How Mindfulness Is Helping Brands Boost Culture, Performance & Mental Health With Kayla Kozan

Written By Sean Grabowski

A passionate ambassador, educator and student of mindfulness and meditation. Advocate for unique experiences and life long learning.

February 9, 2020

In this episode of The Mindful Steward Podcast, I had the opportunity to catch up with one of Toronto’s most unique meditation teachers. As opposed to the more typical vibe I see among teachers of being incredibly spiritual, Kayla is approaching the industry from an entirely different angle. Emerging from the darkness of her own battles with mental health, Kayla is bringing corporate mindfulness to the world of business to help professionals achieve a healthier emotional state while simultaneously fostering a healthier state of mental well-being.

Why Corporate Mindfulness Matters

Mental health is climbing. Not surprisingly, this phenomenon is among the highest in the professional world. We live in a society that often glamourizes the idea of work, so much so that many of us completely lose ourselves in the madness of progress and gain. Bringing mindfulness to the corporate world is proving in countless cases to provide a potential solution to this problem. Mindfulness and meditation are proven methods that give A-type employees and professionals the resilience to continue powering forward toward their hopes and aspirations. Bringing the art of stress control into the world of work is providing employees with the tools and techniques that are allowing them to find a healthy balance in the lives between the grind and simply being present to what is important in their lives. Understanding the big ‘why’s’ in our lives undoubtedly allows us to be more effective and productive toward the things that truly matter in our lives. It is only when we truly understand ourselves that we can be lead others impactfully as well. Self-awareness and emotional intelligence take time to build, and that is precisely why mindfulness is creating professionals who can communicate and perform more effectively in their workplace.

This conversation was incredibly inspiring and I’m already looking forward to working with Kayla on more projects in the future.

Visit Kayla online at PeakWellnessCo.com.

Visit Peak Wellness Co. on Instagram at @peakwellnessco

You can read the transcript of the episode just below.

Sean Grabowski:

Hello everyone. Thanks for tuning into the mindful steward podcast. My name is Sean Grabowski. This is a show where I seek out individuals who are living out their own unique versions of success and happiness on their own terms. I like talking to thought leaders, people who are engaging in a lot of mindfulness and meditation activities and kind of integrating those things into their life for further improvement and just people who are really doing their own thing. A lot of them end up being entrepreneurs like this new guest of mine. In this episode I am interviewing Kayla Kozan. I first heard about Kayla probably almost a year ago now. She is somebody who has been going into organizations and businesses all across Toronto and now she’s starting to expand this business all across the country. And essentially she’s a mental health advocate. But not only that, she is trained in a whole bunch of different modalities of mindfulness and meditation. So what she is doing is going into businesses and teaching them how they can foster a culture that is, you know, beneficial for their employees, mental health, how they can kind of take care of that side of things for the people who work for them for not only the benefit of their company but just from the moral human standpoint of, you know, being a good leader and a good boss and taking care of the people who are there for you and working for you. And you know, with the growing amount of anxiety and depression levels and in more part in particular, just high levels of stress in work environments. You know, in North America we really do have a work culture that not many other places in the world follow, have work super hard, go super hard, work yourself to the bone because that’s how you make it. And she’s kind of teaching that there’s an alternative way of looking at that sort of thing. And there are also ways that companies can structure their wellness programs to allow their employees to not feel as much stress in the first place, to be more resilient to stress, so that when those moments pop up, it doesn’t affect their workforce and affect the mental health of the people who are on their teams. So in this episode, we talk a lot about her experience. You know, she’s had her own battle with mental health and she bounced back from all of that to create this awesome company where she is helping people who might have been in a similar situation to her where she was working downtown Toronto you know, putting all her time towards her career and just kind of experienced this, this level of burnout. And fortunately she was working for a company that had a lot of compassion and a lot of support for her. So I think that was a driving force in her kind of wanting to promote that more globally. So not only that, we dive into meditation and mindfulness as always the benefits of that in the workplace. Corporate mindfulness is becoming a huge theme. And there’s a lot of science to back it up. So it was cool to have her to here to share her story and share what she knows on this emerging topic. So without further ado, I will get this episode started. As always. I’m gonna let you know what’s going on with my website. So I’m redoing the website just like I kind of have mentioned all along. I am turning it into more of a hub for mindfulness and meditation resources. So there’s going to be a lot of good stuff on there very soon. If you go to my website and sign up for my newsletter, you get a few free guided meditations, a journal prompts book as well as a little intro to mindfulness ebook and you’ll just be the first one of the first people to hear about the new stuff that’s coming out soon. So I hope you enjoy this episode. Feel free to rate or subscribe and I will talk to you next time. Sweet. Well thanks for coming on the mindful steward podcast Kayla.

Kayla Kozan:

You’re so welcome thanks for having me.

Sean Grabowski:

No problem. Obviously, I love having mindfulness people on here as well. You know, I’m getting more and more niche with that, but also people who are really doing their own thing and have their own way of looking at things, especially cause this is such an emerging industry and just emerging information for people to learn and kind of help themselves. I think it’s really cool that you’re kind of covering all of those spaces and yeah, and I’d love to kind of hear basically what your story is, like, what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and kind of how you got into all of that. So feel free to rant much as you want and please do.

Kayla Kozan:

Yeah. Well, why don’t I take it back to when I started first with mindfulness. So it kind of how I came about it. So yeah, you can remember way back in like 2014. I just moved to Toronto. I’ve been living in Toronto for not very long at all, like six months. And I’ve had a pretty normal life. Like I had gone to university and now I’m working full time. I was working at this tech company and I absolutely love my job, but in a really kind of short, like acute period of time, I started having some weird symptoms where people around me just felt like I wasn’t acting like myself. I was barely sleeping. I just like was a little all over the place and I think the people that saw it the most were my coworkers, but this is like a super short, like kind of two week period. And it culminated in me going to work one day and just having a full on nervous breakdown and actually going to the hospital with my boss to the emergency room. And at the time like no one really knew what was going on least of all me. And so it was a, it was a, it’s a thing that most people will never encounter. I wouldn’t recommend it. I mean it’s not okay, it’s not a situation you want to find yourself in, but it was so important that that’s exactly what happened for me at that time. So my parents were both living in Regina, so they flew in the next day I was still at the hospital and because no one really knew what was going on yet, they made the decision to fly me back to Regina so I could go through treatment there. And so I went right back into the hospital again. And I was actually in the psych ward there for almost a month. And so after that when I came out of the hospital, I had the diagnosis of bipolar one. And so that was the first time, I think it was really connecting all the dots. Like it was pretty textbook actually what, what happened to me and what I experienced looking back. But at the time, I mean, everyone was just like so confused. And so I think what happened then was that gave us at least a little bit of a framework to work off of in terms of like what steps I need to make for my mental health, what it even means for me to manage my own mental health. And so falling, in and around that time I was going through the, the negative side of bipolar disorder, so the depression, the depressive episode and I think anyone who’s experienced depression or like a really low mood can uh relate to the feeling of being like, it’s like you have barely any energy to try different things that might help you, but you’ll try anything because you’re so desperate to feel like yourself again.

Sean Grabowski:

And so that was my first introduction to mindfulness. Like I didn’t even seek it out myself. I wasn’t like, Oh, this seems good for building habits, being more productive. It was prescribed to me. So there is a, yeah, there’s a program called MBCT, so mindfulness based cognitive therapy. So maybe you’ve heard of CBT before, which is cognitive behavioral therapy. It’s like mood disorders. One Oh one is a really effective type of therapy that in terms of like talk therapy and not leaning on a medication. And so MBCT is like a mine. It’s the same thing but like a mindfulness base to it. So that’s when I was like really started meditating a lot. And consistently and it was like, it’s quite literally a prescription like it’s covered by, Oh yeah. I’ve been like certain different programs depending on if you’re referred to it by a doctor.

Sean Grabowski:

Oh this is super interesting.

Kayla Kozan:

Really crazy. Yeah.

Sean Grabowski:

Because I’ve only really read about this before, but I haven’t heard of anybody who has been prescribed it.

Kayla Kozan:

Yeah, so MD, so there’s a T my understanding is it was first developed for depression, anxiety. It’s really effective for a lot of different mood disorders. So that includes bipolar disorder, I OCD, PTSD, you name it. And then there’s also like a different version of it that’s even more popular. That’s called MBSR. Maybe you’ve heard of that. Mindfulness based stress reduction. So it’s an eight week program. Anyone could take that. You could take it if you want it. And also I think that one kind of gets recommended to people when they’re really struggling with stress and stress management, but it’s not really like prescribed in the same way. But yeah, NBC was crazy like it. I want to be really careful to say that it wasn’t the only therapy that got me out of the depression because it was a supplementary therapy with other lifestyle changes and medication and it always kind of working together. But I think that’s when I saw that MBCT was actually something that I could do myself for free and it was sustainable and I believed in it. And I think it got me like back, like I got my strength advocates of it. And so yeah, I mean I’m fast forwarding a lot, this whole process. I was offered for almost a year, but when I got back to work I tried to keep up a lot of the same principles and start learning more about them. And so then when I got back to work and I was back in Toronto, I was just seeing my friends again and even just, you know, the feeling of like being in the financial district in Toronto, like walking around, you just see that people are still like operating on such a high stress level, nonstop. And so mental illness or not nervous breakdown or not. I was able to teach my friends, like some really simple just breathing techniques or journaling prompts or whatever it was, and it was helpful for them. And so I think that’s where I was like, there is a market here that’s this group of people that are being underserved and that’s where, yeah, that’s where my company came from. That’s where Peak (Peak Wellness Co.) Came from. But it was my own personal experience, I guess. Yeah. Going back about five years now. Okay. It worked for me and then when I could see people still at the same issue, I just felt like you shouldn’t have to have a nervous breakdown too. Access these tools. Does that makes sense.

Sean Grabowski:

Yeah. No, absolutely. I think one thing that I have seen here living in Toronto is that those stress levels are normalized almost. I don’t know if you’re explicitly taught that or if it’s just kind of, you’re taught it through being surrounded by that all the time, but yeah, it’s kind of something that you come to think is what’s supposed to happen.

Kayla Kozan:

Oh, 100%. Yeah.

Sean Grabowski:

Yeah. If you want to have an intensely rewarding career where you have it all going on, that you’re supposed to have that crazy stressed out level of intensity all the time. And I think that’s just very, it’s just not really true know. And you can balance the way that you’re, you can really like go full force by balancing it with some really powerful mindfulness techniques.

Kayla Kozan:

I think so too. And I think you’re right, it’s almost like implicit. Like if you’re just walking around, everyone else seems like they’re in a rush and their stress and like people have a coffee in one hand and they’re on a phone call, then you almost feel like, okay, that’s why I should be doing to like, and it’s, I think stress sometimes we accidentally wear it like it’s like a badge of honor. Like if you’re stressed that means you’re working really hard and you’re pushing yourself. Yeah. It’s something we talked about too. Like it’s not sustainable. Like you can’t do that for very long and, and you know at what cost to your own mental health and your own physical health even, so.

Sean Grabowski:

That’s the interesting part is when you look holistically, most illnesses, the root cause is basically stress. So by kind of learning how to minimize that. You’re actually it affects your bodily health as well. Yeah. Like everything is just kind of an expression of stress. You know, whether you’ve strained your shoulder because you’re even at the gym working too hard. It’s like you’re stressed out that muscle so aggressively and that’s like what all disease manifests from.

Kayla Kozan:

It’s wild. It’s like 80% of visits like your family doctor. I think something like that is like started from some sort of stress. It’s, it affects everything. It’s area asleep and then it’s like a vicious cycle. Like sleep is so key to everything. So when you’re stressed is affecting your sleep, maybe it starts affecting your digestion, your energy, your mental health. It’s, yeah. It’s all so intertwined.

Sean Grabowski:

Yeah, it’s crazy. That’s, yeah. Realistically, that is why I personally meditate. Okay. I have found that when I have a daily regimen of it, I just actually don’t even feel stressed very often. Um and that is not normal for me in terms of my whole life. Yeah. You know, like I, I’ve experienced a lot of stress and I totally just used to assume that that was normal and you can like eat that doesn’t, that you literally don’t have to live that way. And I have pretty much the same life. I mean my life has changed a lot. I’m 28 but yeah. Like I’m doing the same thing. So I probably would be doing otherwise I just meditate a little bit. Mmm. It really can be that simple.

Kayla Kozan:

I think it is. And I think that’s where like we’re starting to see it become so popular is because some of these, the stuff that’s been proved out for like years and years that used to be tied to like maybe a eight week, 16 week course, we’re starting to see that a lot of those same benefits are achieved in, you know, a 20 minute practice. 10 minute practice every single day. And so I think you’re right. This maybe your external stressors are the same but internally, you’re stronger so you don’t, doesn’t like so much anymore. It’s like you’re more resiliency. You can kind of like you’re in charge again. And I think the crazy thing about this is like I can only speak for myself as, yeah, like my entire life. Like going to school, graduating, you think you know yourself or you think you know these tools and you have a good grip on your mental health. But in hindsight I was really oblivious to a lot of probably what would be early symptoms cause I just felt like, yeah, everyone feels stressed. Everyone like, you know, everyone’s having trouble sleeping or there’s like everybody’s like exhausted by work or it feels this inner turmoil. And I think it’s going to change with the education system and how we’re kind of looking, educating people to look up for signs. But you’re right, like I mean when I like adults and for the first time I was face to face with my own mental health and I didn’t actually have really a toolkit. I didn’t even know really what to do. So it’s changing and I hope we, we’re helping to change it.

Sean Grabowski:

And I mean, I think it’s inevitable. You know, it’s kind of one of those things where the science is just so irrefutable that it, can help people and it can help people in organizations and it can help people in all different ways of life that uhm, there are certain things in this world where know they might work but they never really gain traction because it’s kind of a maybe, but. Uh this stuff is just, it’s too established. And that’s why we’re seeing such a rise of it. But I think I have a few questions I want to get into obviously how you’re doing this with organizations. And also just talk about kind of the culture of mental health in Toronto. But before we go into that, I don’t have a super deep grasp on bipolar disorder in general. So I was kinda curious, when you say early symptoms and when you say that while you were kind of going through this, you don’t even know, you didn’t even know what was going on. Like, what were you feeling like, kind of what were you going through at that point in time?

Kayla Kozan:

Yeah, and it’s a weird thing because I can for the most part, some of that, that time is all blurry for me. Like especially when I was first in the hospital just cause you’re on like a lot of stabilizing medications. Like it’s kinda hard for me to even like remember a little bit of that time. But leading up to it, I mean I remember it perfectly you so I can’t speak for everybody but my symptoms by the time I had the nervous breakdown in my office I was experienced mania. So that’s like the high end kind of if you can think of bipolar is having mania and depression. So a hallmark of bipolar one is that you have the mania first. That’s what you experience. And so I mean there’s an increase in like risk taking behaviors. So it’s real, it’s so interesting cause it affects different people in different ways. But like it’s a symptom for someone might be that they just like spent all their money. Like they like you just have, I don’t know, I would describe it as like you’re umm, you don’t really have any fear worries about the future. You’re just like in like you’re just like you spend all your money or maybe like people start partying like really, really hard. You’re barely sleeping, kind of like impulsiveness. Very impulsive. Yeah, that’s a good word for it. And also another thing about it that at least I experienced is like you just don’t, you get this feeling that you’re almost like invincible. And so when other people are asking you like if you’re okay, you get like annoyed. Like I kinda was just like, cause my friends are asking a little bit like it’s all right. I just had some kind of like, I just wasn’t myself, but I felt like people just couldn’t understand me. I get why you’re worried about me, but like I’ve got it together. And so the way that looked in like my office I think is just just like kind of weird conversation, things coming up, inability to focus. So just jumping all over the place, not finishing anything. And yeah, it also really runs on the idea that you’re barely sleeping. So maybe it’s like for like three hours or something and then you go into the office the next day when you’re strung out like you really are. And like I had no appetite, I was just, but yeah, it comes with this kind of like grandiose, like vision of yourself where you’re just like, I’m just living like to the extreme right now in a good way. So you don’t see the negative side. Yeah, I mean that’s again, it was a short period of time for me and I was in a very protected kind of environment because I was like going to work and I had my colleagues who could, you know, keep an eye out maybe, but if you can imagine someone having the exact same symptoms but their lifestyle is like they’re partying or spending money or drinking and doing drugs and whatever it is that it just like snowballs so quickly cause you have no fear. It’s like this weird feeling of like if you’re not worried about the future.

Sean Grabowski:

Interesting. Yeah, I could totally see that. And like I have a story of a friend of mine, I know two other people who have had bipolar disorder or they have it, I guess it’s something you are diagnosed with. And I find it quite interesting because they are quite exceptional people in their lives. The one story, I don’t really know the full story from the other person, but my one friend of mine who was diagnosed basically it was right after university right after graduating. A lot of people experience a lot of stress in that point. I don’t know what you, I did cause it’s so uncertain position. You’re like, what is my life now? I’ve done school. I’m no longer, I’ve literally done the super long education system had been in forever. And you know, everyone’s young if you’re in that depends where, what kind of friends you have. But a lot of people are partying a lot. Yeah. And he kind of just went off the rails and uhmm, yeah. I think he was literally homeless, like put on a lot of weight and then got mental health. He’s a huge advocate for mental health now and runs like, a business that is doing quite well and he’s super healthy and has like a great relationship. He’s, he’s obviously figured out how to manage it. But it’s interesting to hear kind of what you guys I have experienced in that scenario.

Kayla Kozan:

Yeah. I think you’re touching on something that’s really important that is that a lot of the symptoms of mania are celebrated by society. So like in a way I could totally see where without having this like full on nervous breakdown or you don’t have someone that you’re close enough that like gets you to get home. You just feel like you’re the like fun person at that party. Like you people want to go home and you’re like, no, like let’s like it’s your, the life of the party or the like social when you have so much energy and ideas and like a lot of times that’s like celebrated in society. We see it with celebrities as well too. Right? Like a lot of times before they have the actual like nervous breakdown hospitalization, they were at the top of their game. They’re like, it’s so, it’s a weird mania is really weird in that way that I can see. I mean, looking back now, I was just so lucky to be in this scenario that I was in that I got help like immediately. But if that, if you don’t have somebody that’s like kind of watching out for you or somebody who like flagged something is being not normal, then I can totally see how you just go, yeah. You go off the rails.

Sean Grabowski:

Yeah, for sure. I know this is something we were kind of talking about earlier, but right. The culture on mental health seems to be changing quite a lot right now. Okay. Mmm. And especially in the workplace, I kind of curious, like what was it like with you and your company when you were going through all of this? I know that was something we, we kind of touched on really briefly, but I’d love to hear a little bit more about that.

Kayla Kozan:

Yeah, yeah. I love to talk about this because I think it is [inaudible] I had such a positive experience and I know that a lot of people don’t, I dunno if I, I don’t know if it’s, most people don’t, but, and I do think it’s changing, but I had such a positive experience that [inaudible] I like to tell this story whenever I can because I think we get this idea that if you’re struggling with a mental illness, you could never tell anybody that you work with, like it’s game over for your career or like they won’t see you the same way. So the scenario for me specifically as in a really small company or a tech startup where like six people at the time, and I think for a number of different reasons, but just having compassionate colleagues and leadership. Like also the scenario for me is a little weird in that I actually went to the hospital with my boss and my behavior was so unlike me at that time that I think he saw there was something wrong and he, nobody knew what was wrong. Like even in the doctors or anything, you really have to go through, like you have to be hospitalized for a while before you get to kind of a diagnosis. So I think maybe the fact that he saw that early on and I mean he communicated to my parents right away, like whatever she’s going through, whatever it is. Like we want her back. So the job is still here, like if she has like cancer or mental illness or whatever’s going on, the job is still here. And so while I had no touch with reality on that, any point in that time, like at least my parents like could kind of hold that and be like, okay, well like get back to kind of thing. Because I did leave, I mean I left the province immediately and I went straight into the hospital. So I didn’t get to communicate with them any of my friends or anyone that I had a relationship with. I was just like gone in one day and so at least like my office and my parents could communicate and specifically in my scenario, it took me about five months to get back to like a stable place coming out of the mania and understanding my illness and what lifestyle changes I needed to make. But I was, I was so ready to go back to work. Like I, every day I was off work to me felt like a reflection that I was still sick. So I was like I need to get back. That’ll prove that like, I can get through this, I can manage it. And I think too, I was like, I know that there’s like diagnosis is of major mental almost. It takes people like years to get through. But like not me, like I’m like I’m like more efficient or something, I really had and maybe it’s cause I was like 22 years old, with that invincibility. Whereas like you know what, five months to go. I got it down. I’ll go back to work now and I was set to go back to work and it was like the couple of weeks just leading up to that. Then I fell into the depression. So that was kind of the counterbalance of going from mania to stable and to the depression and I mean my psychiatrist basically it was like this is like, you’re not doing anything wrong. This is textbook. You know, you’re kinda like, you’re just balancing back out now you’re in the depressive phase. So although I thought I would be going back to work, my psychiatrist was like, you need to take another six months off. And so at 22 you think that’s like a lifetime. I was like, what do you mean another six months off? And at that time too, I think what a lot of people would have experienced and what I was worried about was like, okay, my work was like the candle for me this far and I’m supposed to go back. But now if I have to be off for another six months, they don’t have to hold that job for me anymore. Like now I had been off work longer than I’d even worked with that company. So they really have at least from a legal standpoint of they have no obligations at all really. There’s barely anything so it just came to like a moral decision for them. And so because I was depressed, I had no confidence in myself. I, it was like the opposite. Like I was like I’m not good at this job. If they’re saying they want me back, it’s only cause they feel bad for me. Like your mind is just 100% against you. So I was just in that space. I was very discouraged. I was barely keeping in touch with them just because I was embarrassed. I felt like…

Sean Grabowski:

You were already kind of detaching yourself almost?

Kayla Kozan:

Totally. Like I just felt like if I communicate with them, that’s an opportunity for them to tell me there’s no spot for me to come back. And I think especially because all my family and everything was in Regina that if I wasn’t coming back to this job, I didn’t know if I would come back to Toronto. It was like, it was just such a crazy place to like, yeah, feel all these variables and then not have your work is like your rock or your pillar. But the story, I’ll tell you this story because I, I mean I think it’s a really good, it gives a really good idea of where they were for me. I hadn’t really kept in touch with them at all. My parents did early in the beginning and then maybe I sent a couple of emails here and there, but again, I was like really? Just like I was ready to just get an email one day being like, we, we can’t, I don’t know what I thought. I would say like we can’t hold this position for you anymore or something like that. And so it was just one afternoon and I see my phone is ringing, my boss is calling and I’m petrified. Like, I, I think that conversation is going to be like, “Hey, we want you to start thinking about other things”. Your mind goes to the worst place. And so I pick up the call and he’s like, Hey, it’s like good to hear your voice. You don’t have to tell me right now, like don’t have to make any decisions right now, but I just want to know, I want you to know like December 21st we’re having our Christmas party and like you’re still invited. I don’t know if you’re in Toronto or Regina right now, but yeah, you know, you’re, you’re still part of the team and like you’re still invited. And I think that to me it was like, it was such a vote of confidence of like either when I had no competence for myself, they were like, you can still come back. You’re still like on this team. And I know that so many people never get that. They don’t have that vote of confidence. And so it meant so much to me. And so I’m like on the phone, I’m like, thank you so much. But I’m still in Regina, like there’s, there’s no way I’ll be able to make it, but thank you for, you know, the invite and it, and it meant so much at that time. I remember just being like, when you’re depressed, it’s like you can’t really get your normal level of joy. It’s like, it’s like barred off to you. Like I couldn’t like feel like joy, but at least I felt like elevated by it. And then 30 seconds later, like he’s calling again. I see it. And now I’m just like, Oh, now he called me by accident and now it’s going t o be just awkward. I’m pick up my phone and talk to him again or pick up. And he’s like, Hey, yeah. I’m like, you don’t have to decide right now, but you know, we just talked about it and would you be able to come to the Christmas party if we flew you here? And I was like, yeah, you know, like, I mean it was like, and they flew me in and I felt like I was like Drake, like I came, I flew in for a party and then it’s like, but I think what was so impactful about that is this is a startup with like five, six employees. They do not have to do this. They don’t necessarily have the money to do this kind of thing. And, and they still did it and it was like, it was just an unbelievable vote of confidence. And so I know that a lot of employers don’t have this ability or this flexibility let’s say. But what I would say if you are, does it matter if you’re in leadership or if you are at like the same level, but if there’s someone that you work with that is off work for any illness, mental or physical or whatever it is. Just knowing that they’re probably trying really hard to get back to work. Like I think there’s this misconception that like people take stress leave because they just want to chill or something. But at least in my experience, I wanted nothing more than to get back to work. So maybe suspending that judgment a little bit and seeing if like maybe you do just send them an email or you know, a tax or whatever it is and like you might be the most competence they have in themselves right now. And so yeah, it’s six months later I was back to work full time and I spent five more years at that company. So…

Sean Grabowski:

Wow. You must’ve made a really good impact there as well. Early on. Not only did what did they have very compassionate leadership yeah, you obviously had really made your Mark with with their team.

Kayla Kozan:

Yeah. It was a small company. So I think to like in that way we almost operated like a family in the beginning or we were working like six people in like a tiny little attic for a while. And so you do, I think, develop relationships really quickly. But yeah, I think the smaller the company, maybe that’s easier to do. But even at a big company, I think if you’re on a small team, like you can, you can have those relationships pretty formed pretty early.

Sean Grabowski:

Yeah. Well that’s great. I know it is kind of a, an interesting topic to kind of discuss the growing awareness of mental health. But also how people are approaching it. Like for someone like yourself when you’re actually in, you know, getting psychiatric care. Mmm. I think it’s really a lot of people, there’s still kind of this ying and yang of perspectives with mental health and stuff. Mmm. And I think it’s important to recognize that if you’re diagnosed with something where it actually is something that you need help with you’re kind of in a state of, I guess I don’t know what you’d call it, mental abnormality at the time. To really be compassionate for those people because it is a form of disease.

Kayla Kozan:

Yeah. 100%.

Sean Grabowski:

And then there is this other side, which I’m not, I don’t really know. I don’t, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing necessarily, but for example, I have a friend who I’m at Western, she runs the accommodative exams. And because mental health is becoming a much more accepted topic, I hear a lot of stories about people skipping exams and how this is becoming a really big problem there. Not specifically at Western but just in the education system. And I even think of some of my friends who, you know, have almost abused that title of mental illness and it’s, it’s kind of like a little bit of a shame because there are people who need that care and this is important stuff that people need to take seriously. And there are some people out there abusing it. I kind of think, but then again, I’m sure that’s something that society will kind of balance out on its own.

Kayla Kozan:

Yeah, I think it’s self correcting. I think like it’s a really short term prospective to be like, Oh, I’m with skip this exam because, you know, I think that I do think that will self correct and I think you’re right. But what happens with those stories, like if you, even if you hear a story and then you tell to five other people that it wasn’t even you. Let’s say it’s like your, like your friend’s friend, like got off work for three months and they just like pretend that they had some stress leave and they were actually just chilling. Like I think those stories, people like those stories cause they’re very [inaudible] you can gossip about those kinds of stories and you can be like, well I heard she wasn’t even sick or whatever. But unfortunately I think that narrative is really overblown in terms of like what percentage of people are actually abusing the system. And I think it really hurts people who are off work. And like I said, like you just want to get back to work so badly. And so, yeah, I mean it’s tough. I do think there will be always people who, lean on it or abused the system in that way. But I can at least speak for myself. And so because I spent so much time in support groups afterwards, like mood disorders, support groups, and like outpatient therapy that, in those scenarios we all wanted to get back to work so badly. We all wanted to like fast forward and just get back to work because I do think there’s a you get this kind of feedback to yourself when you can’t go to work that it really feeds into the depressive, you know, cycle in your mind it’s like you can’t go back to work cause you’re sick. You can’t go back to our chip because your second, like, since you’re not at work, you’re sick and it’s just like, it feeds off of itself. And so work is such a important part of people’s identity in what they do and how they value themselves that once you can do that. It’s a really, like, it’s a hard spiral to get out of. So I think, I mean I really think you have to give people the benefit of the doubt that they want to be back just as bad as you know.

Sean Grabowski:

Yeah. They don’t want to be off work. It’s not a good place to Oh absolutely. Yeah. I know it’s an interesting topic but like attaching, this is kind of a more metaphors, physical conversation save for later. But we live in kind of a society where self worth is always attached to somethingYeah. And there’s this guy, he’s kind of a hippie but I listen to his podcast named Aubrey Marcus. A really interesting guy. The way that he looks at perspectives regardless of how much of a hippie he is. But he talks about this in almost every episode and it started to really get drilled into me because I see where I do it cause I personally attach myself worth based on the things that I do. That’s why I, I’m a high producing person, which I like, you know, that is going to create a lot of freedom for me in my life and whatnot and a lot of valuable experiences. But, when I stop and chill I have a hard time cause I feel like I’m becoming a loser because my self worth is totally attached to something. It’s attached to how much I create or something like that. And, I’m sure that, Mmm. Not like being off work, realizing that you’re not actually, you’re not able to go to work, make your salary, take care of yourself. Being able to, you know, be self-sustaining is a huge part of being, I don’t know, like just confident and feeling good. Yeah. I’m as simple as your life might be or as complicated as it is either.

Kayla Kozan:

Regardless, it’s such a negative feedback loop because you, you can’t go into work, so you’re like, that means I must be sick and so you’re sick so you can’t go into work and it just like spirals in you. And I think that speaking for me when like for the most part I knew I could get either back into that job or like that I had some employable skills, let’s say. Also, I’m only at that time like really looking out, I only need to support myself. So you can imagine if there’s like someone who grew up in an older generation than us, even. They’re, let’s say 55, they’re like the breadwinner for their family and now they’re off work for the first time. Like how much that actually like destroys their identity. They’ve spent their whole life going to work and like providing them, providing. So I think they really struggle when they’re off work. And oftentimes those people are also the people who are getting the worst help. Like there, they’re not getting that much help from the organization. So it’s like you just see, I think you’re absolutely right. We build our self worth and our identity out of what we do every day. And so if that means going into an office now, you can’t go into that office. Right. And especially if that means you’re not getting paid anymore. Yeah. It’s so hard to crawl out of that.

Sean Grabowski:

Big time. Okay, before we talk about this stuff for too long. I don’t want to waste all of our time here, but like I was saying and kind of we were discussing earlier, there’s, I think that there are a lot of trends of change and progress in these areas. And because you’re someone who’s going into organizations and kind of facilitating a mindfulness based training and meditations and kind of teaching organizations how to take care of mental health and whatever else it is that kind of shows compassion to their employees. I’d love to hear from your perspective what you’re seeing in organizations and just the world of business in general.

Kayla Kozan:

Yeah, 100%. It is such a good feeling to see, I think maybe what I’ve seen even the last six months. And that is big business talking about like corporations, enterprise size, some of the biggest companies in North America, Mmm. Are really starting to pay attention. And I think that half of the reason maybe that got companies going down this role road is I’m noticing like the staggering amount of burnout, how much people are just stressed with their workload in general. People who are on short term disability, long term disability. And I think maybe the first motivation might’ve been more of like a business case. Like we’re losing all these people or the turnover so high, it’s so expensive, dah, dah, dah. Okay. But at least from what I’ve seen in the last, yeah. Six months is the conversation is turning from just pure like bottom line type thing to more of a moral conversation of like what is our responsibility to our employees, whether they’re frontline staff or their middle managers over leadership. Like what is our responsibility as a company, as an organization to support them through whatever they’re going through. And it’s, I heard a really interesting story actually recently where a company was, wasn’t even particularly a specific uhmm mental health issue, but this person was like dealing with, so they have a manager who’s dealing with addiction. So she was kind of saying like in their old world maybe they would’ve put this person on like a some sort of disability claim and no one really would’ve talked about it. And then eventually they probably just wouldn’t come back to work. She was like, that’s kind of the way we would have done it like 20 years ago. But now this company, they’re investing in like addiction support. So this person I went to rehab like, I’m not sure if they, what percentage of their salary was paid while they were doing that. But you know, I think they looked around and they were like, this person’s a human just like I’m a human. They’re in a rough spot and we can help them get out and we can employ them afterwards. And like that is just, that’s personally how I think it should be. And that person, if you’re again looking just like purely business lens, that person will be so loyal to your company now. They’re, they can become a leader. They can like progress, like these, these issues we run into, whether it’s mental illness, stress or burnout or addiction, they can be short term. So maybe it is something you get cleaned up in like a year or two and you come back and I think that conversation is changing. Also. I think it’s becoming a little more proactive. So, giving people more benefits when they’re on short term or long term disability is a reactive response. They’re like, okay, well they’re already off work, so, but let’s give them a little more support when they’re off work. But I think it’s becoming a lot more proactive. They’re like, wait, can we actually just stop people for meeting to leave work? How can we reduce this burnout, stress reduction, all that. Even resiliency and mindfulness training. It is just such a popular topic because people are saying we can spend the same amount of money in a lot of times less money and have less people like running into these huge psychological issues that it’s the bottom line. But now it’s just a moral, a moral thing where they’re like, we don’t want to do this anymore. We don’t want to be this like pressure cooker. We can help support people. So I think it is like from what I’ve seen is only inspiring and moving in a positive way.

Sean Grabowski:

And that is awesome. You know? I would say six months ago is when I started researching how this is affecting businesses quite a bit and reading a lot about that. And even then, you know, just ignoring the complete moral standpoint on this. There was a lot of evidence that it’s literally a profitable choice for companies to invest in this stuff. Like you’re saying, number one is that mindfulness-based training techniques? Mmm. They foster resiliency in the first place. You know, a lot of people, including myself, I used to do that stuff when I would feel stressed out. I felt like I was quite an anxious person maybe before I started practicing these things and it was like a risk. It was like a reactive thing. Every time I felt stressed, I would hide away, give myself a day or two and like do mindfulness stuff until I felt better. And, and then I kind of just learned about the fact that if you just make a routine of it, you just don’t even get hit in the first place. Yeah. Mmm. But yeah, like it can be just legitimately profitable for the company for that exact reason. And yeah, I mean it’s kind of interesting, like all the little things that accumulate when your workforce is stressed out. You know, I even look at it times at my office, like I really am not that stressed out. I work at a pretty cool, but there are people who they’re like, I’m stressed, I’m going to go for a walk. And they go for a walk, they come back half an hour later. They’re super not productive. They go for lunch. They’re basically a write off for like a day or two. Mmm. And that is, that’s all over the place.

Kayla Kozan:

It’s Really expensive too. Deloitte actually put on a steady a couple of weeks ago, very recently. And I mean for this field it is like, it’s like golden tickets. It, I think it’s what anyone in this space would have expected to happen. But now they came back with data and they are taking a look at again, enterprise size companies, so massive companies and for every dollar that they put into mental health support. So some sort of training, different types of programs. But any dollar they put in, they calculated the ROI to be a dollar and 62 cents. So to me it’s like…

Sean Grabowski:

That’s huge.

Kayla Kozan:

I mean it’s a, it’s amazing for me and very, you know, the place, the industry. But to me like if I was like, Hey, there’s this bank and if you put in $1,000 you’ll get it $1,620 back. I mean you’d go to that bank every day. So I think it’s, it’s what we in the industry would have expected to see. But this is like, it really, really helps build the business case. And you’re right, you’re touching on a couple of things. Like absenteeism is a huge problem. Absenteeism, we can at least kind of calculate how many people, like how many days are people off work per year. But what’s an even crazier? And I think more threatening problem to your workforce is presenteeism. So you’re in the office, but your mind is not there. You’re like somewhere else. So whether you’re worried about your finance, your mental health, anything, whatever it is, it’s taking away from your productivity and presenteeism is like a beast. We don’t even know how to calculate. So you’re right if that, like if that takes six hours out of your work day, but that happens once a week, then that is really expensive for an employer.

Sean Grabowski:

Big time. Yeah. I mean that drug, that thing you mentioned previously about the employee that had a drug addiction, that that company was taking kind of a rehab based approach. I mean, this is a little off topic. I mean, not really, it’s totally on what we’re discussing, but just on the addiction side and the way that society views drugs. Yeah. There’s a documentary I watched just the other day called rat park. Kind of a funny show, but yeah. Yeah. I like randomly saw an ad on YouTube. Obviously it worked because I went on crave right away and watched it. But it’s a documentary produced by vice and bell. I never knew V bell was involved in like producing documentaries and stuff, but yeah. And it’s about how countries around the world are approaching drug addiction. Okay. And it’s just, I would recommend anyone watch it. Just such an eyeopening look on, on what exactly drug addiction is. Because is it criminal to have? It’s a mental, it’s a mental, it’s basically a mental illness. Yeah. And we’re classifying it as criminal. It’s like these people have got to the point where they can’t help but need that. Yeah. And their whole life is crumbling because of it. And we’re telling them that they’re horrible because of that. You know, it’s kind of very backwards. And in the documentary, you know, I’m sure you’ve probably heard about this, they touch on Portugal and how Portugal decriminalized everything. And instead of throwing people in jail, well it’s still illegal. You know, you’re not allowed to go buy drugs and you’re not allowed to be a drug dealer, but instead of investing in keeping people in cells and feeding them meals, they throw those people in rehab facilities and give them methadone that they need to ween off drugs or just be functional society. And it’s like not only, again, it’s like a profitable from just an overall country economy standpoint by a huge degree. It’s way cheaper to help someone than to put them in jail forever. It’s like changing the entire way the society even looks at drug addicts. In Portugal people look at drug addicts as people who have a mental disorder and just need some help. Yeah. They don’t look at them as somebody who should be in jail.

Kayla Kozan:

Totally. And that shift is like, it’s crazy, right? Because I think a lot of, and this helped happens with mental illness as well, and also the concept of a dual diagnosis. So you have a mental illness diagnosis and, and the interplay with that and an addiction you might have. So it’s very common type of dual diagnosis. So maybe you have bipolar disorder and you’re an alcoholic. Well, usually when you strip back a lot of those air like layers, it’s, that person was self-medicating because they didn’t have the proper support and tools for Their mental illness and they are self-medicating with some sort of drag or stimulant and now they have both. And it’s like, okay, that person is just at such a disadvantage at that time they’re so fragile because of both of those afflictions that how can we treat them like, okay, criminals, it’s okay if they need so much they need help and, and I think, yeah, that would be a really interesting space as well. Just understanding that better and like, yeah, what, what can we actually do that works.Yeah, that’s really interesting.

Sean Grabowski:

Yeah, I foresee that being a huge thing. I would imagine that there’s probably conversations happening in Canada about that already because yeah, you know that things will catch government’s attention, but they catch them a lot more when it’s profitable and it’s helping the people. Unfortunately that that’s what it’s like being in a capitalist world. But when it ha when it has those double whammies, that’s when you know that something is going to be taken very seriously. So yeah, that’s what I think is going to happen with drug addictions. I think that’s going to start hitting most progressive countries in the world. Just like mindfulness based stress reduction techniques and all of those different things. So, if you had to give an everyday person, actually let’s start at an organizational level.

Kayla Kozan:

Okay.

Sean Grabowski:

If you were talking to an organization, how would you recommend they approach this kind of situation if they might have a stressed out workforce or just they’re in a position where that’s something that they are starting to look into?

Kayla Kozan:

Yeah. I think there’s a couple of things that I’ve seen as being really effective. The F the first thing I would say is a lot of companies I’ve been working with recently, they have internal, they call them resource groups. So say you’re a big bank, it doesn’t really matter how big you are? But a lot of the big companies will have this, so maybe they have an internal resource group that is [inaudible] yeah. Around some sort of hobby. So that’s like, or like you have like a softball team or something. Right. But I think what’s really interesting is these big companies are starting to build internal resource groups around mental illness, disabilities in the workplace. There’s one one of the really large accounting firms is doing, they have a, they call it, they’re differently abled group. So whether that is you have an illness, mental illness, physical illness, any type of like, just something that normally we would consider a diagnosis or a disability. They are flipping the narrative on that and being like, all these people are still at work. There’s like extremely valuable employee. So I don’t want to think about this differently. So I think internal resource groups are very effective. A lot of the speaking opportunities that I have are usually, a lot of the times they’re, they’re brought to light because of these groups. So they’re saying we want to have someone come in and speak about mental health or mindfulness or it could be anything like they want a nutritionist or they want to bring in like, so they’re kind of like self organizing. And so I’ve seen that be really effective. The other thing that I always, well we tell the organizations and especially big organizations is that to start some of these things, they can start them right away and they don’t need to reinvent the wheel. So something we do in our workshops, we’ll like talk about mindfulness, mental health and we take a little break and we’re like people discuss at their tables and in their groups what they like to do, what they already like to do. That’s mindful. So taking like the idea that you need to be like on a mountain, meditating, that there’s things that you probably already do that are mindful. So maybe that’s like you like to go for a run or you like to knit or you like to cook, bake, garden, all those things that like you and I probably can think of as more like mindful activities. But if you’re new to this whole space and this language, you don’t think of those necessarily as mindfulness. They’re like hobbies to you. So something we do really early in the session is we ask people to like talk at their table about what mindful activities they already do. And then we come back two minutes later and we asked people what came up for you? And everybody has something like maybe it’s just listening to music or they like to go for a walk or when they’re spending time with their kids or their puppy or whatever it is. Everyone has something. And I think we can consider those already mindfulness practices. So then by the end of the session, we usually say all you really need to do just to get started, low hanging fruit right away is ask your team what they already do. That’s mindful. Okay. And either build programs or benefits around that because I think sometimes what happens at a large company is they’re like, okay, we need a mental health initiative so we need to build a steering committee and the steering committee should have 18 people on it and we’re going to meet every two months and we’ll come up with a five year plan of like how to address this. And it’s like, it’s very well intentioned, but you see how slow something like that, how long it takes to actually affect a lot of people. Where I really think a lot of people are doing these things already. If you want to hold more like mindful meetings, you can start with little mini meditations at the beginning of each meeting. That’s something we usually tell employers. Like you can do this in two minutes. Or some of the companies that we work with, they start just self-organizing. So every Tuesday at lunch they will listen to a guided meditation together and it’s not mandatory. It’s like we’re going to be in this room if you want to come sit down and do a meditation on Tuesdays. That’s what we do. And those, I think those are the companies who are really seeing results quickly because they’re just like breaking down some of those walls, but they’re not doing this huge crazy initiative that’s going to take all these resources. So I really think no matter what size of company you are, there’s low hanging fruit. There’s things company is already doing That you can either pour a little more resources into or you usually just bring more attention to and it’s still really effective.

Sean Grabowski:

That’s interesting. Cool. Because I guess what those companies are doing is they’re normalizing it too. Because that is one of the biggest barriers is people find meditation is this strange unattainable thing. Yeah. Okay. I like what you said that when you were saying that everyone kind of has this thing that is their own version of meditation.

Kayla Kozan:

Totally.

Sean Grabowski:

Before I even started meditation, aye used to say, people would ask me like, why do you like snowboarding? Because that’s something that I’m super passionate about. And I kind of came up with this idea one day when I was like, why do I even like it so much? Because it’s almost addicting for me. And it’s kind of the way I described it, I was like, it’s like as much as it’s quite intense, like I’m in a terrain park hitting features and i’m actually riding quite intensely. But for me it’s like the most calming experience ever. And it’s because you ha, you can’t just fly out a jump and be thinking about there. There’s no mental chatter. You’re just doing that like its flow state at its finest. Yeah. and you know, there’s a lot of research about extreme athletes because it’s one of the things that your brain has to be 100% zoned in to be able to do. And I always described it that way. Mmm. And that really is kind of what all of this stuff is about, you know, being more present. When you kind of train your brain to just pay attention to what’s happening right in front of you. You don’t have to take the opposite approach where you’re trying to quiet your mind, just practice paying attention to one thing and your mind just happens to quiet everything else.

Kayla Kozan:

Totally. Yeah, I think that’s really important in this space. Something we kind of talked about it as like it is our responsibility to get as many people acquainted with mindfulness as possible without making it like unattainable. So I actually think one of the things, easiest things we can do is to help show people that they already have like mindful activities or mindful habits and it’s maybe just a, a matter of training those and becoming a little more rigid with the way that you do them. But I think you’re absolutely right. That’s like the classic example that I usually lean on is you know, if people are like, I can’t do anything mindfully, my mind is just 100% going all the time, is like swimming. Like you got it. You just got to swim. You know, you can’t have that much going on in your brain. Just, you’re just trying to stay afloat. And I think if you can take that to snowboarding or to reading or journaling or whatever it is, it’s it, it’s the same principle or just that everybody will come to it in different ways. And I think it is our responsibility to you know, really preach that idea. There’s not just one way to do this.

Sean Grabowski:

Yeah, absolutely. Awesome. Well, you know, I’ve had a lot of people on this show. I do have a diverse amount of guests, but I feel like a lot of them lately have been specifically people in this space. And everyone kind of has their own approach when discussing this, whether it’s somebody who’s more of a Yogi or somebody who’s teaching mindfulness more for the high performance aspect of, you know, training your brain to be able to focus harder, things like that. Okay. It’s been cool to kind of discuss taking the actual mental health approach to it. It’s something I kind of glaze over in almost everything. So thanks for sharing your story. I’m super happy to have you on as a guest and kind of learn what you’re all about. And yeah, maybe we can do this again sometime.

Kayla Kozan:

Yeah. Thank you so much. I think I would like toss that question back to you too. Like when you see yourself in just your day to day now, like you’ve done a lot of work in setting habits and starting to kind of like build up this mindful lifestyle for you. How do you feel like it impacts your mental health?

Sean Grabowski:

Oh man. It’s a complete one 80 from the way I used to be. You know? I think my life had a lot of uncertainty after university and that’s really what drove me to just experience anxiety in a lot of ways. Yeah. But mindfulness and meditation has you know, I’ve used it to kind of reprogram the way that my subconscious mind kind of works. Because I think on default, I used to think quite negatively. Kind of like what you were saying when you’re in your recovery stage. Obviously it wasn’t that severe, but Mmm. You know, my default thinking was ‘you can’t do that’. Like you don’t, you just finished university. Now you have to go into the workforce and somehow establish yourself, that’s going to be hard. You probably can’t do that. So I’ve really worked on journaling and affirmations and stuff to totally reprogram the way that my default thinking is. And I’ve seen incredible improvements. I would say your thoughts are kind of what create your reality. As much as it’s kind of an esoteric thing to say, that’s like the number one thing for me. And then just the stress, resiliency, you know, I, I’m able to focus in and be present in my work and in my relationships and in conversations and and I just like, don’t, I just as crazy as it is, I like it. I never feel stressed to the same degree as I used to. Like it never gets to me. If it does get to me, I, I’m very good at recognizing this is just something I’m experiencing and it’s going to pass which is never the way I used to think of it. So for myself, those are the, the ways that it’s helped me. Yeah.

Kayla Kozan:

And I mean, you’re helping a lot of people too.

Sean Grabowski:

Hopefully, hopefully, and yeah, I mean, I’ve got plans to share a lot more stuff in this space, so like I was telling you, but there’ll be more to come. It’s a, it’s a fun, it’s a fun world being part of something that’s, that’s exponentially growing.

Kayla Kozan:

Yeah, absolutely.

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