The Power of Nostalgia

We may not know how to measure – or harness – the power of nostalgia, but there’s no denying the intensity of memories, traditions and rituals in altering our moods, changing perspective or helping us through difficult times.

Nostalgic “triggers,” especially at the holidays, can include a wide variety of sensory stimuli, from the smell of a pie baking or turkey roasting, to a favorite song or sound, decorations on the wall, a family member’s or friend’s voice or the crinkling of wrapping paper being torn off a package. Familiar objects, such as serving dishes, plates or glasses can connect us to our history and help us celebrate generations of family, alive and past. And visiting a home or valued place from our past can seemingly transport us through time.

The recognition or recollection of these items helps keep the memories of the past alive, and by sharing them with newer generations we perpetuate traditions, stories and loved ones. Regardless of details, the rituals we observe, similar in many families yet unique for each, bring us pleasure, joy, feelings of love and goodwill, or alternately, melancholy or even intense sorrow.

That’s the rub: while it can have amazing healing powers, nostalgia isn’t always a panacea for what ails us. Bad memories, reminders of lost friends and family members, past jobs and homes, all are retained. While we may not think about them from day to day, our power of recall is strong and, when properly stimulated, capable of exacting chemical reactions in our brains and bodies that influence feelings and behavior.

Good Memories and Bad

Clinical psychologists often view nostalgia – defined by the Oxford dictionary as a “sentimental longing for the past” – as a symptom of depression. As early as the 17th century, nostalgia was considered to have a demonic origin, and it was later classified as a type of melancholia or psychosis. But researchers today also see nostalgia’s positive attributes and ability to calm, heal and help people cope.

Psychologist and American Psychological Association member Krystine Batcho, PhD, is a professor at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., and an expert on nostalgia. Her research finds that people who are prone to nostalgia excel at maintaining personal relationships and choose healthy social ways of coping with their troubles.

People feel more nostalgic during the holidays, Batcho explains, because many memories are reawakened and relationships renewed. Batcho theorizes that for many, holidays bring back memories of simpler times along with the sense of the security of childhood or the carefree feelings of being young, with fewer of the worries and stress that accompany responsibilities.

“Most often,” she adds, “holidays remind us of people who have played important roles in our lives and the activities we shared with them. This is one reason why people who are away from home are especially likely to feel nostalgic during the holidays and why so many people travel to be with family and friends.”

Unpacking Our Memories

Like anniversaries and other temporal landmarks, holidays remind us of special times and help us keep track of what has changed and what has remained the same in our lives, and in ourselves.

During difficult times, attention to our past can strengthen us by reminding us of how we survived challenges, loss, injury, failure or misfortune in the past. When we are sad or discouraged, it can be uplifting to remember that we are still the person who had been happy, strong and productive at times in our past.

Our sense of who we are is closely related to how we see ourselves in relation to others. Research has shown that nostalgia can strengthen a sense of social connectedness by helping us appreciate what we have meant to others as well as what others have meant to us. Nostalgic memories can help someone who is away from home or someone who is mourning the death of a family member by reminding us that the bonds we share with those we love survive physical separation.

Researchers studying memory and reward systems in the brain have focused on the mesolimbic system, which is responsible for determining if something is worth retaining in our memory. Many scientists in the field study dopamine, the chemical released when our brain is rewarding us for doing something we enjoy or find interesting or challenging. When dopamine is released, it helps our brains “remember” things more effectively, improving recall. The limbic system, which includes the hippocampus and amygdala, also plays a role in the processing and storage of memories, emotions and the “emotional memories” that result when a memory is stored during a highly emotional state.

Researchers studying the connection between nostalgia and wellness have created a scale used to rate the value and intensity of nostalgia. For example, nostalgia has been found to:

  • Reconnect us with our roots
  • Provide continuity in our lives
  • Help us find meaning and identity
  • Counteract loneliness
  • Decrease boredom
  • Ease anxiety
  • Increase generosity and tolerance toward others
  • Increase intimacy
  • Act as a buffer to depression
  • Enhance feelings of physical warmth

While we can’t control how nostalgic reactions will affect us, we generally appreciate the recall of familiar sights, sounds and smells. These powerful memory stimulants can bring us much joy, reduce stress and anxiety and increase overall wellness. The holidays are a treasure trove of these memories, and another reason we look forward to this time of year, and hate to see it pass too quickly.


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!

Reducing Employee Tobacco Use and Vaping for Improved Health

Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States, yet more than 45 million Americans still smoke cigarettes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Half of all smokers who keep smoking will end up dying from a smoking-related illness. In the United States alone, smoking is responsible for nearly one in five deaths, and about 8.6 million people suffer from smoking-related lung and heart diseases.

There also are approximately 13.2 million cigar smokers in the U.S., and 2.2 million who smoke tobacco in pipes. Additionally, the CDC reports that more than 3.2 percent of American adults use e-cigarettes. Additionally, more than 2 million teens (11.3 percent of high school students and 4.3 percent of middle school students) were using e-cigarettes in a national study conducted in 2016, and it’s expected that those numbers have soared over the past two years.

The CDC says that more than half of these smokers have attempted to quit for at least one day in the past year, often without lasting success. That is an opportunity for employers to assume a supporting role through education and personal outreach to help address a calamity that is costing American businesses billions of dollars annually in related healthcare costs and robbing millions of Americans of their health.

Need More Fuel?

Most consumers – including smokers – know that smoking can cause lung cancer, but few people realize it is also linked to a higher risk for many other kinds of cancer too, including cancer of the mouth, nose, sinuses, lip, voice box (larynx), throat (pharynx), esophagus, bladder, kidney, pancreas, ovary, cervix, stomach, colon, rectum, and acute myeloid leukemia.

Smokers are twice as likely to die from heart attacks as non-smokers. Smoking is a major risk factor for peripheral vascular disease, a narrowing of the blood vessels that carry blood to the leg and arm muscles. Smoking also affects the walls of the vessels that carry blood to the brain (carotid arteries), which can cause strokes. Smoking can cause abdominal aortic aneurysm, in which the layered walls of the body’s main artery (the aorta) weaken and separate, often causing sudden death. And men who smoke are more likely to develop erectile dysfunction (impotence) because of blood vessel disease.

Based on data collected by the CDC, it is estimated that adult male smokers lost an average of 13.2 years of life and female smokers lost 14.5 years of life because of smoking.

Each year, smoking causes early deaths of about 443,000 people in the United States. And given the diseases that smoking can cause, it can steal our quality of life long before we die. Smoking-related illness can limit our activities by making it harder to breathe, get around, work, or play.

The Dangers of Vaping

Vaping involves using electronic cigarettes (also referred to as e-cigarettes). These devices contain heating elements, batteries and a reservoir that holds vaping liquid. According to the CDC, the liquid usually consists of varying amounts of nicotine, flavorings and chemicals. When users puff e-cigarettes, the heating element is activated and produces an aerosol, or vapor, which is inhaled.

Many chemicals that cause cancer are in this vapor. That includes formaldehyde, heavy metals, and ultrafine particles that can get stuck in the deepest parts of our lungs. Other potentially harmful substances found in e-cigarettes include flavorings like diacetyl (a chemical linked to lung disease), volatile organic compounds, cancer-causing chemicals and heavy metals such as lead, tin and nickel.

It’s hard to know how much of these chemicals are breathed in when people vape. The levels are usually lower in e-cigarettes than regular cigarettes. But some studies show that high-voltage e-cigarettes have more formaldehyde and other toxins than standard e-cigarettes, and most contain nicotine, which is addictive and dangerous.

Getting the word out to employees about the health risks of vaping – through workplace wellness programs, company-wide newsletters, signs, posters or email blasts – helps lower disease risks and improve health, wellness and productivity in the workplace.

Help Employees Quit Now

No matter how old you are or how long you’ve smoked, quitting can help you live longer and be healthier. People who stop smoking before age 50 cut their risk of dying in the next 15 years in half compared with those who keep smoking. Ex-smokers enjoy a higher quality of life. They have fewer illnesses like colds and the flu, lower rates of bronchitis and pneumonia, and feel healthier than people who still smoke.

Habits and addictions are hard to break. Humiliating, shaming or punishing smokers isn’t the answer – it’s not illegal to smoke in Connecticut, just to smoke in certain places like restaurants and where otherwise dictated. But there are several steps people can take to improve health and longer-term quality of life. The most important is to quit smoking immediately and keep as physically fit as possible. Keeping active is essential for improved breathing function, and pulmonary rehabilitation can help rebuild strength and reduce shortness of breath.

November 15th is the Great American Smokeout

Mark Twain famously reported: “Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it a thousand times!” The American Cancer Society is marking the 41st Great American Smokeout on November 15th by encouraging smokers to use the date to help smokers quit, or to plan in advance and quit smoking that day. By doing so, smokers will be taking an important step towards a healthier life — one that can lead to reducing cancer risk.

There are an abundance of programs, many free, to help smokers quit. Physicians can prescribe supportive medical aids as part of a more formal program, there are over-the-counter remedies, and support groups are available in most communities and through local hospitals. Most health insurance providers also offer smoking-cessation assistance.

Quitting is hard, but employees can increase their chances of success with help. The American Cancer Society provides an abundance of information about the steps to quit smoking and provides resources and support that can increase the chances of quitting successfully. To learn about available tools, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 or visit www.cancer.org. The American Lung Association also has a wealth of information and resources. Reach them at 1-800-LUNG-USA, and find online support at www.lung.org.


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!

Sweet Beginnings Can Lead to Sour Endings

With the holidays rapidly approaching and the specter of delicious desserts already dancing in our heads like sugar plum fairies, it’s important to catch a nutritional breath and contemplate the truly unhealthy relationship we have with the sweet foods and treats we love . . . even though that love is far from unconditional.

Beyond weight control, the most obvious consequence is the diabetes epidemic sweeping our nation. Nearly 30 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes. Another 86 million Americans have pre-diabetes and are at risk for developing type-2 diabetes, with 1.9 million new cases of diabetes diagnosed annually in people aged 20 and older. And it’s not only the dangers to your health and the health of your loved ones to consider — The American Diabetes Association estimates that the total national cost of diagnosed diabetes in the United States is $245 billion, including $176 billion for direct medical costs.

According to the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, Type 2 diabetes has become one of the most common and costly diseases in the United States and around the world.  Complications include heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, kidney and nervous system diseases, blindness and an increased risk of amputation of lower limbs from complications including poor circulation and wounds.

Researchers say the side effects of diabetes also represent $69 billion in reduced productivity. And after adjusting for population age and sex differences, average medical expenditures among people with diagnosed diabetes were 2.3 times higher than what expenditures would be in the absence of diabetes.

With November being Diabetes Awareness Month, and Thanksgiving right around the corner, this is a good time to take stock of our diet and exercise routines. Studies by the National Diabetes Research Foundation have determined that just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity daily, and a 5 percent to 10 percent reduction in body weight can reduce the risk of diabetes by almost 60 percent.

To help achieve these goals, and to become more aware of sugar intake, here are healthy living tips for the whole family:

  • Try to eat regular, balanced meals every four to five hours. Smaller amounts eaten more often are better for healthy blood-sugar levels.
  • Eat carbohydrates in moderation. Carbohydrates raise blood sugar more than foods with protein or fat. Carbohydrates include milk, fruit, bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, corn and peas.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Eat more fiber from whole grains and dried beans.
  • Eat less fat and less saturated fat. Choose lean meats, low-fat dairy products and low-fat snack foods.
  • Use drinks that do not raise blood sugar such as water, diet soda, coffee and tea.
  • Choose desserts occasionally. Look for dessert foods that are lower in carbohydrates and fat.
  • Read labels, and be aware of your sugar intake – for example, one teaspoon of granulated sugar equals 4 grams of sugar. To put it another way, 16 grams of sugar in a product is equal to about 4 teaspoons of granulated sugar.
  • As possible, avoid or limit products with high-fructose corn syrup, a commonly added sweetener found in most processed foods.
  • Look for healthy substitutes, such as mustard in place of ketchup, and avoid condiments like barbecue sauce, sweet relish and other flavor enhancers high in calories, fat, sodium and sugar.
  • Exercise or walk as often as possible – walking or moderate exercise plays a critical role in preventing weight gain, reducing stress, strengthening heart health and reducing chances for diabetes later in life

Other tips include bringing your own “healthier” desserts, entrees or side dishes to parties, eating low-fat, low-sugar yogurt for afternoon snack time, and drinking as much water as possible – at least 64 ounces a day. We don’t have to deprive ourselves, but when we practice moderation and pay attention to what we put in our bodies, our chances of avoiding sugar-related health issues will improve significantly – that’s the best gift we can possibly give ourselves and our families for the holidays!


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!

Helping You Breathe Easy

So now that the spring and summer allergy seasons are finally over, we should all we able to breathe easily, right? If only! Autumn and winter bring special breathing challenges for many Americans. Dry heat from central heating systems aggravate respiratory issues, and the air becomes even drier when homeowners use wood-burning stoves, space heaters, and fireplaces. When you add to this potent mix the negative effects of smoking tobacco products, breathing becomes more intense for smokers and nonsmokers alike, especially when driven indoors where windows in houses, offices and vehicles are closed up.

November is COPD Awareness Month and Lung Cancer Awareness Month. It’s not a coincidence that the two are recognized together. The primary cause of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is the inhalation of cigarette smoke. Up to 24 million Americans show impaired lung function, which is common among those with COPD, the third-leading cause of death in the United States. It’s a staggering number — more than 12 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD, while an estimated 12 million more have it, but have not been diagnosed.

Beyond the inhalation of cigarette smoke, other causes of COPD include exposure to occupational dust particles and chemicals, as well as a rare genetic mutation called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency.  Also known as emphysema and chronic bronchitis, COPD is a lung disease characterized by an obstruction to airflow that interferes with normal breathing and over time makes it very difficult to breathe. COPD is not curable; however, it is preventable, and can be treated and managed effectively, particularly when the disease is diagnosed early.

People at risk of COPD, especially current and former smokers with COPD symptoms, should consult their physicians about a simple and painless spirometry test in order to diagnose the disease as early as possible and begin treatment.

Here is a short list of signs you should watch for if you think you or someone you know may be suffering from COPD:

  • Constant coughing, sometimes called “smoker’s cough”
  • Shortness of breath while doing everyday activities
  • Producing a lot of sputum (also called phlegm or mucus)
  • Feeling like you can’t breathe or take a deep breath
  • Wheezing

If you have been diagnosed with COPD, there are several steps you can take to improve your health and longer-term quality of life. The most important is to quit smoking immediately. Based on your doctor’s recommendations, you should take medications as prescribed and keep as physically fit as possible. Keeping active is essential for improved breathing function, and pulmonary rehabilitation can help you rebuild strength and reduce shortness of breath.

Tips to Stop Smoking

Since the smoking of tobacco products is the culprit responsible for many cases of COPD, eliminating smoking is the best way to mitigate or prevent COPD. Here are simple tips to help you stop smoking:

  • Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the various types of treatments and different over-the-counter and prescription medications that are available to help you quit smoking.
  • Look into the different options available to help smokers quit. Visit lung.org/stopsmokingor call 1-800-LUNG-USA (1-800-586-4872) for suggestions.
  • Take time to plan. Pick your quit date a few weeks ahead of time and mark it on the calendar. If you can, pick a day when life’s extra stresses are not at their peak, such as after the holidays. Mark a day on the calendar and stick to it. As your quit day approaches, gather the medications and tools you need and map out how you are going to handle the situations that make you want to smoke.
  • Get some exercise every day. Walking is a great way to reduce the stress of quitting. Exercise is proven to not only combat weight gain but also to improve mood and energy levels.
  • Eat a balanced diet, drink lots of water and get plenty of sleep.
  • Ask family, friends and co-workers for their help and support. Having someone to take a walk with or just listen can give a needed boost.
  • You don’t have to quit alone. Help is available online and in most communities, and there are a variety of smoking-cessation programs available to help.

It’s also important to educate yourself. The American Lung Association has a wealth of information and resources to help you better understand how your lungs work, and about COPD. You can reach them at 1-800-LUNG-USA, and find online support at www. lung.org.


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!