Conversations on Wellbeing at Work

The Festive Survival Guide: Promoting Wellbeing and Mental Health in Festive Times with Alan Cox

October 24, 2023 John Brewer
Conversations on Wellbeing at Work
The Festive Survival Guide: Promoting Wellbeing and Mental Health in Festive Times with Alan Cox
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Have you ever wondered how the yuletide season might be affecting your wellbeing and mental health? Enter Alan Cox, the genius behind Ever Yellow, a mental fitness app that’s taking a fresh approach to mental wellness.

This episode is an illuminating journey into Alan's motivation for creating Ever Yellow and his observation of a gap in the effectiveness of many mental health apps. We dissect the stressful realities that often accompany the festive cheer and offer a suggestions for how  employers can support their people during these times.
 
Navigating the post-holiday period is no easy feat, especially when dealing with social anxiety intensified by the pandemic. This conversation will equip you with the tools to mentally prepare for these situations. We shine a light on the often glossed-over issue of holiday loneliness and how periods of reflection can sometimes spiral into regret. Whether you're an individual trying to manage your own mental health or an employer looking to better support your team, this conversation provides invaluable insights.

As we wrap up, you'll learn about practical steps that workplaces can take to ensure employee wellbeing.  We stress the importance of inclusivity for people of different faiths and communities during holiday celebrations. Focusing on the Ever Yellow app, we discuss how it builds resilience and improves mental health.

Alan also offers a peek into his personal wellness habits. This episode isn't just another holiday podcast, it’s a lifeline for those seeking to navigate the holiday season with their mental health intact. Tune in for a timely discussion on managing mental health during the festive season.

For more info on Ever Yellow and how it can help improve your mental health and wellbeing check out their site at https://everyellow.com/

Find our more about Wellbeing at Work's Global Summits, our Global Hub Community of C-Suite executives and our Bespoke division at wellbeingatwork.world



Speaker 1:

Hello and welcome to the latest episode of Conversations at Wellbeing at Work, the podcast by Wellbeing at Work World. We feature discussions with innovative HR and well-being leaders from around the globe, many of whom are speakers at our conferences, and I'm responsible for the design of some of the events in North America. You can find out more about our global summits in the eight regions across the world. We have our global hub all of our website, wellbeingatworkworld. So our guest today is Alan Cox, who's the head of Ever Yellow, and Alan is going to be exhibiting at our upcoming summit in Melbourne.

Speaker 2:

I believe Is that right, alan, that's right. Yeah, I've got a startup stand there.

Speaker 1:

Yes, okay, well, I'm sure that it will generate considerable interest, so welcome. Glad you could join us today for this little conversation about. So we're going to be talking about Christmas and the mental health impact of holidays in general, but certainly specifically the sort of Christmas break and how that can cause some anxiety and how to deal with that. It's an important topic this time of year. But before we do that, I do want to ask how you're doing, because we always begin our conversations with just a brief check-in to see how our guests are.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I think I'm probably about a seven out of 10 today. I'd usually rate myself probably a eight or nine. I'm usually in pretty good shape. We've just had a three-day long weekend here, a late Labor Day, and I you know it's a time for rest probably, but I probably tried to fit a little bit too much in and I think I'll sit in there last night thinking about the start of my week thinking where did the rest come in? So anyway, it is what it is.

Speaker 1:

And you say it's Labor Day. It was Labor Day here. That here is New Zealand, yeah, new.

Speaker 2:

Zealand. I live in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Speaker 1:

Okay, so, as I mentioned up front, we're going to be talking about some of the negative impacts of seasonal holidays, particularly Christmas. But perhaps you could tell us a little bit about Ever Yellow, your organization and what you do, and then we'll get into the discussion around.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, sure so. Ever Yellow is what we call a mental fitness app. It uses what we call positive mental conditioning and basically what the app does is to help people become, you know, better equipped mentally. It really came from, you know. I've had a long history of struggle with mental well-being myself and during those times I've tried a whole bunch of different apps, either you know, through my employer or what I've got myself, and none of them really worked for me and I thought that that was just my fault. Really, you know that. Okay, well, I've just wasted some more money. And then one day I basically come across some research that basically showed quite clearly that the vast majority of mental well-being apps that are on the market, they have very kind of low levels of efficacy and their retention is also like appallingly low. And I guess, having had my own struggles and I also lost a friend to suicide as well I could really kind of see this gap, if you like. You know I come from a problem solving innovation background and I could kind of see this situation where you know there are literally hundreds of millions of people in the world that you know, even if they're not struggling with their mental health like consciously, they're definitely operating a level where they wish things could be better. And yeah, so we kind of decided to tackle the problem and we, before we even started, you know, designing or coding, we conducted a fair amount of research to work out you know what it was about all these other apps that were failing people. And and, yeah, I was kind of surprised and not surprised at the same time. You know, the main things that we were hearing from people is that they look at these apps that have been provided by their employer or whatever, and it just doesn't seem relevant to them. You know, they're overly generic, often kind of feels like information overload and what am I supposed to do? And, at the end of the day, what people said is you know, I would try these apps for maybe a week or two and just didn't feel any different. So, yeah, we wanted to create a tool that was, you know, much more effective and, most importantly of all, a tool that people actually look forward to using and continue to use over the longer term, and that's what we've done with every other.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, yeah, and I think you know my own experience would be it's not more limited. Now. I've tried a few mindfulness apps and I just not found that they really they just don't really. They just don't really work for me. So I think you've got to kind of dig around a little bit, try things and different approaches and find the one that works best for you and I'm sure that your one. It's great for a lot of people, which is good. So it's October 23rd here. I'm still in Canada. You're in New Zealand October 24th. Christmas is a long way away. Should we be worrying now about prepping for that and making sure that we're in a good state of mind for when the holidays come around?

Speaker 2:

Well, look, my view is is the is it's the perfect time, especially if what you're currently doing isn't really helping people. You know, I think I think employers need to understand that. You know just how stressful the lead up to Christmas is and also how the kind of the after Christmas period as well can really also have a negative impact on, like, employees, frame of mind. And you know, even you know, that that time away from work to you know, maybe amplify, you know, the thoughts that people are having about. You know, even, you know, finding work elsewhere and a lot, a lot, of, a lot of these stresses and thoughts that basically contribute to, you know, how people, you know, react to these things. It's all, it's all basically driven by the mental wiring in your brain that's been building up over, you know, many, many years, and and and to to change some of that wiring into such a way where you can, you know, become more resilient, you can be, you know, you know, become braver and not, you know, say no, I'm not going to attend the event, that I don't want to go to. All those kinds of things, I mean, it takes time. So, you know, the, the earlier you can, you know, get effect. You know, effective tools or whatever into into people's hands, the better really.

Speaker 1:

So what are some of the main kind of challenges that we should maybe anticipate at this point in time? I think we have Christmas is two months away. What kind of things are going to be a be issues for me and my family and the like? What are the things you'd identify?

Speaker 2:

There's lots, there's lots, but let's just go through some of the main one, right? I mean, without Christmas, many of us are stressed. You know, like, depending on, depending on what reports you read from the likes of, you know, mackenzie, gartner and what have you you know up to 50% of people have a struggling with stress. You know nearly 30% of all people have got, you know, a genuine case of burnout. So you know you're already, you're already in this kind of state where you know you're wearing a heavy pack on your shoulders right and then and then what comes on top of that is the stress. You know you've got the stress of, you know, maybe feeling pressure to go to events or family gatherings that you don't really want to attend. Your schedule gets busier. There's just general stress of not failing. You know, like you, like you know, if you're maybe actually holding Christmas Day, for example, it's incredibly, like I know I've been there multiple times. Right, you know, am I going to? Am I going to burn the turkey and all that kind of stuff. But there's, there's also, there's also things that people often don't think about is that Christmas is often a time when, you know, sadness can really come back for people that have lost people, not necessarily at Christmas, but you know that, you know there's this. Christmas is very nostalgic and and it's certainly a time where people can kind of start thinking about people that they've lost, that are close to them.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, well, I mean, I mean you mentioned, I mean just insert myself in. You mentioned that you'd had someone close or that you knew well who died by suicide. And in our family we've lost a family member to a fentanyl overdose, which is which is you know, that's a similar experience and it's one of those losses that sort of leaves you with lots of questions and that maybe happens very suddenly and and has an element of mental distress and those kind of things. And that's really hard those holiday times are, you know, because there's a seat at the table that they should be exactly right, exactly right.

Speaker 2:

And yeah, and that's and it's not only you know they've not been at that table, is that? It's that you know, especially in that post Christmas period where you, you, you, you, you, you a lot of people tend to kind of think about what they like haven't gotten, what they've, what they've lost and what have you, you know, and another, another one that's very common is is as simple as disruption of your routine, right, is that? There's, there's many of us, I mean, I'm, I'm, I'm one of these people that you know, I fly by the seat of my pants, kind of thing, you know. Like, if things kind of just don't turn out the way things are meant to do, then I just go with the flow. But that there's some people that they're, you know, their DNA is that they need a lot of structure, right, they? They need to be told exactly what to do, what their expectations are, and then, and then, when you suddenly get all of this other stuff going on, it's, it's, it can be really, really hard for them.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. So I mean, is that, you know, I know one of the things, one of the areas that I think causes a lot of stress is it is, it is money, right, people tend to be. I mean, I've never had a Christmas where I haven't spent more than the nine 10 did. Right, doesn't just doesn't happen. That having some kind of sort of clear plan for that is obviously a good idea. Yeah, the same applies, I think, to the mental and social side of things. That to be be sort of really clear up front of you know what, who's going to be there, how you know am I going to go to other events, what do you know? It's. Those are all things which this plan and element of planning seems to help, both financially and mentally.

Speaker 2:

Well, it's partly planning, but it's also, it's also kind of having the I believe it's also having the mental kind of capacity to be able to you know, and strength to be able to say to yourself, like what you know, for example, for example, let's just, let's just say there's an event that you, you know, you want to go to, right, you know that that would be a good time to be able to think now, what, why do what? Why do I not want to go to that event? Is it just because I'm too busy? Is it because someone's going to be there that I don't want to see? You know, whatever those things are, and having the ability to say what is it? What is it about me that doesn't want to go to that thing? And and depending on the answers that you, you get from that, you know, you might actually say no, actually, I will go to the event and I'll enjoy it and I don't care if so. And so is there, you know, or, or having the bravery or the you know self discipline to say no, I'm not going to go to the event and I'm not going to feel bad about it, you know? And if anyone asked me afterwards, why wasn't you at the event. This is what I'll say, you know.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, but on the other hand, isn't there? Is there another side to that? I was thinking about. Something that was sent to me the other day was about how, in a certain someone was making the argument in a post pandemic or semi post pandemic world. Yeah, we've kind of got into the habit of not engaging with people socially, right? So you know we, we, we got. You know we, we order food and have it delivered in. Uh, you know, we watch a netflix movie. We don't go to the movie theater, that I mean. And I found myself sort of being, uh, on the one hand, like quite energized by sometimes by being in groups of people, uh, but also other times being a little reluctant to go out, go out into the world. So there there is. There is that side of things as well, do you think?

Speaker 2:

um, I, I think I've got a couple of points to make around. That is that everyone, everyone is kind of wired differently and you've got some people that um actually really, really need, you know, like almost at a biological level. They really do need that, um, that engagement with other people, and, and there are others that are actually, you know, I'm not so much saying happier, but they're perfectly fine without it, right, you know, and they're um, you know, it's, it's not, it's not a problem, you know, and but for, yeah, for those, I would say, for those people that say biologically need it, um, and they, they withdraw, then then there's there's trouble on the horizon, right, um, but what I, what I, what I, what I would also be saying to those people um is is also look at the type of engagement that really makes you grow as a person. You know, like, if you um, you know, if you kind of really take the time to self-analyse and and what have you?

Speaker 1:

you might think, actually, um, I would, I would actually get much more of my dose of kind of engaging with humans if I was to join a tramping club or and a book reading club, rather than going, rather going out on these boozy nights out with the, the girls or the guys, you know, and I think it's all about um, you know, if you do need that engagement and we all do to a certain extent is is make that engagement right, right, right for you, hmm well, I can remember when I when I got, when I got divorced, uh many years ago, and I had two small girls which we shared, two small small girls and um, on the one, that I used to rather like the fact that my ex-wife used to take them at Christmas and I was very much sort of like you know I've much, because she had quite a big family and and and she had a sister who had, you know, kids and they were her parents and actually there were two sisters and a brother and and so they all went off and did their Christmas thing. I actually quite liked being alone, like in that day where I should have to do anything, but it was also really nice when one year someone actually invited me to have Christmas at their place. Um, so I think there is an element of of um, you know, again, on the other side is, you know, although you may be declining invitations for all sorts of reasons, to also come out and open the place up a little bit and maybe ask people in who you wouldn't wouldn't exactly. That's quite glad to throw that out, oh dear, because I do think loneliness is an issue that does rise during, during holiday time, absolutely, absolutely, um, and again related to, to notions of loss and and and the like. So, um, you know, all that sort of prep for Christmas can be causing all sorts of problems. And then we have had the sort of the event where you know, and I think we'll sort of, we're going to skip that a bit and move to afterwards, right, because I think people are sort of, you know, um, fairly familiar with come of the stress that you mentioned, you know, the turkey not coming out right, or you know, the, the, the, the sort of um, the, the eccentric uncle decided to turn up after all and cause all sorts of problems. Um, so you know Christmas is, you know it's over, and then you kind of kind of got to get back into the groove of work or whatever there are.

Speaker 2:

There are sort of stresses and things you need to be aware of then too, right yeah, well, I think you know, right up until Christmas day and you know even Christmas day itself I I kind of still include that in the like bill um, you know the pre-Christmas and the post-Christmas, right, um, yeah and um, you know so, really, really, you know you've had all of that stress and over the build-up to Christmas, christmas day itself, and then suddenly it's nothing, right, you know, often you, um, you know you're suddenly spending more time to think about things, to ruminate on things. You'll be, you know you'll have regrets. You know, maybe wishing, wishing you hadn't gone to the party and said things that you hadn't said, um, regretting you hadn't spent the money that you'd spent, um, you've already mentioned things like loneliness and isolation, um, but I think you know, one of the one of the really interesting points that I've been talking to employers about is um, um, uh, is when, when people and I say I say employers to employees as well, and I guess the, I guess the. My main mantra to a lot of people is that, you know the, the grass isn't always greener on the other side and it is, is, is the, is the problems that you're thinking about, work and why you might be looking to to move on. You know, the Chris Christmas is definitely a like a big peak in the in the year, where people make that decision right and many, many people make the wrong decision right and you know if, if they had the presence of mind to be able to say to myself, actually, is it really the? Is it really the work situation or is it, you know, maybe the way I'm bringing myself to work? Is it? Is it my attitudes towards things? Is it is it? You know when, when I, when so and so work, or my boss says certain certain things in a certain way, am I reading a lot more into it than you know, whatever? So, yeah, I think I think they're the kinds of challenges that you know people definitely having in that, you know, post Christmas period so let's talk a little bit about what employers can do to help employees.

Speaker 1:

But before I do that, just make one, one little point. I mean, although we still we we probably sound a little different to people right now and you're in New Zealand, I'm in Canada we're both actually essence boys. Yeah, I mean, I'm pretty much so, we both have part. So we're from the same culture in the same part of world, where Christmas, you know, has certain connotations and and a certain sort of status as if one of the better word. I mean we have to recognize that you know, for a lot of, you know for a lot of communities and faiths etc. It simply isn't a thing at all, or it, or it has different, or there's a different celebration of that.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I mean, I mean especially me now living in New Zealand. It's it's it's highly, you know, multi-cultural and and, as you say, you know, people have, you know, it's not even just different religious beliefs. You know, I know somebody that just has never celebrated Christmas or birthdays because their, their parents, never had the money and just didn't do it right, and and that person actually feels very weird around that kind of stuff happening, you know. And so, yeah, for a lot of, for a lot of people, when, when all of this excitement is happening, that they, they can, you know, feel like they're not fitting in and you know, you know, somewhat feeling, feeling excluded, and they can, they can often feel like they don't make, you know, maybe don't really belong, because this is, this is all alien to them and and they can, all they, and they can also feel because very, very rarely, very rarely do they get asked by the people around them. Also, what do you do around Christmas time, like, what? Like? Is there another time of year that we celebrate Christmas, you know, and or is there something else that you celebrate that's similar to what we do? You know, people just don't, and and even that I wouldn't even say it's ignorance, but that it kind of feels like everyone else doesn't really care about what. What I do, you know and, and there, yeah, that does. I think that adds to the you know, especially in a multicultural workplace that can definitely add to the stress as well yeah, yeah.

Speaker 1:

So so what can employers do to help to make that this sort of time period is pleasant and and energizing and restorative, if you like, as as possible for employees?

Speaker 2:

well, I think, given that we're you know, as you say, we're quite, we're quite close to Christmas I think there's probably three main things that I'd recommend. The the first thing is that if, if you're able to, is you know like we talk. We talk about employer employers having like a well-being toolbox, right, you know what? And in that toolbox could be anything from a meditation app to will pay for you to go to the gym or what whatever's in that toolbox is. I would basically be saying to employers take, take a, take a good look at you know how those things are actually being used. There's no point in having, you know, a toolbox full of blunt tools that you know employees just don't actually use in you know in any meaningful way or don't really helping any meaningful way. So that that's some you know and and that's something that you can get employees actually involved with you know, and that really helps with that situation. And a second thing would be really around start, you know, through whatever mechanisms, whether it through comms or team meetings or whatever is is to is to actually start having a dialogue with your people around you know, acknowledging that this is a stressful people, this is a stressful time for people and, and you know, just just acknowledging that and and and also, you know, reminding them or telling them about the resources that are open to them. You know that now, now is a really good time to do that. And I think that the third thing is is that if, if you, if you provide any kind of EAP or kind of counseling services, anything like that, I would, I would really look at ways that you can make it like easier to remove the barriers for people to actually engage with those services. Like you know from, from my perspective, services like EAP are crucial and they provide a really really effective and valuable service, right? But the sad reality is is that you know, again, depending on what study you look at, somewhere between six to 8% of employees will actually, you know, their engagement is very, very low and the the you know there's various reasons for that. You know there's stigma, there's fear of being, you know, getting back to the boss, and there's all these kinds of things, right? So, whatever you can do to tackle that fear and stigma of, of, you know, contacting people that can really help you, help guide you through, you know, the pre and post, you know, let people know that. You know, don't suffer in silence. This is what's available to you. You know, if you can, you know, make it available that they can speak to people anonymously, that's even better. And yeah, just just let them know that, you know, even after Christmas, that it's there for you. You know, hopefully is there for them.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I think the other thing is, you know, linking back to that, you know we touched briefly on the diversity and different sort of traditions, faith traditions and other reasons why people are or not are not engaged in Christmas. You know a lot of companies in my actually I don't know if that's true anymore I mean, it's been a while since I worked for a largest company who maybe organized events, either you know, team events or department events, around around the holidays to ensure that those, those two are inclusive, yeah, of the people that that work there, and not not not exclusive. That would be fair, right.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, exactly right. Yeah, I agree.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, so so are there any sort of aspects of ever yellow that you kind of point to that you think might be particularly useful this time of year, or Well, I think I think there are probably a couple of aspects really, one one is from from the employees perspective.

Speaker 2:

You know, I think you know from from our research, from our research right is that you know most people actually are quite keen to be. You know, I don't know if upping their game is the right term, but you know they want to be more resilient. They want, they want to like, handle situations better. They want to be able to, you know, maybe even perform better at work and what all those kinds of things and and with with. You know we've, we've had every yellow through rounds of recent, you know, validation research and it is highly effective. You know like 78% of new users measure a positive improvement across 10 different areas of well being within one week. So things like improved energy, sleep, motivation, you know they're all the kinds of things that you know people want. And, and I guess the big, the biggest thing of from about the app every yellow is that we've, we've made it very, very easy and enjoyable to fit into your life. You know you can literally use it while you're commuting to work. You can, you can, you can, even you can even dial down the voice and listen to it for like many hours while you're studying or working on, for example. So it's not, it's not. Yeah, you know people like look at other other things like well being and gyms, where it's yet it's yet another thing to do, right? So every yellow isn't yet another thing to do. It's it's. It's something that you actually enjoy.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, yeah, and that's some of the things you see with with the holidays is, you know, just so says it more with New Year, that's maybe the Christmas, but you know people, you know people all join up at the gym on in January.

Speaker 2:

Exactly Right, like you know, and then they go once or twice. That's right, exactly. And just just getting back to the AP, like we heard from a number of employers that you asked, can, is that a problem that we can kind of help with in any way? And what what we've basically done is is we've we've built a feature into the app that basically connects employees to the AP services or the or the counseling team, completely anonymously, that they can basically choose whether to stay anonymous or not, and that, you know, obviously increases engagement because people can. It may, you know, it may be, you know, if you look at, say, different scenarios, it could be that, let's say that you've observed a team worker, you know what a team colleague that's been bullied by somebody else, right, or whatever the thing is, you're the one that wants to kind of put up your hand to that. But what this kind of anonymous chat does is it provides that mechanism to take all of the fear and barriers away from actually engaging with the AP, which is pretty cool.

Speaker 1:

That sounds like a great idea. Well, we're going to wrap up now, but there's one more question I have to ask you before we end. I don't think.

Speaker 2:

I told you no, you didn't.

Speaker 1:

So at the end of all, we always ask our guests the final question, which is like what's the one thing that you do to kind of keep yourself sort of well, in the broadest sense, any sense of term you want to talk about? What's the one thing you like to? I mean, you mentioned when we started you're at a seven, so what are you going to go out and do that's going to get you to a 10? What's the thing you most like?

Speaker 2:

most. Well, if I was a 10, I'd probably be floating off the ground. But yeah, things like there's just a number of things I know about that I know makes a difference Taking the dogs for a walk, doing some photography, something that I know that.

Speaker 1:

Both of those sound like things that probably involve you getting out into nature, right, yeah? Or is a photographer taking pictures outside?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, but I think, photographer, I've had something like a 30-year. I actually trained as a professional photographer when I was in my early 20s and I never actually took it up as a profession. But yeah, I've had a long hiatus from it because I've kind of Especially in the world of like AI and Instagram, I kind of just see everything as being the same. So I kind of lost my mojo and I've just been kind of just trying to get my mojo back. Okay.

Speaker 1:

Photographic mojo. That is Photographic mojo. Well, that sounds like a good way of Photography. Sounds to me like a good therapeutic activity, exactly, yeah, whether it involves nature or not. But anyway, we're out of time, I'm afraid, but it's been great. I'm glad that you were. You're my first guest from New Zealand for this podcast, so it's been nice and I wish I was going to be there in Melbourne to meet you in person. But I'm hope, I'm sure you'll get a lot of traction and a lot of interest in the app and the like and hopefully maybe next year I'll be out and persuade well-being at work to send me there. So we'll see. Yeah, thank you so much. Thank you for watching Dave, thank you to all our listeners and I hope you've enjoyed the conversation. I certainly have and will be posting this episode and then another episode soon. So thank you very much. Goodbye, bye.

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