, it is definitely experienced by a lot of people. Research indicates that our internal body clock naturally tells us to ‘get sleepy’ at this time. But is it as simple as just blaming our biology? What is the truth behind the ‘2pm slump’?

What does the science say?

The American Dietetic Association proposed that we have a natural rhythm (aka ‘body clock’) in our bodies, which explains why we feel fatigued between 2 and 4 in the afternoon. In other words, we seem to have a natural lull.

Experts such as Michael J. Breus (PhD) from WebMD describes this exhaustion feeling that occurs in the afternoon as being just like how we feel right before bed. It is a result of a dip in our core body temperature. It drops right before you sleep at night, which signals the brain to release our natural sleep chemical, melatonin. The same process occurs, to a smaller extent, in the afternoon.

Our bodies work on a sleep-wake cycle, telling us that we are sleepy around 2am (which makes sense), but also to some extent around 2pm. In some cultures, such as Spain, this is actually celebrated. Their well-known siestas may be cleverer than you think, as some studies do indicate that an afternoon rest can boost energy and productivity for further work.

But of course there is more to it than that. Otherwise we would all be involuntarily napping on our desk after lunch!

What else is at play?

A lot of what determines if we feel this slump or not is our diet. What we eat during the day essentially determines how energised we stay. Dr Mercola explains that the most common trigger for afternoon fatigue is post-lunch hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), which is related to your inability to burn fat.

One dietary culprit for afternoon fatigue is a (simple) carb-heavy lunch. Simple carbs are made up of one or two sugar molecules and although they are the quickest source of energy as they are rapidly digested, this ‘high’ is often short-lived. In effect, we find our energy levels plummeting to the ground once more not long after consumption. This is definitely not to say to not eat carbs, in fact we should eat carbs as they are a great source of energy fuel. But it is all about selecting the appropriate types to consume. Complex carbs such as wholegrains, beans, legumes and fiber-rich fruits and vegetables are ideal as they sustain our blood sugar levels.

Eating at regular times can also help ensure that your blood sugar levels remain steady. Don’t skip meals! Snack throughout the day if you desire, opting for slow burning options that keep us fuller for longer (e.g. bananas, nuts, yoghurt, popcorn). Another critical tip is to choose water instead of sugary drinks and be mindful of how much caffeine you are consuming. Dehydration is one of the most common reasons for feeling fatigued and many of us are guilty of not drinking enough water. Green tea has also been found to combat energy slumps, boosting your productivity. Plus, it has numerous other health benefits!

Another big factor in our afternoon lulls, is how active you are. Remaining stationary for hours on end is no good for your health. And the scary thing is, it doesn’t even matter if you exercise before or after work! Sitting down all day not only adds to fatigue, but it has various detrimental effects on our health. Dr Joan Vernikos (former director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division) explains how standing up from your seated position makes your body interact with gravity, which is what leads to beneficial health effects. Lipoprotein lipase (an enzyme) reduces greatly with inactivity but increases with activity. The enzyme connects with fat in our bloodstream, transporting it into your muscles to be used as fuel. If your body can’t use fat to make energy while you are sitting, your muscles will become sleepy.

So what can you do if you work a 9-5ish sitting job? Get up and walk around every hour or so to prevent these harsh effects. Speak to a colleague over by their desk rather than emailing them or speaking to them over the phone. Go make that tea in the kitchen, standing as the kettle boils. Go for a walk around the block, which not only means you are getting up from your desk, but the fresh air will clear your mind, leaving you revitalised. And if possible, set up a standing desk.

So although the ‘2pm slump’ may be ‘true’ for many, there are various ways to get your energy levels back on track.

Are your child’s special needs taking a toll on you?

22nd February 2017

By Grace Kouvelis

Feeling a bit overwhelmed or that you can’t keep up with everything? Nobody told you it would be this hard. Parenthood that is. Or maybe they did, but if you add having a child with special needs into the mix, you probably were at least a little bit unprepared.

Undeniably, being a parent is hard but being a parent to a special needs child may be extra hard. It’s not to say that a special needs child will cause more stress than a child of typical development, but rather that it is most likely to be of a different source or level of stress.

It is likely that your days are full of appointments, therapies or other responsibilities to help care for your child. If you add on top your own personal worries and concerns, plus pressing deadlines, there is no wonder that you aren’t sleeping or you aren’t being productive at work.

Something’s got to give, right? Well, in a way yes. But what is of extreme value to consider is balance. It is not about you sacrificing sleep or pushing away leisure activities for yourself. I’m sure you are thinking, ‘easier said than done’. But it doesn’t have to be like this. Below are some suggested tips for you to take on board.

The first and foremost thing to remember is that you are not alone. We live in a world where special needs among children seems to be continually increasing. There are so many support services available for you and your child. Consider getting involved in a support group. Discussing any of your worries, concerns or fears with someone who likewise is going through the same experience can be very beneficial.

A few tips to keep in mind to help manage your child’s special needs are summarised below.

  1. Learn about the type of special needs. One of the most critical steps in learning how to manage your child’s special needs is to understand what the condition is and where they require extra help. For instance, knowing that dyslexia is not characterized by low intelligence, but rather dyslexics have trouble interpreting symbols, letters or words is important. Educate yourself of the warning signs, typical behaviours/characteristics and management strategies for your child’s special needs. By doing so, not only will you serve the best interests of your child, helping them to learn effectively, but hopefully it will make things a bit easier on you too.
  2. Learn about your child’s personal experience. But knowing about the condition itself is not enough. You need to be in tune with your child’s personal experience. Just as every child is unique, every special needs case will be different. Understanding how your child responds to their special needs, where they require help and what management intervention works specifically for them is essential. For instance, ADHD affects children in different ways. Some children may have trouble sitting still and will be fidgety, whereas for others they may blurt out answers in class when it is inappropriate to do so.
  3. Be consistent and set up a structure. Generally speaking, being consistent in your routine and with your expectations is extremely important. Have set times for bed, waking up, for doing homework etc. to promote stability and to avoid disruptions. This is not to say you can’t be spontaneous with activities, but structure will create a sense of control and confidence in your child. Autistic children benefit greatly from a consistent routine, focusing on target behaviours and positively reinforcing desired outcomes. Reshaping a behaviour one day and then letting it slide the next will be confusing for your child and may result in unpredictable behaviour.
  4. Speak to your ‘team’. It is really important to ensure everyone who is practically involved in your child’s life is on the same page. For instance, be in close communication with your child’s teacher to see what they notice in class, but also discuss what management strategies work. You may have a pre-existing management plan in place which needs to be transcended across to the school setting, or maybe they have some tips for you to work on at home.
  5. Embrace the positives. Remember, every child has their own strengths and weaknesses. Of course it is important to spend time on where they may be struggling, but it is equally essential that you cherish their strengths!

Maybe you have been so consumed with trying to take care of your child’s needs, and your family’s, that you have neglected your own. You may be feeling overwhelmed or stressed, that is totally normal. But remember to be kind to yourself, you are doing the best you can. Below is a summary of some tips which can help you to cope with the additional stressors and to help you maintain your wellbeing. 

  1. Be organised. No doubt your schedule is overflowing with appointments, work, extra activities, but ensuring that you are not running yourself into the ground is so important for your child’s wellbeing, but also your own. Create a calendar, don’t leave things to the last minute and remember balance is key.
  2. Choose mindfulness. Stop ruminating over the past or worrying about the future and redirect your focus back to the present. Engage in a breathing technique – breath in slowly through your nose and then out through your mouth for a few seconds, and repeat. Research has demonstrated that mindfulness practices can decrease stress and anxiety and lead to increased relaxation, positive feelings and improved sleep.
  3. Set time aside for you. It is easy to get caught up in your chaotic life, ensuring everyone around you is safe and well. But stop, reflect and take time for yourself. Get a babysitter or ask your partner, friend or family member to take the kids for a few hours. Find something that YOU enjoy, whether that is reading a book, going for a drink with a friend or getting a massage.
  4. Seek help. You don’t have to be ‘super(wo)man’ all of the time. Seek help and set up a management plan that works for you and the family. And if you are particularly struggling yourself, speak to a trusted friend, family or healthcare professional (e.g. psychologist, counsellor).

Whether your child’s needs are physical, developmental or emotional, there are ways that you can try and keep your wellbeing in check. Don’t neglect you, it isn’t good for anyone. 

Impact that sleep deprivation has on performance

16th February 2017

PENNY MYERSCOUGH continues our three part blog series to help you get a better night sleep.

Since 1960, the western world has decreased its average sleep time per night from 8.5 to 6.5 hours. So how much do we really need? Major studies indicate that for healthy individuals with normal sleep, adults need 7-9 hours1. There are a small number of the population who have long sleep genes and short sleep genes. However, these make up about 3% of the population. These are genetic and so most likely to run in families. For most of us, though, 7-9 hours enables maximum performance.

If you are like most of the working population in Australia, you probably see this as being quite idealist. Working long hours, trying to incorporate family time, exercise, down time, etc. Before we know it, our sleep time gets squeezed. So, if you have one night of inadequate sleep, does it matter? What about those weeks when you have ridiculous work demands and a full social calendar?

For most of us, the biggest impact of sleep deprivation performance is not around a one-off night of 2-3 hours. Instead, it is the insidious effect of a series of nights of 4-5 hours. Our brains are particularly poor at self-reporting impairment due to fatigue. Let’s say that you had sleep deprivation for one night. Typically, you would report feeling as though you were not functioning at full capacity. Indeed, in many instances, we avoid making complex decisions, securing solutions to difficult situations, or try to resolve interpersonal conflicts when we know that we are in this state. If, on the other hand, you average four hours of sleep a night for four or five days, you demonstrate the same level of cognitive impairment as if you had been awake for 24 hours.2. However, you will not report any impairment in your cognitive function, recall, ability to focus, decision making capacity, cognitive speed and maths processing. So while the impairment is the same as though you had been denied a night’s sleep, you are less likely to have insight into your depleted functioning and thereby won’t seek the opportunity to defer or seek external advise on complex decision making, focussing on complex problems, be short tempered with others etc. Within ten days, the level of impairment is the same as you’d have going 48 hours without sleep. This greatly lengthens reaction time, impedes judgment, and interferes with problem solving.

Yet we often operate in workplaces that glorify fatigue and celebrate long working hours and hold up those who opt to put in “all-nighters”. There are some academics in this area who are calling on organisations to take responsibility for the impaired function of its employees who are required to work long hours and then make errors3. Extensive research has been done on doctors who work shifts and often work two shifts back to back. Where does the responsibility sit when that doctor makes an error of judgement due to fatigue that impacts a patient’s health? While corporations have all kinds of policies designed to prevent employee endangerment—rules against workplace smoking, drinking, drugs, sexual harassment, and so on—they sometimes push employees to the brink of self-destruction. Being “on” pretty much around the clock induces a level of impairment every bit as risky as intoxication. We now know that 24 hours without sleep or a week of sleeping four or five hours a night induces an impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of .1%. We would never say, “This person is a great worker! He’s drunk all the time!” yet we continue to celebrate people who sacrifice sleep.

Maybe in 2017, your resolution will be to re-think sleep and take some steps to ensure that you are performing at your best? Trust me, it will do you more good than you think.



The positive effects of optimism

10th February 2017

By Rachel Quick

We have all heard of the famous saying “Is the glass half full or half empty?” Life has many ups and downs and things don’t always go to plan. However, some people decide to make the best out of a situation and have a positive attitude to life. This group of people view the glass as “half full” and can be described as “optimists.” Studies suggest seeing the glass half-full is good for our overall wellbeing and leads to other health benefits such as reduced levels of mortality, better immune function and cardiovascular health.

What is optimism?

The concept of optimism is defined as a form of positive thinking where people aim to seek out the good in every situation. It involves the ability to control the direction of your life and bounce back from negative situations, while believing that good things will come your way. If an individual is optimistic they have the ability to transform a negative situation into a positive. Optimism emphasises that during tough times people should search for meaning and remember all that they are grateful for.

A few tips on how to be an ‘optimist’

An optimist is an individual who is cheerful, has a positive attitude and tends to anticipate the best possible outcome in any situation. Sounds good doesn’t it? So what can you do to become an optimist?

  • Remember happiness comes from within – Remind yourself that you are responsible for your own happiness, it doesn’t solely depend on your accomplishments in life.
  • Discover the good – Seek out the positive in every situation. In difficult situations, it may be more challenging, however, look closer!
  • Avoid the blame game – Optimists avoid blaming their own faults on others. They search for the cause of their failure and then seek to improve it.
  • Complaining leads you nowhere – Optimists don’t take things for granted and try to be grateful for the things they have. They focus on finding a solution to any problem.
  • Record it – Get into a habit of writing down a few good things at the end of the day to help you appreciate the positive parts of life. This could be achievements you’ve made during the day or things you are thankful for.
  • Find your balance – Sometimes life throws unexpected situations at us so the challenge is to stay positive and calm even when things don’t go to plan.
  • Be in control - Studies have shown when people are in control of situations they feel more optimistic. Set a goal for yourself and remember you are in control.
  • Ability to let things go – Optimistic people let go of hatred and jealousy because they understand things cannot be undone. It is far more worthwhile to forgive, forget and move on.
  • Get rid of the jealousy – Every day we compare ourselves to others and may become jealous of what we don’t have. Instead, remind yourself of your qualities and what you are thankful for. Remember that no one is perfect.
  • Life will never be a walk in the park – Life is never fair, nor easy. Having the ability to cope with the uncertainty of life enables optimistic people to better respond to situations. Their aim is to make the best of every situation.


What are the benefits of being optimistic?

  1. It can lead to a healthier heart – By focusing on the positive, optimists improve their health and overall wellbeing, thus encouraging individuals to take better care of their bodies. Studies have shown optimists exercise more and have significantly better blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
  2. The ability to appreciate the positive moments in life – Almost everyone can find something delightful and enjoyable in their life. No matter the situation, an optimist knows that tough times won’t last forever. Therefore, you should always try to seek out the positive in the situation.
  3. It promotes positive relationships – Thinking and acting optimistically can increase your chance of securing a stable, loving relationship.
  4. You can spread the optimism vibe – We can inspire and motivate the people around us by having a cheerful attitude, especially in the workplace. This can lead to accomplishing bigger goals and moving forward as a team.
  5. You are one step closer to achieving your goals – Positive thinking helps you to remain in a good mood and focus on the main aspects of life. By looking at the positive side of everything, you will notice all the possibilities around you, which will help you to succeed in everything.
  6. The ability to bounce back – Studies have shown during difficult times or times of change, people who are optimistic experience less stress, anxiety, and uncertainty. Just like the saying - “When life delivers lemons, optimists are more likely to make lemonade.”
  7. It is the best choice and the key to your success – Research clearly shows that optimism rewards us in all areas of life, such as seeking out new opportunities, being able to move forward from difficult times and having the ability to learn from our mistakes.  

In this unpredictable and often challenging world, to be a “glass half full” person is an incredible quality to have. But remember, it doesn’t mean you must always be happy. Life can throw unexpected situations at us. However, it is your approach, outlook and what you take away from a situation that affects your ability to be optimistic.  

Getting back into the swing of school

23rd January 2017

Are your children beginning to experience the back to school jitters…? AMELIA FLORES-KATER offers her top tips for getting your children emotionally ready for the upcoming school year.

Oh yes… it’s that time of year again! The start of the new school year is fast approaching us.  Its been a great holiday period, where hopefully you and your family have spent the last month basking in the summer days with no structure, the availability to switch off from deadlines, homework tasks and breaking normal routines. Potentially you have even enjoyed a holiday period away from home, where the family has lived in a new environment, sleeping and eating patterns have been broken, indulged and splurged.  Therefore it is not surprising that returning to normality might seem a little “Ho Hum”, and that your children might be feeling apprehensive about returning or starting school. 

Anxiety is normal whenever we feel change or uncertainty, this is particularly true for children or teenagers when they are returning or starting school. The transition back to school for a new year can be stressful on the individual and the whole family! This anxiety can start well before the first day of school and can result in tearfulness, clingy behavior, nightmares, tantrums, upset stomachs (or feelings of sickness), change of eating patterns, expressions of worry, sadness or asking lots of questions about school.  It’s normal for children to worry about new teachers, new classes, new and old friends, and curriculum changes and for these to be ongoing thoughts for them building up to the first day.

Whilst it’s normal for your children to feel anxiety or worry about returning to school, it’s crucial for you to assist them to understand, verbalize and manage these emotions.

Some tips on how to do this include:

  1. Prepare – restart normal routines in the home including waking up times, meal times and bed times. Prepare uniforms and school bags and engage your child in the “getting ready” process, giving them ownership of this. If your child is starting school for the first time, drive past the school to show them where it is, maybe arrange a tour of the grounds and classroom to ensure familiarity is made. Further, timeline and count down the return date, let your child know how many weeks/days are left, this allows mental preparedness and adjustment periods to occur.
  2. Encourage your child to express their worries about returning to school – normalize the anxiety and fears, problem solving particular issues that they are worried about.
  3. Focus on the positives – talk with your child about all the positive experiences they will have at school including friendships, sport activities and learning achievements, using previous positive experiences as examples to guide this.
  4. Role Play – if your child has particular scenarios that are causing them worries, role play with them what to say and how to behave, this will assist in alleviating anxiety and establishing mental preparedness.
  5. Arrange play dates with school friends before the first day – this will result in established relationships and familiar faces on the first day back at school.
  6. Pay attention to your own behavior and messaging – we know that children mirror our behaviors, how we react to new experiences or even how we language disappointments about returning to work. Therefore be mindful of this and how your children see their own world and experiences through us and what we do and how we act in similar scenarios.

So, what about you as a parent – how do you manage the return to school process and uncertainties for your children and how do you ensure this does not impact on your productivity when you return to work. Basically, “keep calm and carry on” is the best way to approach it, normalize the process and keep a check on your own emotional response to this, ensuring that you are giving yourself and your child adequate time to adjust.

Some other tips might include:

  • If possible in the first few weeks of school, consider working shorter hours or from home in the event that you are available for your child if issues arise.
  • Advise your manager or Human Resources that your child is adjusting to a new school year, seeking some flexibility from work pressures if you were to need it during those first weeks at school.
  • If possible be available at drop off or pick up to chat with teachers or other parents.
  • Spend some time in your child’s classroom or school environment to familiarize yourself with his/her surroundings, perhaps arranging to volunteer in reading classes or canteen duties throughout the year.

If the anxieties resolve, as is in the majority of cases, praise and reward your child for getting through it and showing resilience, using this as an example to be remembered when they have similar anxieties in the future. 

If the anxieties continue, reach out and ask for help, speaking with your GP about a referral to a Child Psychologist or School Counsellor.

Finally, be kind to yourself as a parent as it’s a learning experience undertaken by the whole family!

Sleep… could it be the most important piece of the wellbeing puzzle?

19th January 2017

GRACE KOUVELIS kicks of our three part blog series to help you get a better nights sleep.

Sleep is something we all do, some of us better than others, but the significance of it is often misjudged. With as much as a third of the population struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep the issue of simply getting enough is one that organisations need to get serious about – a tired worker is definitely not a productive one. This blog series will explore why it is so important to re-prioritise our sleeping habits and why organisations should be paying attention and educating their employees on the importance of a restful night sleep.

So how much sleep do we really need? Research continues to tell us that we as human beings require approximately 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Some of you are probably rolling your eyes as you read this at the prospect of fitting in 8 hours of sleep every day, especially those of you with children. But, it is probably doing you more of a disservice than you think if you aren’t getting sufficient amounts of quality sleep. If you’re use to not getting enough sleep, you’re missing out on the endless benefits that come along with a good sleep cycle.

What affects your sleeping patterns?

Due to the fast-paced nature of our lives, we often find ourselves pondering, ‘why can’t there be more hours in a day?’ Finding time to get the recommended 8-or-so hours of sleep can be stressful in itself, which of course makes it all the harder to get that required shuteye. Ironic, huh?

The modern day world that we live in is an extremely visually stimulating one. We are constantly bombarded with lights, colours and sounds, and so it is not surprising that a lot of us can’t sleep. You may or may not have heard about the ‘blue light’ effect. More specifically, research suggests that blue light, the “short-wavelength-enriched” type, which comes off our devices, affects the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin, more than any other wavelength. Evidently, as the majority of us are guilty of our devices being attached to our hip (especially before bedtime), it is no wonder that our sleep is sacrificed. Leave your phone away from your bed. If you ‘need’ it as an alarm for the next morning, buy an alarm clock. It’s that easy.

Of course, our modern day best friend is not the only reason why we don’t sleep. When you add on top pressing deadlines, anxious circling thoughts and the effects of caffeine which we “NEED just to get through the day”, shouldn’t we just come to terms with the fact that restful sleep isn’t in our future..? Of course not!

Why should you really prioritise sleep as your goal?

As Arianna Huffington talks about in her TED talk, sleep is the key to succeeding. A small idea, with a big outcome, the value of sleep is unquestionable. Yet, it is often overlooked and misunderstood. And while a lot of you probably think you are being more productive by squeezing more into your day – your early mornings and late nights – you are in fact, doing the complete opposite.

Arianna Huffington tells us how she personally learnt the value of sleep the hard way. After fainting from exhaustion one day and a broken cheekbone and stitches to the eye later, she tells us that the benefits of sleep could not have been emphasised enough by her team of healthcare professionals. She promises us, “that the way to a more productive, more inspired, more joyful life is getting enough sleep.”

Can it be that simple?

Of course nothing is that black and white. But if you take anything away form this blog series it should be you making  sleep your goal. Making a resful night sleep your goal will allow all those other ‘wellbeing’ goals to fall into place. Think about those resolutions that you may have set yourself. You may want to exercise more, eat more healthily, be more productive. Improving your sleep cycle will help you achieve each and every one of these by topping up your willpower. It does this by:

  • Giving you more energy. Just like how we biologically need food and water, we also require sleep, it is an internal drive. At its core, sleep energises us, giving us the fuel to take part in our everyday lives.
  • Improving your memory. Research has found that the quantity and quality of sleep greatly impacts on our cognition, learning and memory. It does this by improving our attention and concentration. Sleep also has a role in the consolidation of memory, which is vital for learning new things.
  • Improving your mood. Firstly, this follows on from the first two points, as if you feel more energized and focused, you are bound to feel more positive. On the other hand, irritability is commonly associated with sleep deprivation.
  • Strengthening our immune system. Getting the right amount of sleep strengthens our immune system and increases our ability to fight off infections, lowering our risk to the common cold for instance.
  • Benefiting our skin. Beauty sleep is not so much a myth as you may think. Sleep deprivation is in line with skin deprivation as while you snooze, your body boosts blood flow to the skin, leading to a glowing complexion. Sufficient sleep cycles have also been found to reduce wrinkles and brighten your eyes.       

Of course there are many other factors at play, and it would be impossible to control all of them, but it’s pretty clear, no matter which health professional you speak to, that sleep is a pretty big piece to our wellbeing puzzle.So pay it the respect it deserves and stop bumping it down your priority list.


New Year... New Uncertainties

11th January 2017

It’s the New Year and while it is a time that most of us get to relax, you may also be swamped with mixed emotions. Dealing with uncertainty is a skill that needs to be developed and strengthened. GRACE KOUVELIS reports.

Maybe you feel relief for scrapping through 2016 alive, maybe you are stressed due to the financial pressure of the Christmas period or maybe you are excited for new things to come. But what is almost inevitable for many, is the uncertainty which comes with the New Year.

Uncertainty is a crucial thing to think about. Honestly speaking, no matter what we tell ourselves, we really have no clue what the New Year will behold for us. We may have good intentions, ideas, feelings, but in reality, it isn’t always that straight forward or predictable. It is often referred to as the ironic statement, “the certainty of uncertainty.”

Is uncertainty good for you?

Many individuals fear change and the unknown, and in effect they will try and fight uncertainty, or try to avoid it. But what is more useful is to actually embrace it! Moreover, uncertainty can be positive, fun, and exhilarating. It allows more doors to be opened and it can open up your eyes, providing you with new opportunities, and new perspectives. One of the most important things to remember is that taking uncertainty on board can bring many good things. It may lead you off your intended path but you could end up happier than you imagined.

What can you do to cope with uncertainty?

An important tip is to try and not let your mind run wild, focusing on the uncertainties of the future too much. But rather, to monitor your response to uncertainty and to deal with it in a constructive way. Our brains are wired to respond to uncertainty with fear – but we can rewire our brains to respond differently, and more positively. Some things that you can do to effectively cope with uncertainty include:

  • Stay positive – engaging in positive thoughts will push away fear and irrational thinking. You may have to consciously think of something positive in order to stop your mind wandering. This can become easier with time and it is easier to keep your attention on positivity if things are going well and if you are in a good mood. Of course if something negative happened, this can be challenging to redirect your focus, but with conscious effort and mindfulness techniques, you can train yourself to accomplish this. How do you do this? Think about your day and identify a positive thing that occurred, no matter how small. If you can’t, think about the previous day or the weekend.
  • Keep your certainty in check when faced with uncertainty. When uncertainty regarding something or someone arises, it is easy to feel like everything is uncertain. However, this is very rarely the case. It is important to redirect your attention to those things that you are certain about. This will help you cope with the aspects that aren’t so certain!
  • Embrace what isn’t within your control. It is rare to be in control of absolutely everything. Lack of control is rather unsettling, worrisome or scary for a lot of people. However, it is beneficial to embrace these uncertainties. Try and let go of this desire to control everything. Let things flow. Let things happen. What you do have control over is the process you go through to reach decisions. Own that. And embrace the rest, no matter how much – or little – control you have.
  • Target your focus on what really matters. It is easy to get caught up in many details, some distressing, some insignificant. However, most of these aren’t actually important. Filter this. And consciously make the effort to focus on those things that are really important.
  • Don’t seek or expect perfection. There is no such thing as perfection, so it is important to remember to not try to achieve it. Of course, it is great to strive high and try and achieve the best (that we can). But know your limits or feasible boundaries. Otherwise, you will be bombarded with pressure, expectations, fear and even failure. And then extending from that, you may be ruminating over what you would do differently and may be swimming in regret and distress. Be mindful, be reasonable and be positive.
  • Don’t dwell on the bad things. It is important to realise, that where you focus your attention will determine your emotional state. For instance, if you are stuck fixating on a problem, setback or obstacle, you are most likely going to be in a negative frame of mind. But if you target your focus on the positives, what you did achieve, or what was good, you will better your performance and create a sense of personal efficacy.
  • Avoid ‘what ifs’. These will only leave you feeling stressed and worried. Avoiding them allows you to move forward and to put a good contingency plan in place.
  • Remember to breathe. Sometimes we get so caught up in our busy, chaotic lives that we forget to breathe. Focus on your breath, slow yourself down, be mindful of the moment. By doing this in the face of uncertainty, you can approach it in a thought-out, calming way.

The take-home message essentially is to acknowledge that there will undoubtedly be some degree of uncertainty as we approach a new year. Although, you may be in denial about that, or fear certain changes, embracing that you can turn over a new leaf or that change can actually be a positive thing, will be liberating. You will be more able to tackle new challenges that you may face and ensure you live 2017 to the fullest.

The festive season - a time to be grateful

19th December 2016

Written by Grace Kouvelis

Most of the focus at this time of year is looking forward to the New Year or presenting survival tips for how to get through Christmas. How many ‘how do you survive the silly season’ or ‘how to create New Year’s resolutions – and how to stick to them’ articles have you read? But one of the things that is often mistakenly overlooked is gratitude – reflecting back on the year and acknowledging all that you are grateful for.

Gratitude is an emotion that expresses appreciation for what an individual possesses or has experienced (from someone or something). Having gratitude has been found to have numerous positive outcomes, stretching from health to emotional to career-boosting benefits. Although we should really be showing gratitude all year round, the end of the year marks a great – and appropriate – opportunity to take it on board.

Is there evidence for the benefits of gratitude? Yes – there is an abundance! Some of the benefits backed up by research findings include:

  • Increased happiness – gratitude is strongly associated with optimism, which in effect leads to us being happier;
  • Improved relationships – gratitude has been found to make us more compassionate, more trusting and more appreciative. Therefore, undoubtedly it can increase your social circle, deepen existing relationships and improve marriage and familial ties;
  • Health improvements – it has been demonstrated that gratitude can reduce stress, improve your sleep, increase your energy levels and even decrease your blood pressure;
  • Enhance your career – gratitude has been found to be associated with increased productivity and decision-making capabilities;
  • Facilitates your emotions – gratitude is associated with lower levels of jealousy, envy, anger, and upset, and can lead to happier memories.

There are also some interesting and important findings from neuroscience, which can inform our understanding about gratitude. The concept neuroplasticity refers to the fact that our brains are not ‘fixed’, our thinking patterns not set in stone. But rather, they are malleable and are like a sponge, being flexible for change and capable of soaking up new information and processes. Thanks to this malleability, we are able to rewire our brains.

Sound complicated? Well the good news is, it’s not. If you take (only) 5 minutes a day to practice being aware of the positive things in life, and to challenge your brains’ tendency to focus on the negatives, as times goes on, you will essentially train your brain to be more positive and in turn, happier. The overall aim is to make gratitude a daily habit. Practice it – so that it becomes second nature almost, an automatic process.   

So now that you know taking time to be grateful is good for you, it’s time to bridge the gap between knowing something is good for you and actually doing it!

Below are some tips for how you can practice gratitude:

  • Consciously try and take note of new things that you are grateful for, every day. Journaling our gratitude is effective as it gradually changes our perceptions and what we are focusing on. Try and shake things up and think long and hard – if needed – about what these are. It won’t be beneficial if you just reflect, “I am grateful for my family,” every time. Be more specific and be creative in your thoughts and reflections. For instance, “I’m so grateful that my sister only lives 5 10 minutes away from me.”
  • Acknowledge negative experiences as well and try and shift a setback or challenge into something positive.
  • Acknowledge and remind yourself of the benefits of gratitude: Doing this will give you the motivation to start making changes and to be reflective on what you are thankful for.
  • ‘Mental contrasting’: being optimistic about the benefits of a new habit while simultaneously being realistic about how developing a habit can be challenging.
  • Identify and take time to plan for the obstacles that may be in the way of your gratitude practice. E.g. think about when suits you to take this time to be reflective as well, if you get exhausted before bed, maybe choose a different time to do this activity.
  • It doesn’t have to be a gratitude journal, mix up your thankfulness. Think of new and creative ways to practice your gratitude. E.g. a gratitude jar – write an experience on a piece of paper and pop it in the jar every so often and then pick a time point (e.g. end of next year) and open the jar and read them all! This keeps these special moments more meaningful and the reflection back on them will help you cherish and appreciate it even more so. Plus it will make you feel warm and fuzzy reading back on these thoughts and memories.
  • Be thankful to people in your life – whether that is your loved ones, a colleague, a friend or a friendly stranger.

Not only does gratitude have great benefits for our wellbeing, but it can help to open our eyes, to change our perspective and help us to embrace new situations. Being reflective and grateful of the year will enhance your positive memories and alleviate any stress you may have. We aren’t born with gratitude per se, but as mentioned, we can learn it as a skill with practice. So, what better way is there to end 2016 than reflecting on the things that you are thankful for and soaking up all of the associated goodness. It will lead you into a happier and more appreciative 2017!

Feeling Overwhelmed?

8th June 2016

By Fiona Simson, Registered Psychologist

Do you ever get the sense of feeling overwhelmed?  You’re juggling multiple projects at work, working long hours, and your boss just pulled a deadline forward.  Perhaps you had an argument with a close friend, you are trying to sell your house, and your car has just broken down.  Sound familiar?  Juggling work, family, and personal needs can be tricky.  When multiple challenges occur in quick succession or when coping skills are insufficient, people may end up feeling overwhelmed and stressed.

When you are feeling this way, you may react by being either frantically busy, having multiple things on the go, or procrastinating.  Feeling disconnected from your determination and being unsure on where to start are common when you are overwhelmed.

Feeling overwhelmed has not only a physical and psychological impact on our wellbeing, it has an emotional impact as well.  You may feel tired, fatigued, have difficulty sleeping and your cortisol levels (stress hormone) can increase.  You could experience an increase in anxiety, distress, and a sense of helplessness about your situation, thinking “it’s too much, I don’t know what to do”.  These types of responses can have an impact on your relationships, your motivation and engagement in the activities you find enjoyment in.  In turn, you can become emotionally, mentally and physically exhausted.  Extended periods of feeling overwhelmed can lead to “burn out”.

We live in a world that has become increasingly busier.  Things are moving at a faster pace and we are forced to move right along with it.  How do we keep our head above water when there is so much going on?

  1. Take a deep breath.  Cortisol is released though our breath, assisting us to relax.  Engage in mindfulness meditation and relaxation strategies to reduce your stress.
  2. Identify what is most important.  Many times we get so caught up in the doing, that we forget why we are doing it. 
  3. Prioritise your tasks.  Write yourself a list, then order your tasks.
  4. Work out where you are spending your time during the week.  Take note, start a journal to track where you are spending your time.  You might find that there are some things you spend too long on, or not long enough. 
  5. Ask for help.  Often we think the problems are ours alone.  Ask others for help and assistance.
  6. Create boundaries, and learn to say no.  Time is our most precious resource, spend it wisely. Plan ahead and set time restrictions on the things you have to do.  Working long hours at work?  You will be more productive if you take regular rest breaks.  Get up from your desk and take a short break.  Say no if you feel you are unable to complete the task in the time required. 
  7. Plan time for hobbies and interests.  Go for a run, take the dog for a walk, paint or cook a family dinner.  Be creative.
  8. Get a good night sleep.  Rest is important for our body and mind.  Practice good sleep hygiene at night to be more productive the following day. 

Feeling overwhelmed can be a common symptom of anxiety.  If you are feeling overwhelmed by what you are facing in life, often it may be time to seek some professional psychological help.  By developing coping strategies, you can equip yourself with some useful tools to utilise when you are feeling as though you are becoming, or are, overwhelmed.

For more information on how The Resilience Box can assist employees in coping with high pressure times or to boost recovery from a set-back, contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at


What is normal?

23rd May 2016

Amelia Flores, Team Leader and Senior Consultant Psychologist, Centre for Corporate Health and Resilia

"Should I be feeling this way?” … “Why do I feel stressed about that?” … “Why does everyone else not feel this way?”

These are all commonly asked questions that run through our minds during stressful periods.

The most common answer is “Yes”…“Yes it is normal to feel sadness and grief when you have lost a loved one”…“Yes it is normal to feel anxious when completing a presentation/ starting a new job/ getting married or even when you are about to become a parent for the first time”…“Yes it is normal to feel tension when you are due to attend your annual performance review”.  Feeling uncomfortable emotions is normal, and further to this, feeling these emotions for more than a few days is expected when we are going through difficult situations in our lives, in particular when transitions or changes are occurring.

Understanding that your emotions are normal is helpful for everyone. Knowing that anyone would be upset in a specific situation is validating. 

Therefore, lets embrace the emotion!

Dr Russ Harris, the author of “The Happiness Trap”, offers the idea that creating a rich and meaningful life involves accepting the pain that inevitably goes with it. Accepting what is out of our personal control, and committing to action, improves and enriches our lives.

Essentially, the theory follows that to sit in the uncomfortable emotion and to accept your situation, will not only build your resilience for future negative experiences, but over time you will find that what you thought was an uncomfortable emotion, does not feel as anxiety provoking as it previously was. For example, presenting to a large audience for the first time is overwhelming and stressful, that is normal! However… having done this a second or third time, you might find your stress is reduced and you feel more in control emotionally.

Easier said than done right? … Yes this is very true! This is not how we are taught to manage our emotions and it is not often that we hear it is “okay” or “normal” to feel “upset”, “sad” or “stressed” in a difficult situation.  We tend to find that it is often easier to avoid the emotion, as negative emotions don’t feel good do they? In addition, the relief to push the emotion aside can bring a quick reduction in stress levels, which only supports the behaviours of avoidance. Unfortunately avoidance in the short term can lead to a long term issue, leaving emotions unresolved and the development of underlying psychological issues (anxiety, hyper-vigilance etc).

Now how about if I told you that emotions, in particular negative ones, are not only normal but also good for us! Emotions tell us information about ourselves, our fears, our values and the thoughts we hold about “our life” or existence. These realizations and pockets of information can lead to positive changes, embarking on new life directions and goals which can set us up for future life successes.

So what to do from here… simply put…be mindful!

  • Learn how to consciously be aware of your emotional response (both negative and positive) in a situation.
  • Learn to embrace all that comes along with it (including all the negative “stuff” such as sadness, stress, anxiety etc.).
  • Learn to accept that life is a little bit “average” sometimes and that it is “okay” to feel like this.

Most of all, remind yourself, and give yourself permission to “sit” in the emotion, positive or negative, as all of it is part of the human experience, and inevitably healthy.

For more information on our resilience and wellbeing programs, contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at

Communicating Organisational Change Effectively in Local Councils (Pt 1)

19th April 2016

By Tony Bradford, Managing Director & Change Management Consultant, Centre for Corporate Health

Over the past couple of years we have helped many local Councils deal with stress and cope with the impending changes that are facing them as part of the Fit for The Future reform agenda.

Just recently we were called in by a local Council to assist with a sensitive matter involving a dispute between two staff whose workplace relationship had spiralled downwards over the past several months.  The tension had grown so much in this relationship that it had reached breaking point and it was not only having a huge negative impact on the rest of the immediate team, the department had also received some customer complaints.  One worker was taking extended sick leave and the other worker refused to work with the other.  The situation had become a mess.

Unfortunately this situation is all too common, not only in Councils but in any organisation going through major change.  It is a typical example of what happens when people end up on the F.A.S. T. track.  As human beings we are very control orientated, we usually don’t like change all that much, especially as we get older.  That is because any sort of change disrupts our expectations and upsets the status quo and we lose our 4 C’s. We lose our sense of Control (especially when change is forced upon us), our feelings of Competence and Confidence are challenged (as we may need to do things differently or learn new skills or processes), and our Comfort Zone is disrupted (we are used to operating in a certain way).  And the end result of all this is we end up on the F.A.S. T. track.  We experience Fear, Anxiety, Stress and Tension.  The tension is usually felt in our interpersonal relationships both at work and at home. People stop cooperating with each other, they become irritable and isolated and often retreat into their own world and stop caring about others.  This has all sorts of negative consequences.

The trick to not getting on the F.A.S. T. track is to carefully manage expectations.  I am a firm believer that we only really get upset when our expectations are let down.  In other words, when you thought something might or should happen and it doesn’t, for whatever reason.  Therefore communication is key in managing change.

So how do you communicate with staff to ensure business as usual in such turbulent times?

There are so many change management models and theories out there.  But if I were to summarise them there are really only three simple communication strategies that leaders need to keep in mind for successfully managing change:

1.      Get in early and be transparent:  We have all probably heard the saying “no news is good news”. Well when it comes to organisational change this is not true, in fact it is usually the opposite.  Nobody likes to be kept in the dark.  When people don’t know what is going on, why it is happening, and how it will impact them personally, they make up the answers themselves. Unfortunately these answers are usually based on fear and anxiety as people think the worst and rumours spread.  It is very difficult to change someone’s belief about something therefore it is imperative that leaders communicate early and often and set the record straight. I often hear leaders say that they are not being told anything themselves they end up on their own F.A.S. T. track. They feel powerless and helpless so they usually end up hiding behind their desks or busying themselves in their own work, whilst they wait for information from above.  The waiting game is a killer so to overcome this we need to get our minds back on the job.

2.      Focus on the job at hand.  When I was serving on ships in the Navy we often did not know exactly what the mission was or where we were going.  It was highly confidential and a matter of national security.  The crew were told minimal information for obvious reasons.  Often the Captain couldn’t tell us everything, sometimes they didn’t even know themselves as they waited on orders from maritime headquarters. But this was always understood and everyone knew exactly what their job was and we all just got on with it.  As Stephen Covey, author of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People proclaimed when we spend too much time and energy on the things we can’t control we end up in a dependant state of mind and feel “helpless”, and we become very “reactive” often causing more frustration and stress.  Therefore leaders at all levels need to keep people focussed on the job, work in their circle of influence, on the things they have control of and let go of the things they don’t.  This requires active supervision and leadership, and it needs to be done even more during periods of change.  This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t talk about the changes and how it is affecting people.  Not at all. It is important to acknowledge this.  But the very next step is to get people refocussed back on their jobs and what they need to do today to deliver great work in the service of their customers.  I see examples all the time where it is the supervisors themselves who are the most distracted, who are often the worst at spreading rumours, engaging in gossip, and have lost sight of the task at hand.  The management team needs to come together and be united, stand as one and keep people focussed on their jobs. It requires more active supervision in times of change but unfortunately many leaders do the opposite. We need to be more visible and more hands-on which leads us to the final point.

Continue Reading

Communicating Organisational Change Effectively in Local Councils (Pt 2)

19th April 2016

By Tony Bradford, Managing Director & Change Management Consultant, Centre for Corporate Health

We continue our 2 part blog series on Communicating Organisational Change Effectively in Local Councils - to view part 1 of this article click here

3.      Face-to-face is best.  There is nothing quite disheartening than hearing something on the grapevine, especially when it involves something about your job and your livelihood.  Or you simply get sent an email or worse, a notice is placed up on a notice board in the depot or common work area or kitchen.  Now I understand that leaders are busy people and it is hard to get everyone together to communicate face-to-face.  There are often geographical challenges getting people together, especially in regional areas where staff are spread across several towns.  Sometimes people have different working hours due to shift work or other operational constraints.  It is so convenient in this technology age to use email to send communications to staff.  For some managers this is the only way they communicate. After all, email is very efficient: it is quick, it can reach many people all at once and doesn’t cost much. But email is not so effective when it comes to communication, especially when it comes to change.  And, if we are being totally honest here, many leaders use email because they want to avoid any discomfort or anxiety that a face-to-face conversation might bring. Or perhaps they don’t want to hear what people really think or are afraid that they won’t know how to respond or have the right answers.  Whilst leaders may feel this, most staff can usually empathise with a leader…they get it.  And even more, they respect leaders who have the courage to speak to them directly.  Another problem that occurs when we don’t speak face-to-face is the old Chinese Whisper phenomenon.  Our perception is heavily influenced by our pre-conceived beliefs. People will read what they want to and easily discard information that doesn’t agree with their view.  When we communicate with people we need to tell them what we are not saying, just as much as what we are saying and the most effective way to do this is face-to-face.  This requires effort and sacrifice, sometimes we might need to have several meetings to communicate to all staff.  Or we make a personal telephone call to someone who was absent so they can hear the message from the horse’s mouth directly.  This is what effective leaders do in times of change.

Communicating in this way sends the message that while the leaders of the Council may not have ultimate say over what the changes are and when and how they will happen, they are doing what they can to seek clarity and they are here for the employees to support them through this time. Next time we will build on this and take a greater look at the role of supportive leadership and what the evidence is about leading in times of change.

For more information on how we can support your Council through the process of amalgamation contact Nichola Johnston on 02 8243 1512 or

What Workplaces Need to Know - Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence

6th April 2016


By Rachel Clements, Director of Psychological Services, Centre for Corporate Health

Sitting down to read the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence Report which was released last week was an intense process. Not only is it 2082 pages long, but the content itself is confronting, powerful and distressing. Of the 227 recommendations the commission made in the report, 190 – 192 are recommendations specifically for how the workplace should go about addressing family violence.

So what are the recommendations for workplaces?

Recommendation 190 & 191 (Paraphrased from the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence Report)

The inclusion of family violence leave in enterprise agreements along with suitable support services and referrals, as well as adequate planning, training and resources to equip managers and human resources staff to communicate and implement leave entitlements. In recommendation 191 it is stated more specifically that there should be changes to the National Employment Standards to include an entitlement to paid family violence leave for employees (excluding casual staff) and unpaid family violence leave for casual staff.

Recommendation 192 (Paraphrased from the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence Report)

Implement best-practice workplace programs in order to:

  • build respectful and gender equitable cultures
  • ensure that workplaces have suitable policies for family violence victims
  • provide adequate responses to, and not allow for collusion with, family violence perpetrators
  • build skills and support staff in taking bystander action
  • support the maintenance of web-based portals or databases of program models, tool kits, training resources and packages for application and use
  • review and report on options for using existing regulatory frameworks to support all employers in implementing best-practice family violence policies.

How can workplaces go about implementing these recommendations across responding to violence, preventing violence, and promoting gender equality?

Responding to Violence

Implementing targeted training to key members of staff including managers, HR and WHS personnel is key to ensuring that employees receive support and advice in line with best practice guidelines when responding to family violence. This training should cover at a minimum, how to:

  • Recognise the signs that may indicate someone may be experiencing domestic/family violence
  • Respond and have a supportive conversation with them
  • Conduct a basic risk assessment and determine what referral options there are based on this result
  • Work with the employee to ensure their safety at work
  • Understand what is and is not their role as a manager or HR/ WHS representative
  • Check back in with the employee and continue to ensure they are receiving the support they need.

Offering a Manager Assistance Program run by a specialist provider (this could be your EAP provider or another organisation of specialist psychologists) is also a great way to ensure managers feel confident with how they go about supporting an employee experiencing domestic or family violence.

Providing a tailored version of the Manager training to all staff is also recommended to ensure that all employees are confident in being able to identify and respond to a situation where a colleague may be experiencing domestic/ family violence. This could be delivered either face to face or on-line.

Ensuring family violence leave provisions are written in the workplaces policies is imperative in providing support to an employee who is experiencing or attempting to escape domestic violence. The employee may need time off work during work hours to attend various appointments and also may require reasonable adjustments to their work environment, arrangements or load during this time to stay safe and not have the added worry of losing their job or having financial concerns.

Preventing Violence

Preventing violence seems challenging for organisations with a common perception still being that family violence is something that can only be addressed in their employee’s home lives and not at work; however this is simply not true. Workplaces are in a unique position with a captive audience to raise awareness about the extent and nature of violence against women and the inextricable link between sexism, rigid gender roles, and gender stereotyping, in supporting violence against women.

Organisations should ensure that their Employee Code of Conduct states the organisations commitment to intolerance of sexism, discrimination and violence against women, as well as meeting legislative requirements.

Ensuring managers and key members of staff are trained in recognising and responding to sexism and discriminatory or exclusive gendered practices is a key activity recommended by the Commission, in addition to training staff “in taking prosocial action as bystanders when they witness sexism and discriminatory or exclusive gendered practices”. (Table 37.1 of the report)

Promoting Gender Equality and Respect

Promoting gender equality and respect works best when it comes from the top! Having leaders in the organisation active in speaking about valuing female and male employees equally makes a significant impact on how the rest of the organisation perceives the importance of gender equality.

Providing leaders with training and resources for proactively communicating gender equality in the organisation, as well as ensuring hiring and promotion policies and practices look to attract and retain quality women employees, is a great start for promoting gender equality and respect.

So how will your organisation address the issue of family violence?

I will leave you with this as a final thought, an excerpt from what one woman told the Commission:

“I lost one job because I went to work with a black eye and they said we don’t want your crazy husband here. So staff don’t understand, managers don’t understand. There’s no trust, you can’t confide in anyone because people gossip, people blow it out of proportion, people don’t understand.”

For more information on our family violence services for workplaces, please contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at

More lessons from the Germanwings flight tragedy...

29th March 2016

By Debra Brodowski, National Manager of Psychological Services

The Germanwings flight tragedy that keeps unfolding as we learn more details of the pilot is a reminder for workplaces to ensure that they have an understanding of their employees and mental health issues that may be presenting. New information that has come to light has shown that the workplace was concerned for the wellbeing of the pilot just two weeks prior to the tragedy and as such referred him to see a Psychiatrist. The Psychiatrist indicated possible psychotic features presenting with depression. Due to client-patient confidentiality, this information was unfortunately not able to be shared with the workplace.

It is important that as therapeutic professionals, client-patient confidentiality is maintained. However when there is a concern from a workplace perspective for the mental health and wellbeing of an employee, it is of enormous assistance when the treating professional is able to work collaboratively with the workplace and their employee to ensure safety and wellbeing is maintained. Such open communication between the workplace, the employee, and the treating team allows for ongoing communication to occur such that the opportunity for a safe and sustainable recovery and return to work can occur.

Indeed, in Australia,  the WHS Act (2012) now stipulates that irrespective of whether a risk is physical or psychological in nature, the workplace has a duty of care to identify, assess, and manage a risk. As such, working with employees with mental health issues in a collaborative manner with the employees treating professional can assist in the safe recovery of an employee. This can be observed in the form of:

  • Assessing and addressing any potential triggers in the workplace that may exacerbate a mental health issue for an employee. Considerations can be made to working hours, start and finish times, and tasks to be completed.
  • Encouraging the employee to access best practise treatment that is consistent with their diagnosis to ensure a sustainable recovery.
  • Regular communication between key stakeholders, workplace, employee, treating practitioners, to ensure engagement and commitment to a common goal.

In Australia, we are fortunate to be able to proactively address the mental health issues of an employee in an open and collaborative manner to ensure the recovery of an employee can occur in a safe and sustainable manner.

For more information on how we can support an employee you are concerned about or for information on our various psychological assessment services including Wellbeing Checks and Fitness for Work Assessments, contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at

Top Tips for Boosting Wellbeing #1 - Getting a Restful Nights Sleep

9th March 2016

By Nichola Johnston, Expert advice provided by Debra Brodowski, National Manager of Psychological Services CFCH

Over the next couple of months we will be posting blogs covering our top tips for boosting wellbeing, but first I have a confession. Nothing we are going to write will be new to you, you’re all smart, you know that doing these things are good for you, the problem is we are not great at actually doing them and integrating them into our daily lives. So the aim is simple, explain to you the science behind why the particular wellbeing strategy/activity is good for you and give you practical ways to build it into your busy life. It’s time to bridge the gap between knowing something is good for you and actually doing it! (I need to start and take my own advice!)


We always whinge that we are never getting enough of it, sleep, that elusive slumber that always manages to escape our grasp. It seems we have created a culture in which how tired we are makes a statement as to how busy and needed we are by our workplaces, kids, friends and families. We wear our tiredness as a badge of honour! Yet gloating about something that in fact deprives us of what we need to rejuvenate and function seems silly right? Here is why getting enough restful sleep is so important to our wellbeing:

  1. While sleeping our body releases a protein molecule that strengthens our immune system and increases our ability to fight off pollutants and infectious bacteria, including things like the common cold.
  2. Getting enough restful sleep reduces your risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions. It does this by reducing the levels of stress and inflammation in your body offering your body respite from the stress we experience daily.
  3. Sleep improves our memory. When we enter Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep our brain processes events from the previous day. “Experiences are solidified into permanent memory and sequences of learned skills become ‘muscle memory’. Without sufficient REM sleep, all the ‘intake’ from the day doesn’t get processed. If it isn’t processed, we won’t remember information or access it when it would be useful. We limit our ability to have new, unlikely insights and make useful or important connections.” (Sleep Well, Lead Well)
  4. Restful sleep also helps control body weight issues, reduces your chance of diabetes and helps improve mood.

I sat down for a chat with our Debra Brodowski, National Manager of Psychological Services here at CFCH, who recently facilitated some seminars for one of our clients on how to get a restful nights sleep. This was a particularly important topic for this organisation as they were seeing a lot of fatigue related injuries occurring in the workplace. Here are some of Debra’s top tips for getting a good night sleep:

  1. Get your body clock in to a natural rhythm by going to bed and waking up around the same time most working days.
  2. When you wake up, open up the blinds and let the sun in! Start being active. It is important to give your body clear signals that it is time to wake!
  3. If you are feeling groggy when you wake up you have not finished your proper sleep cycle so you need to go to bed earlier.
  4. Go to bed when sleepy. Instead of staying up to watch the end of a show or finish that book, go to sleep as the feeling of sleepiness arrives.
  5. Have a sleep ritual:
    • Prepare yourself to go to sleep
    • Do some breathing exercises, yoga or stretching to slow your body down
    • Do something relaxing such as reading or listening to calming music
    • Drink a calming tea or hot milk can generate sleep
    • Wear a sleep eye mask to block out the light
    • Try not to have any electronic devices where you sleep
    • Limit noise around you by using ear plugs or using ‘white noise’ to assist with sleep ie. a fan
  6. Managed disturbed sleep by:
    • If you do not fall asleep within the first 30 minutes, go to another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired. Then return to your bedroom to sleep
    • If you awaken during the night, try not to get up. Try to enjoy your light sleep
    • Remember that relaxing deeply is equivalent to 2 hours sleep
    • Accept that you cannot sleep and don’t panic as tiredness will come
    • Write it down if you are worrying about things

So I challenge you all to go forth and sleep! Between 7 – 8 hours of good quality sleep is important for your overall health and wellbeing.

Bridge that gap and do what you know is good for you. Right, I’m off to take my own advice, wishing you all a restful night sleep… zzzzzzzzzzzzz

For more information on our wellbeing seminars or our resilience training programs contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at

Awkward Workplace Situations #7 Small talk and awkward silences

9th February 2016

By Nichola Johnston

Expert advice by Tony Bradford, Managing Director, Centre for Corporate Health

Let me set the scene so you are sufficiently uncomfortable… you are at a networking event, awkwardly looking them in the eyes, willing the words to come out as the seconds begin to tick by. Your internal dialogue goes from “think of something interesting to say” to “just say something…anything, you weirdo, you are starting to look like a creep!”  Suffice to say the pressure of small talk is too much to deal with sometimes, and many of us end up floundering in a sea of awkward silences, yet it is a skill that can’t be ignored in your efforts to progress and continue to achieve success.

There have been studies that show people who partake in small talk in the workplace are viewed as being more trustworthy, collaborative and kind. There are also studies that show when people dedicate time to trivial dialogue, they are more likely to generate significant benefits.

But look, I get it, I am that person who would much rather send an email than pickup the phone. This is mostly in an effort to avoid small talk, and not because I don’t like chatting to people, I just struggle to initiate and participate in small talk with those I don’t know very well, if at all. Having self reflected, I recognise that I am not the expert to be dishing out advice on this topic. So in an effort to work on this myself and offer you all some helpful hits, I had a chat with our Managing Director, Tony Bradford, of whom I can attest to his small talking skills having attended many a conference with him.

Here are Tony’s big tips for small talk:

  • Prepare if you can

On the way to a conference, party or event, think of some conversation starters to keep in your back pocket, should the conversation enter the awkward silence phase.

  • Remember people love to talk about themselves

If you get stuck, tap into the person’s inner narcissist and prompt them to talk about themselves, this will keep the conversation flowing and will take the pressure off you.

  • Remember peoples names and use them

Nothing says you are listening at a conference or client party like remembering people’s names and using them sporadically throughout your conversation with them.

  • Don’t be a one word wonder

You can’t expect someone else to participate in a conversation with you if you are only offering one word answers to their questions, “yes” and “no” should not be the extent of your conversation repertoire.

  • “Me too”

Avoid this statement as much as possible. When someone is talking about their travels, their kids, their work project, don’t compete, no one likes a ‘one upper’. This is not to say you can’t contribute to the conversation, it just means, let them finish their story before you start yours and try not to make their story insignificant by telling a story for the pure purpose of trumping theirs.

So if you’re not big on small talk, try some of these tips next time you are confronted with a severe case of “cat got your tongue” and save yourself from drowning in a sea of awkward silences.

If you would like more information on our coaching services or have an awkward workplace situation you would like to be the subject of one of our blogs, contact us on or 02 8243 1500.

The Upside of Stress - why stress is good for you (and how to get good at it)

5th February 2016

By Penny Myerscough, Senior Consultant Psychologist, Centre for Corporate Health

Kelly McGonigal’s new book is a welcome addition to the current releases in the Psychology bookshelves. Among the inundation of mindfulness and coloring-in books, McGonigal’s new offering provides a fascinating review of the role of stress in our lives, challenges our mindset on stress and provides some practical ways to cope with, and thrive under, stress.

McGonigals’ book adopts the same affable tone as her much-viewed TED talk. She assumes a great balance between personal experience and intuitive, and science and empirical evidence. At a stripped back basis, her book deals with how our interpretation of stress and events in our lives impact our mindset and biological responses.

Mindsets are a key feature of her book – mindsets are beliefs that shape our reality such as “intelligence is fixed”. I found her review and ideas on mindsets to be particularly fascinating.

By way of example, McGonigal discusses is how beliefs affect health and weight. She discusses a study on housekeeping staff in hotels. These employees spent their days stripping beds, vacuuming, cleaning, etc. This group typically burn 300 calories per hour (as opposed to 100 calories per hour burnt by office workers). Yet, the housekeeping staff identified themselves as not getting regular exercise (60%) and 30% even reported that they got not exercise at all. As a sample, their blood pressure, weight and waist to hip ratios were typical of a population that were, indeed, sedentary. In the study, half of the group received information telling them how many calories were burned with each activity that they typically did in their role. This group was also told that they were meeting or exceeding medically recommended exercise, and that they should see health benefits of being so active. The other half of the population received no such information. Four weeks later, the group that were aware of their activity, had lost weight and body fat. Their blood pressure had dropped and they reported higher job satisfaction. They had made no other changes outside of work. All that had shifted was their mindset around their perception of themselves as exercisers. The control group showed no such changes. 

The key focus is about understanding how our mindsets impact us and how we can challenge our mindsets in the face of stress for more positive and adaptive solutions. McGonigal looks at this through examples focused on attitudes and engagement through to clinical impacts of anxiety and post traumatic stress. McGonigal examines that while we are aware of the flight-or-fight response to stress, there are also more adaptive challenge responses and tend-and-befriend responses. She looks carefully at how your mindset to stress can dictate which response you chose and the biochemical and social tendencies that differentiate each response.

For the reader, McGonigal sets up several practical exercises to complete to assist them in mindset shifts. I was fascinated by the power that some of the mindset shifts had in the book and so tried one out for myself. Someone I know well was suffering panic attacks when her workload was high. She was known to be almost paralyzed with anxiety before music exams. In discussing an upcoming period that she knew was going to be particularly busy, I said to her “You are someone who copes really well under pressure”. She then wrote about a few times that she had coped well when she had a lot to deal with and how she could think differently about this busy time ahead. As it turns out, she demonstrated reduced anxiety through that busy time, performed better than before and in a casual conversation about how well she had done, initiated her appraisal that “I really think that I am someone who performs well under pressure”.

McGonigal sets to debunking the myth that stress is universally bad and that we should seek to minimize our experience of stress. Her argument is that how we think about stress is really much more important than avoiding it. I enjoyed that I could use the practical exercises in a way that was as applicable to work situations as it was to a home or family scenario. In this way, I think that The Upside of Stress is applicable to managers, HR or anyone looking to reframe their experience of stress in personal situations. This book reinforces several of the ideas of Seligman’s positive psychology, emphasizing the importance of meaningful connection with others and having a “bigger than self purpose in life”. These are key components of Centre for Corporate Health’s Resilience Box training programs.

Having read this book, I am more aware of my mindsets and have better skills to reconsider my signs of stress as enhancing and helpful.

If you would like more information on how these key concepts are embedded in our workplace resilience program The Resilience BoxTM, please contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at

Awkward Workplace Situation #6 Can you smell something..? Odours in the Workplace

24th November 2015

By Nichola Johnston,

Hands down… this would have to be one of the most awkward topics to broach with a colleague, or anyone for that matter! “Excuse me… you smell” doesn’t roll off the tongue like your nose seems to want it to. Most of us will lay down our weapons, admit defeat and just put up with the assault these odours reek on our nasal passages, if it means we can avoid wince worthy conversations with the host of the smell in question.

Now, should you tell everyone who is a bit ‘on the nose’ that they smell... obviously not, although sometimes I secretly wish the conductor on the train would make an announcement that “body odour and morning breath are not permitted on the middle two carriages of this train”, I mean, they have silent carriages why not odour free ones too? Okay, I realise I have taken it too far, however this morning on my ride into work I realised just how distracting unwelcome smells can be, with no escaping the body odour wafting past my nose, concentrating on my book became near impossible with my thoughts being consumed by the smells stewing in the train carriage (or rather the steel cylinder with no windows). So while I am not going to walk the isles of the train dispensing deodorant to complete strangers… sitting in an office for 8 hours with someone who smells is likely going to push my limits of tolerance. In fact a survey from the Employment Office has found that 75% of workers find it difficult to work alongside someone with bad body odour, and 64% work poorly when a colleague has bad breath.

Odours such as stale cigarette smoke, body odour, bad breath and lack of personal hygiene in general can all occur in the workplace. So, who’s responsibility is it to say something to the person?How should you have this conversation? And should we be looking deeper than just the surface smell of this issue?


There is no straight answer as to who is best to broach this topic with the person in question. If it is your colleague and you feel like you have a good, supportive relationship with them, then it is probably best you mention to them in a private conversation what you have noticed. If however you are not particularly close with them or feel too uncomfortable then it is probably best that you mention it to their manager.


Whether you are their colleague or their manager, no matter how much you prepare, it may still  be awkward. However the aim is to let them know what you have noticed in the kindest and most supportive way you can.

  1. Make sure you have this conversation in private (obviously speaking to them in an open plan office is inappropriate)
  2. Try to make the conversation casual and not too formal
  3. Start the conversation by saying something along the lines of “I just wanted to have a quick chat with you, I have noticed lately that you seem to have had a noticeable odour, I know this is a little awkward, however this is the kind of thing that people often don't realize about themselves, so I wanted to bring it to your attention.” It is important that you say “I have noticed” and not “people in the office have noticed”. Remember, the aim is to get your point across to them without humiliating them by saying it has been noticed by the entire office.               

Now, don’t do what some people do and hand them a can of deodorant, the situation is awkward enough and their ego has taken a big enough hit without you implying that they don’t’ possess the ability to solve the issue themselves. Once the issue has been brought to their attention, most will work at fixing it straight away.

Having had the conversation, make sure that you are available and in the midst of your team for the rest of the day. Sometimes after an uncomfortable encounter, we tend to want to “hide” in our offices. Try to maintain an upbeat and positive demeanour with the person in question and other team members for the rest of the day.

If odour is just one of the issues you have noticed, maybe they also look dishevelled, or have been absent from work more than usual, then you may need to consider it is a symptom of a bigger problem. If this is the case then it is time for you to check in with them and ask “R U OK?”. When you are asking them if they are okay you can slip into the conversation that lately you have noticed an odour and that this is not like them at all. This should be a conversation where you express your concern for their wellbeing in general and convey that you want to assist them and help them get the support they need during this time.

For more information on our training or HR advisory services, on how to have difficult conversations or a conversation with someone you are concerned about, contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at

“R U OK?” – Building Supportive Relationships at Work

20th August 2015

By Nichola Johnston

With R U OK? Day just around the corner, organisations begin their campaigns in their workplaces to encourage their employees to look out for each other and not be afraid to ask, R U OK? Whilst this is important and should be encouraged all year round, it’s important to take the R U OK? message a little deeper.

Often when people are struggling or experiencing situations in their lives that feel overwhelming, it is difficult enough opening up to someone they love and trust let alone a colleague who they really just exchange pleasantries with as they head to their work station in the morning. Building relationships with colleagues needs to start when people are well, otherwise it is unlikely they will reach out to each other when they need support.

What can organisations do to encourage colleagues to build and strengthen their relationships at work? What can they do to create an environment where people feel comfortable asking R U OK? as well as reaching out for support when needed?

I sat down with our Rachel Clements, our Director of Psychological Services here at CFCH as well as expert panellist for the R U OK? Day Conversation Think Tank, to get her answers to these questions.

Rachel suggests:

  • “Make sure leaders in the organisation are exhibiting supportive leadership behaviours”. It’s important that leaders are modelling positive and supportive leadership behaviours and by doing so it is more likely that the rest of their team will follow suit.
  • “Encourage employees to check in with each other daily.” This could be as simple as making it acceptable to have a 5-10min chat every morning with a colleague to see how their day went yesterday and if they are up to anything on the weekend. By getting to know each other, colleagues are much more likely to recognise when each other are not travelling well and will be able to assist in linking them in with the support they need.
  • “Run team building social events that encourage colleagues to get to know each other”. This may include running a training program on how to build and strengthen positive relationships in the workplace, or something as simple as everyone stopping to have lunch together on a Friday.

So as we inch closer to R U OK? Day on the 10th of September 2015, it is a great time to take stock of what your workplace culture is and what you can do to make it more conducive to colleagues building supportive relationships where employees feel comfortable reaching out to ask R U OK? and speaking up when they are in fact not ok.

Get involved with R U OK? Day this year and make it a year round campaign in your organisation. Start by watching this video.

For more information on our training programs and seminars in relation to the R U OK? message, contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at

If you or someone you know is struggling make an appointment with your organisations Employee Assistance Program, make a visit to your GP or call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Mindfulness Meditation - You know it’s good for you, so why aren’t you doing it?

29th May 2015

By Rachel Clements

Like many other activities we know to be ‘good for us’, practicing mindfulness tends to end up on that list that we never get to  - just like exercise, eating well and taking some ‘me’ time. What is interesting is that by practising mindfulness you are more likely to get to the rest of the activities on that list. Mindfulness increases your self-regulation, self-knowledge and self-awareness, giving you the ability view situations clearer and without judgement.

In it’s early days ‘mindfulness’ was often passed off as just another fad, however with the growing number of studies being carried out, it is now almost impossible to cast mindfulness aside. More specifically, research on mindfulness has identified the following as just some of the benefits from practicing mindfulness meditation:

Improved Relationship with Stress

While our stress reaction activates our ‘fight or flight’ response, mindfulness meditation activates the ‘rest & digest’ part of our nervous system. In fact, as we continue to practice meditation our brain physically changes. Studies show that people who suffer from chronic anxiety have a more reactive amygdala (the part of the brain that triggers our fear response) however, in this particular study after an 8 week mindfulness course there was a reduction in the reactivity of the amygdala and increased activity in the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that helps regulate emotions).[1] As many studies have shown, it is not the amount of stress we endure, it is our perception of stress that is harmful to our health. By practicing mindfulness meditation you are able to change your perception of stress and directly improve the negative impact it can have on your physical wellbeing.

Improved Creativity

We all have to utilise our creativity daily to solve problems and open opportunities, however for some of us this flows more freely. By practising a particular mindfulness exercise (‘open monitoring’ meditation) we are able to promote more divergent thinking which allows new ideas to be generated.[2] It reduces our tendency to put our “blinders” on and encourages us not to overlook novel and adaptive solutions. I don’t think there is any profession where this skill is not helpful..?

Increased Focus

One technique used during mindfulness meditation is to focus purely on our breathing, the rise and fall of our chest. Many studies have shown that this ability to sustain attention on our breathing for long periods of time is in fact transferable to other tasks. Even remaining focused whilst in an acute stress situation is improved dramatically by practicing mindfulness, as shown in a recent study on US marines. Soldiers who learned and practiced mindfulness techniques were not only able to maintain their working memory (which usually escapes us in stressful situations) but in fact improve upon it.[3]

More Authentic and Sustainable Relationships

We can often be hard on ourselves and those closest to us and it can become easy to fall into the unhelpful thinking pattern of being excessively critical of ourselves and others. One of the many proven benefits from practicing mindfulness meditation is that we are able to adjust the lens in which we view the world and those closest to us. One study out of the US which looked at married couples found that those who practiced meditation became more mindful of how they communicated their emotions, as well as how they were able to regulate their expression of anger. A predominant theme from the range of studies in this specific area  conclude that those who practice mindfulness meditation are more inclined to act with awareness and embrace non-judgemental acceptance.

Preventative Measure for Mental Illnesses

Disorders that include emotional states such as anxiety, depression, phobias etc, all represent a dysfunctional relationship between the ‘emotional brain’ (amygdala, thalamus and limbic system) and the ‘logical brain’ (neocortex). Someone who has a predisposition to experiencing bouts of anxiety or depression, often have thousands of thoughts and worries racing around their mind which increases stress, and triggers the body to release cortisol and adrenalin. Practicing mindfulness meditation helps people to relax and engages the logical brain more so than the emotional brain can allow the individual to calm and slow their thoughts and therefore gain a different, more logical, perspective of their worries and concerns.

So there you have it. Practicing mindfulness meditation makes sense for improving all areas of our lives. We often don’t realise that our minds are running 100 miles an hour as we feel this is just normal in the fast paced world we live in, it is simply habitual. Learning to stop and quieten the mind takes practice. For an easy introduction to mindfulness mediation, try the app Headspace and start on their free ‘Take 10 Program’, it takes just 10 minutes per day. I swear by it.

If you think your organisation should hop on the good foot and do the mindfulness thing, get in touch with us for more information on our ‘Mindfulness Lunch n Learn Seminar’. What organisation doesn’t want more focussed, creative and mindful employees?

Contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at

[1] Goldin, P. & Gross, J. (2010). Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder. Emotion. 10, 1. 83-91.

[2] Colzato, L., Ozturk, A. & Hommel, B. (2012). Meditate to create: the impact of focused-attention and open-monitoring training on convergent and divergent thinking. Front. Psychology. 3, 116.

[3] Jha, A. P., Stanley, E. A., Kiyonaga, A., Wong, L., & Gelfand, L. (2010). Examining the protective effects of mindfulness training on working memory capacity and affective experience. Emotion. 10, 1. 54-64.


#2 Research from Neuroscience and Psychology You Need to Know About

19th May 2015

Cognitive Appraisals to Shift Negative Stress States to More Positive Ones

By Nichola Johnston

So last month I wrote about the 2012 study that surmised it is not the amount of stress we are under that is harmful to our health, but rather it is our perception of stress that is resulting in a higher risk of premature death. This week we take a look at another study that delves deeper,  in to this topic and takes a good look at the state of our cardiovascular system when in an acute stress situation. Again the results are life changing!

This particular study was conducted by Harvard University and University of California San Francisco, with the objective of determining whether stress responses, more specifically cardiovascular stress responses, are affected not only by situational factors but also by our perception of stress.

Here’s how they did it.

Participants in this study were randomly assigned to one of the below groups and then put through a social stress test (giving a short presentation in front of a somewhat unreceptive audience!).

  1. A Reappraisal Condition

This group were taught to rethink their stress response as helpful. For example they were taught to think that their faster breathing rate and pounding heart were simply assisting them to rise to the challenge

  1. No Attention Reorientation/Instruction Condition

This group were given no instructions or strategies to cope with or rethink their stress during the social stress test.

What were the results?

Those in the first group that were taught to view their stress responses as helpful for their performance were less stressed or anxious and their cardiovascular stress response actually changed! Instead of their blood vessels constricting, which usually occurs during acute stress situations, they remained relaxed and opened. There hearts still pounded, but this was a much healthier cardiovascular profile. This was the completely opposite reaction experienced by those in the second group.

So there you have it, yet another study that proves if you perceive that stress is bad for you, it will be. However if you reappraise your perception of stress to one that is more positive, you have the ability to change your body’s response and improve not only your mental health but also your physical wellbeing.

So, my advice to you, don’t get bogged down in your perception of stress, change it and look forward to living a longer much healthier life!

For more information on how The Resilience BoxTM can assist your employees in changing their perception of stress for the better, contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at

#1 Research from Neuroscience and Psychology You Need to Know About

13th April 2015

Your Perception of Stress May be Shortening Your Life Expectancy

By Nichola Johnston

Your perception of stress may be killing you… not to stress you out or anything, but it’s true according to recent research.

A study out of the University of Wisconsin, sought to examine the relationship among the amount of stress, the perception that stress affects health, and health and mortality outcomes in a nationally representative sample of 30,000 U.S. adults (quite a substantial sample population).

Participants in this study were asked two questions:

  1. What was the amount of stress you experienced in the last year?
  2. Do you believe stress is harmful for your health?

Over the next eight years, researchers used public death records to find out which of the participants died and the results are sure to get you rethinking your perception of stress!

Those who reported they had experienced a lot of stress and perceived that stress was bad for their health, had a 43% increase in risk of premature death. HOWEVER those who reported they had experienced a lot of stress yet perceived that stress is not bad for their health, were no more likely to die and in fact had the lowest risk of dying out of anyone in the study including those who had reported experiencing very little stress.

So there you have it… if you perceive that stress is bad for you, it will be.

Now the question is, how to you train your brain to embrace stress and not see it as negative and detrimental to your health? In this way, we can use stress to our advantage.

I sat down with Rachel Clements, Director of Psychological Services, here at CFCH to get some tips on how to reframe my perception of stress.

“You need to practice cognitive reframing techniques that will actually change your physical responses to your body’s stress response” says Rachel.

When asked what these reframing techniques are, Rachel gave two example exercises:

1.  Educate yourself about some of the unhelpful thinking styles that can exacerbate your stress levels. These could include; catastrophising, black and white thinking, personalising, pessimistic thinking, negative expectations of the future, ‘what if?” thinking etc. Use these questions to recognise when a thought is unhelpful and contributing to your perceived stress levels:

  1. Does it help me be the person I want to be?
  2. Does it help me to build the sort of relationships that I would like?
  3. Does it help me to connect with what I truly value?
  4. Does it help me to take effective action to change my life for the better?

2.  If you have determined that your thoughts are undermining your perception of stress try practicing one of these re-framing exercises:

  1. Thought stopping
  2. Distraction techniques
  3. Perspective taking
  4. Identifying and challenging negative self-talk

So, my advice to you, don’t get bogged down in your perception of stress, change it and look forward to living a longer much healthier life!

For more information having Rachel Clements as a Keynote Speaker at your next conference or on our Lunch ‘n’ Learn sessions contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at

Next Weeks Blog:

Research from Neuroscience and Psychology You Need to Know About

2# Cognitive Appraisals to Shift Negative Stress States to More Positive Ones

(In lay terms, how to keep your arteries relaxed during a high stress or pressure situation)

Awkward Workplace Situation #5 – The Office Affair

28th January 2015

“Every time I looked at him, he was staring right back at me. As we sat across the boardroom table I felt completely consumed by his eyes, the feeling was hypnotising. I knew it was wrong for me to feel like this about someone at work. Especially someone who was my boss. Then suddenly I felt his foot brush past mine under the table and right then I knew I was in, all in, no matter the consequences”.

Safe to say ‘romance’ is not my genre of expertise when it comes to writing… in fact this first paragraph took me longer to write than the rest of this blog did altogether. However truth be told, these moments occur more than we think within workplaces, albeit without the Days of Our Lives commentary, and can have devastating effects on those involved and those caught in the crossfire. Many a claim for workers’ compensation has been submitted off of a workplace romance going awry.

So what do you do when you discover your work colleagues are having an affair, or even worse, your boss is having an affair with a colleague..?

Few things can disrupt a culturally healthy team like a salacious tryst between colleagues. People in the team find themselves sounding like Phoebe from Friends “They don't know that we know they know we know!” All jokes and quotes aside, knowing about such a situation puts you in a very awkward situation. There are many variables that determine how you should best progress, and unfortunately there is no simple solution. So to start you need to determine the facts as you know them:

  • Is the office romance between colleagues on the same team OR from different departments?
  • Is the affair between a co-worker and your boss?
  • Are office romances against company policy, are they simply ‘frowned upon’, or are they accepted?
  • Are the parties involved married or in a relationship with people other than those with whom they are fraternising..?
  • Do the individuals involved know that you know, that they are “getting busy” in the non-professional sense of the word?

I’m sure there are hundreds of different answer combinations to the questions listed, so in an effort to make this a blog and not a white paper I posed the question to our National Manager of Psychological Services, Debra Brodowski, “What are some general guidelines and tips you can share, on how to best manage these types of situations?”

Here are Debra’s suggested strategies:


  • Think about having a discussion with the parties involved if you are concerned about aspects of their behaviour at work. If you believe that it is important to have a discussion, seek assistance from your EAP in order to get some tips in getting the conversation on the right track.
  • Whilst they are adults and you are unable to tell them what to do, you need to be mindful of the message that you want to convey. For example, are you conveying one of concern where you are mindful of the possible impact that such a romance may have on the remainder of the team? Being mindful of the message is important to ensure that any additional negative repercussions are not introduced to the mix.
  • Think about the impact of this situation on other people. There is a big debate about whether ‘to tell or not to tell’ a third party about this. It seems from the evidence that telling the effected third party helps nobody and hurts many.


  • Timing is important. Is this a conversation that needs to be had now or can it wait? One thing is important when finally having the conversation, it is essential that you allow enough time for an open and constructive discussion rather than something that is quick and dismissive.
  • Messaging is important. What do you want to say? This needs to be a balanced and objective discussion and not an emotionally charged encounter.
  • Location is important. It is important to remain private and confidential as much as possible. The balance is somewhere in the range of a private yet informal chat.


  • You are not there to moralise in the discussion. Discuss what you observed and the possible impact that it may have.
  • Do not give an ultimatum or what you would like to see happen. It is important to be aware that there are other sides to this story that you are not aware of. You may not need to be aware of them either.
  • Don’t gossip about the situation with others.
  • If needed, and only if needed, take notes afterwards. The situation has the potential to sour and as such it is important for you to document what you can. It is especially important to document what you are the manager or employer have done to address the situation.
  • Protect yourself by creating boundaries. If there is a negative impact on morale or productivity, you may require additional conversations in order to escalate the issue to HR.

Be mindful that a discussion such as this can result in many different outcomes. At the end of the day it is important to ensure that you look after yourself and your own emotional well-being in the first instance.  Perhaps seek counsel from your Employee Assistance Program both before and after having the discussion.

Whilst this by no means gives a definitive solution about how to deal with such a challenging workplace situation, it is important to pay consideration to these issues before launching into saying “I know that you know that I know”….

If you have experienced a particularly awkward situation at work and would like it to be the basis of my next Awkward Situations Blog, email me at or connect with me via Linkedin here. For more information on the Centre for Corporate Health’s services call us on 02 8243 1500.

Nichola Johnston is Client Relationships & Communications Manager at CFCH. With a background in management and marketing, she is dedicated to sharing meaningful information on maintaining wellbeing in the workplace.

Debra Brodowski is National Manager of Psychological Services at CFCH. Debra has a background in HR Management and Organisational Psychology, and is often called upon to assist organisations to manage ‘complicated’ workplace situations. She is committed to developing positive and constructive workplace relationships where people are able to thrive.

Bullying and Performance Management

19th January 2015

By Debra Brodowski

In the first six months of operation, the Fair Work Commission’s new workplace bullying legislation (January 2014 – June 2014)has seen more than 340 claims lodged, with 197 of those being finalised by being withdrawn. Only 21 cases reached a decision stage by the Fair Work Commission, with only one upholding a bullying stance. This is an extremely small percentage of cases when considering the concern that was raised when the legislation was brought in.

At the Centre for Corporate Health we have assessed over 8000 claims for psychological injury in the workplace. Of these claims, it is likely that half of the injured workers interviewed had initially cited ‘bullying’ as the cause of their distress. On further investigation, it seems more likely that performance management is occurring, or that two-way interpersonal conflict is at play. While some of bullying at work claims are real, this is by no means representative of the large majority of claims.

In the case of performance management, we often hear that the injured worker may feel uncomfortable or ‘picked on’, however it does not logically follow that they have been the victim of bullying. Probing further into the organisation’s performance management policies and procedures, what is generally found is a long history of informal ‘performance chats’ which have escalated over time to more formal performance management when an improvement hasn’t been observed.

When considering the performance management, ask the following questions for an employee who is not performing to a satisfactory level:

  • If not, have there been a series of informal discussions to try and correct the required behaviours?
  • Have these discussions been based on behavioural observation and evidence, and are not an attempt to blame the individual or be punitive in nature?
  • Have these discussions provided some solutions and time frame for correcting the behaviour?
  • Has an escalation to formal performance management occurred after a lack of observable improvement over time?
  • Has this plan unfolded over time upon consultation with HR and in line the relevant organisational policies and procedures?

If the answer to these questions are ‘yes’ then it is more likely that the matter being faced is one of performance management and not bullying and harassment. Every organisation has a right to performance manage an underperforming employee. The key is to ensure that it is done in a constructive and supportive manner so that perceptions of bullying can be mitigated as much as possible by the employee.

Whilst these situations are not nice to experience, with the person often experiencing feelings of embarrassment and shame, they are not actions of a bully.

If someone becomes distressed when going through a performance management process it is appropriate to encourage supportive action such as speaking to a Counsellor or Psychologist through their workplace Employee Assistance Program. These Counsellors/Psychologists can assist the individual in building practical resilience to assist them to manage their situation in a proactive, constructive way.

So while it is important to the difference between bullying and performance management, it is also important to know how to address both these course of action in a constructive manner. If you would like more information on preventing workplace bullying or our EAP services please contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at

Awkward Workplace Situation #4 – Office Christmas Parties Gone Wrong

25th November 2014

By Nichola Johnston

The company funded open bar has a lot to answer for. Couple copious amounts of alcohol with a stressed out worker who just wants to let their hair down, and the likelihood of diminished inhibitions increases to "WARNING! Embarrassing moment imminent!" In fact I would motion that this warning should be printed on Company Christmas Party invitations as standard procedure. Is there a second to this motion..?

Over the years I have managed to attend work Christmas parties and escape relatively unscathed. I have, however, bore witness to some pretty cringe worthy moments that have tapped into that innate feeling of wanting to curl up in the foetal position and protect my eyes from the shenanigans unfolding before me.

I imagine you are all now reminiscing on that obligatory office party story, whether you were at the centre of it or not, that is spoken about years later and seems to get bigger and more cringe worthy as it makes the rounds. Whilst some of these embarrassing situations are relatively harmless and simply provide some material for office banter, other situations can be much more detrimental to your current position and your career as a whole.

Situations to avoid

Truth be told, whilst organisations put these parties on to thank you for your hard work and encourage you to relax and have fun, it is important to remember it is still a work function and not a party with friends.

Avoid the following:

  • Drinking too much: this is a no brainer; however is the first thing we forget, or rather, choose to ignore! Drinking too much is also the root of nearly all office party embarrassing moments.
  • Discarding your clothing: under no circumstances is it a good idea to de-robe in front of your colleagues. Dare or no dare, keep your clothes on!
  • Telling your boss just what you think of them: if you wouldn’t say it to their face in a normal work day, what makes you think they will be receptive to hearing it from a drunken employee?
  • Vomiting in general: it’s just not a good look PERIOD! It is even worse if you don’t manage to make it to the bathroom.
  • Taking drugs: this should be avoided at all times, however doing it at the office Christmas party is simply asking to be fired.
  • Flirting with or going home with a colleague/boss: having been the manager of a few hotels and being the person that usually worked the morning after the staff Christmas party, I have witnessed many walks of shame! I have also found that this type of behaviour is the most talked about after the party, with some of the most detrimental outcomes to a career.

What can you do to avoid these situations in the first place?

  • DON’T DRINK TOO MUCH! Set yourself a limit at the beginning of the party and stick to it. If you struggle at social events to not have a drink constantly in your hand, try alternating between an alcoholic beverage and soft drink or water.
  • If you are feeling particularly emotional or have interpersonal conflict in the workplace and feel you will not be able to hold your tongue, don’t attend the party. Politely remove yourself from the situation.
  • Don’t get caught up in drinking shots, or playing games of truth or dare, spin the bottle, or any drinking games. This is not schoolies, it is your place of work.

What to do if you find yourself red faced and dreading the next working day?

I know, I get it… your mind keeps replaying the embarrassing moments from the night before over and over as though you were the star in your own version of “The Hangover”. The time has come, however, to scrape yourself off the floor and still yourself from the constant rocking back and forth. It’s time to get dressed and do the walk of shame back into the office:

  • Don’t overthink things: we as humans tend to catastrophise in these situations and build things up in our minds to the point that we convince ourselves the worst possible outcome is inevitable. This is not the case (it may be if you have done something truly irreversible like stealing something from work or really laying into your boss), mostly you have probably just embarrassed yourself and need to apologise to the relevant people.
  • Don’t apologise over and over again: accept that you were the ‘class act’ at the party and apologise to the relevant people. Once is enough. Continuously saying how sorry you are will lead people to think what you did was much worse than what it actually was. A simple “I’m sorry, I drank too much and clearly embarrassed myself. I’m sorry if I offended or embarrassed any of you. It won’t happen again”.
  • Don’t make it a habit: redeem yourself by being known for your good work and not for your regular antics at the office Christmas parties. Learn your lesson and make sure you don’t make the same mistake next year.

Organisations can also help by not centring the Christmas party around drinking. If there have been a few disastrous Christmas parties over the years, it may be time to change it up. Why not go to the spa for a day or have a BBQ at lunch with some cool sports or activities, it doesn’t always have to be about drinking and eating!

The festive season can be a stressful time of year so keep an eye out for each other and reach out if you think someone is not coping. Someone’s antics at the office Christmas party may just be a sign that they are not coping. Read this article to make yourself aware of the early warning signs to look out for.

If you have experienced a particularly awkward situation at work and would like it to be the basis of my next Awkward Situations Blog, email me at or connect with me via Linkedin here. For more information on the Centre for Corporate Health’s services call us on 02 8243 1500.

Nichola Johnston is Client Relationships & Communications Manager at CFCH. With a background in management and marketing, she is dedicated to sharing meaningful information on maintaining wellbeing in the workplace.

The Hyper-Sensitive Worker and Their Impact on the Workplace

5th November 2014

By Kristin Tinker,

Workplace bullying is a concern for many organisations with the impact on the business taking a toll on both organisational culture and the bottom-line. As many as 1 in 3 employees will experience workplace bullying at some point in their careers. Although this statistic does appear alarming, our research has revealed that while many bullying claims lodged for workers’ compensation psychological injury are genuine, nearly 50% are in fact the result of hypersensitive reactions to interpersonal interactions; a symptom of poor emotional resilience.

An emotionally resilient person has developed effective coping strategies to deal with setbacks and will likely perceive conflict or interpersonal tension in a less personal way. This perception usually results in a more rational response that is fuelled by fact, rather than feelings.

Overly emotional (or hypersensitive) reactions have increased to nearly 20% within the general population and individuals possibly escalating workplace issues by lodging bullying claims created by hypersensitivity, contribute to increased conflict and distress in the workplace, ultimately damaging workplace culture and team relationships.

So why such a dramatic increase in hypersensitive employees over the past 15 years?

The Hyper (or Highly) Sensitive personality trait was first research by Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D in the 1990’s, with studies since then suggesting that the highly sensitive personality trait is in fact in our genetic make up and is therefore hereditary.

There are also many studies, articles and general conversation around the theory that we as parents, schools and communities over the past 20-25 years may have been feeding this personality trait. One article in particular, published in New York Magazine, seems to describe this concept nicely:

“Our generation is the product of two long-term social experiments conducted by our parents. The first sought to create little hyperachievers encouraged to explore our interests and talents, so long as that could be spun for maximum effect on a college application. (I would like to take this forum to at last admit that my co-secretaryship of the math club had nothing to do with any passion for numbers and much to do with the extra-credit points.) In the second experiment, which was a reaction to their own distant moms and dads, our parents tried to see how much self-confidence they could pack into us, like so many overstuffed microfiber love seats, and accordingly we were awarded clip-art Certificates of Participation just for showing up.” Read more here.

Have we, and are we continuing to, set our children up as filled to the brim with self confidence and self entitlement with a significant lack of reality and true self worth? It seems that way for many. The correlation between the time period of “certificates for simply turning up” with the increased prevalence of hypersensitivity in our 20-30 year olds within the workplace, may have something to answer for regarding these employees lack of emotional resilient skills, skills that are imperative to enable us to bounce back from situations that are not ideal or do not go our way.

What does hypersensitivity actually look like in the workplace?

A symptom of poor emotional resilience, Hypersensitivity, is defined as an overly emotional response to a situation in which others would not normally respond in an emotional way. A common example of a hypersensitive reaction is an employee perceiving the identification of an error in their work as a personal attack on their competence, causing them to revert to formal processes to resolve a relatively routine workplace occurrence.

  • Hypersensitivity and poor emotional resilience can lead to:
  • Increased bullying and harassment claims
  • Increased workplace conflict and tension between teams and management
  • Low morale and lack of team cohesion
  • Decreased productivity
  • Time and money unnecessarily spent on formal processes

To complicate matters further, managers dealing with hypersensitive staff are often unsure how to effectively navigate through the issues that may arise. This can lead to situations where managers allow unreasonable employee demands to be met to ‘keep the peace’.

Unfortunately, this approach can also lead to resentment amongst team members, creating conflict.

Managing the issues caused by Hypersensitivity in your Workplace and Within a Claim for Psychological Injury

Incorporating emotional resilience into a workplace’s early intervention strategy can significantly improve workplace culture and eventual outcomes. By including emotional resilience education in the rehabilitation of an injured worker recovering from a psychological injury, recovery and relapse prevention improves, as the injured worker becomes knowledgeable and empowered to not be consumed in the victim mentality and realise that they have the control to drive their own recovery.

From a business perspective, there is likely to be fewer claims for psychological injury, which in turn reduces workers’ compensation costs, reduces absenteeism and improves performance.

By identifying hypersensitive reactions and recognising the importance of improved practical emotional resilience, organisations can reduce hypersensitivity, workplace bullying claims and team conflict, ultimately supporting the development and ongoing operation of a high performing work culture.

For more information or discuss any of these strategies, please contact us on 02 8243 1400 or

PAUSE – The benefits of taking a moment before you speak

28th October 2014

By Nichola Johnston

Oh the embarrassing moments, the scathing quips, and over dramatic displays of emotion that could have been avoided if only a moment was taken to think before uttering a single word… We are all guilty at some point or another of not thinking before we speak. The consequences too can vary, especially in the workplace. “I’m sorry that came out wrong, I love you”, just doesn’t cut it with a colleague as it may do with your significant other (it’s also slightly inappropriate). Our colleagues may not know, like our friends and family do, that we are a good person at heart, our colleagues judge us on how we interact with them with little context as to whom we really are as a person.

Failing to pause before reacting to a situation at work can result in you becoming known as one of the following stereotypes:

The Snappy Tom:  the person that in the split second between you finishing one word and then forming the final word of your sentence, has already retorted having only digested 20% of what you have actually said.

The Drama Queen:  the person who thrives on, and perpetuates, all workplace gossip, acting out scenes as though they were in the running for an Oscar.

The Negative Nancy:  this is the person that no matter how much you try to get on side and try to work with as a team, always has something negative to say in response to most conversations.

The Aggressive Hot Head: DUCK FOR COVER! This person has such a short fuse that even a relatively calm conversation with them can turn into them giving you a dressing down that would render anyone emotionally naked.

So what can you do?

  1. Learn what the signs and symptoms are when you have these emotional outbursts or reactions. By knowing the signs you are able to better stop yourself before you lash out, create a scene or start a drama.
  2. Once you know and have practiced recognising what triggers your emotions, set up a emotional reaction template in your mind that you can follow methodically when you recognise your emotions are beginning to become out of control. This will allow you to respond to the situation intentionally instead of reacting.
  3. Reframe your thoughts. When we take the time to examine our thinking in detail, we usually find that we are making some type of error in thinking, which intensifies our distress, anger and emotions even more. Checkout this article on how to reframe your unhealthy thoughts into more helpful ones.
  4. PAUSE and take a step back from the situation. When you start to feel overwhelmed with emotions in the workplace, pause and reflect on your motives and assumptions about others in the situation you have found yourself. Have you made quick unfounded assumptions? Have you been too quick to judge? Have you heard them out? Have you thought about their feelings and what they have been going through? The answers to these questions may stop you in your tracks and encourage you to rethink how you are going to respond in this particular situation.

So before you completely explode, say something embarrassing, start a malicious trail of gossip or fashion a scathing retort, PAUSE and take a moment, it may just be one of the best tactics you have ever used in aid of your career.

For more information on our training around how to management emotional reactions within the workplace, contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at

Nichola Johnston is Client Relationships & Communications Manager at CFCH. With a background in management and marketing, she is dedicated to sharing meaningful information on maintaining wellbeing in the workplace.

FIXING THE LENSES - Tweaking our thought processes to help us cope

8th October 2014

By Katherine Wagner

Sometimes no matter how hard you try to play fair, things go wrong. Various factors outside of our control disrupt plans. Unexpected events like being fired, illness or a death in the family can send us reeling. Or you might be rejected. That always feels good. So how do you bounce back in the face of setbacks?

In the world of psychology, we know that reality is subjective. Two people can be faced with the same scenario and react totally differently.  A major distinction between those who bounce back and those who don’t is their cognitive style – the lens through which they view life. The difficult thing is, these lens or “schemas” are often not conscious – we have no idea that our view is skewed.

Here are two tricks to see if your hidden lens is doing you a disservice: how permanent do you see a negative situation to be, and how much is it about you? The goal is to see bad stuff as temporary and to be realistic about how personally you should take a situation. An example: Your work on a presentation at work is criticized. Adaptive response: “I’ve done good work in the past and been praised for it. This is a one-off situation and I will learn from it” (temporary view - good). And, “I know my boss likes me and trusts me, this is about my mind not being on the job recently. It’s not about my value as a person (not taking it personally – also good).

Speaking of your personal value, another tip is to try to attribute good events to yourself. Do take it personally when it counts! If you deliver a great report, praise yourself for your effort and skills. Don’t blame it on luck – appreciate how much you contributed. Reminding yourself of your power to create results will also help to support you when times are tough. We often blame ourselves unfairly when problems occur but don’t acknowledge our power to make things right. If you have a loyal group of friends, /you’re feeling fit/are relied upon at work etcetera, you did something to create this – so celebrate it.

While focussing on your personal strengths, when dealing with a loss, redundancy  or serious diagnosis for instance, now more than ever you will have to attune your lens to look for the good. Grab a notepad and list the supports and positive benefits available:  there’s always something. Maybe an illness is an opportunity to slow down and rely on others for a change. Or loss can bring you closer to other loves ones and make you live more bravely.

So when you’re going through something tough, ask yourself the above questions. And stay tuned for our next blog about step by step tips to delve deep and uncover the hidden beliefs and value that can also be sabotaging you.

For more information on how The Resilience Box can assist individuals and groups to cope during and after stressful situations, contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at

Katherine is a Senior Psychologist here at Centre for Corporate Health. With a love of travel and assisting others in strengthening their wellbeing, Katherine regularly writes travel blogs for various organisations as well as contributes to our CFCH blog.

Changing our Mindset about Change

17th September 2014

By Katherine Wagner

Change is the one certainty in our working lives, but managing it isn’t always easy. Sometimes we feel stuck in a situation that’s “alright”, but doesn’t meet our true needs. This in turn brings the niggling discomfort of knowing that things could be better. Other times a negative situation become so untenable we feel forced to shake things up.  Either way, positive change brings with it the need to ANALYZE our situation, MANAGE OUR EMOTIONS and take ACTION.

How to proactively manage the change process, and enjoy more life/work satisfaction, is something central to the field of Positive Psychology. One of Australia’s pioneers in the field, Dr Anthony Grant, often refers to Prochaska and DiClemente’s Transtheoretical Model of Change. This highly researched model suggests that for almost any change to occur there’s a predictable sequence of steps. Whether you’re a confident go-getter, a laid back plodder, or someone who just hates making decisions, quite reliably, you will go through these steps when trying to modify a situation:

  1. Pre-contemplation – the vague sense that things could be better (e.g. Why do I feel bored or irritated? Should I dread Mondays like this? Is this the role for me? Am I as happy as I could be?)
  2. Contemplation – your thoughts start to get more focussed on what need to be different (e.g. “I really need to change roles” or “I need to get more organised”…”I need to start taking on new projects”, “I need to take more holidays…” )
  3. Preparation – you start to actively make small changes (E.g. have a chat to your boss about your concerns, start walking at lunchtime to clear your head, do some relevant reading, clean out your desk…)
  4. Action – here you bring out the big guns and actually do something drastic. E.g. you might start applying for a new role or resign from your job. You may decide to take six months off and study. Maybe you’ll create a new filing system or enrol in further training. The possibilities are endless.
  5. Maintenance – When you’ve been effectively sticking with new behaviours/ situation for say, six months, you’re maintaining the positive changes. Well done!

Although this is a simplistic account of the change process, just knowing that we all go through these general stages can be a source of comfort (and motivation). If you’re an anxious change avoider, remember, even ambitious go-getters have grappled with feeling of discomfort, or else why else would they have tried new things?

Let ambivalence be your friend

Speaking of feelings, research shows that the one constancy of the change process is ambivalence, the feeling of being in two minds. Leaving something familiar will always involve a level of discomfort as we cannot always know exactly what the future will bring. But if we can accept this emotion, and take action regardless, we will likely be successful in reaching new goals.

Indeed supportive coaching can help you move through the stages of change by managing your emotions, and also clarifying your values and goals.   Earlier this year the Centre for Corporate Health provided resilience training and coaching to a large NSW Government Department undergoing significant change and reform. By undertaking this training participants were able to maintain and strengthen their personal resilience in the face of significant change and possible redundancy, a situation which often creates imbalance in our wellbeing equilibrium. 

For more information on how to manage an organisation or team through change by strengthening personal resilience, contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at

Katherine is a Senior Psychologist here at Centre for Corporate Health. With a love of travel and assisting others in strengthening their wellbeing, Katherine regularly writes travel blogs for various organisations as well as contributes to our CFCH blog.

Awkward Situation # 3: “Got any spare undies?” – Asking R U OK? is far less awkward

27th June 2014

By Nichola JohnstonExpert advice provided by Rachel Clements, Director of Psychological Services CFCH, Conversation Expert for R U OK? Day Foundation

“Got any spare undies” – who would ask such a thing? Especially in the workplace? Well, hopefully everyone! Not in a serious way but rather to start up a conversation with a colleague that grabs their attention, before you ask them the question you should be asking them… those three simple words… R U OK?

This is the aim of R U OK? Days’ new workplace campaign with “Got any spare undies” as their campaign slogan.

When we look at the question on paper, asking someone “R U OK?” doesn’t seem awkward or a question that we would shy away from asking a colleague. The truth is however, that when many of us are actually faced with a colleague in our day to day lives that we suspect is not travelling well, a large proportion of us avoid asking this question at all costs. Curious as to why we shy away from asking “R U OK?”, especially in the workplace, I sat down with Rachel Clements, one of our Directors and Conversation Expert for R U OK? Day, to shed some light on this anomaly.

 “Scared is the simple answer. Many people are worried about ‘opening the flood gates’ or concerned they won’t know how to deal with the situation if someone answers, ‘no, I’m not okay’” says Rachel. “You don’t have to be a Psychologist to help someone who voices that they are struggling. A different way of looking at it is; if a colleague of yours  had slipped in the office kitchen and was crying out for help, how many of you would walk by, ignore the cries and think to yourself ‘well I’m not a Doctor; there is nothing I can do to help’? None! However we do when we are faced with the mental health equivalent”.

Other reasons people find asking R U OK? so awkward are:

  1. They don’t understand or can’t relate to the person’s current situation;
  2. They don’t want to be intrusive;
  3. They feel that by mentioning that the person appears to be struggling, it will make it worse;
  4. They feel as though it should be the person’s manager asking the questions not them.

So what can organisations do to make sure their employees feel comfortable asking this question and in turn begin to reduce the stigma attached to mental health?

Here are Rachel’s tips:

  1. Supportive Leadership. Being able to ask these awkward questions starts from the top. Having your leader foster an open and supportive culture where they do not shy away from asking the tough questions, and being accepting and understanding of the responses, demonstrates to the rest of the team that it is everyone’s responsibility to support each other in the workplace.
  2. Awareness of Support Services. Having an EAP and making everyone aware of the services available to them is a means of being able to work through a difficult conversation and link someone into appropriate support in a timely manner.
  3. Mental Health Intervention Frameworks. Developing standard conversation models about asking the question and responding in an appropriate manner can form part of a standard mental health intervention framework. Just as workplaces have First Aid for physical injuries, the development of a Mental Health Intervention Framework is akin to the development of a psychological First Aid model.

So there you have it. Asking “R U OK?” doesn’t have to be as awkward as asking a colleague “Got any spare undies?” Why not start the process of making your workplace a mentally healthy one today? Print this poster, take a look at the R U OK? conversation model, forward this blog to your colleagues and ask your managers and HR team to get on board and look at what mental health strategies are missing in your workplace.

For more information on our comprehensive Mental Health Conversation Model for managers and HR, or our Mental Health Intervention Framework, call us on 02 8243 1500 or email us at

Nichola Johnston is Client Relationships & Communications Manager at CFCH. With a background in management and marketing, she is dedicated to sharing meaningful information on maintaining wellbeing in the workplace.

Awkward Situation #2: An email sent too soon, RECALL RECALL!

28th May 2014

By Nichola Johnston – Expert advice provided by Laurena Moore, National Project Manager at CFCH

This awkward situation makes me cringe just writing about it! Hands up if you have committed one of the following workplace sins:

  1. When sending an email to a friend venting about a certain co-worker who has yet again managed to be a significant thorn in your side, you instead send it to the poor sole you have succinctly demolished in the email.
  2. Sent a text message meant for your significant other, to your boss instead.
  3. Hit “reply all” instead of “forward” and inadvertently CC’d a client in on an email whereby you articulately complain to a co-worker just how annoying and needy the client has been.
  4. Sent a text message to a colleague and signed off with lines full of “xxxxxxxx’s” or “love”

My hand is up… not for all of them…mainly number 4!

When I sat down with Laurena Moore, National Project Manager at CFCH, seeking advice on these issues so as I could share with all of you, her first response was “Don’t do it in the first place”. Valid point. Before I get into how to handle these situations when they do occur, I first want to share Laurena’s tips for preventing these situations occurring in the first place:

  • Avoid the “Reply”, ”Reply All” and “Forward” buttons as much as possible and choose to create a “New Email”. This does one of two things, firstly it makes you consciously type in the person(s) email address and secondly, prevents the never ending email trails which get more dangerous the longer they get; “what was in that first email I wrote…?”  “Is there anything in this email trail that will offend this person if I CC them in?”
  • Don’t put an email address in the “To” or “CC” line until you have finished the email.
  • When annoyed or angry resist the urge to send any emails at all! Emotional outbursts could mean the demise of your career in your current place of work. If you can’t resist and your fingers begin to bash the key board in a furious flurry, at least save the email in your drafts and come back to it in 24hrs. It’s amazing how much a good sleep can help you gain perspective. In most cases taking time away from the situation and the email will result in the email being deleted rather than sent.
  • As a rule of thumb, save your rants and need for venting to out of office hours. More importantly do not under any circumstances use your work email for this purpose FULLSTOP.
  • Save work numbers with “STOP” or “WORK” in capital letters before the persons name. This may catch your eye just before you hit send on a message meant for your partner, to your boss, telling them how much you love them.

While the consequences for some of these faux pas may simply be an embarrassed face and the inspiration for a few jokes around the office, others can be much more detrimental to your career and extremely hurtful to others around you. Many jobs have been lost and the seed for bullying claims planted, off the back of one email.

Should you fail to heed our warnings and end up knee deep in email or text messaging drama, here are Laurena’s tips on how to best handle the situation (WARNING, you may still experience negative repercussions as a result of your behaviour, however you will have done your best to rectify the situation):

  1. If you have sent an email to someone by accident that attacks them or sarcastically expresses your dismay with their recent behaviour, don’t send another email trying to explain yourself. Put yourself in their shoes and think about how hurt their feelings are likely to be. Pick up the phone or walk over to their desk, own up, take responsibility and apologise. Start with something along the lines of “I’m so sorry, obviously I did not mean for you to receive that email, I wrote it in the heat of the moment and it was wrong”. Be authentic and genuine, don’t rattle off a list of excuses, eat some humble pie and be prepared to hear some home truths as they too may be frustrated with in your workplace relationship. Try and turn this mistake into an opportunity to sort out any issues you both may have with each other in an effort to move on.
  2. In a situation where you have by accident sent an email to a client that was instead meant for a colleague whereby attesting to how annoying said client has been, again, pick up the phone! It is going to be an awkward conversation, however it is better to address it and try to salvage the relationship than simply pretend it did not occur. Start with an apology and maybe say something along the lines of “I am so sorry! I have had one of those days where I have been pulled in every which way and your email requesting XXX of me was the straw that broke the camels back. I apologise for you having to bare the brunt of my venting, it was unlike me and it will never happen again.”
  3. If you find yourself red-faced after realising you have sent a text message to a colleague or your boss that was either meant for your partner or signed off with “xoxoxox”/“love you lots”, don’t worry too much. A simple text saying something along the lines of “Whoops sorry, that wasn’t meant for you” or “Sorry, I didn’t mean to sign off with that”, will suffice. You may, however, be the butt of a few jokes… just a warning.

So the moral of this story is if you find yourself in one of these awkward situations and if hitting the “Recall Email” button fails, fess up and be open, honest and extremely apologetic. Humble pie has to be eaten on occasions and this just may be your time to chow down.

If you have experienced a particularly awkward situation at work and would like it to be the basis of our next Awkward Situations Blog, email me at or connect with me via Linkedin here. For more information on the Centre for Corporate Health’s coaching services call us on 02 8243 1500.

Nichola Johnston is Client Relationships & Communications Manager at CFCH. With a background in management and marketing, she is dedicated to sharing meaningful information on maintaining wellbeing in the workplace.

Laurena Moore is National Project Manager at CFCH. With a background in executive coaching, psychological assessment and career transition, she is dedicated to improving and maintaining resilience during all phases of the career cycle.


Awkward Workplace Situations - Blog Series

23rd May 2014

By Nichola Johnston – Expert advice provided by Debra Brodowski, National Manager of Psychological Services CFCH

Everyone knows that point in time when you wish you could just curl up in the foetal position or pretend you didn’t hear or see the situation unfolding in front of you and simply disappear. AWKWARD SITUATIONS… no one likes them; they are however a part of our work life and we will have to deal with them at some point or another. Over the years I have been faced with many and have heard my friends describe in cringe worthy detail the awkward situations they too have faced.  

Now days I have a secret weapon to draw upon when dealing with these situations and in the spirit of sharing, I have decided to pay it forward. This blog series will pick one awkward situation each week, of which I will report back to you the invaluable advice elicited from one of our senior organisational psychologists here at CFCH. So buckle up, it’s going to be a cringe worthy, teeth grinding, toe curling ride!

Awkward Situation # 1: How to cope with a promotion that puts you in charge of your peers

You work so hard to get that promotion and when the day finally arrives, instead of relaxing into your new position, the effort you put into snapping up the fabulous role now needs to be redirected to smoothing out the relationships with your peers who weren’t successful in being promoted… and now report to YOU!

For this situation to run as smoothly as possible you first need to have gained your new position in an ethical way, without getting too deeply involved in office politics. Gaining a promotion by wheeling and dealing will only lead to more of the same, and I’m not talking about you. This time it will most probably come from a disgruntled former peer who also went for the promotion, who now reports to you and won’t be happy until they have witnessed your downfall!

So as you can see, the “HOW” you got the promotion plays a big part in “HOW” it is received by your colleagues. The more structured & transparent the succession path is, the more likely the best person for the job will be hired, and the less ripples it will create within the team.

Here are some practical tips on how to make this process as pain free as possible:

  1. With every gain there is a loss. Whilst you have gained your promotion, what may not be immediately recognisable is that with this change the nature of your relationship with your peers will have also changed. Some professional distance is now required. Whilst this does not mean ignoring your former peers, it does mean formalising your relationships to some extent.
  2. Management by legitimate means. Do not use your new-found “power” to play favourites with people, or abuse the status of your new role. To win the respect of your former peers, it is important to persist in behaving in a consistent, ethical and respectful way.
  3. Expect that the transition will take time. Again, this is where persistence in being consistent in your behaviour is important. Do not expect people to automatically be thrilled or come on side with your promotion. Allow them time, space and the opportunity to discuss the situation with you so that a new equilibrium in the relationship can be established.
  4. Be clear and constructive in your expectations with others. Be the manager that you would have liked to be managed by. Research has shown that open and constructive communication with clear expectations and a positive attitude all provide for a better leadership style thereby improving workplace morale.
  5. Address issues as they arise. This could mean an informal chat or (if warranted) a formal performance discussion. Don’t let issues get out of control just because of your previous relationship was as peers. Enlist the support of your manager or Human Resources if required.

So, the moral of this story is to use your new found power for good, not evil and remember the character strengths you respected in managers you looked up to before your promotion.

If you have experienced a particularly awkward situation at work and would like it to be the basis of our next Awkward Situations Blog, email me at or connect with me via Linkedin here. For more information on the Centre for Corporate Health’s coaching services call us on 02 8243 1500.


Nichola Johnston is Client Relationships & Communications Manager at CFCH. With a background in management and marketing, she is dedicated to sharing meaningful information on maintaining wellbeing in the workplace.

Debra Brodowski is National Manager of Psychological Services at CFCH. With a background in executive coaching, psychological assessment and management, she is dedicated to improving mental health within organisations Australia wide.

Suicide Prevention – Why workplaces should be investing in their Employees Mental Health

14th April 2014

By Rachel Clements - Follow Rachel on Twitter

Each and every day in Australia:

·         6 people die by suicide

·         180 people attempt suicide

·         249 people make a suicide plan

·         1014 people think about suicide

These figures are staggering, and while there is a lack of research into just how far work related issues contribute to these numbers, considering that suicide is most prevalent in working age males (24-44 years), it would be neglectful for us not to acknowledge that work some part in many of these suicides. We spend so much of our life at work therefore workplaces are in a unique position to reach out to working age adults by providing key information on Mental Health and intervention.

Why do some organisations shy away from addressing Mental Health in the workplace?

Let’s face it, not all of us are Psychologists, however using this as an excuse for neglecting mental health issues is only adding to the already chronic stigma that has glued itself to mental health. Imagine if a colleague of yours had slipped in the office kitchen and was crying out for help, how many of you would walk by, ignore the cries and think to yourself “well I’m not a Doctor; there is nothing I can do to help”. Furthermore, how many organisations would not acknowledge the incident and look in the opposite direction, not run a risk audit and simply cross their fingers that it didn’t happen again? NONE, is the simple answer.  So why would we do all these things when we notice someone hasn’t been themselves lately or has been showing signs of distress? We do it out of fear. Fear of what we don’t know.

What can you and your organisation do?

A good starting point for introducing and implementing a process to better address mental health issues in the workplace is the development of a Mental Health Intervention Framework. Just like your workplace CPR posters, it’s time to appoint a wellbeing officer and design a Mental Health Intervention Framework. The framework is the psychological equivalent of the CPR First Aid poster; it follows simple steps on:

·         How to recognise symptoms of psychological distress,

·         How to respond,

·         Who to refer the situation to based on the level of distress, and

·         What escalation points to be aware of.

Organisations that have successfully rolled out this type of framework, often opt to develop more than one framework; the first is in-depth and aimed at senior management and HR personnel, the second is broader and aimed at all staff. Having a framework to follow takes the fear out of reaching out to someone who you think is struggling or not travelling well, it is also gives HR and management training on how to handle high risk situations in accordance to best practice procedures.

Creating awareness on how to ask “R U OK?” in general is probably one of the most simple yet effective ways of reducing the mental health stigma and preventing suicides in Australia. We have been the Official Information Partner for R U OK? at Work for the past couple of years and through this alliance have discovered just how effective these three simple words are in helping to save a life. Why not urge your organisation to participate this year and hold an R U OK? Day event at work? For more information on how to do this click here.

But don’t just wait until R U OK? Day rolls around again on 11 September 2014, start a conversation today. Here’s how (it’s really easy):


By not being afraid to ask someone “R U OK?” we are heading in the right direction to reducing the stats on suicides in Australia.

If you or someone you know needs help call LifeLine on 13 11 14

For more information on our Mental Health Intervention Framework and how this can assist your organisation in not brushing mental health under the carpet, call us on 02 8243 1500 or email us at

Regulating your emotions at work – How to NOT ruin your career as a result of an emotional outburst!

7th April 2014

By Rachel Clements

I was reading this blog just yesterday and it really hit home just how important it is that employees (and employers for that matter) have the skills to be able to regulate their emotions, especially in the workplace. As this particular blog showed, often when we are in the midst of a stressful situation, our emotions bubble closer to the surface than usual and our ability to control them can diminish drastically.

It may be the “corporate psychopath” that has once again