Habits & Health episode 94 with Paula Allen who is a Senior Vice- President at LifeWorks, trusted mental health & wellbeing partner to over 15,000 organizations around the world. She is the creator of the LifeWorks’ Mental Health Index. We discuss mental health in the workplace and many other issues around mental wellbeing.
She is the Global Leader, Research and Total Wellbeing and a Senior Vice- President at LifeWorks, now a part of Telus Health and is the creator of the LifeWorks’ Mental Health Index. Paula manages the research agenda for LifeWorks, which includes primary research conducted by LifeWorks, exploratory data science, research collaborations and meta-analyses. Given her focus on industry-leading research, Paula also leads LifeWorks thought leadership and is co-chair of the organization’s product and innovation strategy.
Timestamps for topics discussed in this episode:
01:54 Who are LifeWorks?
04:06 Is awareness around mental health improving?
05:16 Stigma around mental health
07:16 How the pandemic effected mental health issues
09:42 Mental Health First Aid
10:04 Mental health in the workplace training
11:48 Does Lifeworks only work with large organisations?
12:50 The many benefits a company receives by caring for their employees mental health
14:06 Employee retention
15:48 The Mental Health Index
19:42 How different nations approach this topic
20:39 Examples of orgainsations that tackle this well
21:51 Training managers
22:54 Not forcing employees to speak about issues
24:07 How Paula got into this line of work
26:01 How things might change in the near future
28:10 Social media and mental health
29:32 General good habits for reducing mental health issues
31:10 Japanese teenagers not going outside
33:12 Social judgement
35:13 Paula’s favourite books
35:46 The Stockdale Paradox
37:16 The importance of purpose
37:43 Details on how to contact Paula and Lifeworks
39:05 Favourite quote
39:57 Next week-episode 95 Dr Joe Mather
Other links mentioned in this episode
Don’t forget, there is a transcript of every episode (scroll down the page).
Habits & Health Links
94 – Paula Allen
Habits and health episode 94.
Welcome to another edition of habits and health. And my guest today, Paula Allen. Who is the global leader, research and total wellbeing and senior vice-president at LifeWorks. She’s the creator of the LifeWorks mental health index and manages the research agenda for LifeWorks.
We talk a lot about mental health. And about her work, doing this and her focus on industry leading research. And she also leads, LifeWorks thought leadership and is a co-chair of the organization’s product and innovation strategy. So we get into some of that. On this week’s episode with Paula Allen.
If you enjoy this week’s show, please share it with someone who would get some real value from some of the content discussed.
[00:01:05] Tony Winyard: Habits & Health my guest today. Paula Allen. How are you, Paula?
[00:01:09] Paula Allen: Now doing very well. Happy to be here.
[00:01:12] Tony Winyard: And so we are in Toronto today.
[00:01:14] Paula Allen: We are. I am
[00:01:17] Tony Winyard: And how is Toronto?
[00:01:19] Paula Allen: It’s lovely. Toronto is a beautiful city. If you haven’t had an opportunity to visit, it’s particularly beautiful in summer. So now at the end of October, we’re very grateful that we have a bright, sunny.
[00:01:33] Tony Winyard: So if anyone’s listening who’s never been to Toronto, give me one good reason why they should visit.
[00:01:38] Paula Allen: Oh, the food, absolutely a wide variety of high quality food. Torontonians do not stand for anything less than that.
interesting. Okay. I’ve heard many good things about time, so I’ve never heard about the food before, okay. Interesting. I’ll have to get down there one day.
[00:01:53] Paula Allen: absolutely.
[00:01:54] Who are LifeWorks?
Paula, you, I know that you are very involved with like mental health and you’ve got a company called lifework.
[00:01:59] Tony Winyard: Tell us more about what it is that you do and what Lifeworks does.
[00:02:03] Paula Allen: Yeah, absolutely. Um, LifeWorks helps organizations help their people be at their best. That’s probably a good way to, to cap. Uh, we provide employee assistance services, mental health services, financial wellbeing services, the things that really, you know, impact people’s quality of life. as well as there work productivity.
We’re there to help individuals, get better, problem solve. and we also help organizations with training and support to help them get better as an organization. And my role is in research. so I have data scientists, researchers, experts in a number of different, areas.
And what we help the organization and our clients do is understand what makes a difference. So that’s my.
[00:02:49] Tony Winyard: So how did LifeWorks first come to be? what was the, what happened before? Why did they decide to start going down this road? And how long ago was that?
[00:02:58] Paula Allen: Oh, that was several years ago. the company’s been in business for 50 years. We’re in 180 different countries and our core service started with employee assistance. And at that point there really wasn’t anything available to help, people who are struggling for, with a number of different issues.
there’s, an alcohol problem, there’s, a depression or anxiety, there’s some sort of crisis that’s really interfering with your mental health. So we, in a few other organiz. Set up to help solve that problem. so right now we still have, and what we started at that point was 24/7, 365 a year access, just a telephone call away.
[00:03:41] Paula Allen: Access to a counselor. Ongoing support for mental wellbeing as well as many practical issues, even childcare, elder care, a number of different things, and it’s fully supported by the employer. They pay for our services, but everything that happens between an employee and us is completely and absolutely confidential, and that’s why it’s been able to be, a flourishing business for 50.
[00:04:06] Is awareness around mental health improving?
obviously, I dunno the situation in Canada and I’m self-employed so I don’t really know the situation in companies in England, but my feeling, what it seems to be in the last five years has been a huge change in focus and awareness around mental health in the uk. And it didn’t seem to be that way 10, 15, 20 years ago.
[00:04:27] Tony Winyard: Is it similar in Canada and other.
[00:04:30] Paula Allen: Absolutely. It’s similar all over the world, even in Asia where there really hadn’t been a lot of focus on employee mental health and wellbeing. We’re seeing more growth in that area than anywhere else. And, we started 50 years ago and certainly the attitude towards mental health, the services that we offer, the whole focus on mental health in the workplace has changed since then. Like we’ve added additional services. We’ve expanded,we’ve grown in a number of different, ways in terms of our offering. But the last five years, and I would hazard to say in the last three, have been phenomenal In terms of the, I would say the top level focus, the CEO focus, the CFO focus on mental health in, in, in the workplace like that has been phenomenal.
[00:05:16] Stigma around mental health
[00:05:16] Tony Winyard: Something before there was a huge stigma around mental health is, do you think the stigma is still there or is it more or less gone? What? What are your findings on that?
very unfortunately, it is still there,
[00:05:27] Paula Allen: so very, unfortunately, it is still a problem that we need to tackle, but it’s gotten. It has gotten a lot better. So I think the more that we know about mental health and mental disorder, what causes it, what people, go through when they experience it, knowledge is really the antidote to stigma.
When people don’t understand something, they’re afraid of it. When people don’t have answers, they fill in answers themselves that are not always helpful. So I think as we get to the point of having more knowledge, just in, in general as a society, stigma is decreasing. but it’s still there. there’s no two ways about it.
from a business point of view, oh, there’s been this awakening of knowledge. Everybody, every single human being without exception has some level of vulnerability in terms of their mental health. Absolutely. Just like every single human being has some level of vulnerability in terms of their physical health.
[00:06:22] Paula Allen: And, we need to make sure that people are supported if they have any kind of difficulty, but we also need to make sure that people are supported in being the best that they can be and supporting their mental wellbeing. and the reason I believe that this has become much more of a focus for business is when you look at what’s important to business.
It’s innovation, it’s creativity, it’s collaboration, it is it’s customer service. It’s all of those things that are all better when our mental wellbeing is better. And we also know. That, given the fact that we do have more knowledge, that we do have more communication, that everyone, including your top performers, could have a mental health issue at some point in their lives.
[00:07:16] How the pandemic effected mental health issues
[00:07:16] Paula Allen: And the pandemic has made people realize their own vulnerabilities. So it feels a little bit less comfortable, feeling judgmental about. having that kind of support is important. So mental wellbeing is important and support when you have, any kind of difficulty is also important.
[00:07:33] Tony Winyard: We’ll come onto the pandemic in a minute because obviously that’s heightened things considerably. But you talked about knowledge and so one of the things that was going through my mind as you were saying that is there, the people maybe who are visually or obviously suffering more from mental health, So they may seek help, or maybe they’re offered help, but isn’t it the case also that there’s everyone in the office space needs to have more knowledge about it so that they’re more understanding of the people who maybe have worse issues around mental health?
[00:08:08] Paula Allen: Oh, without question. there is, there’s different types of stigma. there’s self stigma where you of feel, badly about yourself and you get this narrative around who you are. If you’re having some difficulty, that actually makes things worse, but, We know that social stigma, workplace stigma, that makes a difference as well.
And when people feel that stigma, interestingly enough, they’re less likely to take care of themselves. even if you yourself are enlightened, if you feel that other people are going to judge you, you’re less likely to seek help because you’re worried that people will find out. So it’s damaging.
It’s not just, it’s not just an unkind thing. You actually are damaging the other person’s mental health by making it less likely they’ll get help and putting another level of burden and anxiety on them. So when people understand that, There’s so many different reasons why people have a mental health issue.
we still hear things unfortunately about, you’ve got a good job. You’re gorgeous. You have, a lovely family. you should just, like, how could you possibly be feeling anxious? How can you possibly be feeling. Well, they’re just not understanding the functioning of the brain.
when we’re thinking about mental health, we are thinking about a health issue and just like, there’s certain things that you can do to reduce your risk, but there’s certain things that are just the way they are, and you just have to deal with them the way they are. Just like cancer, just like heart disease, just like all every other health issue, you can’t blame the person or say, you’ve got a good life, so you shouldn’t be feeling that.
[00:09:42] Mental Health First Aid
[00:09:42] Tony Winyard: Last year, about 18 months ago, I did a course with, an organization in England called Mental Health First Aid. I dunno if you are familiar with that.
[00:09:51] Paula Allen: Yes, I am actually.
and I get the impression that you are doing a similar thing to them? I, I found the course really fascinating.
[00:09:59] Tony Winyard: My, I learned all sorts of things that I had no awareness of. is what you’re doing similar to.
[00:10:04] Mental health in the workplace training
[00:10:04] Paula Allen: Yes. one of the services that we offer and one of the services that organizations are really. Availing themselves more of is mental health in the workplace training. And we offer a version for employees cuz everybody has a responsibility. you need to know about, what’s available for yourself.
you as a coworker have a role. but also we have a special training for managers. we found that over the past two years, four in five managers have dealt with a mental health issue of an employee and the majority didn’t know what to do about it. So that puts pressure on the manager and anxiety, cuz managers wanna be helpful.
[00:10:39] Paula Allen: And it, it also puts us at risk because sometimes people, do things are not. they could, ignore a problem and isolate the person. They could step in and try to be a counselor when they don’t really have any training in being a counselor. And,and really we help them with the words and help them with what’s most important, which is just being human. being empathetic, listening without judgment, without trying to fix and help that person with the next step. when you have that kind of social support, people think sometimes it’s not enough. I need to do more. But that wraps around the world twice. In terms of the important next step, think about it, Tony in terms.
with mental health, sometimes you’ll see somebody suffering and you’ll make all sorts of decisions and you’ll wrap yourself up in a little knot trying to figure out whether you should help. if you saw somebody who was bleeding on the side of the road, who had fallen off a ladder, who was, it was obviously buckled over in pain, you’d rush to them to help them.
[00:11:40] Paula Allen: You’re not a doctor and you’re not pretending to be, but you’re gonna be there for them as a person and be as helpful as you can. We want the same thing for mental health.
[00:11:48] Does Lifeworks only work with large organisations?
[00:11:48] Tony Winyard: So are you working just with like large corporations or medium small as well? how does that work?
[00:11:55] Paula Allen: Oh, a wonderful question cuz a lot of people assume that we would do a work only with large corporations with deep pockets and nothing could be further from the. Uh, we work with organizations of all sizes, small organizations, just with a handful of people, large organizations that are multinational.
the core service, which is employee assistance program is a very cost effective. So I think a lot of organizations feel that maybe they can’t afford it or whatever. It’s, it is much, much cheaper than any other of the benefits. That, that you would have for your employees. And I would hazard to say it’s one of the most meaningful things that you can do as an employer to support people’s mental health and wellbeing.
[00:12:37] Paula Allen: We literally save lives every day because people call us, feeling the effects of crisis. And the last thing that we wanna do is not have that support and see them pass by suicide.
[00:12:50] The many benefits a company receives by caring for their employees mental health
[00:12:50] Tony Winyard: They’re,they’re gonna get benefits in so many ways because they’re gonna get better employee, experiences. I imagine it’s gonna help the bottom line. I can just imagine there’s all sorts of different areas of the business that will benefit from having this kind of help.
[00:13:05] Paula Allen: Without question, and again, senior leaders are recognizing that. I think one of the things the pandemic did is it helped clarify like crisis helps clarify priorities and what we saw is. Even intuitively, even without kind of all the reams of research, which I can give you if you want, but even with all the, without all the reams of research, CEOs recognize one thing.
One is this is pretty disruptive and pretty bad, and my people are vulnerable. I feel vulnerable. this is a stressful situation and there is no one who is immune to the impacts.
The other is, my business is in trouble if my people aren’t functioning well, and this is the main factor that could interfere with them functioning well.
So with those two clear points of fact, the focus on supporting people’s mental health in the workplace became a more of a priority than it was.
[00:14:06] Employee retention
[00:14:06] Tony Winyard: Because, for some of the things you were talking about before, when people feel, maybe, if it’s not being addressed, if there’s not an awareness within the company of this, and then they keep it to themselves. And then you may well get situations, I would imagine, where a really good employee leaves because they just don’t want to talk about it.
Whereas now with the help, they’re not gonna lose good employees who are really beneficial to the.
[00:14:30] Paula Allen: Without question. I think there’s a couple of things. number one, when you reach out for any kind of help, for any kind of health issue, whether it’s diabetes, heart, or mental health, it’s, it is confidential. Your personal health information is confidential so you can feel assured. About that.
it’s your choice whether you want to speak about it or not, and it needs to be your choice. You shouldn’t feel pressure in any way. You shouldn’t feel that if you speak about your health issue, that you’re going to be somehow treated differently and more, more negatively. And there really is that need for those two things.
[00:15:07] Paula Allen: The confidentiality will always be there. But your ability to feel that you do not need to hide also needs to be there because if it’s not, Even if everything is kept confidential, you’re still gonna feel a burden. when organizations speak openly about mental health, there’s there’s a kind of an encouragement for people to feel comfortable regardless of what’s going on in terms of their health, to know that they’re going to be supported, to know that there are resources that, that help them and to know that they won’t be unduly and quite frankly, illegal.
Penalized, for having a mental health issue makes a difference.
[00:15:48] The Mental Health Index
[00:15:48] Tony Winyard: You talked about that you are involved in research, so I imagine, I don’t want to imagine I can. In the last couple of years we’ve all gone on, God, I tried to think how things have changed with regarding mental health.
[00:16:01] Paula Allen: Oh my goodness. Yes. , they have changed and it, and, it’s not wonderful in terms of the direction of that change. we have a mental health index and we publish it, on a monthly basis. We were collecting baseline information between 2017 and 2019. So before the pandemic, like we’re finding our index and collecting a baseline.
So we have a really good indication of the before times and we started publishing. more frequently in, in April of 2020. and you would not believe the decline that we saw, like we knew that there would be because with all the change and uncertainty and increased isolation, these are all things the mind doesn’t like.
So we knew there’s no way that we would avoid having a mental health impact. We were just shocked at how significant it was. and probably the reason is because it was so widespread. We’ve never really had this kind of global phenomenon of this nature before.
we have seen that decline, our mental health index tracks on a regular basis and there has been some modest improvement, but we’re still nowhere near where we were in 2019 and.
[00:17:07] Tony Winyard: And this data you are collecting globally.
[00:17:10] Paula Allen: We are collecting it in globally. we have a panel of 15,000 employees,north America, Europe, uk, Australia, and, Singapore’s as well. And we’ll be expanding into, more countries in Asia. And the phenomenon of the decline was quite consistent at the very beginning of the pandemic, countries that were closer to the epicenter declined more, but everybody’s tracking fairly similarly right now.
So there are other things that impact mental health. So we do see some variations by country, but overall the decline was, is, was a global decline. so three big things. is, anybody who had, extraordinary stress or vulnerability or any kind of, issue, their issue became worse. So people who were at moderate risk became high risk.
People were in high risk in terms of their mental health. Went into full on. So we had that kind of shifting. we also saw an increase in unhealthy coping behaviors. So we saw a lot of increase in drinking, for example, at the very beginning of the pandemic, it leveled off a bit, but it still fourfold what it was before in terms of high-risk drinking.
People got into that pattern, and that pattern is, has remained. And the third thing that we saw is that even those people who weren’t in either of those two categories, the sensitivity to stress for the overall population was heightened.
And again, think about what happened over the last two years.
We were very
hypervigilant. We had to be, changes in, in public health,directives. as we knew more information as and as risk increased and decreased, we were more isolated, which actually makes us much more vulnerable. There were all sorts of practical reasons why we were that kind of fight or flight response in our brain was over engaged. And the part of our brain that has emotional regulation and empathy, it’s fighting for control. It was actually disengaged a bit. So we’ve seen this sensitivity to stress that’s showing itself and a little bit more. a little bit more volatility. people are more, more likely to be in conflict, quicker to anger, more likely to be cynical.
And again, this is a known phenomenon when people are under long term stress. And we’re seeing it a fair bit in our population right now.
[00:19:42] How different nations approach this topic
I mean, many countries had very different, attitudes towards, yeah, the regulations they imposed during the whole pandemic. you got China on the one hand and maybe Sweden was the opposite. was that reflected in the data that you collected?
[00:19:55] Paula Allen: There are definitely some country differences, but overall everyone was impacted. there was no country where there really wasn’t that decline. so I, I. I do think that this is definitely a global phenomenon because even if you didn’t have a whole bunch of restrictions in your location, you had risk. People who, even in the, if they didn’t have restrictions, they had people dying.
And, there were also, a lot of things that ended up polarizing people’s attitude. So regardless of what your government did, there were people who were feeling very positive about what the government was doing. Other people feeling very negative, others that kind of polarization added some attention into every single country as.
[00:20:39] Examples of orgainsations that tackle this well
[00:20:39] Tony Winyard: Can you give examples of companies that have really implemented this well, like really taken this on board and gone out of their way to, to implement this into their culture as much as possible? And what results they’ve had.
[00:20:51] Paula Allen: Yeah, we studied this quite closely. So throughout the pandemic, there were certain things that, that organizations did that really made a difference. And when I say made a difference, we actually saw that the mental health of their people, Did not decline to the extent of the general population.
So very significant separation between employees who are in within and employers who it really focused appropriately on mental health and those who didn’t. And one thing was communicating about mental health. A lot, speaking about it, and that helps people, get knowledge. It also helps people feel less stigma.
So when the topic is in shadows, then stigma grows. the other is promoting services. So if they have an eap, if they have other services that support mental health, speaking about that in a very practical way to allow people to get. Without sort of feeling, that they have to wait until things are really terrible and only get crisis support, so get support proactively.
[00:21:51] Training managers
[00:21:51] Tony Winyard: Hmm.
[00:21:51] Paula Allen: The third thing is training managers. So helping managers know how to support their people, you know how to make sure that people don’t feel isolated, and when they feel that sense that something is not right, how to step in appropriately. So how to have that conversation that makes somebody feel that connection with you, but without necessarily taking on a role that you.
that you aren’t equipped to take on. So being helpful within the role of the managers. So those were the three most powerful things that employers did. So that communication to show your culture, that, promoting services so people can take that action and training your managers, which wraps around the world twice in terms of people’s experie.
[00:22:35] Tony Winyard: Maybe when you first start having communication with a company, you’re gonna, you’re gonna help them. Have you seen situations where they’ve. Maybe thought they were trying to help, but they’ve actually made things far worse by just because of the lack of knowledge is there anything along those lines that you’ve come across?
[00:22:54] Not forcing employees to speak about issues
yeah, but it is, it’s, you know what? It’s rare. Usually when people want to help, they, we intuitively are a little bit smarter than we give ourselves credit for, as people and just saying that you wanna help and saying that you care. very, very, very, very valuable. and many people also did reach out to professionals to help hone in on what they should do.
but I do think one of the things that is less helpful, but not obviously, so is when, or organized organizations in order to address stigma. They force people to speak about their mental health issues publicly. So it’s you don’t wanna take away control from people, right? you wanna set up an environment where people feel comfortable speaking, but going around a room and saying, talk about your deepest fears and challenges and your mental health.
it just, it goes opposite to what you want to do, which is show respect. I think people need to sort of balance the fact that, we do want an environment where people feel that they can be open, but forcing people to do something that they are not comfortable doing actually can have the opposite effect.
[00:24:07] How Paula got into this line of work
[00:24:07] Tony Winyard: So how did you first, getting into this, what was your story, what made you interested in this line of work?
[00:24:15] Paula Allen: Yeah, very interesting because obviously when you’re young you have all sorts of things. Being a graphic designer was one for me and a whole bunch of other things. But, very early on in university I saw something that really changed the way I think. And, it was, an image of a brain. And that brain, I saw that brain change structurally over time, and the owner of that brain was going through unrelenting stress.
So just the fact of that experience of stress changed that individual’s brain physic. that blew me away. I just, I started to really be interested in the functioning of the brain. I started to be really interested in mental health issues. I started to think about mental health issues in a completely different way.
I. when that brain body, that mind body connection is so strong and so powerful. I really wanted to understand it. I got a degree in, psychology. I focused in neuro, neuropsychology. learning challenges as well as, brain injury. worked with children a fair bit, and started to work with adults who are off work on, on, on health leave, like disability leave.
And again, when you work at the end of the parade and you actually see, the impacts of things gone wrong. I developed a very strong need to figure out how to prevent that. So how to go up the food chain a little bit and prevent some of the life altering impacts that I saw from actually happening.
started to work in the area of wellness and wellbeing and really took a focus that’s a little bit different from others, which is a scientific focus. And, the research role that I have right now is aligned.
[00:26:01] How things might change in the near future
[00:26:01] Tony Winyard: How do you see things changing in the next few years? Because, there is a lot more awareness around all of this now, do you, I’m just wondering what you think might change in the next few?
[00:26:12] Paula Allen: I think we have to be careful and make sure that we keep up. I think things will get. But I actually think that we’ve seen a strong pattern of mental health issues becoming more complex. And that’s what I mean by keeping up, we could get better and that better might have helped us, 10 years ago.
But it, bar is raising and there’s a number of things that are driving that complexity. we are, we have been for quite some time, becoming more and more isolated as a.
that happened before the pandemic just made it worse. And it’s not back to the way we are, we were.
[00:26:43] Paula Allen: So that makes us more sensitive to stress, like when we feel a part of something, when we have social support, when we feel a part of collective, that really helps mitigate the impact of stress. we’re also seeing more health risks in the younger population. There’s many reasons for that, but one of the things that we know is that, children are going through puberty a lot earlier and that kind of fires up certain things in your brain, not necessarily sexual, but social as well.
And if the other part of your brain isn’t, you, isn’t equipped to help manage. All of this new attention, then you start to feel very overwhelmed. You start to feel more anxious and you know that’s another, that’s one of the factors that’s increasing the complexity of mental health issues.
at a younger age people are feeling more anxious, more overwhelmed, and we’re seeing more health risks. So the complexity is increasing. but at the same time, employers are doing more about it. Governments are doing more about it. we just really make, have to make sure that we follow the trend of, education support.
[00:27:54] Paula Allen: To the younger generation. I’m talking about children in school, and ramping that up and continuingly continuously investing in mental health resources and mentally healthy cultures and workplaces.
[00:28:10] Social media and mental health
[00:28:10] Tony Winyard: What are your thoughts on some of the social media companies? How much they do or maybe don’t do to help this situation?
I think, the, I think there’s a lot of awareness in social media organizations right now about how much power that platform has and when you have power. , you really need to take on a sense of responsibility. So I do see that, as we move forward, there’ll be a lot more investment in professional psychologists and in shaping and crafting, the experience and what’s.
what the potential is in that experience? A lot more, as we move into the Metaverse for example, I think that there will be a lot of accountability on, on making sure that platform, doesn’t exacerbate existing problems and can be used to be more helpful. but I don’t think that they can do everything, I think at the end of the day we need more awareness.
[00:29:03] Paula Allen: you know how each individual interacts with social media and how, our contribution to our collective mental health. Is our responsibility. So I I do think people need to be more guarded in terms of how they interact. And I do think that this starts with children very young for them to understand how to get the benefit of it without actually having the negative aspects of it.
So a multi-pronged strategy I think is gonna be helpful as we move.
[00:29:32] General good habits for reducing mental health issues
[00:29:32] Tony Winyard: a lot of the focus on this show is about habits, so what. What habits do you think would help people with just general mental health in general?
[00:29:43] Paula Allen: One of the most basic ones is really realizing that you need a bit of a balanced diet for your brain. And by that we are built to have a variety of experiences every day and there’s certain experiences that are core. people need to have a sense of accomplishment, just whether it’s at work or outside of work or whatever.
That sense that you’re, you’ve done something people need to. Fun and laughter. I think about the endorphins that come just by laughing or smiling even at someone. there needs to be social contact where social beings, and even though you know it’s possible to live, without ever having any real contact in real life contact with another human being.
It’s not healthy . It’s certainly something that we need to be intentional about because our lives have made it easier to be more, more isolated and just even a variety of. Scenery. going out and seeing the outside world, making changes in your route back and forth to the supermarket or grocery store or work, just having that different kind of experiences in your brain is important.
A lot of people have really suffered, in the pandemic because all we did was work and nothing, and that, that really drains you. So I think that’s, I. Of all those experiences, though, contact with other people is the most important.
[00:31:10] Japanese teenagers not going outside
it’s interesting you say that. I was just listening to, I think it was a podcast in the last couple of days, and they were. Talking about in Japan in the last few years and Japanese teenagers, there’s a huge number of them are just never going out. They never even stepping outside their bedroom, nevermind about their house.
yes, I know that phenomenon as well, and I think it’s absolutely tragic. it’s one of these things. And there’s many reasons for it. But, but the thing that kind of relates to the broader population is, just because it’s possible to do something doesn’t mean that it’s good.
and even if it is good, you still have to balance the consequences. So let’s just even think about, when we have cars now and we have machines and all that’s good. I don’t wanna get rid of the cars, I don’t wanna get rid of the machines. They’re efficient. they’re, they provide us with more opportunity.
[00:31:56] Paula Allen: They’ve also, prevented us from doing what we need, which is have physical activity. So we have to be intentional about having that physical activity or else our health declines. Our technology situation right now has made it possible to work and to play and to do everything without leaving a particular room.
And I don’t wanna get rid of that technology. I would like to have that option, but I need to be intentional. about reaching out to other people, and it’s so easy for me to just say that, but if you go down a path where your behavior is just trending in a certain way, you might not need to have a disorder or anything of that sort, but you’re structuring your life in a way that makes your life very small.
It becomes harder and harder to counter that, it becomes harder and people actually become anxious about, doing something differently about leaving their home because it is.
[00:32:58] Tony Winyard: So do you have any knowledge as to why this is happening in Japan and how. Is it a situation where the teenage youth in Japan are got much higher rates of mental health issues than other countries?
[00:33:12] Social judgement
[00:33:12] Paula Allen: I don’t know if it’s higher rates. there’s certain, there’s certainly in, in many countries, there’s, social pressures are different and the kind of social pressure somebody experiences can impact their mental wellbeing as well. So if you have a society where there’s a fair bit and all of it, all, every society has it.
But if you have a society where there’s a fair bit of social judgment, then people start to respond to that and start to retract from that. the other thing is that sometimes unhealthy behaviors are just contagious. So the, your friend is not leaving their room, it opens up the possibility for you to make that go down that path as.
[00:33:50] Tony Winyard: I guess that seems normal to, if your friend’s doing it, it’s, yeah.
[00:33:54] Paula Allen: even if it doesn’t feel normal,it, it provides you, you see a vision of an option, right? and it does make it feel less, less foreign to you. the fact that there’s clusters of certain types of behaviors is really well, explained by that kind of social.
do you have any knowledge as to how they’re trying to tackle this? How or how could they tackle that in Japan?
it’s many things. Isome of the people who are exhibiting this behavior. they do have, mental health challenges and you have to deal with what the cause is. Others. They might not even have the behavior for very long, the fact of the behavior makes it more likely that they’ll have that challenge.
[00:34:32] Paula Allen: So progressive exposure outside of the four walls is important, but also addressing the root causes. I do think though, at a societal level, we need to make sure that the value of interacting with other people doesn’t get lost.
when you see, when you’re under stress and you’re. Others who are supportive and you feel a sense of belonging, your problem doesn’t necessarily go away, but your experience of that problem is less stressful.
we’re meant to be in tribes and communities and families and have friends, and we need that sense of belonging. And I do think that we’re sometimes undervaluing it
[00:35:13] Paula’s favourite books
Okay. we’re changing the subject now, Paul. one of the questions I always ask every guest is there a book that has moved you? And I think, I believe you’ve got a couple haven’t.
I have a few but there’s, one by Jim Collins. Good to Great. It’s a very famous book. It’s a business book and there’s many things about it that are interesting. But the one thing that stands out is that there is a paradox thats explained called the Stockdale paradox. And, I think I, I think it shaped my life probably more than I realized until you asked the question.
[00:35:46] The Stockdale Paradox
[00:35:46] Paula Allen: The Stockdale paradox is about, really being realistic about the current state and never losing hope at the same. Okay, so sometimes people think that being optimistic is the way to be resilient, and optimism is great as long as you are realistic about the current state. you if you just, if you fluff things off and say, everything’s gonna be better by Christmas, or, you can be very disappointed.
You can be very crushed, right? Because if that doesn’t happen, if you don’t put in place the things to make it happen, then your optimism is empty. but on the other hand, if you look at your current state and all you’re doing is thinking about how negative it is, And you don’t have that sense of hope, and you don’t have that sense of, what can I do to make things better, then you never move forward.
So it’s that healthy balance between realism being very realistic and helping that, inform, realistically your optimism as well.
[00:36:48] Tony Winyard: There was, there’s an author called Oliver Burkeman. I dunno, have you ever heard of him?
[00:36:53] Paula Allen: I have not, no.
[00:36:54] Tony Winyard: He wrote a book on that and it’s a fascinating book and I’m trying to remember the title and it’s not coming to me, but he wrote a book, exactly what you’re talking about it something about.
It’s not always good to have a positive attitude. That’s not the title of the book, but if something around and he talks about the Stockdale Paradox and Victor Frankel in Auschwitz talking about similar thing and it’s fascinating book. (The book is called The Antidote)
[00:37:16] The importance of purpose
[00:37:16] Paula Allen: Actually, that’s another one of my, my, my favorite books, Victor Frankel. The,the Importance of Purpose, and again, people can go through so much if they have purpose and purpose. Doesn’t have to be a life changing purpose, it could be, you have to be there for your child.
It could be, Small P purpose that you really just wanna make this one thing better. You wanna make sure that you make one person smile every day. anything that kind of gives you a reason, I think is really helpful.
[00:37:43] Details on how to contact Paula and Lifeworks
[00:37:43] Tony Winyard: So if,if people wanna find out, more about you, but, and also about life works and maybe they need to reach out, they’ve. They realize that, their company maybe does need some help around this sort of area where, what are the best places for them to go?
we have a website, lifeworks.com, L i f e w o r k s.com. And through that you’ll see the range of, supports that we have available and be able to, to contact, contact us. on that website. You’ll also see the mental health index that I’d mentioned. So all that research is publicly available.
we wanna make sure. Everyone has as broad knowledge as possible. there’s also a tool on that website, called Workplace Strategy Index for mental health, where you can actually self-assess what you’re doing as an organization and have recommendations about what you might do better, benchmark against other organizations, but also, benchmark against best practice.
so that as well as all of our services are available on the website. And, again, my name is Paula Allen, I work for LifeWorks. And, I’m happy to have you follow me on LinkedIn as well.
[00:38:45] Tony Winyard: And so is that organizations from any country can get in touch.
, absolutely. Without question. we have, like I said, we have services in 180 different countries, so it’s very likely that, you are in a place where we are.
Okay. and finally to finish, Paula, have you got, quotation that resonates with you?
[00:39:05] Favourite quote
[00:39:05] Paula Allen: Yeah, I do actually . and,this one is a bit of a quotation, but it’s a, a philosophy of life as well as three things. be accountable for yourself. Never intentionally ever hurt, anyone else and try to make things better. whatever you’re doing, just try to make it a little bit better than it was before.
And those things came from my, wonderful father. So you might not see them written anywhere in a book, but it’s certainly been,an important three points that shaped.
[00:39:40] Tony Winyard: Paula, it’s been a real pleasure. So thank you for, for educating us all a bit more about mental health. We all need to know a lot more about it. So yeah, thank you for that.
[00:39:49] Paula Allen: Oh, and thank you for having me on and speaking about the topic. I think it’s important and happy to join any time
[00:39:56] Tony Winyard: Thank you.
[00:39:57] Paula Allen: I.
[00:39:57] Next week-episode 95 Dr Joe Mather
Next week is episode 95 with Dr. Joe Mather. Who’s a board certified family practice physician and the medical director. Of the Ruscio Institute for Functional Medicine. We talk about quite a few different topics around arthritis, the gut microbiome, functional medicine. And he has a real focus on GI health and environmental toxicity. So that’s next week’s episode 95 with Dr. Joe Mather, M D. If you’ve enjoyed this week’s show with Paula Allen. Please do share the episode with anyone who would get some value from it. And i hope you have a fabulous week
Thanks for tuning into the Habits and Health Podcast where we believe creating healthy habits should be easy. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and leave us a review on your favorite podcast app. You can also sign up for email updates and learn about coaching and workshop opportunities at Tony Winyard dot com.
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