Wednesday, April 27, 2016

10 Self-Care Tips for the Busy Administrative Professional

by Emily Alvarez

Today is Administrative Professionals' Day. This is the day where those in support roles are recognized for being amazing and keeping an organization working like a well-oiled machine. Today, the focus need to be, not just on the miraculous support we provide, but on the stress and overwhelming feelings that come along with the position. It's time to support those who support everyone else.

Let's face it. Being a Fill-In-The-Blank Assistant means you become the be-all, end-all. You do literally everything and do it without breaking a sweat (Let's be honest, you also look fabulous doing it).

For me, being an Executive Assistant to a CEO is stressful, but also maintaining support for the rest of the staff can be overwhelming. My job description may say I do one job, but that's never the case. I have my hand in everything and I do it well. I am extremely good at taking care of others, but I also need to make sure that I'm healthy. I practice self-care to keep my mind and body in check.

Self-care is any intentional actions you take to care for your physical, mental, and emotional health. Taking care of your health doesn't just mean physical. Your mental and emotional health are just as important to overall health as physical.

Here is a list of self-care tips for the busy administrative professional:

1. Set and maintain professional boundaries. 

    Don't let your work life bleed into your personal life, and vice versa. It's important to set clear and concise boundaries. Letting work overtake your life is extremely unhealthy. For example, I make it a point to not answer any emails (or look at them) during the weekend because that is my family time. My job is Monday through Friday, 8:00 am - 5:00 pm. And I try very hard to keep it that way. I have also made sure that my boundaries are respected by other on my staff. I am only contacted during off hours if it is an emergency situation. And I respect their boundaries too, by doing the same. Make sure you also balance your work schedule with life demands so no one day or one week is too much.

2. Start a compliments file.

    Document the great things people say about you to read later. This is especially a good idea if you're having a bad day. Reading nice things people have said about you will life you up. When I was in college, I was a Resident Advisor. Part of my job was staff development. I had the staff create compliment jars. Each person on staff had to write something nice about everyone and put it in their jar. The purpose was to show support, but also give someone something nice to read on a bad day. I have a card from my staff on last Administrative Professional's Day where they all told me how awesome I am. When I feel really stressed, I like to look at the card to be reminded that I do a great job and what I do is worthwhile.

3. Unplug for an hour.

    Switch everything to airplane mode and free yourself from the constant bings of social media and email. When your life is only lit by the light on your phone or computer screen, it's very dim. Take time for yourself away from the constant buzz of incoming emails, calls, or texts. Just relax and enjoy life around you, instead of like on the small screens. If your work seems to take over everything, just start with an hour. Maybe eventually you could get to a whole day unplugged or a week for vacation. I've done it and it's been extremely difficult, but I know I enjoyed by vacation so much more because of it.

4. Take deep breaths.

    Whenever I'm feeling extremely overwhelmed, I make sure to take some deep breaths before trying to tackle whatever my workload looks like. Deep breathing can help reduce anxiety as well as lower and/or stabilize blood pressure. It's important to make sure you're breathing, especially during stressful situations. It does no one any good if you pass out because you were overwhelmed and weren't breathing.

5. Exercise Regularly.

    Exercise is a powerful stress reliever. This is an effective way to lift your mood, increase energy, sharpen focus, and relax both mind and body. Try walking, running, dancing, swimming, or any other activity that will get your heart pumping. Aim for at least 30 minutes of stimulating activities a day. As the wise Elle Woods from Legally Blonde) said, "Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy."

6. Do activities that don't require a lot out of you.

    Do things that you find are a lot of fun without requiring too much brain power. For example, coloring is great at relieving stress. How much stress did you have has a kid while coloring? Exactly. Personally, I love to read. I always make sure I have some time for myself and just read. My go-to's are romance novels--mostly because they don't require a lot of brain involvement and that means I can relax. So go on down to your local store and pick up some adult coloring books, crayons/colored pencils, and great mindless books. You'll feel better in no time!

7. Listen to music.

    As someone who is a huge fan of music, I fully stand by the effects that music can have on your well-being. Listen to music that soothes you. I love singing along with my music. It makes me happy and gets rid of pesky stress. Plus, I also feel super accomplished if I can remember the words to a particularly difficult song. I'm looking at you, Hamilton: An American Musical. If you're wondering what effects listening to music can have on your body, you can read more about it here.

8. Do something for yourself.

    When life is overwhelming, sometimes you need to take a moment and do something for yourself. Personally, I love getting massages or getting my nails done. It's something that makes me look good, and therefore I feel good. With the daily grind of work and families, it's important to take time for yourself. Go to a wine tasting. See a movie you've been wanting to see. Go out dancing. Splurge on something nice for yourself, just because. The possibilites are endless, the only requirement is that it's for you.

9. Clean your desk.

    When life is overwhelming, having a cluttered desk is only going to make it worse. Because I am always constantly working on multiple projects at once, my desk regularly looks like a hurricane came by. When it gets to be too much stuff on my desk, it makes me feel even more overwhelmed. I take time once a week to clean up my desk. I organize and clean. I then prioritize my stuff for what needs to get done next. By cleaning your desk, you're also creating a healthy workspace.

10. Smile and laugh.

      A recent research study found that just the act of smiling, even if you don't feel like it, could be enough to change your mood. Something about how different facial muscles communicate with your brain. Don't you remember people telling you that laughter is the best medicine? Well, it's true. Laughter is a powerful antidote to stress, pain, and conflict. Humor lightens your burdens, inspires hopes, connectes you to others, and keeps you grounded, focused and alert. Read a comic book. Watch a comedy or TV show that makes you laugh. I suggest something that is completely stupid that you can't help laughing at.

While some workplace stress is normal, excessive stress can interfere with your productivity and impact your physical, mental, and emotional health. Self-care is an excellent way to support yourself while supporting everyone around you. You also don't have to be an administrative professional to benefit from these self-care tips.

In case someone doesn't say it today (you can add these to your compliments file):

You're a rock star. Everything you do is fabulous. I know how you feel and I've been where you've been, so I know how great being appreciated is. Your workplace is extremely lucky to have you. You're an incredible asset. Keep up the good work!


Mrs. Alvarez is the Executive Assistant for the Carson J Spencer Foundation. She graduated from San Jose State University with a degree in Public Relations and is now leading communication efforts, maintaining the office, and supporting all staff. She coordinates all social media initiatives for this Denver-based nonprofit known for innovation in suicide prevention. In addition, she facilitates all staff needs and coordinates all details pertaining to the CEO. She has a passion for the mental health movement and suicide prevention. She also received the highest award—the Gold Award—from the Girl Scouts and was in Sigma Alpha Lambda, an honors fraternity, in college.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Why Would You Take CPR?

Guest Blog by Scott Drochelman

Roger "Rabbit" Collins' head dropped to his chest. He began convulsing. Ray Harris, Jr. dropped to a knee, he listened for breathing. There was none. The man's eyes stared up blankly. He was clinically dead. Ray began pumping his chest for what felt like an hour. In the end, it was only 8 minutes before Roger gasped and the firefighter was beside him telling him he would take over.

Photo: NASA/GSFC/Rebecca Roth
Ray had learned CPR only a month before. A simple training and 8 minutes of determination had saved his coworker's life. CPR trainings are commonplace in the United States with 12 million people being trained annually. Millions do this training even with the knowledge that on 2% to 18% of people who receive bystander CPR survive to be discharged. Those statistics don't matter in the end because we've decided that the small chance of saving someone like Roger is worth the time and money necessary to learn CPR. We've determined that we will do what it takes to save a life.

Whey then are so few people trained in suicide prevention? Why have we decided that our discomfort in talking about suicide is so great that we would rather leave it to someone else to help? What if Ray Harris Jr. had waited for someone else?

We know that suicide prevention programs work. Studies suggest that up to 42% of people who take a suicide prevention gatekeeper training use the skills they learn in the first 6 months. The trainings are short, on average only 1-2 hours and the expectations are the same as CPR. They don't ask that you do it all by yourself, they just ask that you help until the professionals arrive. We know all this, and still only a small percentage of the population gets trained. How many Rogers could we save if we would invest a small amount of time and money in learning how to save a life? How many more do we have to lose before people are willing to step up?

Visit to find out how you can help.


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Words Make Worlds: Language and the Culture of Mental Health in the Workplace

Republished with Permission from Insurance Thought Leadership
By Donna Hardaker and Sally Spencer-Thomas

Part I: The Science and Social Movement

"commit suicide" - "successful suicide" - "the mentally ill" - "suffering from a mental illness"

Photo by Benjamin Child
These phrases rattle off the tongue--yet we, as social justice advocates, find that they rattle our souls as people continue to use them in well-meaning workplace education programs and community discussions. Let us explain...

In 1984, George Orwell said, "If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought." The phrases above are commonly used inside and outside the mental health sector, and because of this common usage, they are accepted. We suggest that they corrupt the mindful thinking of those who speak them and those who hear them. We would like to change this.

What if being more mindful of our language could release new ways of thinking that eventually open up new opportunities for creative ideas, thoughtful approaches, and ultimately true social inclusion? What if we make a conscious effort to find words that more accurately reflect the experience of mental health conditions and suicide--would we be better able to have empathy, support, and inclusion in our workplaces and communities through the use of more skillful language? We argue: Yes.

Neurolinguistics tell us that the words we use as we speak inform the way our brains store and process information about whatever it is we are talking about. Words carry current meaning and history of meaning. Many words are associated with inaccurate and unfair messages that serve the perpetuate misunderstanding and prejudice. The labels applied to people who have mental health challenges by clinicians create assumptions, expectations, and interpretations that can set misperceived limits on how much growth and performance is possible, while also creating the means for social exclusion. We believe that this process is often unconscious and has an insidious effect on our collective thoughts and feelings, especially regarding marginalized groups, like people who live with suicidal experiences and mental health conditions.

We are hardwired to remember problems, especially when we perceive these problems to be dangerous. So using language that is negative, connotates difference, and insinuates a threat tends to be very "sticky." To undo this, we need to spend extra effort to build a vocabulary that is life-affirming, dignified, and inclusive. Paying attention to our language as we talk about mental health and suicide while constantly and intentionally working toward improving our language will help create a workplace culture of compassion, vitality and engagement.

Stigma reduction campaigns and workplace mental health trainings that do not pay careful attention to language are limiting their impact, and may be the reason why, even after the many years of stigma reduction campaigns, we are not much further ahead in terms of reducing stigma in the workplace.

Language is the most powerful tool in our understanding of each other. In any social movement, language must be addressed. How we speak about people informs us about them, so when we speak unconsciously, without attention to bias and misperception, we are perpetuating social prejudice and its damaging impact. By changing our language, we alter our perceptions and attitudes; this is social justice.

Part II: The Words--in the sequel to this blog we explore the history, impact and alternatives to specific words used when talking about suicide and mental health.


SALLY SPENCER-THOMAS: As a clinical psychologist, mental health advocate, faculty member, and survivor of her brother's suicide, Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas sees the issues of suicide prevention from many perspectives. Currently, she holds leadership positions for the Carson J Spencer Foundation, the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, and the American Association for Suicidology.

DONNA HARDAKER: Donna is an internationally recognized industry expert in the emerging field of workplace mental health. She is an award-winning curriculum developer, advocate, public speaker, writer and advisor, who has leveraged her personal experience of mental health challenges and their impact on her employment history into a significant body of work. She is the Director of Wellness Works, a workplace mental health training program of Mental Health America of California that has been evaluated as highly effective in stigma reduction with lasting behavior and culture change. Donna is from Toronto, Canada, but now lives in Sacramento, where she greatly enjoys the California sunshine.