Government’s Wellness Resources for Temporary Foreign Workers
Government’s Wellness Resources for Temporary Foreign Workers
By Michelle Chermaine Ramos
The Philippine Reporter
On Thursday September 15, 2022, Catholic Social Services in Alberta hosted a free virtual stress management workshop for temporary foreign workers funded by the Government of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
Alberta Health Services (AHS) resource speaker, Yiu Yam Hau, shed some light on the challenges newcomers face adjusting to life in Canada. She also offered stress management tips and information on free government funded programs to access mental health services and other related settlement and social services.
In the Philippines and some countries, mental health care, emotional wellness, and depression are often not openly talked about since healthcare tends to focus more on physical wellness. In Filipino and other Asian cultures, there is also the stigma surrounding mental illness that often prevents those who are suffering from seeking the help they need because of shame.
Here in Canada, it is very common and widely accepted to seek professional help for emotional wellness because unlike in the Philippines and many migrant workers other countries of origin, many do not live with family members nearby or in a big community of friends and extended relatives who can normally provide emotional support.
What is stress?
Anytime you feel you need to handle more than you are used to. Some stress is normal for example in the case of exams, job interviews, or meetings and other things in daily life. Once these events or activities are over, so is the temporary stress.
Hau explained that stress can be good in some situations when it allows us to focus on working hard to improve ourselves. However, it becomes a problem when you stay in a stressful state for too long because it will make you sick physically, mentally, and emotionally.
What is emotional wellness?
People who are emotional healthy can function well in their work, school, and family life. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, a person who is emotionally well can enjoy life and bounce back from tough times. They can express various emotions in a healthy manner and know how to develop their own strengths. These traits enable them to effectively manage their work, education, family, and personal needs and this balance helps them avoid serious mental illness.
Hau said that “balance doesn’t mean that you need to give 100% of your time and energy to your work, 100% to your education, 100% to your family or 100% to yourself”. It is impossible and trying to do so will lead to unnecessary stress. Therefore, you must determine your priorities and budget your time for your activities and focus accordingly. A person who is emotionally well can determine what they are good at so they can further develop their own strengths.
The influence of cultural upbringing on mental health
Can you freely express your emotions? Some people cannot express themselves in a healthy manner because they might have been brought up to keep their feelings to themselves. While growing up, they might have been taught not to cry or laugh out loud. Some families and cultures can dictate what might be taboo to discuss within social circles leaving people internalizing feelings that are invalidated by their loved ones or immediate circles. This lack of emotional support can lead to bottled-up frustration and stress.
According to Hau, “A person might have mental illness but still can be emotionally well. As long as that person gets treatment and manages their mental illness, that person can still have a quality life and still have a healthy mind.”
She also emphasized the difference between mental health and mental illness. “A person can have mental illness such as depression like Winston Churchill. He was a Prime Minister in the second world war. He suffered from serious depression. But of course, he had a doctor and he managed and that’s why he still ran the country during that critical time. There are many cases like this. A person might be born with mental illness but as long as that person gets treatment, manages it, takes medicine, or follows treatment, maybe that person can still have a quality life with a healthy mind. Although I cannot say that 100% of mental illness can be treated,” Hau explained.
Causes of stress
Stress is almost always an emotional reaction to a situation. The common causes of stress are people, places, times, and events.
Many temporary foreign workers often experience loneliness and isolation as newcomers since they don’t have loved ones nearby. Sometimes, the lack of English or French language skills presents a language barrier making it difficult for them to communicate with others to find a solid social support system. Those from warmer climates often find it difficult to adjust to harsh Canadian winters and experience depression and homesickness.
When the pandemic hit, many felt isolated when everyone had to practice social distancing and cancel gatherings. On the other hand, some people enjoyed their time during COVID when they realized they had more time with family and pets. There might be difficult times but if you can put your energy into something you can do instead of worrying about what you cannot change, you can still enjoy life.
Some people are happy with the snow and ice in Canada while some are not. It is not the winter that causes stress. It’s how people feel about it. Hau explained that If we can look at a situation and change our perspective, we can change our mood. Sometimes it’s difficult for some to shift their perspectives so they end up experiencing short-term stress symptoms
Short-term symptoms vs. long-term symptoms and chronic stress
Symptoms of short-term stress include worry, dizziness, dry mouth, a faster heartbeat, higher blood pressure, shorter breaths, stomach aches, sweating, and tightened jaws and muscles. These are easily fixed by drinking water, eating the right food, practicing breathing techniques to calm the nerves, and massaging tight muscles.
However, if left untreated, these can lead to long-term symptoms or chronic stress that will affect your body’s overall function. Symptoms include concentration and memory problems, sleep problems, headaches, teeth grinding, tooth decay, high blood pressure, abdominal and digestive problems, weight gain or loss, jaw tension, muscle aches and joint pain. Ask yourself if you are experiencing any of these and be aware of what is causing these symptoms so you can address them.
How do some people manage stress better than others?
Newcomers are often stressed getting settled and starting over again in a new country. It helps to distinguish between the things you can change and those you can’t so you can focus your time and energy making progress on the things within your control. For example, Canada is a cold country with long winters and newcomers must find jobs. These are facts that all newcomers must face as they start to build a life here.
However, you can put your energy into what you can change. You can learn how to find a job in Canada by talking to settlement counsellors about how you can gain work or volunteer experience and join free programs to help you learn about Canadian culture. Those who cannot distinguish between what they can and cannot change needlessly stress themselves blaming the weather, Canadian employers, etc., instead of focusing on the important things.
Create a “Fun Bucket”
Collect things that make you happy. Collect happy memories and save photos and keep them nearby or on your phone. Find jokes and comedy videos and bookmark or save them on your phone or computer so you can view them later and share with others. For mindset shifts, you can also watch motivational speeches and movies.
Get active outdoors
Take advantage of Canada’s beautiful landscape. Try to plan outdoor activities. City parks are free. Ask your friends and others about outdoor activities you can participate in whether to play sports or attend outdoor events. You can go for a walk, a picnic, a swim, or enjoy many free or low-cost outdoor activities and festivals. In Calgary, All Sport One City gives adults, teens and families a chance to try many kinds of sports for free. The organization provides the equipment and instruction at no cost as well. https://sportcalgary.ca/all-sport-one-city
Develop healthy habits
Find hobbies you can enjoy in your free time to stimulate your mind and keep your body active. Check out churches and community centers for social activities. You can also get together with friends and do something creative together like knitting, painting, sewing, photography, etc. Libraries also allow you to borrow books, DVDs, eBooks, and attend book clubs, workshops and access other resources for free.
Take breaks to recharge your energy
Take mini breaks of 5-10 minutes throughout the day to walk and stretch or grab a drink or snack. Spend a few hours on a hobby during the week. If you can, try to take maxi breaks in the form of 1-3 vacations during the year. If you can’t afford to travel outside the country, you can always treat yourself to a staycation by taking time off to enjoy what’s available for you to explore where you live.
Use the Canada Food Guide. Ideally, fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruits, a quarter should be protein and the other quarter should be whole grain foods. Fibre improves your digestive system and takes longer to digest and will keep you full. Choose whole vegetables and fruits over juices.
Unlike in tropical countries with lots of sunshine all year-round, in Canada, it’s important to take vitamin D especially during the winter months when people are less exposed to sunshine. Reduce your consumption of sugar, salt, and fat. Get help if you are addicted to tobacco, alcohol, or drugs.
Alberta Health Services has nutritionists (www.ahs.ca/ahlp) offering free phone counselling and nutrition classes for Alberta residents at 811 or 1-844-527-1160. They also have free interpreters who speak different languages.
Sleeping in a dark room set at a cooler temperature can help you sleep more comfortably. Stop using your computer or cellphone before you sleep because blue light tricks your body into thinking it’s daytime and will make it harder for your brain to fall asleep. Don’t consume stimulants such as coffee, tea, or chocolate before bedtime. Stick to water.
Try to be active as you can during the day and avoid sitting all the time. Housework can be a form of physical exercise. If you are going through some difficulties in life and have intrusive thoughts keeping you awake, you cannot relax if you are overwhelmed thinking of all the things you need to do. Write them down on a piece of paper to clear your mind so you can set them aside and deal with them later. Depression can cause you to sleep too long or suffer from insomnia, If you have any sleep issues, consult your doctor.
Talk To Others
Talk to a trusted friend. Simply talking it out can help you feel better. Your friend can help you look at things from a different perspective or brainstorm solutions to your problem. Everyone has their different life experiences and skillsets and a problem that might seem daunting to you, might be a piece of cake for a friend who has the right skills or has already gone through the same challenges and can guide you towards a solution. But even if they can’t, they can still just listen and offer moral support. Expressing yourself by getting things off your chest can be cathartic in itself. Likewise, you can share your talents and skills with friends and others in need to feel connected to your community.
Go to community centers and agencies to get help. They often provide workshops offering advice on various topics like buying a house, choosing insurance and banking. There are also counsellors who help renters deal with landlords or find housing.
When You Don’t Feel Well
If you’ve been sad for more than two weeks, have lost interest in the activities that gave you pleasure, are experiencing symptoms like weight loss/gain, insomnia, irritability, loss of energy/fatigue, inability to concentrate, feelings of worthlessness or irrational guilt, anxiety, or thoughts of death and suicide, seek help.
People who have suffered the loss of loved ones sometimes grieve to the point of losing their appetite and end up losing lots of weight. This requires professional help. If you find that you are unusually irritable and things are not improving, see your doctor to determine if it’s an emotional or physical health issue.
If you or a loved one are struggling with feelings of worthlessness or have lost the will to live, please get urgent professional help. Schedule an appointment with your family doctor or call a mental health support hotline. Albertans can call 780-424-2424 for 24/7 mental health assistance.
If you or a loved one have thoughts of suicide or harming yourself or others, that is an emergency situation. Call 911 or go straight to a hospital. Alberta Health Services (hospitals and urgent care centres) have free interpreters who can assist non-English speakers.
811: Free Nurse Advice
If you are unsure where to get the healthcare service you need and whether you need to see a counsellor or doctor, call 811. They also provide free 24/7 confidential interpreters. Non-English speakers just have to say “I speak (Tagalog or whatever language)” three times and then wait to be transferred to an interpreter.
This is also available in Ontario through Health Connect Ontario which was launched earlier this year on April 22, 2022. https://healthconnectontario.health.gov.on.ca/static/guest/home
211: Non-Medical Support
For help with financial needs, job searches, food hampers, parenting, and kids/youth programs, call 211. Free confidential interpreters are available 24/7. This is also available in Ontario (https://211ontario.ca/)