Taking Care During a Time of Uncertainty

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curvy road fading into white midst

In our summer 2020 newsletter, Senior Director for UI Wellness/University Human Resources, Megan Hammes, interviewed campus experts on behalf of the liveWELL Program for their knowledge on how to cope, move forward, and optimize well-being during these turbulent times. liveWELL is back with part two of the campus expert series featuring more health and well-being tips and resources.

liveWELL: The University is very fortunate to have its own internal Employee Assistance Program.  What types of things can UI employees use the EAP for that they may not know about?

Maggie Moore, Director, UI Employee Assistance Program, University Human Resources: The UI EAP is available to faculty, staff, and their families. Our philosophy is that we want to be there when you need us. Many people find that the short-term nature of our program is enough to address a variety of concerns, from struggling with mental health issues to how supervisors can help support employees who are struggling. We can assist in helping folks get connected to other campus or community resources all while being completely confidential. We know that the pandemic has challenged many of us by affecting our focus, family, sleep, and security. We are here to help. Please call or email today to set up a teletherapy or face to face appointment. 

liveWELL: Some reports suggest that in any given year, one in five or 20% of  adults will experience a form of mental illness. How can we be proactive at recognizing mental health concerns and take steps to help just like we do with our physical preventive health exams?

Maggie Moore, LISW: It is important to know oneself and variations in mood that can occur naturally or under stress.  Recognize when those moods might be persistently high or persistently low or if you have intense anxiety that does not remit. Know that there is help available. Talk it over with your primary care doctor or chat with an EAP counselor. Also, build a support network to manage turbulent times such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

liveWELL: Carla, you do a lot of work with employees on building resilience through classes and your role as 
a Health Coach. With still so many unknowns and unplanned stressors for our employees, how do you advise people to navigate while remaining resilient?

Carla Melby-Oetken, Health Coach/Wellness Consultant, UI Wellness, University Human Resources: Resilience is not a trait that you either have or don’t have. It’s a skill that can be developed intentionally by changing your thoughts and behaviors, so we can all work on developing a resilient mindset. Now is a good time to practice making intentional choices and using critical thinking skills.

Ask yourself questions like: 

  • Are there other ways to reassess and make thoughtful choices right now?
  • What is most important?
  • How can I take action to improve my situation?
  • Can I find new ways to approach these challenges?

Take personal control over how you respond to change. Avoid getting stuck in negative thinking. Take a deep breath, and purposefully shift your attention to things that you can be grateful for, things that are going well, and maybe even challenge yourself to identify some “silver linings.” We know that times of personal challenge can also provide opportunities for growth, learning, and personal development. Many people who have experienced challenges have reported positive outcomes, such as improved relationships, a greater sense of strength even while allowing for vulnerability, increased sense of self-worth, increased spirituality, or more appreciation for life. Part of having a resilient mindset is allowing for some hope that something good might possibly come out of the challenging situation. Resilience does not mean denying your feelings or avoiding seeking help. On the contrary, I would advise people to connect with others and to make use of the outstanding resources and benefits available to them.

 

liveWELL: Dr. Carr, physical activity has been shown to improve mood, brain functioning, help manage stress and anxiety, and even boost our immune system to help us fend off and recover from illnesses. 60% of our employees report being physically active on a regular basis, but what can we do to stay motivated and inspired to be active?

Lucas Carr, PhD, Associate Professor, Dept. of Health & Human Physiology, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Finding motivation can be tough, so we need to be creative. One thing I have been doing that keeps me active is sharing my daily exercise achievements  with a small group of friends. This can include sharing a photo of a good hike, a screenshot of my Fitbit data, or even a  simple text message. Knowing that my activity might provide my friend the motivation he needs to be active is its own motivator. Plus, it helps me stay connected to my close friends which is also helpful.

liveWELL: For those without a physical activity routine or who don’t get enough movement, what do you recommend?

Dr. Carr: I would encourage people to view this pandemic as a unique opportunity to establish a new physical activity routine. Begin by identifying the barriers that are preventing you from being active and brainstorm some solutions for reducing that barrier. Then develop an action plan that describes when, where, and how you will be active and who you will ask to support you. Be sure to identify a time of day when you are most motivated and available to be active and choose activities that you most enjoy. Write this all down and keep track of your successes in a place that you will see it. Finally, if your action plan isn’t working, tweak it and try again. It can take weeks to months to establish an exercise habit, so focus on the long game!

 

liveWELL: The pandemic continues to be a challenge for many UI families. As Family Services Director, what advice do you have for parents with young and school-age children during the pandemic?

Diana Kremzar Director,  UI Family Services, University Human Resources: A friend recently said to me, “I had to let go of trying to thrive in this pandemic. Surviving is now my goal of the day.” As someone who likes all of my home and work boxes checked at the end of the day, I recognize it’s unrealistic to fill every minute without taking the time to evaluate priorities, emotions, and overall bandwidth. Surviving is not a bad thing, and, in fact, I have come to believe that is how we make it to the end of this pandemic marathon with the physical and emotional well-being of ourselves and our family members still intact. Here are some of my survival techniques.
AT WORK
Take breaks throughout  the day. Take a walk outside. Meditate for 10 minutes. Eat your lunch away from the screen. Taking short breaks throughout the day can actually help boost your productivity in the long-term. 
Set boundaries. Even if you are working remotely, it is important to consider what is designated as work time, home time, 
and now, teaching time. Create boundaries and communicate them to your family and work. 
For example, if your workday ends at 5:00 p.m., communicate to your boss and co-workers that you won’t be checking emails after 5, and if there is an emergency, they should call your cell phone.
AT HOME 
Keep meals simple. Are your kids eating a rotation of pasta and chicken nuggets? Now is not the time to be hard on yourself if that 
is what you can manage 
to handle. When I started working remotely, I had an unrealistic expectation of what I could accomplish at home. No longer. I created a list of five meals we rotate each week that are things I know my kids will eat without a fight, fit in the time I have for cooking, and require zero brainpower on my end. I would much rather prefer my energy to be focused on checking in with my family at dinnertime than playing sous chef and trying to get them to eat their broccoli. They're not off the hook forever, but for now, this is what I believe is best for the cumulative well-being of my family.

Don't compare. No one is in your unique life situation right now, so don't spend any energy comparing yourself to someone who you think is doing A, B, or C better than you right now. I can almost guarantee that they are struggling, too.

Have your family help out where they can. Even the smallest thing can make a big difference. Can big brother help little brother get ready for school each day? Can you and your partner switch off who is in charge of dinner and bed each night, so you each can take a breather? Even if you have always done something a certain way, now is a time to get creative and try something new!

liveWELL: What resources are available to parents juggling childcare needs and or kids in-person, online, or both?

Diana Kremzar: This school year is unlike one that any of us have experienced. The ongoing debate of virtual vs. on-site schools has both advantages and concerns. For parents, there is no right or wrong option. It is truly a matter of determining the scenario where an individual child and family can best thrive in the uncertain reality of today while taking into consideration everything from physical health and safety to emotional wellbeing, education, and economic resilience. No matter what option a parent is faced with or chooses regarding their child(ren)’s learning model, it will require a new set of skills and present challenges. University Human Resources strives
to provide resources and programs to support employees and their families during this time.