Stumbling on Creativity
CHAD MORRIS, Ph.D., Director
At the Behavioral Health & Wellness Program our work involves multiple projects and constantly shifting expectations. While our team tries to exemplify wellness, the reality is that we are all too human and that our work can be very stressful. Although not frequent, I do have “those” workdays. The kind of day when I leave the office asking myself “why am I doing this?” and “given the personnel, operational and other issues faced, is the stress worth it?” and at a deeper level “is my work having any real impact?”
Those are the days when going back to working in a greenhouse looks very attractive. A place where competing demands might go something like this – Should I water the geraniums or shrubs first? But the tough days are my opportunity to ask myself core questions I believe I should ask anyway. On the days I am in the flow, it’s more difficult to ask these broader, existential questions, such as whether I am effective in my work, and if my work is still aligned with my core values. It is through just this kind of process that I have learned that in order for my work is to be personally meaningful, our efforts at BHWP need to continue to have a positive community impact.
Thus far, I can still very much respond in the affirmative to the big questions, but there are still often smaller adjustments necessary to both decrease stress and maximize my effectiveness. Whether prompted by the tough days or those moments of spontaneous introspection, I will keep asking the question, and attempt to honestly answer if my current job is supporting my personal wellness and encourage our team to do likewise. Occupational wellness is, in part, defined by an evolving sense of self. I had absolutely no idea many years ago when I was building sprinklers for farms that I would be walking my current career path. So I will set my intention to enjoy the job at hand, but not hold fast to the status quo in anticipation of new opportunities as they appear.
CINDY WANG MORRIS, Psy.D., Clinical Director
I’m known for being a workhorse. If I’m not actually doing something for work, I’m doing something that looks like work—cooking, cleaning, exercising, gardening—you name it. Chad tells me that my energy can feel like I’m buzzing around like a bee—flower to flower, collecting pollen.
To be honest, I love the feeling of having more to do than I can manage. I liken it to having a stack of books by my bedside, waiting in my reading queue. There is so much potential in my “stack.” I know that I won’t be bored. I look forward to savoring each experience. Will I learn something new? What surprises are just around the corner?
These things are all the fun bits. I feel excited, energized and enthusiastic. What are the not so fun bits? Well, stress for one. Then there’s my overactive mind—turning things over until I’ve worn them smooth. And, finally (this one’s hard for me to admit), I actually get tired.
It’s surprising how hard it is for me to admit that I do get tired. It’s partly due to my upbringing, partly my personality. And I’m rewarded for my hard work. My admission that I need rest feels like a weakness. I should be able to keep going, and going, but I know this doesn’t support my well-being in the long run. I’ve seen what stress and exhaustion can do. And, given how much I love my work, I’m not willing to compromise.
So I meditate and practice mindfulness. I slow down and (literally) smell the flowers. I take naps. Or goof off when I don’t feel like being productive. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I won’t take on more than I can comfortably handle. Or hit the tennis ball as hard as I can. Or drive over the speed limit. I strive for balance in all things!
CHRISTINE GARVER-APGAR, Ph.D., Research Associate
One of the most difficult aspects of being a working parent is that I’ve had to abandon an occupational strategy that has worked so well for me. In the face of any deadline, my strategy goes like this:
1) Procrastinate while simultaneously fretting about the deadline until I feel ill
2) Continue this until at least two-thirds of my available work time has elapsed
3) EXPLODE in a panic with feverish, focused activity
4) Work for days at a time with breaks for sleeping (a little) and eating (a lot)
5) Presto! A completed masterpiece, finished barely ahead of the deadline
6) Collapse in a stupor
Brilliant! It works like a charm. And my husband has tolerated my emotional outbursts that come with this strategy remarkably well. “MIKE – HELP! I can’t get online and this is due to the granting agency in 14 MINUTES! ARGHHHHH!”
Admittedly, my preferred occupational strategy has become slightly less perfect since having children. Little people, it seems, need to be fed at regular intervals. They have lengthy, exhausting bedtime rituals from which they cannot deviate just because I finally make it to the “discussion” section of a manuscript. And they really must be retrieved from childcare at 5:00, even on days when it seems I don’t truly hit my stride at work until 4:00 in the afternoon.
I still employ my preferred occupational strategy from time to time, so committed am I to working under pressure. But the “all-nighters” are slightly less productive then they once were. Perhaps it’s because my mind doesn’t function as well at 3:00am as it once did. Or perhaps it’s because I know my family will not approve of me performing task #6 above. Slowly but surely I have become better at keeping a more regular work schedule. Secretly, I look forward to the day my kiddos will be old enough to fend for themselves and I can once again indulge in my peculiar work habits—guilt-free!
Regardless of how I choose to approach a particular deadline, I recognize how lucky I am to have the choice. The freedom to exercise my own good judgment when it comes to managing my time inspires me to work more creatively and intensely. I am acutely aware that not every occupation offers such flexibility, and I am deeply grateful.
Made to Move
JAMIE PFAHL, B.A., Community Liaison
Newton’s first law of motion is that a body in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. But there’s another side to that law, which is that a sedentary person will remain at rest unless a more motivated person comes along and lights a fire under them. That’s not quite the way Newton said it, but you get the idea.
Why is it so hard to get up once you’re sitting down? Even when I manage to get rolling at a good clip in the morning, by the time I get home, the daily grind has usually worn me pretty much to a halt. Without someone or something else to motivate me, it can be really hard to get moving. Fortunately, the workday is the perfect time to get exercise.
Believe it or not, there are loads of good desk exercises that you can do regardless of what you’re wearing. One of my favorite office exercises was born out of sheer laziness. I use this on days when I find myself particularly glued to my chair. The trick: I slide down until I’m basically falling off the edge, engage my core, and drop into some tricep dips. The challenge: it’s a rolling chair. (Please don’t incur any workers compensation claims trying this at the office!)
It works for me because even when I feel like I can’t tear myself away from a project, I still realize when I need to stretch. As soon as I start engaging my muscles, I trigger a response that makes it easier to actually get up to take a short break. The key isn’t knowing a bunch of exercises to do – it’s knowing exactly what I have to do to START. For me, it’s tricking myself out of my chair. Once I’m on the floor, I can simply roll into a plank or a few pushups or do some stretching. Ahh, exercise for the lazy! Afraid once you’re on the floor you’ll never be able to get back up? Fortunately the frequent “ping” of an email landing in my inbox is a powerful motivator.
Visual prompts like an exercise ball in the corner of my office and a resistance band draped over a coat hook help too. And then there are the phone apps for a 7-minute workout targeting every major muscle group or that send reminders to take exercise breaks. Best of all, I’m glad to have colleagues that accept and even join in on my goofy exercises. Now if only I can convince them that “dress like Jane Fonda Fitness Fridays” is a good idea…
SARA MUMBY, B.A., Program Administrator
I recently watched an oddly inspiring video from one of my favorite journalists, James Hamblin, an M.D. at The Atlantic. The title of this video? “Sad Desk Lunch: Is This How You Want to Die?” The title is your typical attention-grabbing headline intended to shock you into watching. And to be honest, it caught my attention easily since at the time, I was sitting at my desk – eating lunch. In the video, Dr. Hamblin speaks to a growing public health hazard in America’s office culture. The hazard? Sitting at our desk for lunch.
I’m guilty of it. Nearly every day, at around the same hour, I’ll prepare my lunch. I’ll sit at my desk. I’ll continue to work or maybe I’ll take that time to catch up on personal emails. I’ll do a variety of things while I eat, but what I’m NOT doing is NOT taking a break.
On the rare occasions when I join coworkers or dine elsewhere for lunch, I experience noticeable differences in my body. I’m more relaxed, less distracted, and, dare I say, more nourished? My lunch feels more nutritious simply because I’ve chosen to focus my time and attention on it. Fifteen to twenty minutes away from my desk re-energizes my body – literally through eating calories, but also mentally by allowing my mind to drift naturally or by socializing with coworkers.
Wellness is an ongoing process, but for me, it’s always about making choices that benefit my mind and body. As much as I like to feel productive and busy while I’m at the office, I’m learning that sitting at my desk for lunch is a choice and not a requirement. Choosing to distance myself from my workspace for a break during the day yields huge benefits for myself and my work when I return.
SUSAN YOUNG, Ph.D., Director of Research
I love a good mystery – always have. I think it is the fact that solving mysteries or puzzles requires logic and strategy but can also take on a quality of magical thinking. I’m pretty sure that my career path in psychology, and especially in research, was largely driven by a need to pursue solutions to an endless array of mysteries.
Recently, I joined a group of former colleagues and friends for a school-year kickoff celebration. I had spent nearly 2 decades working with these wonderful people – trying to solve puzzles related to genetic and environmental risks associated with addiction and other behavioral problems. A few years ago, I left my former department because I no longer could see the connection between the research I was conducting and the promise of improving human lives. As the field of psychiatric genetics began “evolving” into a computational science, the puzzle solving had – for me – lost the magic.
It was great to catch up on both their work and personal lives. I shared stories about my recent research endeavors and the energizing effect of working on projects with the potential of directly impacting high-risk populations. I was surprised to find that the evening stirred up some feelings of guilt or disloyalty surrounding my choice to move away from a scientific community where I had invested many years of training, hard work, and collaboration. I was reminded that I had taken a risk by stepping out of my safe, familiar, professional role (read: rut), in order to make my occupational wellness a higher priority. Though I never expected to be climbing back up the learning curve at this point in my career, like a wise friend of mine once told me, “If you want to pick the best fruit, you have to go out on a limb.”
JIM PAVLIK, B.A., Program and Policy Analyst
I’m very lucky. I love my job. I get to do at work the same activities I choose to do when I’m not at work. But that also means my work-life and my life-life have a tendency to look the same. That can lead to burnout at work or a loss of passion for those things I do at home.
“Maintain a good work-life balance,” is one of those easier-said-than-done type things. The fact is most of us will spend almost as much of our waking life at work as we will at home, running errands, doing housework, exercising, watching TV, reading books, raising our kids, visiting friends, and dining out combined. So how does one maintain a “work-life balance?”
For me the answer is “play.”
Sometimes I have to remind myself that my afternoon trip to the gym isn’t just for my physical health. I need it to clear my head, to shake the work day off and transition into the evening. I need to climb those mountains. I need those long bike rides where the only thing I can think after a while is how good a shower will feel when I’m done.
Maintaining a work-life balance isn’t about building arbitrary barriers between what you do for money and what you do for pleasure. If you’re lucky, you love your job so much it is pleasurable. It’s about remembering that, even when things get hectic, you have the freedom to step away and think about something else. And I mean that: You do have that freedom. When your head is clearer and your mind sharper, solutions to problems come easier.
Putting your brain into a deliberately different gear is a crucial part of making good transitions between work and home, and it’s also critical for really refreshing yourself. So let your mind wander into unfamiliar territory. Work a puzzle. I hear you can teach yourself to juggle in 15 minutes a day. Listen to the stand-up comedy radio station on the way home. It doesn’t really matter what you do, so long as it provides you with a real break from whatever problems you have at home or work, which can create space for you to be the friend, partner, or parent that you want to be.
The mission of the Behavioral Health and Wellness Program is to improve the quality of life for individuals and communities through clinical care, education, evaluation, policy change, and research.
The Behavioral Health and Wellness Program (BHWP) offers training and consultation to healthcare providers, administrators, peer advocates, and clients. We have worked in over 25 states and provided services internationally. Our offerings include:
Administrator and Provider Trainings
We have developed multiple evidence-based training curricula to increase health and wellness across the lifespan. We partner with communities, healthcare facilities and government agencies on:
• Health behavior change
• Nutrition and weight management
• Tobacco cessation
• Policy implementation
• Wellness for persons with behavioral health conditions
Measuring Wellness Outcomes and Success
We believe wellness activities need to be in alignment with an organization’s mission, vision, goals, and objectives, as well as the needs of its employees and clients. We promote a healthy workplace through detailed organizational assessments, including a workplace wellness survey to provide the necessary data to create tailored solutions for your organization.
We have a utilization-focused philosophy of consultation. Our team works with organizations to define goals and desired outcomes, which drive pragmatic technical assistance and training to maximize these outcomes. Our goal is to build the capacity for positive change through creative partnerships.
Peer-led Wellness Program Trainings
Positive modeling and healthy social supports are essential for realizing personal wellness goals and sustaining these goals over time. We train peer advocates to build awareness and education, enhance individual motivation, run onsite groups, and create positive social networks.
We work with communities, healthcare organizations and governmental agencies to develop wellness policy initiatives that meet local needs. We have proven expertise in aligning policies and procedures with federal and state legislation.
Wellness Leadership Institute
Our institute provides a multidisciplinary post-graduate and graduate training experience for healthcare professionals interested in attending to their own wellness while increasing their ability to build, administer, and sustain effective wellness interventions.