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By ianfielder, Sep 22 2019 12:07PM

Research shows that 'flexible work boundaries' often turn into 'work without boundaries'

Employer expectations of work email monitoring during nonworking hours are detrimental to the health and well-being of not only employees but their family members as well. William Becker, a Virginia Tech associate professor of management in the Pamplin College of Business, co-authored a new study, "Killing me softly: electronic communications monitoring and employee and significant-other well-being," showing that such expectations result in anxiety, which adversely affects the health of employees and their families. "The competing demands of work and nonworking lives present a dilemma for employees," Becker said, "which triggers feelings of anxiety and endangers work and personal lives."

Other studies have shown that the stress of increased job demands leads to strain and conflict in family relationships when the employee is unable to fulfil nonworking roles at home -- "such as when someone brings work home to finish up."

Their new study, he said, demonstrates that employees do not need to spend actual time on work in their off-hours to experience the harmful effects. The mere expectations of availability increase strain for employees and their significant others -- even when employees do not engage in actual work during nonworking time. Unlike work-related demands that deplete employee resources, physical and psychological, by requiring time away from home, "the insidious impact of 'always on' organisational culture is often unaccounted for or disguised as a benefit -- increased convenience, for example, or higher autonomy and control over work-life boundaries," Becker said. "Our research exposes the reality: 'flexible work boundaries' often turn into 'work without boundaries,' compromising an employee's and their family's health and well-being."

As negative health outcomes are costly to them, what can employers do to mitigate the adverse effects identified by the study? Becker said policies that reduce expectations to monitor electronic communication outside of work would be ideal. When that is not an option, the solution may be to establish boundaries on when electronic communication is acceptable during off-hours by setting up off-hour email windows or schedules when employees are available to respond. Additionally, he said, organisational expectations should be communicated clearly. "If the nature of a job requires email availability, such expectations should be stated formally as a part of job responsibilities." Knowing these expectations upfront may reduce anxiety in employees and increase understanding from their family members, he said.

As for employees, they could consider practising mindfulness, which has been shown to be effective in reducing anxiety, Becker said. Mindfulness may help employees "be present" in family interactions, which could help reduce conflict and improve relationship satisfaction. And, he added, mindfulness is within the employee's control when email expectations are not.

Becker, whose research interests include work emotion, turnover, organisational neuroscience, and leadership, is based at Virginia Tech's National Capital Region campus in metro Washington, D.C. "Employees today must navigate more complex boundaries between work and family than ever before," said Becker. "Employer expectations during nonworking hours appear to increase this burden, as employees feel an obligation to shift roles throughout their nonworking time. "Efforts to manage these expectations are more important than ever, given our findings that employees' families are also affected by these expectations."

1st published in the National Hypnotherapy Society newsletter Spetember 2019

By ianfielder, Sep 4 2019 03:28PM

Britain is training record numbers of workplace “mental health first aiders” to confront a sharp rise in people expressing mental distress, though evidence of success is mixed, according to a Guardian study.

Requests sent to every FTSE 100 company show that they alone have trained more than 10,000 staffers, while mid-tier and even tiny businesses are appointing first responders who can be approached confidentially by those with depression, anxiety, stress and other conditions.

A national training body, Mental Health First Aid England, said 140,000 people were trained in 2018-19 – the most ever in a single year, from local hairdressers to employees in global corporations.

Almost half a million people in Britain have now been through an MHFA programme – about one in every 100 adults.

“We have worked in more than 20,000 businesses and organisations,” said its chief executive, Simon Blake. “The exciting thing for me is that training courses are as likely to have someone from a shop in Doncaster as from a City firm.”

In terms of numbers, big firms lead the way. More than half the FTSE 100 companies have mental health first aiders (some call them “buddies”, “champions”, “advocates” or even “be well allies”). Lloyds Banking Group has a programme to train 2,500 by next year, while National Grid and Severn Trent both have more than 1,000

The BBC, NHS and other firms including Goldman Sachs are in on the act. The construction and finance sectors seem particularly keen. Government departments have trained prodigious numbers: the Department for Work and Pensions alone has more than 1,000, according to Blake.

But there is concern that mental health first aiders are being viewed as a panacea when actually their impact can be quite limited.

In a report last year, the Health and Safety Executive concluded: “There is limited evidence that MHFA training leads to sustained improvement in the ability of those trained to help colleagues experiencing mental ill health.” Academic research has found that training is good for raising awareness, but unproven as a strategy for improving mental health.

Experts in workplace health warn that some recruits might not be the best people for what is a subtle role, and warn that first aiders need support and supervision themselves to ensure their own wellbeing. They add that a two-day training course does not produce instant experts.

Alan Bradshaw, a business psychologist, said: “My main problem with it is that organisations see it as a tick in the box. It’s essentially reactive, when what they really need to be doing is the preventive bit, the proactive management of stress risks at work.”

Dr Jo Billings, a consultant clinical psychologist at UCL, said: “There are pros and cons. Anything that raises people’s understanding of mental health is a really good thing. But it’s not sufficient to tackle mental illness in the workplace.”

While some companies may be keen to simply tick boxes, others say that their first aider programmes are part of a bigger strategy. Some offer free subscriptions to digital tools such as Headspace and Unmind. Others provide counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for staff. Many have confidential helplines, often known as employee assistance programmes.

Mental health first aiders volunteer for the role and typically complete a two-day training session. They are not counsellors, psychologists or experts, but simply first responder “listeners” who can signpost services.

Imogen Truphet, who works at the School of Life in London, says the intense two-day course gave her confidence to respond to distressed colleagues without saying the wrong thing.

“You listen without judgment, you give them information and support but you don’t give them advice,” she says. “You encourage them to seek the appropriate professional help – mostly but not always about going to your GP – and encourage them to talk to family and friends.”

Natalie Rose, a wellbeing champion for HS2, says: “The first thing you have to do is listen. Show some understanding, compassion, have patience, point them in the right direction of where they can get some support.”

“If there was someone I was wildly concerned about I would let them know that I had a duty of care to speak to someone else about it. It’s a fine line because we do not replace any trained medical specialists.”

Mental health first aid came to the UK from Australia in the 2000s, but took a long while to take off. Trainee numbers were low until the middle of this decade, when concerns over the sharp rise in the number of people presenting with mental distress prompted a response from business.

Published in the Gaurdian

By ianfielder, Jun 3 2019 06:34AM

Although still not classified as a recognised medical condition, burnout has been included in the World Health Organization’s 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an occupational phenomenon. It is described in the chapter: ‘Factors influencing health status or contact with health services’ – which includes reasons for which people contact health services but that are not classed as illnesses or health conditions.

Burnout is defined in ICD-11 as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

It is identifiable by three characteristics, claims the WHO:

feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion or increased mental distance from one’s job

feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job

reduced professional efficacy

Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life, according to the WHO in ICD11.

The World Health Organization has also announced that is to embark on the development of evidence-based guidelines on mental wellbeing in the workplace.

If constant stress has you feeling helpless, disillusioned, and completely exhausted, you may be on the road to burnout. When you’re burned out, problems seem insurmountable, everything looks bleak, and it’s difficult to muster up the energy to care, let alone take action to help yourself. The unhappiness and detachment caused by burnout can threaten your job, your relationships, and your health. But by recognizing the earliest warning signs, you can take steps to prevent it. Or if you’ve already hit breaking point, there are plenty of things you can do to regain your balance and start to feel positive and hopeful again.

Whether you recognize the warning signs of impending burnout or you’re already past the breaking point, trying to push through the exhaustion and continuing as you have been will only cause further emotional and physical damage. Now is the time to pause and change direction by learning how you can help yourself overcome burnout and feel healthy and positive again.

Dealing with burnout requires the “Three R” approach:

Recognize – Watch for the warning signs of burnout

Reverse – Undo the damage by seeking support and managing stress

Resilience – Build your resilience to stress by taking care of your physical and emotional health

By ianfielder, Mar 20 2019 08:45AM

Most people are moderately responsive to hypnosis. This means they can have vivid changes in behaviour and experience in response to hypnotic suggestions. By contrast, a small percentage (around 10-15%) of people are mostly non-responsive. But most research on hypnosis is focused on another small group (10-15%) who are highly responsive.

In this group, suggestions can be used to disrupt pain, or to produce hallucinations and amnesia. Considerable evidence from brain imaging reveals that these individuals are not just faking or imagining these responses. Indeed, the brain acts differently when people respond to hypnotic suggestions than when they imagine or voluntarily produce the same responses.

Preliminary research has shown that highly suggestible individuals may have unusual functioning and connectivity in the prefrontal cortex. This is a brain region that plays a critical role in a range of psychological functions including planning and the monitoring of one's mental states. There is also some evidence that highly suggestible individuals perform more poorly on cognitive tasks known to depend on the prefrontal cortex, such as working memory. However, these results are complicated by the possibility that there might be different sub types of highly suggestible individuals. These neurocognitive differences may lend insights into how highly suggestible individuals respond to suggestions: they may be more responsive because they're less aware of the intentions underlying their responses.

For example, when given a suggestion to not experience pain, they may suppress the pain but not be aware of their intention to do so. This may also explain why they often report that their experience occurred outside their control. Neuroimaging studies have not as yet verified this hypothesis but hypnosis does seem to involve changes in brain regions involved in monitoring of mental states, self-awareness and related functions.

Although the effects of hypnosis may seem unbelievable, it's now well accepted that beliefs and expectations can dramatically impact human perception. It's actually quite similar to the placebo response, in which an ineffective drug or therapeutic treatment is beneficial purely because we believe it will work. In this light, perhaps hypnosis isn't so bizarre after all. Seemingly sensational responses to hypnosis may just be striking instances of the powers of suggestion and beliefs to shape our perception and behaviour. What we think will happen morphs seamlessly into what we ultimately experience. Hypnosis requires the consent of the participant or patient. You cannot be hypnotised against your will and, despite popular misconceptions, there is no evidence that hypnosis could be used to make you commit immoral acts against your will.

Meta-analyses, studies that integrate data from many studies on a specific topic, have shown that hypnosis works quite well when it comes to treating certain conditions. These include irritable bowel syndrome and chronic pain. But for other conditions, however, such as smoking, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder, the evidence is less clear cut - often because there is a lack of reliable research. But although hypnosis can be valuable for certain conditions and symptoms, it's not a panacea.

Hypnosis probably arises through a complex interaction of neurophysiological and psychological factors - some described here and others unknown. It also seems that these vary across individuals.

Published in Hypnotherapy Society Newsletter March 2019

By ianfielder, Feb 15 2019 02:49PM

Our imagination is an incredibly useful tool. It can soothe us during difficult times and help us solve problems, create new things, and consider possible courses of action. Some researchers have argued that our imagination, which gives us the ability to consider different scenarios, is at the core of what makes humans different from the rest of the animal kingdom. Moreover, existing research has suggested that what we imagine can actually affect our minds and bodies in very concrete ways.

A study that the journal Psychological Science published in 2009 found that when we imagine doing something, our minds and bodies anticipate the imagined action as though it were a real action. The results of another study, which featured in Current Biology in 2013, suggest that imagining that we hear certain sounds or see particular shapes can change how we perceive the world in real time.

Research by a team from the University of Colorado Boulder and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, NY, now proves that what we imagine can seem just as real to our brains as actual experiences. As the investigators explain in their study paper, which appears in the journal Neuron, we can harness the power of our imagination to help us overcome persistent fears and anxiety disorders. "This research confirms that imagination is a neurological reality that can impact our brains and bodies in ways that matter for our wellbeing," says Prof. Tor Wager, co-senior author of the study.

When it comes to helping people address their phobias or anxiety disorders, psychologists may recommend "exposure therapy." This approach aims to desensitize a person to stimuli that trigger a fear response by repeatedly exposing them to these stimuli in a completely safe environment. This can help a person disassociate those stimuli from a sense of threat and impending negative consequences.

In the new study, the researchers used functional MRI to scan participants' brains and assess brain activity both in real and imagined situations involving unpleasant triggers. The aim was to see whether and how imagination may help us discard negative associations. "These novel findings bridge a long-standing gap between clinical practice and cognitive neuroscience," notes the study's lead author Marianne Cumella Reddan, who is a graduate student in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Colorado Boulder. "This is the first neuroscience study to show that imagining a threat can actually alter the way it is represented in the brain," she adds.

In the study, the research team recruited 68 healthy participants, whom they conditioned to associate a particular sound with receiving an electric shock that was uncomfortable but not painful. They then split the participants into three groups. To those in the first group, the researchers played the sound that the participants now associated with an unpleasant physical experience. Those in the second group had to imagine hearing that same sound instead, while those in the third group - the controls - had to imagine pleasant sounds, such as the trills of birds and the pitter-patter of rain. None of the participants received any further electric shocks.

While the volunteers were either hearing the triggering sound, imagining it, or imagining a pleasant sound, the researchers assessed their brain activity using functional MRI. The team also measured their physiological responses by placing sensors on their skin.

The investigators found that brain activity was very similar in the participants who actually heard the threatening sound and those who only imagined hearing it. In all of these volunteers, the auditory cortex (the brain region that processes sound), the nucleus accumbens (associated with learned fear), and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (which signals exposure to risk) became active.

However, after the participants repeatedly heard or imagined hearing the triggering sound without receiving the expected electric shock, they stopped being afraid. The process had extinguished the association between that sound and an unpleasant experience. This phenomenon is known as "extinction." In the control group, in which the participants had imagined pleasant sounds only, other brain regions lit up in the functional MRI scans, and the negative association between the triggering sound and the electric shock never went away. "Statistically, real and imagined exposure to the threat were not different at the whole brain level, and imagination worked just as well," explains Reddan. "I think a lot of people assume that the way to reduce fear or negative emotion is to imagine something good. In fact, what might be more effective is exactly the opposite: imagining the threat, but without the negative consequences."

The researchers also suggest that, thanks to the power of imagination, we may even be able to "revise" and "update" memories that are unpleasant or unhelpful. "If you have a memory that is no longer useful for you or is crippling you, you can use imagination to tap into it, change it, and re-consolidate it, updating the way you think about and experience something," says Reddan. However, just how vivid each of our imaginations is may affect the outcome of such experiments. Thus, the investigators explain, those with particularly vivid imaginations may benefit the most from "manipulating" unpleasant associations, while those with less active imaginations may not see much of a difference. There is a real need for more research into the powers of imagination, say the researchers, but the current findings emphasize one thing - namely, that we should not underestimate the effect of what we imagine. "Manage your imagination and what you permit yourself to imagine," encourages Prof. Wager. "You can use imagination constructively to shape what your brain learns from experience," he adds.

Published from the Hypnotherapy Society Newsletter

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