Meditate on This

Our daily lives can be busy, chaotic, pressured and stressful. The rigors of work, home and everywhere we go in between wears us on, challenges our performance, tests our patience, taxes our relationships and affects our health and well-being.

Many of us are searching for ways to help reduce stress and disorganization, improve our focus, and calm down enough to regain our emotional and physical footing. Some people exercise, run or walk; others eat, read, nap, pray or chat with friends and family. Many also find that the pursuit of mindfulness – the ability to slow ourselves, focus and truly be present in the moment – is a useful tool for regaining control of our live. And this goal can be achieved successfully, in part, through meditation.

Anyone can practice meditation. It’s simple and inexpensive, and it doesn’t require special gear, clothes or equipment. Spending even a few minutes in meditation daily can help restore our calm and inner peace.

But meditation isn’t a quick fix, like popping a pill, grabbing a cocktail or hitting the gym. It is an ancient practice that helps us live more consciously and frees us from habits, dependencies and activities that we cling to because they’re comfortable and seemingly help us avoid adversity.

“There is peace and harmony in all of us, just as there is joy and sadness. But we’re so preoccupied trying to preserve temporary happiness and run from aversion that we end up getting caught up in an endless cycle of suffering,” explains Bo Gak Sunim, an ordained Buddhist monk and director of Zenfriend, a spiritual guidance and support practice offering meditation instruction, Zen teachings and training.

Sunim draws an analogy between what he calls “mental hygiene” and dental hygiene, explaining that we brush and floss our teeth upon waking and before going to bed as normal routines to prevent tooth and gum decay and bad breath. But we don’t think about practicing mind health in a similar, daily fashion.

Like any other aspect of our long-term health and wellness, meditation is most effective when you establish a regular, formal daily practice, Sunim says. He recommends meditating for at least 10 to 15 minutes twice a day. When meditating, people should sit silently and still on a cushion or chair, focus on their breathing and concentrate on being totally present with each inhalation and exhalation. That includes letting thoughts about your day, places you like, people you know, problems at work or even happy occasions, activities or events to simply come and go.

Meditation is the practice of training the mind to be free from thoughts and feelings of craving and aversion in order to live a more responsive and less reactive life — for oneself and, ultimately, for others. Working with our minds, he stresses, helps us relax enough to see and understand more clearly the anxieties and worries that plague us consciously or unconsciously throughout the day, and provides a responsible and sustainable method for reducing stress.

That’s also because we don’t just finish meditating and then go about our business, Sunim explains. Instead, as we move into our day we need to continue focusing on our breathing, watching our minds, and paying attention to how we constantly make judgments about people, situations and ourselves. It’s clearly healthier, he explains, when we learn to stop telling ourselves stories or denying truths to rationalize unskillful behavior, or act out in ways that help us avoid or deflect conflict or unresolved pain.

“Think of the practice of meditation as a ‘speed bump,’ for the mind,” Sunim says. “By carrying forward mindfulness throughout our day, we slow down.  Instead of suppressing aversion or reacting defensively, we face situations proactively by responding with wisdom, compassion and objectivity.” Practicing this way, he suggests, allows us to catch ourselves, and consciously “reset” so all our daily challenges becomes less onerous.

But, he cautions, we don’t achieve this level of benefit from simply attending a retreat or a class or reading a book. Sunim compares improving mental hygiene to losing weight — we didn’t get heavy (or stressed) overnight, and we won’t free ourselves from what he refers to as ingrained “habit energies” overnight, either.

For anyone interested in learning how to practice meditation, Sunim offers the following tips:

  • Seek a qualified meditation training center. Whether secular or religious, it’s important to work with meditation teachers who can provide specific reference points and useful guidance and instruction. Taking classes with other students also offers access to a valuable community of support and to related holistic and natural practices.
  • Make a commitment to focus on your overall mental hygiene. Try and establish a standard time or times each day to meditate, and don’t deviate from your practice time, as possible. Even if you can only afford 15 minutes a day, carve out that time faithfully and devote yourself to your practice.
  • Carry mindfulness forward throughout your day. The benefits of meditation don’t stop when you stand up and get on with your day. Get in touch with your breathing throughout the day, and observe things and people around you in greater detail, and from a less judgmental view. These actions help slow you down and regain perspective, especially when facing obstacles, challenges or problems.
  • Don’t create unreasonable expectations. Learning to meditate effectively and reaping the rewards that accompany sound mental hygiene take time. If you eliminate expectations, such as how quickly you’ll “see results” or “feel differently,” you’ll benefit more from your practice. This isn’t a quick fix – changing behaviors and establishing a strong regimen of mind training takes time and commitment.
  • Select a teacher you can grow with. There are many people who can help teach us to meditate. But like other coaches, teachers, doctors and associates in our lives, we each have unique needs and learn at different paces. In time you will change and meditation may lead you to other questions about yourself, issues and the world around you. Then you will need a teacher who is versed, trained, intuitive and a good fit for your personal growth.

Integrate meditation and mindfulness practice into your life in a way that is natural and in harmony with your daily schedule. What matters most is that you begin today by taking the initiative to free your mind from stress, and to live life with greater wisdom, compassion and contentment.


 

Bo Gak Sunim is an ordained Buddhist monk practicing in the Korean Zen tradition, and director of Zenfriend, a spiritual guidance and support practice offering meditation instruction, zen teachings and training. For more information contact him at: bogaksunim@gmail.com

 

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!

Got Pain?

Some weeks, everything seems to hurt. One day it’s our backs, the next our hips, then that bum shoulder, agitated stomach or obnoxious headache. Whether through sports, stress, aging, accidents or genetically related gifts, we’re a nation in physical pain:  Americans consume more opiod-related prescription pain medications than anywhere else in the world – close to $9 billion annually – and over-the-counter pain medications fly off the shelves throughout the year.

When it comes to non-prescription pain-relief products, there are dozens to choose from. Most contain aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen. These three drugs, as well as naproxen, relieve pain and reduce fever. Aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen also relieve inflammation. They belong to a class of medications called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).  But knowing which one to take is a combination of trial and error, direction from a physician or health professional, or billions of dollars’ worth of creative advertising.

Like any other medication, whether self-prescribed or suggested by a physician, some work better for certain people and specific conditions, and all carry side effects that can be potentially deadly. So it’s important to know the difference between these common pain killers, and what to watch for in terms of longer-term use.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are a drug class that groups together drugs that provide analgesic and antipyretic effects, and, in higher doses, anti-inflammatory effects.

Aspirin is widely used for relieving pain and reducing fever in adults. It also relieves minor itching and reduces swelling and inflammation. Aspirin comes as adult-strength (325 mg) or low-dose (81 mg). In addition to relieving pain and inflammation, aspirin is effective against many other ailments. For example, aspirin taken regularly in low doses may help prevent heart attacks and strokes in certain people.

But because of the danger of side effects and the interactions aspirin may have with other medicines, do not try these uses of aspirin without a doctor’s supervision. Although it seems familiar and safe, aspirin is a very powerful drug. Here are important precautions for aspirin use:

  • Keep all aspirin out of children’s reach. Aspirin increases the risk of Reye syndrome in children. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20 unless your doctor tells you to do so.
  • Aspirin can irritate the stomach lining, causing bleeding or ulcers. If aspirin upsets your stomach, try a coated brand, such as Ecotrin. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist to find out what may work best for you.
  • Because aspirin can increase the risk of bleeding, it is not recommended for new injuries. Take other medicines such as ibuprofen or naproxen for the first two or three days after an injury. If you take a blood thinner (anticoagulant), such as warfarin, or if you have gout, talk to your doctor before you take aspirin.
  • High doses may result in aspirin poisoning (salicylism). To help prevent taking a high dose, follow what the label says or what your doctor told you. Stop taking aspirin and call a doctor if you experience ringing in the ears, nausea, dizziness, or rapid deep breathing.

Ibuprofen (the active ingredient in products such as Advil and Motrin) and naproxen (in products such as Aleve) are other NSAIDs. Like aspirin, these drugs relieve pain and reduce fever and inflammation. Also like aspirin, they can cause nausea, stomach irritation, and heartburn.

Ibuprofen is used to relieve pain from various conditions such as headache, dental pain, menstrual cramps, muscle aches, or arthritis. It is also used to reduce fever and to relieve minor aches and pain due to the common cold or flu. Ibuprofen works by blocking your body’s production of certain natural substances that cause inflammation. This helps to decrease swelling, pain, or fever.

Here are some precautions NSAID users should know:

  • Do not use an NSAID for longer than 10 days without talking to your doctor, and talk to your doctor before taking NSAIDs if you have
    • Ulcers or a history of bleeding in your stomach, or stomach pain, upset stomach, or heartburn that lasts or comes back
    • Anemia, bleeding or easy bruising
    • A habit of drinking more than three alcoholic drinks a day — this increases your risk of stomach bleeding
    • High blood pressure, kidney, liver, or heart disease.

Also talk with your doctor before taking NSAIDs if you use blood thinners, such as warfarin, heparin or aspirin, if you take medicine to treat mental health problems, to decrease swelling (water pills), or if you take medicine for arthritis or diabetes. And if you’re pregnant or may be trying to get pregnant, always check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking a pain reliever.

Acetaminophen (the active ingredient in products such as Tylenol) is an analgesic that reduces fever and relieves pain. It does not have the anti-inflammatory effect of NSAIDS such as aspirin and ibuprofen, nor is it likely to cause stomach upset and other side effects. Acetaminophen is typically used for mild to moderate pain.

Do not take acetaminophen if you have kidney or liver disease, or drink alcohol heavily (three or more drinks a day for men and two or more drinks a day for women).

Finally, before you spend a lot of money on over-the-counter pain killers, note that when you buy pain relievers, generic products are chemically equivalent to more expensive brand-name products, and they usually work equally well.


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!

Celebrating a Month of Legend, Love, and Sobering Myth

Many celebrations we embrace as children and carry forward into adulthood are often a combination of history, mythology, urban legend, pesky marketing, creative capitalism and wishful thinking. Clearly the most popular and misunderstood of these celebrations is Saint Valentine’s Day, held annually on February 14. But there’s far more than just Valentine’s Day rituals being celebrated in February, and many are worth noting and observing.

To start, Black History Month, or National African American History Month, is an annual celebration of achievements by black Americans, and a time for recognizing the central role of African Americans in U.S. history. The event grew out of “Negro History Week,” first designated by historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating black history.

But the second month of the year also is an acknowledgment of other activities and historical links, some offbeat, some serious. For example, February is Marijuana Awareness Month, National Condom Month, American Heart Month, Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, Oral Hygiene Month, and Grapefruit Month.

On the 12th of February, Diana, the Roman goddess of hunt, was said to spread her protection from the forests near Aricia (her shrine) to the entire world. As a result, those born on this day are said to be highly personable and friendly. The month itself is named after “Februa,” an ancient purification ritual of Rome that took place on February 15th of our calendar.

Additionally, February 16th is the Day of the Devil’s Dance. On this date, a sorcerer of Tibet was called upon to exorcise demons and evil spirits from the local population.

The February birthstone is the Amethyst. Its color is a deep purple, and the ancient Greeks associated this stone with the ability to detoxify an individual. Amethyst comes from the Greek work “amethystos,” which literally translates into “sober.” Ironically, the stone often was made into goblets for drinking wine.

And finally, in an interesting turn of the paper heart, the week prior to Valentine’s Day is called “National Dump Your Significant Jerk Week,” and February 7 – 14 is “Rejection Risk-Awareness Week,” established to raise awareness of issues stemming from dating-related social rejection.

Exploring the “true” story of Valentine’s Day

The roots of Valentine’s Day contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition.

The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine allegedly defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When his actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. Another account depicts an imprisoned Valentine actually sending the first “valentine” greeting after he fell in love with a young girl — possibly his jailor’s daughter — who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today.

At the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius declared February 14th Saint Valentine’s Day. It was not until much later, however, that the day became definitively associated with love. During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which added to the idea that Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance.

In addition to the United States, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia. In Great Britain, Valentine’s Day began to be popularly celebrated around the 17th century. By the middle of the 18th, it was common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes, and by 1900 printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology.

So, as we try to pull ourselves out of the winter doldrums, there’s no shortage of days in February to observe, commemorate or celebrate. Whichever you choose, take solace in knowing that the start of spring is barely a month away . . . and that’s certainly worth celebrating!


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!

Using Social Networks to Promote Health and Wellness

Employers understand that simply trumpeting the benefits of employee wellness programs isn’t enough to guarantee participation. In the digital age, the common wellness textbook for “Leading the Horse to Water 101” has changed. It isn’t enough to just point out the pond and extol the virtues of drinking — you have to help the thirsty find it, convince them it’s healthy, and creatively encourage them to drink from it. And since maps are practically extinct, using GPS – or some form of electronic media – will help guide your audience effectively and efficiently.

While the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that as many as half the employers with 50 or more workers offer some kind of company wellness program, most managers say that engaging employees to participate in these efforts is their greatest challenge. For smaller employers (under 50 employees), proximity may work in their behavior for traditional face-to-face wellness outreach, but employees are busier than ever, multi-tasking like crazy, and often on the run or working remotely.

The solution to reaching everyone more effectively has to include but also extend beyond the workplace. That creates a perfect opportunity for using social media. Even though companies have long frowned on having their employees access the Internet or their personal phones while working, today’s world dictates new rules. And with smart phones and other electronic devices, savvy employers and health benefits companies have 24-hour access to promote healthful programs and activities.

Online social interaction is a way of life in today’s rapidly evolving world. Social communities keep people – and in this case, employees – involved and engaged, both in and out of the workplace. In fact, robust employee wellness programs have long been credited with helping to reduce sick time, improve quality and teamwork, and enhance morale, productivity and retention.

Beyond these positive long-term results, social media also provides the extra motivation employees may need to lose weight, quit smoking, adjust their diets, spend more time exercising and to make other healthy decisions. Sharing goals is a win/win – it’s often more fun to work out, walk or pursue other wellness activities when you do it with friends and coworkers. Positive peer pressure is a strong incentive for change, and utilizing online tools should be part of your strategy as well as the use of posters, questionnaires and “live” information sessions with health and wellness experts.

The social nature of products like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and other popular platforms can be harnessed to help people become more engaged in their wellness programs, and more successful as they try to improve their health. Other ideas that employers can consider implementing are online wellness journals, and discussion groups and progress reports that they can choose to share with friends or other individuals with the same fitness goals.

Here are some practical tips for using online tools and social media to improve health and wellness participation and results:

  • Post regular quizzes, trivia, Q&A sessions, and other interesting educational tools. You can also share helpful resources to navigate screenings, ergonomics and other health-related services provided through your business, or using outside resources.
  • Promote events and activities. Keep employees in the loop about ways they can get actively involved such as classes, news, team marathons or online meet-ups. They can even subscribe to a calendar for the latest updates.
  • Hold friendly contests, such as who can lose the most weight, walk the furthest or visit the gym most often. The competition can be individual or team-based between departments (or even businesses). You can also create daily or weekly challenges in the office, where participants can share their results.
  • Use third-party platforms for a more personalized experience. Third-party apps like FitBit or Keas are great ways to expand employee engagement with integrated sensors, devices, and biometric tracking – all with private access.
  • Create groups or boards. Wellness engagement needs to be long-term, so keeping the dialogue going is crucial. Give your employees space to discuss health issues, share recipes, post updates and more, in the office and online.
  • Offer discounts, recognition, time off, or other rewards. Nothing encourages activity like a great return – so give plenty of public recognition to celebrate employees’ achievements and successes.
  • Share success stories. Workers are more likely to jump on the fitness bandwagon if they can see what others have achieved. Sharing personal accomplishments puts a positive emphasis on each employee’s strengths and potential.
  • Use your resources. If you’re not sure how to begin the wellness conversation on social media, recruit your top internal health advocates to get the ball rolling and to manage your team Chances are your employees are interested, and if encouraged, will take a stronger role in coordinating activities that benefit them, the company, and their associates.

The bottom line is that social media networking can provide strong support for your health and wellness program year round, without adding cost. Through creative incentives and careful management – including a clear use policy and well-defined privacy guidelines – the right networks can transform your current workplace into an active, dynamic social community.


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!

Feeling the Burn?

Bet you’ve been eating rich, greasy, and spicy foods the past month or so. Maybe a few cocktails to wash it all down or some cold bubbly soda, and delicious desserts followed by coffee. It all tastes so good going down. But unfortunately, for millions of Americans, it doesn’t taste as good coming back up as acid indigestion, or heartburn.

More than 60 million American adults experience heartburn at least once a month, and more than 15 million adults suffer daily from heartburn. Many pregnant women experience daily heartburn as well. For some people, it’s just too much of a good thing, and in a day or two the indigestion is gone.  But for those suffering regularly, it’s far more insidious and upsetting, and can cause long-term damage.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is a digestive disorder that affects the lower esophageal sphincter, the ring of muscle between the esophagus and stomach. In most cases, GERD can be relieved through diet and lifestyle changes; however, GERD can result in serious complications. Esophagitis can occur as a result of too much stomach acid in the esophagus. Esophagitis may cause esophageal bleeding or ulcers. In addition, a narrowing or stricture of the esophagus may occur from chronic scarring. Some people develop a condition known as Barrett’s esophagus. This condition can increase the risk of esophageal cancer.

Gastroesophageal refers to the stomach and esophagus. Reflux means to flow back or return, so gastroesophageal reflux is the return of the stomach’s contents back up into the esophagus. In normal digestion, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) opens to allow food to pass into the stomach and closes to prevent food and acidic stomach juices from flowing back into the esophagus. Gastroesophageal reflux occurs when the LES is weak or relaxes inappropriately, allowing the stomach’s contents to flow up into the esophagus.

What is hiatal hernia?

Some doctors believe a hiatal hernia may weaken the LES and increase the risk for gastroesophageal reflux. Hiatal hernia occurs when the upper part of the stomach moves up into the chest through a small opening in the diaphragm. The diaphragm is the muscle separating the abdomen from the chest. Many people with a hiatal hernia will not have problems with heartburn or reflux. But having a hiatal hernia may allow stomach contents to reflux more easily into the esophagus.

Coughing, vomiting, straining or sudden physical exertion can cause increased pressure in the abdomen resulting in hiatal hernia. Obesity and pregnancy also contribute to this condition. Many otherwise healthy people age 50 and over have a small hiatal hernia. Although considered a condition of middle age, hiatal hernias affect people of all ages.

Hiatal hernias usually do not require treatment. However, treatment may be necessary if the hernia is in danger of becoming strangulated or twisted in a way that cuts off blood supply, or is complicated by severe GERD or esophagitis. In these cases, your doctor may perform surgery to reduce the size of the hernia or to prevent strangulation.

To help your doctor diagnose GERD or hiatal hernia, an upper GI series may be performed during the early phase of testing. This test is a special X-ray that shows the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum (the upper part of the small intestine). While an upper GI series provides limited information about possible reflux, it is used to help rule out other diagnoses, such as peptic ulcers.

Endoscopy is an important procedure for individuals with chronic GERD. By placing a small lighted tube with a tiny video camera on the end (endoscope) into the esophagus, the doctor may see inflammation or irritation of the tissue lining the esophagus, and can easily and painlessly biopsy tissue samples.

What you can do to feel better

Doctors recommend lifestyle and dietary changes for most people needing treatment for GERD. Treatment aims at decreasing the amount of reflux or reducing damage to the lining of the esophagus from refluxed materials. Other tips for reducing or controlling reflux include:

  • Avoid foods and beverages that can weaken the LES. These foods include chocolate, peppermint, fatty foods, coffee, and alcoholic beverages. Foods and beverages that can irritate a damaged esophageal lining, such as citrus fruits and juices, tomato products and pepper also should be avoided.
  • Decrease the size of portions. Eating less at mealtime may also help control symptoms.
  • Eat meals at least two to three hours before Avoid eating within a few hours of going to bed or lying down. This may lessen reflux by allowing the acid in the stomach to decrease and the stomach to empty partially.
  • Lose weight. Being overweight often worsens symptoms.
  • Stop smoking cigarettes. Cigarettesmoking weakens the LES. Stopping smoking is important to reduce GERD symptoms.
  • Elevate the head of the bed. Raising your bed on six-inch blocks or sleeping on a specially designed wedge reduces heartburn by allowing gravity to minimize reflux of stomach contents into the esophagus. Do not use pillows to prop yourself up; that only increases pressure on the stomach.
  • Prescription and over-the-counter medications. Along with lifestyle and diet changes, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter or prescription treatments.

Antacids can help neutralize acid in the esophagus and stomach and stop heartburn. Many people find that nonprescription antacids provide temporary or partial relief. Long-term use of antacids, however, can result in side effects including diarrhea, altered calcium metabolism (a change in the way the body breaks down and uses calcium), and buildup of magnesium in the body. Too much magnesium can be serious for patients with kidney disease. If antacids are needed for more than two weeks, a doctor should be consulted.

For chronic reflux and heartburn, your doctor may recommend prescription medications to reduce acid in the stomach. Some of these medicines are H2 blockers, which inhibit acid secretion in the stomach. H2 blockers include cimetidine (Tagamet), famotidine (Pepcid), nizatidine (Axid), and ranitidine (Zantac). Additionally, doctors may prescribe proton pump inhibitors, which also decrease the amount of acid produced in the stomach. Prilosec (omeprazole) and Nexium also are commonly used to promote healing of damage to the esophagus caused by stomach acid, but these medications are not for the immediate relief of heartburn.

We can’t always prevent acid reflux or hiatal hernia, but we can choose to moderate our diets and behaviors to produce more favorable results. It’s a new year – consider adding the reduction or elimination of heartburn to your 2017 wish list!

 


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!

Glaucoma Awareness

Glaucoma is a disease that damages your eye’s optic nerve. It usually occurs when fluid builds up in the front part of your eye which increases the pressure in your eye, damaging the optic nerve. It can lead to blindness if not treated.

January is Glaucoma Awareness Month. It’s estimated that over 2.2 million Americans have glaucoma, but only half of those know they have it. Glaucoma is the second-leading cause of blindness in the world, according to the World Health Organization, and after cataracts, is the leading cause of blindness among African Americans. In the United States, more than 120,000 people are blind from glaucoma, accounting for between nine percent and 12 percent of all cases of blindness.

Everyone is at risk for glaucoma, from babies to senior citizens. Older people are at a higher risk for glaucoma but babies can be born with glaucoma (approximately one out of every 10,000 babies born in the United States). Young adults can get glaucoma, too. African Americans in particular are susceptible at a younger age.

The most common types of glaucoma — primary open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma — have completely different symptoms.

Primary open-angle glaucoma signs and symptoms include:

  • Gradual loss of peripheral vision, usually in both eyes
  • Tunnel vision in the advanced stages

Acute angle-closure glaucoma signs and symptoms include:

  • Eye pain
  • Nausea and vomiting (accompanying the severe eye pain)
  • Sudden onset of visual disturbance, often in low light
  • Blurred vision
  • Halos around lights
  • Reddening of the eye

Both open-angle and angle-closure glaucoma can be primary or secondary conditions. They’re called primary when the cause is unknown and secondary when the condition can be traced to a known cause such as eye injury, medications, certain eye conditions, inflammation, tumor, advanced cataract or diabetes. In secondary glaucoma, the signs and symptoms can include those of the primary condition as well as typical glaucoma symptoms.

When to see your doctor

Don’t wait for noticeable eye problems before seeing a doctor. Primary open-angle glaucoma gives few warning signs until permanent damage has already occurred. Regular eye exams are the key to detecting glaucoma early enough to successfully treat the condition and prevent further progression.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends a comprehensive eye exam for all adults starting at age 40, and every three to five years after that if you don’t have any glaucoma risk factors. If you have other risk factors or you’re older than age 60, you should be screened every one to two years. If you’re African-American, your doctor likely will recommend periodic eye exams starting between ages 20 and 39.

In addition, a severe headache or pain in your eye, nausea, blurred vision, or halos around lights may be the symptoms of an acute angle-closure glaucoma attack. If you experience some or several of these symptoms together, seek immediate care at an emergency room or at an eye doctor’s (ophthalmologist’s) office right away.

Glaucoma is not curable, and vision lost cannot be regained. With medication and/or surgery, it is possible to halt further loss of vision. Since open-angle glaucoma is a chronic condition, it must be monitored for life. Diagnosis is the first step to preserving your vision – regular eye exams should be part of your personal wellness regimen, especially since there are a variety of other eye ailments that can afflict us. Through a regular eye exam, doctors can detect early warning signs for other diseases ranging from cancer to stroke.

 


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!

Get Active, Outdoors!

It’s time to pack away the guilt about how much we ate and how little we’ve exercised since November and get ourselves motivated to stay active this winter. Exercise and play are important for our physical and our mental health. Even though it’s colder and it still gets dark early, getting outdoors after work or school and on the weekends should be part of our wellness strategy. The fresh air is good for our lungs, the sun is good for our bodies (when we protect ourselves), and there are many interesting and healthy pursuits waiting outside our doors.

This season is rich in recreational opportunities that expand on the exercise and fitness we can be pursuing at the gym, in our homes, or at classes. Walking is the easiest example, whether in our neighborhood, at a local school or park. Jogging or hiking offers scenic beauty and interesting wintery landscapes as backdrop for our workout. Additionally, we live in a region that offers parks and forests for cross-country skiing, snow shoeing and snowmobiling, close-by mountains for downhill skiing, and frozen ponds or rinks for ice skating and hockey. And when the snow is abundant, so are opportunities for sledding, tubing and tobogganing, activities that are fun for the entire family and a good workout.

No matter the choice of outdoor recreational activity, it’s critical that we take appropriate measures to protect ourselves. That includes dressing for the weather, making sure we’re properly hydrated, wearing sunscreen, knowing our limitations, and always respecting Mother Nature.

Dressing in layers and wearing the right types of materials are critical for keeping warm in the cold weather. But when planning our outdoor wardrobe, moisture management is also an important consideration. To keep the body warm during high-energy activities, clothing should transport moisture away from the skin to the outer surface of the fabric where it can evaporate. Also, look for garments made from the new stretch fabrics for better fit and performance.

Cotton is a poor choice for insulation, because it absorbs moisture and loses any insulating value when it gets wet. Instead, moisture-wicking synthetics which move moisture away from the skin are the best choice for active winter sports like skiing, snowboarding, hiking or climbing. Not only do synthetic fabrics wick moisture away from the skin, they dry quickly and help keep us warm in the process.

The next layer should be a lightweight stretchy insulator, such as a breathable fleece sweater or vest. The final part of our cold-weather wear should be a lightweight and versatile shell jacket. Fabrics like three-layer Gore-Tex and Windstopper allow companies to create shells that are ultra lightweight while remaining waterproof, windproof, and breathable. For aerobic activities, a shell’s ventilating features are particularly important. Look for underarm zippers, venting pockets and back flaps.

Always bring a hat and gloves, regardless of the weather or activity. Proper foot protection is critical, as well — wear insulated and water-proof shoes or boots, and synthetic socks that won’t absorb sweat. As with the rest of our clothing, synthetic materials work best for protecting us against the extremes. Look for fleece hats made with Windstopper fabric, gloves and mittens layered with Gore-Tex and fleece, and socks made of synthetic, moisture-wicking materials.

No matter where we’re going or what we’re doing outdoors, bring plenty of water or sports drinks, and try to avoid caffeine or alcohol — both actually dry you out, instead of hydrating, and alcohol lowers our body temperature. Also, make sure to have a cell phone, that somebody knows where you are, and when you’ll be returning. And remember to apply a protective lip balm and to wear sunscreen — the sun’s ultraviolet rays remain potent, even in the winter, and hydrating our skin with a UV-protective moisturizer will help protect from wind and other elements.

Finally, though it may not be at the top of our “fun” list, when it snows most of us have to shovel. Dressing warmly and appropriately is key, and the same tips for hiking and sports apply:  Stretch before lifting, stay hydrated, and knows our limitations. Avoid alcohol, caffeine or nicotine before shoveling as these drugs place more strain on our body and on our heart. Use a shovel that isn’t too big to reduce weight, lift with our knees, not the back, and start slow and work steadily – take plenty of breaks, don’t rush and don’t try and lift too much at one time.

When it comes to winter activities in the outdoors, the best advice, overall, is to be smart and know our limitations. Many winter sports injuries happen at the end of the day, when people overexert themselves to finish that one last run or hike one more mile before the day’s end. A majority of these injuries can easily be prevented if participants prepare by keeping in good physical condition, stretch before getting started, stay alert and stop when tired or in pain. But the rewards are worth the risks – get out there, have fun, and stay healthy!


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!

Set Goals for a Healthier New Year

It’s not a coincidence that the gyms are packed in January — nor that the crowds thin in February. When it comes to our health and wellness, there’s also no denying our history, past successes, or lack of progress. Striking an effective balance between measurable action and good intentions is a challenge we all face in our personal and professional lives. But it’s not as simple as just labeling people action oriented or procrastinators — we’re all busy chasing kids, dogs, paychecks and as many other pressing details as there are hours in the day.

But now it’s a new year, a clean slate, tabula rasa. Coming off a season where many of us indulge by overeating, running around and pushing our bodies to unhealthy places, it is the perfect time to make specific plans, set goals and execute strategies that will truly help improve our health. Those plans should include diet, exercise and restful sleep, but the components that can have the most long-term value are how we make it easy to pursue health, and how we measure and reward ourselves and others for progress.

Employers can take an active role in encouraging and supporting their workers’ health and wellness efforts. There’s no question that the benefits of good health extend to productivity, quality, service and teamwork on the job. Employees who are healthier typically get sick less often, are more focused and rested. By establishing goals and working with your employees in positive ways, employers are directly affecting their bottom line.

Here are some simple tips for supporting health and wellness activities at work.

  • Offer healthcare screenings in the workplace. Many local healthcare service providers, clinics and insurers will come into offices to measure items such as cholesterol, blood pressure and body mass index. You also can arrange for flu-vaccination clinics, or address smoking-cessation, nutrition and other health and wellness initiatives.
  • Integrate the workplace in health-related activities. If employees are interested, establish a wellness committee and allow them to plan activities of interest to your workers. That could be inviting fitness or nutritional consultants to come speak during lunch or after work, bringing in yoga instructors, aerobic dance, fitness consultants or massage professionals. It also can include planning walks during the day, competitive sports after work, participating in charity events, and bringing healthy snacks, food and recipes into the office for sharing.
  • Set workplace-related goals. There’s power in sharing and collaboration. By setting team goals for weight loss, dietary changes, walking/exercise, smoking cessation and other commonly shared activities, employees can have fun, support one another, and think about health during the day. Offering simple rewards and incentives and publicly celebrating participation and successes builds teamwork and improves morale, as well.
  • Encourage healthcare education. Most large health benefits providers have extensive websites detailing healthcare actions, and offering guidance and useful information.
  • Join the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program. This valuable program is available to all CBIA Health Connections participants at no additional charge.

We’re all responsible for our own health and wellness. Employers can’t mandate health, but they certainly can support efforts and encourage their workers. By discussing and supporting personal efforts, getting involved, facilitating planning and rewarding for participation, each of us can make 2017 a healthier year.

 

Exercising for Financial Health

We may love money, but it doesn’t love us. Ralph Waldo Emerson famously quipped, “Money costs too much,” warning about the unhappiness associated with pursing wealth. We all need money to pay bills and to enjoy a better quality of life. But 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.

Debt, financial stress and spending behaviors are a major cause of relationship problems and often cited as a significant contributing factor in many divorces and breakups. Worrying about money and debt also 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. When you consider that more than three out of four American families are in debt, the weight of all that anxiety becomes more apparent.

Most of us worry about money, and this time of year, that worrying gets worse. Or, we cast caution to the wind, spend beyond our means for the holidays, and figure we’ll bear down come January . . . much like we view our diets and holiday eating.  Granted, December may not be the best time to be considering cutting back on spending, so if we allow for reality and the joys of the season – and think about what we’re going to do differently in the coming months and years — that would be a great gift to ourselves and our families.

Planning and focus pay big dividends

There’s a difference between active coping and comfort coping – some of us eat more, spend more, devise short-term solutions, and find other creative avoidance mechanisms. Instead we should be thinking about informed, collaborative planning and strategies for dealing with our money issues. Creating goals is important – if we are 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.

Here are some tips for improving our financial health:

  • Make a budget. That sounds so basic and simple, yet many people fail to truly organize their financial lives, and to understand what they bring in and what goes out . . . and what they can truly afford. Is it possible that you actually spend $25 a week buying coffee and drinks on the road? Sure it is – and that’s okay, if you can afford the extra C-note 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 phone bill, purchase oil for your furnace or buy a new interview suit, it isn’t.
  • Track your expenses. Whether you write it in a notebook, record it on your computer or download one of the many spending applications available for phones and laptops, tracking what we spend is an important tool for understanding our spending habits and for charting behaviors.
  • Avoid credit, or use it wisely. All that talk about how important it is to use credit cards to build up your credit report is bologna. If you can afford something, buy it with cash or use a debit card. If you can’t afford it, and it’s really important (like fixing the car, and for travel), use a credit card, but be diligent about paying it off as quickly as possible to avoid exorbitant finance charges or the seductive allure of instant gratification.
  • Talk to others about your financial concerns. Share your worries and issues with people close to you, especially your partner. Money worries cause countless troubles for individuals, for couples, and for families. The stigma and shame that accompanies money problems – and the weight of hiding those pressures – causes stress, anxiety and depression, as well. Candor and good communication helps alleviate some of the stress that comes with feeling like you’re bearing the financial burden on your own, or the sense of hopelessness that comes with every bill or debt collector’s call.
  • Consult a financial expert. You don’t have to have a ton of investment income to seek guidance from a financial planner or consultant. He or she can help you devise a savings strategy, determine wise, affordable investments, build your budget, and plan for the future more effectively.
  • Get help for managing your debt. If you have debt and it’s wearing you and your loved ones down, there are options and strategies for addressing your bottom line. Consolidation loans with a lower monthly finance charge can help you rid yourself of credit cards. Banks love when we only pay the minimum due, and profit greatly when we miss a payment and they can charge a hefty penalty. Avoid both by paying more than the minimum monthly payment, or by paying off the card completely as soon as possible.

There are services available to help negotiate payment plans and for consolidating debt, but many of them charge a service fee for this assistance. There also are support groups, free counseling services, and programs such as Debtors Anonymous, a confidential 12-step program available in Connecticut 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. What can change is how we view our spending habits – if we’re not vague or frivolous about how, what and when we spend, we can take a big step toward improving our financial health, as well as our overall health and wellness.

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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!

Is Facebook Making You Sick?

Chances are you’re reading this article on your laptop or a mobile device. Hopefully you’re not reading it late at night, because if you are, it may be making you sick.  That’s because the artificial light from computer and smart phone screens is interfering with our ability to sleep properly. And when we don’t sleep well, or enough, we fail to benefit from our body’s natural restorative abilities.

But that’s only one piece of the bad news relating to electronic gadgets and our health. For all it’s given us, modern technology also is hurting our physical and emotional health, and changing behaviors in adults and children in ways that will have far-reaching, yet still undetermined consequences.

Melatonin is a hormone that regulates sleep and wakefulness in humans and animals. It is produced in darkness. Researchers have determined that the blue light from our electronic devices affects melatonin production and melanopsin stimulation, which throws off our circadian rhythms, our internal body clock. This interrupts or prevents deep, restorative sleep, causing an increase in stress and depressive symptoms.

Research shows that interactive technologies such as video games, cell phones and the Internet might affect the brain differently than those which are “passively received,” such as TV and music. That’s even more meaningful when it comes to our kids.

Children’s brains are much more sensitive to electronics use than most of us realize. In fact, contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t take much electronic stimulation to throw a sensitive and still-developing brain off track. Many parents mistakenly believe that interactive screen-time – such as the Internet or social media use, texting, emailing, and gaming — isn’t harmful, especially compared to passive screen time like watching TV. In fact, interactive screen time is more likely to cause sleep, mood, and cognitive issues, because of hyper-arousal and compulsive use.

Recent statistics show that 63 percent of American Facebook users log on to the site daily, while 40 percent of users log on multiple times a day. If you or your kids are spending a lot of time in chat rooms and on social-networking sites, a number of studies now suggest that this can be associated with depression, particularly in teens and preteens.

Internet addicts may struggle with real-life human interaction and a lack of companionship, and they may have an unrealistic view of the world. Some experts even call it “Facebook depression.” In a 2010 study, researchers found that many people ages 16 to 51 spent an inordinate amount of time online, and that they had a higher rate of moderate to severe depression. However, the researchers noted that it is not clear if Internet overuse leads to depression or if depressed people are more likely to use the Internet.

We all have our own reasons for using social media, but one of the main reasons we use it is for self-distraction and boredom relief. In essence, social media delivers reinforcement every time a person logs on. It may seem harmless to knock out a few emails before bed or unwind with a favorite movie, but by keeping our mind engaged, technology can trick our brain into thinking that it needs to stay awake. When surfing the web, seeing something exciting on Facebook, or reading a negative email, those experiences can make it hard to relax and settle into slumber. After spending an entire day surrounded by technology, our minds need time to unwind.

Why we need technology down time

Research into the use of technology produced other startling results, including sleep disorders and an increase in depressive symptoms from heavy cell phone use or the regular use of computers at night. Researchers have established that screen time:

  • Disrupts sleep and de-synchronizes the body clock. Just minutes of screen stimulation can delay melatonin release by several hours and desynchronize our body clock. Once the body clock is disrupted, all sorts of other unhealthy reactions occur, such as hormone imbalance and brain inflammation. Plus, high arousal doesn’t permit deep sleep, and deep sleep is how we heal.
  • Desensitizes the brain’s reward system. Many children are “hooked” on electronics. In fact, gaming releases so much dopamine — the “feel-good” chemical — that on a brain scan it looks the same as cocaine But when reward pathways are overused, they become less sensitive, and more and more stimulation is needed to experience pleasure. Meanwhile, dopamine is also critical for focus and motivation, so even small changes in dopamine sensitivity can wreak havoc on how well a child feels and functions.
  • Produces “light-at-night.” Light-at-night from electronics has been linked to depression and even suicide risk in numerous studies. Animal studies show that exposure to screen-based light before or during sleep causes depression, even when the animal isn’t looking at the screen. Sometimes parents are reluctant to restrict electronics use in a child’s bedroom because they worry the child will get upset — but to the contrary, removing light-at-night is protective.
  • Induces stress reactions. Both acute stress (fight-or-flight) and chronic stress produce changes in brain chemistry and hormones that can increase irritability. Cortisol, the chronic stress hormone, seems to be both a cause and an effect of depression — creating a vicious cycle. Additionally, both hyper-arousal and addiction pathways suppress the brain’s frontal lobe, the area where mood regulation actually takes place.
  • Fractures attention, and depletes mental reserves. Experts say that what’s often behind explosive and aggressive behavior is poor focus. When attention suffers, so does the ability to process one’s internal and external environment, so little demands become big ones. By depleting mental energy with high visual and cognitive input, screen time contributes to low reserves. One way to temporarily “boost” depleted reserves is to become angry, so meltdowns actually become a coping mechanism.
  • Reduces physical activity levels and exposure to “green time.” Research shows that time outdoors, especially interacting with nature, can restore attention, lower stress, and reduce aggression. So time spent with electronics reduces exposure to natural mood enhancers, as well as to chemicals which also keep us alert, and wake us up.

Most Americans admit to using electronics a few nights a week within an hour before bedtime. But to make sure technology isn’t harming your slumber, give yourself at least 30 minutes of gadget-free and TV–free transition time before hitting the hay. In fact, it’s even better if you can make your bedroom a technology-free zone. And just because you’re not using your cell phone before bed doesn’t mean that it can’t harm your sleep: Keeping a mobile within reach can still disturb slumber, thanks to the chimes of late-night texts, posts, emails, calls, or calendar reminders.

This is a growing and serious public health hazard that isn’t being adequately acknowledged and addressed by both the medical community and technology industries. About 72 percent of children ages six to 17 sleep with at least one electronic device in their bedroom, which leads to getting less sleep on school nights compared with other kids. The difference adds up to almost an hour per night, and the restful quality of their sleep is negatively affected too. To ensure a better night’s rest, parents should limit their kids’ technology use in the bedroom, and can be solid role models and improve their own health by doing the same.


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!