Wrap Up the Year With the Gift of Wellness

As the year winds down, it’s the perfect time to reflect on your 2017 health and wellness efforts, and to contemplate how you can do more in 2018. One of the best gifts employers can give themselves and their employees are gifts that “keep on giving,” such as improved long-term employee health, tools for reducing stress, and activities that will enhance teamwork, productivity and morale.

Helping employees meet individual or team goals through successful planning and execution, a sense of accomplishment, providing service, and feeling valued are indisputable contributors to success, retention, and service excellence. Additionally, generosity, giving, and awareness create a sense of increased goodwill and can increase the bond between employer and employee, and among staff.

By supporting employees’ interests in local or national organizations through donations, fund- raising activities and in-kind services, you help your staff achieve that valuable sense of accomplishment and caring that comes from generosity and giving to others.

Additionally, every month brings a variety of wellness, disease awareness and health-related special events, activities and recognition. These represent some of the proverbial “low-hanging fruit” for promoting, encouraging and rewarding employee workforce participation. And if you time your internal outreach to the wide variety of wellness material available online, through your healthcare insurance provider and from CBIA, you’ll find the resources and educational information robust and easily available.

Here are some simple ideas you can consider for a healthier new year:

  • Health and wellness planning:Host a planning session — led by employees or by an outside expert – where participants can talk about their personal health and wellness goals, and discuss possible group support, in-house challenges and activities.
  • Nutritional guidance: Ask a professional nutritionist or dietitian to meet with staff at a group lunch, or in one-on-one or small group meetings to talk about healthy eating, smart dieting and nutritional awareness.
  • Gym memberships:If you don’t already, consider offering an allowance to employees to use for purchasing a gym, yoga or fitness center membership, or consider bringing a fitness trainer or yoga instructor onsite.
  • Offer incentives:Some organizations incentivize employees by rewarding them for healthy activities such as setting and achieving personal wellness goals, or by completing wellness workshops and classes. Many companies also allow employees to take work time to visit their primary care physician for their annual physicals.
  • Community outreach: Building up morale in the company is a commonly overlooked wellness initiative, but the results are always positive. Lead this initiative by getting a team together for a charity event or race, volunteer, “adopt” a family or charity for the holidays, raise money as a team for gifts, match team and individual efforts, and encourage employees to donate food, time and services.
  • Stress relief: Studies show that a power nap or meditation increases alertness, memory and stamina. Some companies have designated an office or area where employees can reserve times during the day for relaxing, and forward-thinking organizations find ways to reward employees and help them “recharge” by allowing them much-needed “down time” that is customized to individual needs. Also consider inviting a yoga instructor or massage therapist to the workplace, and if possible, create a space for team instruction.
  • Teambuilding activities: Some companies sponsor art nights, onsite or at local art centers, where employees can paint, complete ceramics or pursue other artistic endeavors as a team. Charitable walks and runs, fitness competitions or bicycle rides, bowling or volleyball are other good team activities, as are skating, skiing and other outdoor recreational challenges that can be turned into team fun. Many companies also sponsor facilitated off-site retreats focused on team building, communication, planning and interpersonal development.
  • Smoking-cessation:A variety of free or inexpensive smoking cessation programs are available locally through the American Lung Association, hospitals and other sources.

Whatever you choose, remember that sometimes the best gifts can’t be wrapped!  Have a happy and healthy holiday season and year to come.


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!

Can You Pay Attention to This Article?

If you’re like most people, you have a lot on your plate. There’s always much to do for work, life and family, let alone finding time for personal issues, errands and recreation. Staying focused can be challenging, especially with so many distractions from goings-on around us, social media, work, school and deadline demands. Some people are adept at eliminating or controlling distractions and able to get things done on time and without too many deviations. But for others, remaining present, in the moment and able to focus effectively on one task while others are pounding on the door or waving for your attention can be difficult and often insurmountable.

The difficulty of remaining focused, an inability to complete tasks without interruption, and the failure to successfully negotiate the distracting pull of multiple requirements can be signs of chemical, emotional and genetic challenges such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Over the past decades, these symptoms have been more readily diagnosed in children, especially those having trouble in school or unable to relax, play quietly or get along effectively with others. With today’s technological advances, it’s easy to blame over-stimulation for playing a strong supporting role in keeping kids off balance, more easily bored without technology, and wanting more all the time. But for adults, these same symptoms can be more insidious, limiting our efficiency at work and at home, straining relationships, and interfering with sleep and health.

ADHD affects at least five percent of children, and about half of them will carry those symptoms into adulthood, says the American Psychiatric Association. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates numbers are even higher. On top of that, many adults have ADHD or ADD but have never been diagnosed.

Signs you might have ADD or ADHD

If you exhibit or suffer from these traits, you might want to speak with your physician or seek a psychiatric evaluation for ADD or ADHD:

  • Lack of focus.Possibly the most telltale sign of ADHD, “lack of focus,” goes beyond difficulty paying attention. It means being easily distracted, finding it hard to listen to others in a conversation, overlooking details, and not completing tasks or projects.
  • Hyperfocus. While people with ADHD are often easily distracted, the flip side of the coin is called hyperfocus. A person with ADHD can be so engrossed in something that they can ignore anything else around them. This kind of focus makes it easier to lose track of time, ignore those around you, and cause relationship misunderstandings.
  • We all forget things occasionally. But for someone with ADHD or ADD, forgetfulness is an everyday part of life. This includes routinely forgetting where you’ve put something or important dates. Some can be menial. Others can be serious. The bottom line is that forgetfulness can be damaging to careers and relationships because it can be confused with carelessness, lack of intelligence, or ambivalence.
  • Impulsivity. Impulsiveness in someone with ADHD or ADD can manifest in several ways:
    • Interrupting others during conversation
    • Being socially inappropriate
    • Rushing through tasks
    • Acting without much consideration to the consequences
  • Even a person’s shopping habits are often a good indication of ADHD. Impulse buying, especially on items they can’t afford, is a common symptom of adult ADHD.
  • Restlessness and anxiety. As an adult with ADHD, you may feel like your motor can’t shut off. Our yearning to keep moving and doing things constantly can lead to frustration when we can’t do something immediately. This leads to restlessness, which can lead to frustrations and anxiety. Anxiety is a very common symptom of adult ADHD, as the mind tends to replay worrisome events repeatedly.
  • Poor health. Impulsivity, lack of motivation, emotional problems, and disorganization can lead a person with ADHD or ADD to neglect their health. This can be seen through compulsive poor eating, neglecting exercise, or forgoing important medication. Anxiety and stress negatively affect health, so without good habits, the negative effects of these illnesses can make other symptoms worse.
  • Relationship issues. An adult with ADHD or ADD often has trouble in relationships, whether they are professional, romantic, or platonic. The traits of talking over people in conversation, inattentiveness, and easily being bored can be draining on relationships as a person can come across as insensitive, irresponsible, or uncaring.

Treatment and coping mechanisms

People who experience some or many of these symptoms also change employers more often, miss deadlines, experience higher use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs, and suffer from repeated relationship failures, including divorce. If all of this sounds too familiar, it doesn’t mean you suffer from adult ADD or ADHD. But if you do, here are a few steps you can take to improve your life.

Treatment for adult ADHD or ADD is similar to treatment for childhood ADHD/ADD, and includes stimulant drugs or other medications, psychological counseling (psychotherapy), and treatment for any mental health conditions that occur along with adult ADHD.

Stimulants (psychostimulants) are the most commonly prescribed medications for ADHD, but other drugs may be prescribed. Stimulant drugs are available in short-acting and long-acting forms. Other medications used to treat ADHD include antidepressants. The right medication and the right dose vary between individuals, so it may take some time in the beginning to find what’s right for you. Talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of medications. And keep your doctor informed of any side affects you may have when taking your medication.

Counseling for adult ADHD can be beneficial and generally includes psychological counseling (psychotherapy) and education about the disorder. Psychotherapy may help you:

  • Improve time management and organizational skills
  • Learn how to reduce impulsive behavior
  • Develop better problem-solving skills
  • Cope with past academic and social failures
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Learn ways to improve relationships with family, co-workers and friends
  • Develop strategies for controlling temper

It’s important to remember that ADD and ADHD are neuropsychiatric conditions that are typically genetically transmitted. They are caused by biology, by how our brain is wired. It is not a disease of the will, nor a moral failing or weakness in character. Many people with these behaviors have trouble accepting these syndromes as being rooted in biology, but through professional help, support groups, education and communication these challenges can be managed, or even overcome.


 

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!

Being Mindful is Good for Your Mind…and Body

If you’re one of the two out of 10 employed Americans who say they are NOT stressed at work, you may already be practicing mindfulness and stress-reduction techniques effectively, be one of those annoyingly happy people we all love to hate, be truly lucky, or maybe you just happened to be having a great day. Regardless, if you’re one of the eight out of 10 Americans who struggle with stress during the work day – as an employer or an employee – this article may help you.

Staying focused can be challenging. There’s just so much coming our way simultaneously and so many messages constantly bombarding us. Whether it’s people talking to us face-to-face or through technology, the assault on our senses is ongoing and distracting. And it’s hurting productivity, service, quality and our health.

We can only stand a certain amount of stimulation and distraction. Remaining focused on priority tasks and duties always is in conflict with reality. Whether it’s planned or unexpected meetings, calls, people showing up uninvited, customer demands, drop-everything rush projects – we’ve all been there. Finding ways to retain focus and concentration for increased productivity and quality is critical, as is ensuring that we keep stress at bay.

Many organizations are realizing the benefits of mindfulness. Mindfulness, in its simplest terms, is awareness, being present, and feeling like we’re in control. In addition to contributing to overall well-being, mindfulness and meditative practices have been linked to improved cognitive functioning and reduced stress levels.

Mindfulness enhances emotional intelligence, notably self-awareness and the capacity to manage distressing emotions. Sometimes it’s as simple as truly paying attention in a meeting or on a call, or managing to let other ideas, thoughts and pressures slide past you and concentrate on the person or task at hand. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, improve memory and lessen depression and anxiety.

Some employers have created quiet spaces for people to relax, meditate or simply seek a few peaceful minutes during their workday to unwind and refocus. Lunch rooms help, but are shared and often not as effective. Savvy businesses are inviting meditation, mindfulness, yoga and massage specialists to the workplace during the day, during lunch and after hours. But when these opportunities don’t exist or aren’t convenient to the day and type or place of work, there are other mindfulness tips you and employees can practice to help relax and improve productivity and efficiency. For example:

  • Practice breathing. It seems so obvious, but taking time to breathe consciously is very beneficial and easy to do, wherever you are. Stop what you’re doing, close your eyes, and become aware of each breath, in and out. Feel the air enter your mouth and nose and travel down into your lungs, and then back out on the exhale. Some people measure the breathing cycle with a simple one/two count, others silently chant a personal mantra, but it doesn’t matter – spend five minutes just breathing consciously and it will slow you down considerably. It’s also an easy exercise to practice anytime, anywhere when you feel your pressure rising and your concentration weakening.
  • Practice “strategic acceptance.” When we get stressed out, we start thinking of everything in catastrophic terms. Each setback is amplified, and the negativity starts to compound. Rather than fighting these negative feelings and getting more stressed, try observing and exploring them, and accept the situation you’re presently experiencing. It doesn’t mean we like or can necessarily change or fix things at that moment, but through acceptance and a willingness to examine the way the negative energy is working on our minds and bodies, we can regain control and perspective. This doesn’t mean resigning yourself to a bad situation at work — it’s a matter of accepting how things are at this moment before making a plan to do what you can to improve them.
  • Tune into distractions around you. Offices are noisy, distracting environments, especially so-called “open offices” and cubicles. People talk loudly, you hear one another’s phone calls, typing, music – the sound mix is non-stop. Taking a moment to pay attention to those distractions rather than trying to tune them out can be a good way to prevent them from stressing you out. Gently notice the sounds and see if you can become aware of the effects they have on your body. The observation tends to rob the distractions of their power.
  • Take breaks. Regular breaks during the workday can boost productivity, creativity and patience. Instead of eating at your computer or work station, leave your work area for a brief walk, to get a drink or breathe some fresh air.  Stretch, walk when you can, or simply eat your meal in a different location, and try doing it without technology interference like emails, texts or social media . . . it’s good to use the time to think, daydream, meditate or do something that breaks the routine of your regular day.
  • Unplug from technology. With laptops, smart phones and tablets, it’s hard to truly relax or get unplugged from our work. Studies have shown that excessive reliance on technology makes us distracted, impatient and forgetful. Finding a way to “detox” can be extremely relaxing and helpful, be it through a walk, live social interaction, sharing a meal, reading a book or whatever works best for you.
  • Find time to exercise. There’s nothing like exercise, whether formal or spontaneous.  Exercise is good for our minds and our bodies, and a great tool for reducing stress. Whether you prefer to recreate outdoors, participate in sports, take a hike or bike ride or go to a fitness center, gym or training class, getting “physical” is a good way to calm our minds.

Whatever form or method you choose to achieve mindfulness, being aware of how stress, noise and distractions play negative roles in our every-day work lives is a critical first step for improving how we react – or don’t react – to situations that tap our energy, patience and creative spirits.


 

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!

Memory loss and aging: What’s “normal?”

Head upstairs for something and come back down without it? Find yourself struggling to remember someone’s last name or phone number? Take a wrong turn going somewhere you’ve been driving to for years? Forget to pay a monthly bill? Forgetfulness may be upsetting, but examples like these are common as we age and nothing to worry about. Yet for many older Americans, forgetting things on an increasingly regular basis may be a sign of oncoming dementia or a form of Alzheimer’s, a degenerative brain disease that affects close to one in four Americans.

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death among U.S. adults, and the fifth-leading cause among adults aged 65 to 85. In 2013, an estimated 5 million Americans aged 65 years or older had Alzheimer’s disease. This number may triple by 2050, with the costs of care already projected at over $200 billion per year, and expected to increase to more than $500 billion by 2040.

Alzheimer’s disease causes large numbers of nerve cells in the brain to die. This affects a person’s ability to remember things, think clearly, and use good judgment. It typically involves parts of the brain that control thought, memory, and language. While doctors don’t know what causes the disease, they do know that most of the time it begins after age 60.

Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life, and Alzheimer’s disease is the most common. It often starts slowly. In fact, some people don’t know they have it and assume their forgetfulness is just a sign of increasing age. However, over time, their memory problems get more serious. People with Alzheimer’s disease have trouble doing everyday things like driving a car, cooking a meal, or shopping or paying bills. They may get lost easily and find even simple things confusing. Some people become worried, angry or violent.

As the illness progresses, people with Alzheimer’s disease need someone to help take care of their daily needs, including feeding and bathing. Some people with Alzheimer’s live at home with a caregiver. Other people with the disease live in a nursing home or in a facility that specializes in dementia-related illnesses.

Though age is the best-known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, researchers believe that genetics may play a role. Changes in the brain can begin years before the first symptoms appear, and scientists are studying whether education, diet, exercise and environment play roles in developing Alzheimer’s disease. They also are finding more evidence that some of the risk factors for heart disease and stroke — such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and low levels of the vitamin folate — may also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

While most changes in the brain that cause dementia are permanent and worsen over time, thinking and memory problems caused by depression, medication side effects, excess use of alcohol, vitamin deficiencies  or thyroid problems may improve when the condition is treated or addressed.

How to recognize signs of early dementia

Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging. And while memory loss affects all of us as we age, it also is typically one of the first warning signs of cognitive loss.

Different types of dementia are associated with particular types of brain cell damage in specific regions of the brain. For example, in Alzheimer’s disease, high levels of certain proteins inside and outside brain cells make it hard for brain cells to stay healthy and to communicate with each other. The brain region called the hippocampus is the center of learning and memory in the brain, and the brain cells in this region are often the first to be damaged. That’s why memory loss is often one of the earliest symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

According to the National Institute on Aging, in addition to memory problems, someone with Alzheimer’s disease may experience one or more of the following signs:

  • Gets lost
  • Has trouble handling money and paying bills
  • Repeats questions
  • Takes longer to complete normal daily tasks
  • Displays poor judgment
  • Loses things or misplacing them in odd places
  • Displays mood and personality changes.

There is no one test to determine if someone has dementia. Doctors diagnose Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia based on a careful medical history, a physical examination, laboratory tests, and the characteristic changes in thinking, day-to-day function and behavior associated with each type. It’s hard to determine the exact type of dementia because the symptoms and brain changes of different dementias can overlap. In some cases, a doctor may diagnose “dementia” and not specify a type. If this occurs it may be necessary to see a specialist such as a neurologist or gero-psychologist.

Treatment of dementia depends on its cause. In the case of most progressive dementias, including Alzheimer’s disease, there is no cure and no treatment that slows or stops its progression. But there are drug treatments that may temporarily improve symptoms, and it’s important to note that other causes of dementia-like behavior – such as from head injuries, alcohol abuse and depression – can be treated.

Protecting our brains

Evidence also is growing for physical, mental, and social activities as protective factors against Alzheimer’s disease. Our brain is nourished by one of our body’s richest networks of blood vessels. Anything that damages blood vessels anywhere in our body can damage blood vessels in our brain, depriving brain cells of vital food and oxygen. Blood vessel changes in the brain are linked to vascular dementia. They often are present along with changes caused by other types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. These changes may interact to cause faster decline or make impairments more severe.

We can help protect our brains with some of the same strategies that protect our heart – don’t smoke; take steps to keep our blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar within recommended limits; and maintain a healthy weight.

Regular physical exercise may help lower the risk of some types of dementia. Evidence suggests exercise may directly benefit brain cells by increasing blood and oxygen flow to the brain. And what we eat may have its greatest impact on brain health through its effect on heart health. The best current evidence suggests that heart-healthy eating patterns, such as the Mediterranean diet, also may help protect the brain. A Mediterranean diet includes relatively little red meat and emphasizes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish, and nuts, olive oil and other healthy fats.

If you or someone you know has several or even some of the signs of increasing forgetfulness, it does not mean that you or they have Alzheimer’s disease. It is important to consult a health care provider regarding concerns about memory loss, thinking skills, or behavioral changes.


 

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!

Engage Employees in Monthly Health Awareness Activities

Somewhere in Washington, DC, bureaucrats are hard at work reviewing requests for new awareness recognition months, weeks, and days. There already are a slew of these, many designed to raise awareness for serious diseases and illnesses like heart disease, high blood pressure, most types of cancer, diabetes, traumatic brain injury, oral and mental health, and dozens of chronic illnesses.

There also are recognition periods for lesser-known or rare diseases, social causes, and special events like Great Outdoors Month, and Fruit and Vegetables Matter Month. Then, it expands widely from there, with recognition for everything from National Red Meat month, to Don’t Fry Day, Dump your Boyfriend Week, and months dedicated to condoms, grapefruits, biking, and riptide awareness.

The point isn’t to question whether or not these are important and worthwhile tributes, but to acknowledge that there’s something for everyone – and that represents opportunities for small businesses to embrace days, weeks, and months dedicated to loving dogs, drinking wine, eating chocolate, or disease prevention and staying healthy through improved nutrition and exercise.

Employees embrace a wide range of personal interests and activities. If your goal is to help improve workplace health and wellness, enhance teamwork, boost morale, and increase employee involvement, tapping into awareness recognition is an easy, fun, and interactive way to engage employees.

Many organizations create voluntary health and wellness committees tasked with identifying causes that appeal to employees, and then determining how education, outreach, and interactive activities will be coordinated. Some employers tie their activities to local events, charities, and parks. Program suggestions cover the gamut from inviting guest speakers and fitness experts, hosting healthy eating activities, running screening clinics for blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and flu shots, swapping recipes, participating in walks, runs, and bike races, losing weight, quitting smoking, and just about anything creative, enthusiastic people can think about.

This month alone, here are just some of the more serious national health observances taking place:

  • Skin Cancer and UV Awareness Month
  • Mental Health Month
  • National Blood Pressure Awareness Month
  • Healthy Vision Awareness Month
  • Arthritis Awareness Month
  • Lyme Disease Awareness Month
  • Celiac Disease Awareness Month

There are plenty more, too – pick the ones that work for you and your team.

By simply searching on the Internet for “national health awareness months,” you’ll discover a plethora of options. And when companies underwrite group activities, offer incentives, sponsor friendly competitions, and recognize participation, employers can demonstrate leadership, interest in their employees’ wellness, and their commitment to creating and maintaining a healthy workplace.


 

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!

Living Life on the Sunny Side of the Street

When people are acting negatively – critical about themselves and others, pessimistic, always seeing the darker side of things, constantly questioning motives, always assuming the worst – it wears on the people around them and on them, as well.  Negative people get sick more often and take longer to recover, while optimistic people tend to be less sick and more resilient.

Research indicates that psychological factors influence cardiovascular disease, morbidity, and mortality. Persistent negative behavior such as depression, anxiety or anger, and cynical, hostile attitudes toward others have been linked as early indicators of future heart disease. On the other hand, dispositional optimism or the general feeling that good things rather than bad will resolve a difficult situation or generally prevail in the future, have been associated with reduced risk of mortality.

Published last year in the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers found a definitive association between a positive sense of well-being and better health. This study used data from 70,021 women who were part of a long-running nurses’ health study. It gauged their level of optimism through a questionnaire originally conducted in 2004. The average age of respondents was 70 years old.

Then the researchers tracked deaths among the women from 2006 to 2012. They found that after controlling for factors including age, race, educational level, and marital status, the women who were most optimistic were 29% less likely to die during the six-year study follow-up than the least optimistic. That reduced risk was seen in cancer (16% lower), heart disease (38%), stroke (39%), respiratory disease (37%), and infection (52%).

When the researchers ran additional analyses controlling for existing health conditions such as high cholesterol, diabetes, and cancer, the risk of dying was 27% lower among the most optimistic women. When controlling for health behaviors like smoking and exercise, 14% lower. And when controlling for all those factors, the risk of dying was still 9% lower among the most optimistic women.

People who are more optimistic tend to have healthier behaviors when it comes to diet, exercise, and tobacco use. It’s also possible that more optimistic people cope better, create contingency plans, plan for future challenges, and accept what can’t be changed. This optimism may have a direct impact on improved immune function or lower levels of inflammation.

In another study, doctors evaluated 309 middle-aged patients who were scheduled to undergo coronary artery bypass surgery. In addition to a complete pre-operative physical exam, each patient underwent a psychological evaluation designed to measure optimism, depression, neuroticism, and self-esteem. The researchers tracked all the patients for six months after surgery. When they analyzed the data, they found that optimists were only half as likely as pessimists to require re-hospitalization. In a similar study of 298 angioplasty patients, optimism was also protective; over a six-month period, pessimists were three times more likely than optimists to have heart attacks or require repeat angioplasties or bypass operations.

And finally, an American study of 2,564 men and women who were 65 and older also found that optimism is good for blood pressure. People with positive emotions had lower blood pressures than those with a negative outlook. On average, the people with the most positive emotions had the lowest blood pressures.

Can we learn to be positive?

So if having a positive attitude can help reduce illness and prolong life, why aren’t we all happy, and what might we do to become less pessimistic and negative? The first question is the harder to answer. We are complex psychological beings, products of our upbringing, genetics, hardships, and positive and negative experiences. We’ve been shaped and influenced by many people and situations, and we learned good and bad behaviors through the years by observation and reaction, and as protection.

But there are things we can do to help move ourselves into a more positive, optimistic mindset.

For example:

  • Notice negativity. Listen to what you and others say and how negative it is. Track your own thoughts on a daily basis and notice the negative assumptions and conclusions that you draw, because identifying our own negativity is essential to change.
  • When you find yourself saying something negative, think of something positive to say.
  • Search for positive aspects of situations. Most situations can be seen in both a positive and negative light. You just have to find the positive one and keep reminding yourself of it in order to eventually believe it.
  • Think of someone you know who has a positive outlook on life and ask yourself what that person would do or think in particular situations. Then try to think that way too.
  • Give others positive feedback. Even if someone has done something poorly, there has to be some aspect of it that is good. If you can find this, your view will be more positive and the other person may feel encouraged to continue.
  • Give yourself positive feedback and notice when you discount or minimize your successes. Pessimists feel uncomfortable with good things and often fear disappointing others by acknowledging their own strengths. Learn to just say thank you if someone (including yourself) gives you positive feedback.
  • Identify why you feel negative. Does it provide protection against disappointment? Does it help you not to get hurt? Do you think that it helps you to plan for possible challenges? We often think that pessimism and worry are helpful but this is not true. We can learn to handle disappointment, hurt, and challenges if we were not bogged down by anxiety and negativity.
  • Take the risk of being positive and see how it feels. It takes a long time to learn negativity and will take a while to learn optimism.

Positive thinking and being will help you lead a longer, healthier life. It may take practice, but what do you have to lose, other than the negative attitude?


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!

Stress at Work Is Killing Us

Whether home or at work, at school, shopping, or driving, there’s no shortage of things to stress us out. Our ability to cope, get along with others, get things done efficiently, and be reasonable often hinges on how we manage that stress. Those coping mechanisms have a lot to do with how well our days go and how we get along with family and friends. But when it comes to work, there’s a greater price to pay. Not managing stress effectively costs employers billions of dollars annually in healthcare-related expenses, lost-work hours, and reduced productivity due to illness, depression, accidents, turnover, and worker burnout.

According to research by the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Center for Organizational Excellence, more than one-third (35%) of American workers experience chronic work stress, with low salaries, lack of opportunities for advancement, and heavy workloads topping the list of contributing factors. Stress in the workplace, researchers found, manifests itself in increased absenteeism and presenteeism (coming to work, but not achieving expectations, or working to potential), lower productivity, and increased service errors.

Stress also is a contributor to high blood pressure and other diseases. When we’re frustrated, depressed, or under tremendous pressure at work or at home, we tend to eat poorly, not exercise, and otherwise tax our bodies. Links have been established between stress and our body’s production of excess cholesterol. Stress also interferes with our normal sleep, which causes fatigue and makes us irritable and more susceptible to illness. When unchecked, stress interferes with our general quality of life, and can affect our relationships, productivity, customer service, teamwork, safety, and quality.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), work-related stress is the physical and emotional damage that occurs due to a mismatch between work requirements and the resources, needs, and capabilities of workers. Currently, 40% of American workers say that their jobs are very or extremely stressful. At the same time, 26% of employees say they are very often burned out, or stressed at the workplace. Twenty-nine percent of workers say that their jobs are extremely stressful, and 25% report that their jobs are the leading causes of stress in their lives.

How is that affecting them physically? CDC statistics say that seven out of 10 workers say they experience stress-related psychological symptoms regularly, and close to eight out of 10 employees regularly encounter physical symptoms associated with stress. To avoid workplace stress, 60% of 26,000 U.S. workers surveyed said they would opt for a fresh career start. This dissatisfaction on the job is costing American employers $300 billion annually on employee healthcare and employee absence costs.

Why so much workplace stress?

If you’ve ever worked for or with other people, you probably can answer this question yourself.

Workload accounts for 46% of all workplace stress incidents, and “people issues” account for 28% of stress at work problems. Additionally, juggling work/personal life challenges accounts for 20% of stress incidents reported by American workers, while lack of job security is the fourth-leading cause of stress at the workplace.

The symptoms of worrying, anxiety, and stress at work result in back pain, fatigue, stomach ailments, headaches, teeth grinding, and changes in sex drive. It reduces immunity to disease, and leaves workers unable to sleep well at night due to worrying about their jobs. And it’s costing employers an estimated $10 billion annually in productivity losses alone.

All in all, it sounds pretty dire. Yet we have to work, we have to get along with our co-workers, bosses, and customers, and we have to remain focused on quality, service, and productivity. So how can employers help address the issues that cause this detrimental behavior and side effects, and improve outcomes?

Organizations that have implemented measures to address burnout have a staff turnover rate of just 6%, which is low compared to the national average of 38%. Additionally, in progressive-thinking companies, the rate of staff reporting “chronic work stress” stands at 19% compared to the national average of 35%. Employees at the same organizations registered higher job satisfaction scores, meaning they were unlikely to seek greener pastures elsewhere.

Tips for managing workplace stress

Humans are complicated – there are no easy answers or magic bullets. But based on research, an important first step is promoting a healthy work/life balance. Progressive organizations offer telecommuting, paid time off, and flex time perks. Employee recognition strategies including profit-sharing programs, bonuses, and cost-of-living salary raises. Organizing staff retreats, interacting with staff to learn more about their problems, and monitoring job satisfaction helps, as does providing workers with regular career growth and development opportunities.

While the work has to get done and get done on time, fatigue plays an enormous role in reduced workplace productivity. While napping in one’s car is helpful when coping with exhaustion, some employers provide rest or nap lounges with couches, reduced lighting, and soft music. Ensuring that employees get adequate time for stretching, moving around, breaks, and for lunch or dinner is critical.

Additionally, time during the day for recreation – walks, runs, athletics, bicycling, working out – helps people manage stress and keep themselves healthier. That could be as simple as having a fitness room, basketball or volleyball court at the workplace, or encouraging employees to take a walk or go to the gym at times that work best for them and fit within their work requirements.

Bringing in experts on nutrition, fitness, yoga, massage, and other forms of relaxation or wellness education is inexpensive and helpful. And engaging employees in team problem-solving, or creating and empowering recreation, communication, health and wellness, and “fun” committees goes a long way toward improving morale, teamwork and productivity.

Ultimately, we all have to find ways to deal with our own stress, and the stress that accompanies most jobs. But recognizing the signs of worker stress and acknowledging the importance of providing creative and healthy outlets for employees will help reduce some of the factors that are heavily taxing workers and costing employers a fortune, and employees their health.

Sleep – Who Needs It?!

Think about young children out at a restaurant with their family way after their normal bedtime.  Maybe they’re on vacation or have been going all day, had to wait in line and, your luck, got the booth next to yours. They may be short tempered, ill-mannered, and obstinate – not the best dinner companions. But here’s the thing:  It’s probably not their fault. If they haven’t gotten enough sleep, they are tired and cranky. Lack of sleep throws off our chemical balance and deprives us of much-needed rest that allows us to cope, concentrate, solve problems, and function more effectively in interactive situations–like while playing, in school, and at work.

In March, we turn the clocks ahead an hour and look forward to enjoying the lengthening days and milder temperatures. If you have a dog or cat, you know they’re not happy about the time change – they expect breakfast and dinner on the schedule they’re used to. But besides upsetting our animals, the time change and loss of an hour adds to any sleep deprivation we may already be suffering and wreaks havoc with our internal clocks.

When we’re tired, we become irritable. Productivity, service, creativity, and quality of work often suffer. Being fatigued tests the patience of everyone around us, increases chances of accidents or mistakes, and aggravates chronic health conditions. It also reduces our natural immune system, making us more susceptible to illness.

Humans have a 24-hour internal clock called circadian rhythm that controls our eating and sleeping patterns, internal bodily functions and the timing of hormone secretions. We might have trouble falling asleep at night or waking up in the morning if our internal clock gets out of sync with the external day-night cycle. This happens with multi-time-zone travel and is the basis for jet lag. With the daylight savings time shift, the external time has shifted while the internal clock has not, and even though it’s been weeks, there’s still a lag.

The more stable and consistent our circadian rhythm, the better our sleep. This cycle also may be altered by the timing of various factors including naps, bedtime, exercise, diet, and especially exposure to light.

Aging also plays a role in sleep and sleep hygiene. After the age of 40, our sleep patterns change and we have many more nocturnal awakenings than in our younger years. These not only directly affect the quality of our sleep, but they also interact with any other condition that may cause arousals or awakenings, functioning like the withdrawal syndrome that occurs after drinking alcohol close to bedtime. Chronic illness, changes of medications, and injuries also affect restlessness. But whatever the causes, the more times we awake at night, the more likely we will not feel refreshed and restored in the morning.

Additionally, psychological stressors like deadlines, exams, arguments, and job crises may prevent us from falling asleep or wake us from sleep throughout the night. It takes time to “turn off” all the noise from the day. If you work right up to the time you turn out the lights, are watching television, or are on your phone or laptop, you simply can’t just “flip a switch” and drop off to a blissful night’s sleep.

Steps for sleeping more peacefully

Millions of Americans suffer from fatigue caused by poor sleep habits. And while chemical imbalances and chronic conditions such as sleep apnea—where the body doesn’t get enough oxygen during sleep—can be affecting you, there are many simple solutions you can try before turning to medications or speaking with your doctor about a sleep study.

The most important sleep hygiene measure is to maintain a regular sleep and wake pattern seven days a week. It’s also important to spend an appropriate amount of time in bed—not too little, or too much. This may vary by individual. For example, if someone has a problem with daytime sleepiness, they should spend a minimum of eight hours in bed, but if they have difficulty sleeping at night, they should limit themselves to seven hours in bed in order to keep the sleep pattern consolidated.

Here are 10 good sleep hygiene practices to consider:

  • Avoid napping during the day. It can disturb the normal pattern of sleep and wakefulness.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol too close to bedtime. While alcohol is well known to speed the onset of sleep, it disrupts sleep in the second half of your sleep cycle as the body begins to metabolize the alcohol, causing arousal.
  • Exercise can promote good sleep. Vigorous exercise should be practiced in the morning or late afternoon. A relaxing exercise, like yoga, can be done before bed to help initiate a restful night’s sleep; but avoid exercise close to bedtime.
  • Food can be disruptive right before sleep. Stay away from large meals, spicy foods which increase metabolism, sweets, or unhealthy snacking. And, remember, chocolate contains caffeine, though it has many helpful properties, as well.
  • Ensure adequate exposure to natural light. This is particularly important for older people who may not venture outside as frequently as children and adults. Light exposure helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle, though try to avoid too much light exposure in the evening if you’ve been having trouble sleeping.
  • Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine and try to wake up at the same time every day.
  • Limit stimulating activities, electronic games, social networking, and TV shows before trying to go to sleep.
  • Don’t dwell on or bring your problems to bed, and try to avoid emotionally upsetting conversations when it’s time to relax.
  • Associate your bed with sleep. It’s not a good idea to use your bed to watch TV, listen to the radio, or work.
  • Make sure that the sleep environment is pleasant and relaxing. The bed should be comfortable, and the room should not be too hot or cold, or too bright.

It’s easy to put off sleep, figuring we can catch up when there’s more time. But like taking our medications, eating nutritional meals and exercising regularly, getting the rest we need is important for our overall health and wellness and should be treated as a necessity, not a commodity.

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!

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!