Reducing Financial Stress: The Healthy Gift to Yourself in 2018

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who charged gifts or purchased items on store credit during the holiday season, the joy of giving is now being surpassed by the anxiety of coming up with the extra money to pay your bills. For many, one of the unwelcome “gifts” that follow the holiday season is increased financial stress of dealing with debt.

There’s an insidious nature to how we spend money, how we talk with our significant others about it, and the impact finances have on our mental and physical health. Worrying about money and debt causes increased anxiety, sleeplessness, depression, and stress that taxes our hearts, contributes to high blood pressure, aggravates stomach issues like acid reflux and ulcers, and can lead to strokes and heart disease.

Three out of four American families are in debt and the weight of all that anxiety can become more apparent in our performance in the workplace, as well. Whether it’s lack of sleep, irritability, lower productivity or increased absenteeism due to the side effects of stress and depression, money woes cost us professionally and personally across a wide spectrum. Unhealthy spending behaviors and debt are a major cause of relationship problems and often cited as a contributing factor in many divorces and breakups.

Coping through planning and daily focus

There’s a difference between active coping and comfort coping – some of us eat more, spend more, or devise short-term solutions. Instead we should be thinking about informed, collaborative planning and strategies for dealing with our money issues. Creating goals is important–working toward a home purchase, a special vacation, college, or retirement savings. We need a clear game plan and tools to help realize our dreams. So it’s important to think long term, but live with short-term daily strategies, as well.

Employers pay attention to the health and well-being of their employees, so why should employees’ financial health be any less important? Financial experts and coaches are available to come into the workplace for “lunch and learn” or after-work discussions, and employers can encourage employees to seek outside counseling and guidance.

Here are tips to share for improving financial health:

  • Make a budget. While it sounds simple, many people fail to truly organize their financial lives and understand what they bring in and what they can afford. Is it possible that you spend $25 a week on coffee? Sure it is – and that’s okay, if you can afford the extra hundred dollars a month. If you have a detailed budget and you stick to it, buying things during the day that make you happy is okay. If you can’t pay your bills, you may consider making your own coffee at home for a fraction of the price.
  • Track your expenses. Write it in a notebook, record it on your computer, or download one of the many spending applications like Mint or PocketGuard. Tracking what you spend is an important way to understanding your spending habits, course correcting, and establishing a realistic budget.
  • Avoid credit or use it wisely. Credit cards can be a good way to build your credit, but only if you use them infrequently and wisely. If you can afford something, buy it with cash or use a debit card. Use a credit card as a last resort for important purchases you don’t have the money for upfront, but be diligent about paying it off as quickly as possible to avoid exorbitant finance charges.
  • Talk to others about your financial concerns. Share your worries and issues with people close to you, especially your partner. The stigma and shame that accompanies money problems – and the weight of hiding those pressures – causes stress, anxiety and depression, as well. Good communication and honesty helps alleviate some of the stress and the sense of hopelessness that comes with every bill or debt collector’s call.
  • Consult a financial expert.You don’t need investment income to seek guidance from a financial planner or consultant. They can help you devise a savings strategy, prioritize your debt, build your budget, and plan for the future more effectively.
  • Refinance your debt. Consolidation loans with a lower monthly finance charge can help you rid yourself of credit cards. If you can, pay more than the minimum monthly payment and avoid missed payments.

There also are services available to help negotiate payment plans and for consolidating debt, but many of them charge a service fee for this assistance. Look for support groups, free counseling services, and programs such as Debtors Anonymous (DA), a confidential 12-step program available online and across the country, where people with debt or spending issues can come together to examine solutions to their money issues, and find fellowship and support.

Money challenges us all, and there’s no reason to think that’s going to change. If we avoid being vague or frivolous about how, what, and when we spend, we can take a big step toward changing and improving our financial health, as well as our overall health and wellness.


If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

New Lung Cancer Screening Reduces Deaths Through Early Detection

New screening technologies are being used to help identify potential health issues earlier in patients who may be at risk of contracting certain cancers.

Symptoms of lung cancer usually don’t appear until the disease is already at an advanced, non-curable stage. Even if there are symptoms, many people may mistake them for other problems, such as an infection or long-term effects from smoking.

Screening is the use of tests or exams to find a disease in people who don’t have symptoms. Doctors have looked for many years for a good screening test for lung cancer, but only in recent years has research shown that a test known as a low-dose CT (LDCT) scan can help lower the risk of dying from this disease.

The National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) was a large clinical trial that looked at using LDCT scans of the chest to screen for lung cancer. CT scans of the chest provide more detailed pictures than chest x-rays and are better at finding small abnormal areas in the lungs. Low-dose CT of the chest uses lower amounts of radiation than a standard chest CT and does not require the use of intravenous (IV) contrast dye. LDCTs expose people to a small amount of radiation with each test.

The trial compared LDCT of the chest to x-rays in people at high risk of lung cancer to see if these scans could help lower the risk of dying from lung cancer. The study included more than 50,000 people aged 55 to 74 who were current or former smokers and were in fairly good health. The study did not include people if they had a prior history of lung cancer or lung cancer symptoms, if they had part of a lung removed, if they needed to be on oxygen at home to help them breathe, or if they had other serious medical problems.

People in the study got either three LDCT scans or three chest x-rays, each a year apart, to look for abnormal areas in the lungs that might be cancer. After several years, the study found that people who got LDCT had a 20 percent lower chance of dying from lung cancer than those who got chest x-rays. They were also 7 percent less likely to die overall (from any cause) than those who got chest x-rays.

Screening with LDCT also had some downsides. For example, because it is more sensitive to abnormalities (as many as one in four tests) this may lead to additional tests such as other CT scans or more invasive tests such as needle biopsies or even surgery to remove a portion of lung in some people. These tests can sometimes lead to complications, even in people who do not have cancer (or who have very early stage cancer).

Guidelines for lung cancer screening

The cost for a low-dose CT scan as a screening test for lung cancer is generally about $300 for each test, but prices vary widely at different centers. Under the Affordable Care Act, most private insurers must cover the cost of yearly lung cancer screening in people considered at high risk: aged 55 to 80, with a 30 pack-year history of smoking, and either a current smoker or quit within the last 15 years. Medicare also covers the cost of lung cancer screening in people considered at high risk, although the age range is slightly different (55 to 77 years).

According to the American Cancer Society, people who meet all of the following criteria may be good candidates for lung cancer screening:

  • 55 to 74 years old
  • In fairly good health
  • Have at least a 30 pack-year smoking history
  • Are either still smoking or have quit smoking within the last 15 years

Screening should only be done at facilities that have the right type of CT scanner and experience using LDCT scans for lung cancer screening.

If you fit all of the criteria, you should talk to your doctor or health care provider about screening and if it’s right for you. If you smoke, you should consider counseling about stopping. Screening is not a good alternative to stopping smoking, but it’s one more way you can take a more active role in helping to prevent or potentially reduce the risk of contracting a serious disease like lung cancer.


Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Catching the Right Kind of Island Fever

As the thermometer lingers in the single digits, snow piles up and the cold winter wind chills us to the bone, a tropical vacation becomes more appealing every day. If you’re planning an island escape this winter–or any time of year, for that matter–there are several warnings to heed before you venture to areas of the world where diseases that are rare here can be rampant.

Because the risk for certain diseases varies greatly depending on where you’re going, it’s important to know as much about your itinerary as possible. This is true whether you are traveling with a guided tour or planning your own visit. When you review your itinerary, be sure to consider:

  • Where you will be traveling, including whether you will be in urban or rural areas
  • How long you will visit
  • What season you will visit
  • Lodging conditions (air conditioning, open-air tents, or screened-in house or room)
  • Mode of travel
  • Food
  • Planned activities

Travelers should get vaccinated before visiting certain areas of the world to help protect them from serious illnesses. Travel vaccines are safe, effective ways to help protect travelers from bringing home more than they bargained for. There are a variety of other simple precautions to consider, as well. You can check which vaccinnes are recommended or required by visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Travel Center.

Hand washing is critical, as is carrying around an alcohol-based sanitization gel. It’s also important to know which foods are safe to eat, drinking water that is bottled or boiled to get rid of organisms, and to be careful about other bottled, carbonated drinks.

Some of the nastiest ailments in the world fall under the category of “tropical diseases.” In 2015, the Caribbean became a recognized hub for the Zika Virus, a health threat predominantly for pregnant women. Additionally, Chikungunya is an illness caused by a virus that spreads through mosquito bites. The most common symptoms of chikungunya are fever and joint pain. Other symptoms may include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling, or rash.

Travelers who go to Africa, Asia, parts of Central and South America, islands in the Indian Ocean, Western and South Pacific, and to the Caribbean are at risk. The mosquito that carries chikungunya virus bites primarily during the daytime, both indoors and outdoors, and often lives around buildings in urban areas. There is no vaccine or medicine to prevent chikungunya. The only way to prevent chikungunya is to prevent mosquito bites. That can be difficult, but it is important, as you can get sick after just one bite.

Using insect repellant religiously and liberally, wearing long sleeves and hats, and sleeping under mosquito netting when outdoors or in open conditions are important safety considerations. Specific drugs are used to prevent malaria and should be used by travelers to certain regions.

Other travel-related health risks

While oceanfront dining often means the freshest seafood, in some underdeveloped countries, a lack of sufficient plumbing can lead to waterborne illnesses.

Bivalves such as oysters and clams filter large amounts of water when feeding. If shellfish are living in water that has been contaminated with stool containing the hepatitis A virus, the shellfish may carry the virus. People then may get it when they eat the raw or undercooked shellfish. To reduce the chance of getting sick, make sure that shellfish have been cooked thoroughly.

You also can catch the disease if you drink water or food that’s been contaminated with the stool of someone with the virus. Other ways to get infected with hepatitis A include:

  • Eating fruits, vegetables, or other foods that were contaminated during handling
  • Eating raw shellfish harvested from water that’s got the virus in it
  • Swallowing contaminated ice

Protective measures include getting vaccinated for hepatitis A and B, and making sure your children get vaccinated as well. The CDC recommends the vaccine for all children starting at one year old.

If you’re cooking on your own in foreign countries, practice good hygiene habits such as regular hand washing, especially after using the toilet, after changing a diaper, and before you prepare or consume food. Wash dishes in hot, soapy water or in a dishwasher, and don’t eat or drink anything if you’re worried about how it was prepared. Also, drink bottled water or boil water before drinking it, and avoid drinks made with ice cubes.  Finally avoid raw foods, including unpeeled fruits or vegetables.

Here is a list of vaccine-preventable, travel-related diseases that are not covered by routine adult vaccinations:

  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Typhoid and Paratyphoid Fever
  • Meningococcal disease
  • Yellow Fever
  • Dengue fever
  • Malaria
  • Rabies
  • Japanese Encephalitis

You may need one or more of these vaccines depending on any number of variables. In some cases, proof of vaccination is required before you can obtain a visa. Still, it’s important to discuss preventative steps with your physician relative to your destination.

Many travel immunizations need to be taken in a series of shots given over a period of days or weeks. Plus, vaccines take time to work. Travel health experts recommend giving yourself four to six weeks to meet with a travel health provider about how to plan for your travel and to get any needed travel vaccinations.

If you are taking medications for a condition like diabetes, there may be certain drug interactions you need to be aware of. For example, some drugs may reduce the effectiveness of travel vaccinations. Also be aware that in some countries, you may have trouble filling your maintenance prescriptions, so plan accordingly so you don’t run out.

Finally, the wisdom of any sexual encounter in the Caribbean also needs to be weighed against the very real risks of disease, sexual violence, or worse. The Caribbean has the second-highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the world: at least 230,000 people in the region have the disease.

Vacation should be fun, not spent in a hospital bed or filled with worry and anxiety. If you take the proper precautions before you travel and while abroad, chances are you’ll have a fantastic time and the only thing you’ll catch is the travel bug.


Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Vitamins As a Substitute for Sunlight and Important Nutrients? What Works and What Doesn’t

January through March are particularly tough months–even though the days are growing longer, it’s dark and dreary. With the frigid temperatures, sun exposure is a tease. Typically, the few minutes we get between our houses, work, school, or the grocery store isn’t enough to revitalize us or replenish natural nutrients and vitamins.

What’s more, the average American diet typically lacks in a number of essential nutrients, including calcium, potassium, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, and D. Many people turn to dietary supplements in hope of getting an extra boost and a preventive buffer to help ward off disease.

But supplements don’t always deliver better health. In fact, some can even be dangerous when taken in larger-than-recommended amounts.

Are supplements dangerous?

Many supplements help replace vitamins that may be lacking in our diets. For example, studies claim vitamin D is a possible defense against a long list of diseases, including cancer, diabetes, depression, and even the common cold. Omega-3 fatty acids are touted for warding off strokes and other cardiovascular events. And antioxidants such as vitamins C and E and beta carotene have been studied as effective agents against heart disease, cancer, and even Alzheimer’s disease.

But much of the testing has been observational; the results of more stringent randomized controlled trials, which also examine dietary factors, exercise habits and other variables, haven’t yielded overall positive results. Additionally, people who take supplements already tend exercise more, eat better, and have an overall healthier lifestyle.

Outside of observational studies, some supplements turned out to be not only ineffective but also risky. Vitamin E, initially thought to protect the heart, was later discovered to increase the risk for bleeding strokes. Folic acid and other B vitamins were once believed to prevent heart disease and strokes, but later studies raised concerns that high doses of these nutrients might increase cancer risk.

Stay focused on proper nutritional balance

We need a variety of nutrients each day to stay healthy, including calcium and vitamin D to protect our bones, folic acid to produce and maintain new cells, and vitamin A to preserve a healthy immune system and vision.

It is best to try to get these vitamins, minerals, and nutrients from food as opposed to supplements. Fruits, vegetables, fish, and other healthy foods contain nutrients and other substances not found in a pill, which work together to keep us healthy. Taking certain vitamin or mineral supplements in excess may even interfere with nutrient absorption or cause side effects.

For many people, simply taking a multi-purpose daily vitamin is enough. For others, certain vitamins missing from our diets can be replenished specifically. Often a simple blood test can help identify potential vitamin deficiencies. Vegan or vegetarian diets, can be especially susceptible to a lack of calcium and vitamin D.

Sun exposure in the winter months also is helpful, even in small doses. Many people get depressed in the winter–some may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which affects approximately 10 percent of the population. Symptoms of SAD include sleeping too much, lack of energy and low moods or depression. Usually symptoms clear up when the weather changes.

Light therapy is a common and effective treatment for SAD. The use of bright light for up to one hour per day has been shown to be effective and can work after just one week. Being active at dawn and dusk may help reset the sleep/wake cycle of those with SAD. And though it may seem like an obvious solution, tanning booths are not healthy alternatives to proper sun exposure.

Vitamin deficiencies and solutions

Before taking supplements it’s important to know whether the potential benefits outweigh the risks. Look at the results of well-designed studies and discuss your overall health with a licensed nutritional expert and your physician, especially if you have a chronic diseases or are taking other medications.

Psychology Today lists some common vitamin concerns and potential solutions:

B-Complex vitamins affect your mood and energy by  converting proteins from your diet into neurotransmitters. B-complex vitamins also support heart health, improve our response to stress, and help boost energy levels. While most B vitamins have some benefits for mental health, in terms of depression, the most important B vitamins include vitamin B6, B9 (folic acid) and B12.

Good sources of B-vitamins include beef, poultry and organ meats, tuna, nutritional yeast, brewer’s yeast, whole grains, potatoes, bananas, lentils tempeh, beans, dark leafy vegetables, fortified cereals and molasses. Vitamin B12 is not available from plants, which makes B12 deficiency a concern for strict vegans.

Vitamin D deficiency is particularly likely in the winter when low levels of sunlight and lack of stored vitamin D exacerbate borderline or low vitamin D levels. Vitamin D deficiency is especially common in vulnerable populations such as African-Americans, the elderly, children, the obese, pregnant women and breastfed babies.

The suggested upper limit for adults is 2,000 IU per day of vitamin D3. However, if this does not produce a healthy blood level of vitamin D, higher doses can be used under the supervision of a health care practitioner.

St. John’s Wort is thought to have an antidepressant effect. Research has shown that it is effective for mood, anxiety, and depression-related insomnia.

Most studies used dosages of 300 mg of an extract three times daily. But there are potential side effects, including its potential to lower the efficacy of certain medications including birth control pills, medications for migraines (Imitrex, Zomig, other triptans), alprazolam (Xanax), the cough medicine Dextromethorphan (Robitussin DM and others), Digoxin, Fenfluramine, Demerol and other medications. Talk to your doctor before taking St. John’s Wort if you have been diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder or you are on prescription antidepressant medications.

Fish oil is a well-recognized mood-support supplement. Consumption of fish in the diet or supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids is safe and cost-effective and has been shown to benefit heart disease, reduce suicide risk, and reduce symptoms of depression and bipolar disorder. Higher consumption of fish is also associated with lower rates of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and postpartum depression.

Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include fish, leafy greens, soy, nuts and seeds. For mild mood changes, take 2,000 – 3,000 mg daily. However, if you take a blood thinner, check with your physician before taking fish oil as it may increase bleeding time.

If you believe you may be lacking in a particular nutrient, ask your doctor whether you need to look beyond your diet to make up for what you’re missing, but never take more than the recommended daily intake for that nutrient unless your health care provider advises it.


Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!