Appreciation Boosts Productivity, Morale, and Health

How important is it to you to know you’re doing a good job, or to hear someone say “thanks” for your work and efforts? While the personal satisfaction and pride we take in knowing we’ve done something well or right can be its own reward, numerous studies have shown that overall personal satisfaction is enhanced when we receive praise, recognition and constructive feedback from employers, customers, parents, teachers and friends. It’s simple, it’s free, it helps increase productivity and quality, boosts job satisfaction, morale, teamwork and retention – and helps improve emotional and physical health.

When someone feels taken for granted, unrecognized or under-appreciated, it has a direct impact on their emotional health and stress levels. Lack of recognition, especially in the workplace, often is mentioned as a contributing factor to overall employee dissatisfaction. And the more employees are unhappy at work, the more productivity, teamwork and customer relations may suffer.  Quality suffers, as well, and increased stress is a known factor in promoting irritability, increasing conflict, interfering with sleep and diet, boosting absenteeism and increasing “presenteeism,” a loss of workplace productivity resulting from employee health problems and personal issues. It also contributes to increases in blood pressure, heart disease, poor nutrition, sleeplessness and weight gain.

Americans like being told “thanks” but aren’t that great at thanking others, according to a national survey on gratitude commissioned by the John Templeton Foundation. The polling firm Penn Shoen Berland surveyed over 2,000 people in the United States, capturing perspectives from different ages, ethnic groups, income levels, religions and more.

Gratitude was enormously important to respondents, who also admitted they think about, feel, and espouse gratitude more readily than expressing it to others. This might be why respondents also felt that gratitude in America is declining. Some of the findings included these facts:

  • More than 90 percent of those polled agreed that grateful people are more fulfilled, lead richer lives, and are more likely to have friends.
  • More than 95 percent said that it is important for mothers and fathers to teach gratitude.
  • People are less likely to express gratitude at work than anyplace else. Seventy-four percent never or rarely express gratitude to their boss. But people are eager to have a boss who expresses gratitude to them. Seventy percent would feel better about themselves if their boss was more grateful, and 81 percent would work harder.
  • 93 percent of those polled agreed that grateful bosses were more likely to be successful, and only 18 percent thought that grateful bosses would be seen as “weak.”

It’s human nature:  We’re better at noticing and tallying what we personally do than what other people do.  According to the data, most of the people surveyed appreciate being appreciated, but lack in their tendency to say “thanks”– despite knowing that expressing gratitude can bring more happiness, meaning, professional success, and interpersonal connection into their lives.

Taking the time to express gratitude to others goes a long way toward improving individual and organizational health. Ultimately, there are so many ways to say “thanks” to our employees. Whether verbally, through written or public commendation, one-on-one recognition or in front of peers, gratitude is an important employee relations, productivity and stress-reduction tool. And while bonuses, pay raises, gift cards, and compensatory time off are terrific recognition tools, employees want to feel like it is more than simply “doing their jobs and meeting expectations” that matters. Increased responsibility, promotions and inclusion also are important factors, but it all starts with feeling appreciated and respected.


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!

 

 

Who Has Time for Vacation?

Are you one of those people who swears you’ll never become one of those people when it comes to “working vacations,” checking your laptop while you’re away with the family, or avoiding vacations entirely? If so, you’d be a member in a surprisingly large club; but you would also be part of an even larger club of people who suffer from cardiac disease, high blood pressure, strokes, sleep disorders and a variety of other dangerous illnesses that often are aggravated by stress, fatigue and the willingness to ignore our bodies’ needs.

It’s easy to understand why many people resist taking personal time off from work. Maybe you own a small business with limited staff or help you can trust running things in your absence. Or things are really popping and you just can’t afford the time or cost of a vacation. No work no pay – or the fear of losing a job if you take time off – sidelines many. And so-called “workaholics” who thrive on being busy and are strongly emotionally linked to their work also resist time away, sometimes for fear things will fall apart, someone will take advantage of the perceived gap, or simply because they believe they are irreplaceable, even for a week or two.

Beyond the obvious ego issues, the simple truth is that we all need time to relax, alter our pace, and get away from the day-to-day hassles and pressures of work . . . even if we like our jobs. Think about the need to shut down a laptop or smart phone so it can refresh programs and download applications. Taking time off works that way for our brains and bodies, too – it doesn’t really matter what we do or where we go, it’s simply important and healthy to take the break.

In other countries around the world, especially the UK and across Europe, employees take up to six weeks of “holiday” to relax, travel, read, work in their gardens or homes, visit with family or pursue whatever pleases them. They look on Americans with dismay and shake their heads at our work philosophy and customs. It’s not that they don’t enjoy or value their work or need the paycheck as much as we do – it’s just that taking time off is normal, accepted and a welcome practice.

Vacations for many of us are a paid benefit. As employers, we need to model correct and healthy behaviors and encourage employees to enjoy their time off at their leisure, and as they choose – but to use the time. In a Harris Poll conducted last year among 2,224 working adults over 18, two thirds (66 percent) report working when they do take a vacation. The study also found that the average U.S. employee had taken just a hair over half (54 percent) of their eligible paid vacation time over the past 12 months.

We can make vacationing easier for employees and for the business by asking well in advance about vacation plans, adjusting schedules and workloads accordingly, determining who is covering for employees when they are out and making it easy for people to be away without them feeling guilty or threatened. That means doing more than setting “out of the office” email messages, especially since 29 percent of respondents said they were contacted by a co-worker while they were on vacation, and 25 percent said they were contacted by their boss!

If you are self-employed or lack a vacation benefit, putting aside money throughout the year will help finance some play time, but even staying at home, catching up on sleep or reading, making day trips, hiking, biking, hitting the beach or just visiting with friends and family will help ease some of your daily pressure and anxiety and refresh you for the return to work.

The consequences of not taking time off – including people being fatigued, irritable and less resistant to common and chronic illnesses – affects productivity, quality, safety, retention and customer service. These costs can have a perceptible impact on your bottom line, or if you work for yourself, affect your performance and results. And when you get too run down, you are more likely to get sick, or develop a serious illness.

Encourage days away from the office, and practice what you preach. However difficult it may feel, taking a block of personal time benefits you, your family, your business and everyone around you. It’s smart, relaxing and healthy.


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!

Why Our Brains Say “Yes” When the Facts Say “No”

If you’re an employer trying to motivate your workers, how do you get past their biases to get everyone on the same page, or at least rowing in the same direction? Psychologists suggest that, rather than taking on people’s surface attitudes and beliefs directly, tailor messages so that they align with their motivation.

Using vaccinations as an example, everyone agrees that deadly diseases exist, that they are bad, and that people are getting sick and dying from them. By exploring what happens when people resist vaccinating themselves or their children – the very real possibility that those adults or children will either get sick themselves or be a carrier who gets another child or person sick – and by examining statistics from reliable sources, we can “agree to disagree,” but still make a decision based on logic and the well-being of those around us.

That same thinking can be applied to getting employees to work together toward a common cause or goal. Influential people – leaders, both natural or by ranking in the workplace – can sway opinion. People want to be accepted, recognized, and considered a valuable part of a team. By looking for the things we have in common, listening to differing opinions, recognizing how people make decisions and then finding solutions and compromises, we become more effective leaders.

It isn’t entirely our fault that we err to the side of comfort. Based on scientific research, our brains protect us, validating information that supports our biases, often to the point of denigrating the information with which we disagree, accepting compatible information that makes us feel better – or which supports our beliefs – almost at face value. Scientists link this to our innate “fight or flight” response, with the twist being we may choose to fight by latching on to what we want to believe, in essence, “taking flight” from the truth to protect our opinions.

Psychologists have identified key factors that can cause people to reject science – and it has nothing to do with how educated or intelligent they are. In fact, researchers found that people who reject scientific consensus on topics such as climate change, vaccine safety, and evolution are generally just as interested in science and as well-educated as the rest of us. It’s just that they think more like lawyers than scientists, meaning they “cherry pick” the facts and studies that back up what they already believe is true.

As hard as this is to believe, or to understand, the rationale for this behavior often comes down to a simple, though troubling truth: No matter how irrefutable the evidence is, many people reject anything which contradicts their deeply entrenched false belief.

How they arrive at their false belief often has to do with how they are raised, religious doctrine, political leaning and their willingness to accept and believe information from powerful or confident people. Oftentimes, people would rather think they are right, even if they’re wrong. It becomes a tug of war between ego, self-esteem, long-held beliefs and the desire to stick with something that meshes with your own way of seeing the world, even if facts refute or contradict your opinion.

Over 90 percent of our decisions are made at an unconscious level. Brain imaging has shown that when the brain inputs data, the emotional centers light up first (what does this mean to me?), followed by the logic centers (what do I do with it?). This means that ‘facts’ are what people use to validate decisions already made at an unconscious level.

For example, if someone believes that vaccinations aren’t safe, they will ignore the hundreds of medical studies that support vaccination safety and glom onto the one study they can find that casts doubt. These phenomena are known as cognitive bias – people treat facts as more relevant when those facts tend to support their opinions. They may not totally deny facts that contradict their beliefs, but they will say that those facts are “less relevant.”

Our brains tend to easily accept information compatible with what we already know, and minimize information that contradicts what we already know, or believe we know. The information goes into our brain, but the importance our mind allots to these facts and information is being weighted unconsciously in favor of those bits of data that already fit our preconceptions. Our brains unconsciously diminish their importance, regardless of the truth or facts, and since they are perceived as “less important,” these facts or truths quickly fade from memory.

 


 

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!

Sleep Sense

We’ve already turned the clocks ahead and are enjoying the increasing hours of daylight. The first few weeks after we sprung forward, you might have noticed a change in your sleep patterns or felt more tired or irritable. Certainly, the cat and dog noticed – they still wanted their breakfast at 5:30 a.m., not 6:30 a.m. when you were ready to awaken. But if you’re finding yourself dragging a bit, it’s not a mystery — that hour of sleep you lost also affected your internal clock, and anything that throws off our body’s natural timing mechanism can wreak havoc.

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 is, 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. And though the results may seem subtle, when the clock changes, we become weary – and irritable.

When we’re tired, productivity, service 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.

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. The more times we awake at night, the more likely we will feel unrefreshed and unrestored in the morning.

Psychological stressors like deadlines, exams, relationship conflict 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, or are reviewing all the day’s events and planning tomorrow, you simply can’t just “flip a switch” and drop off to a blissful night’s sleep. The same is true if you’re watching television, gaming or on your smart phone right before bedtime – these all affect our brain and interfere with the natural hormones that help us rest.

Sleeping Better Takes Practice

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 running off to get 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 to keep the sleep pattern consolidated.

Here are 10 good sleep hygiene practices to assist your restfulness:

  • 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 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 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.

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!

The Scent of Love

It’s February, and the scent of love is in the air. What you’re smelling, though, and how it’s affecting you, is the result of a complex biological and evolutionary ecosystem that marries chemistry, anthropology, genetics, biology, personal life experiences, and memories to trigger attraction, revulsion and every possible physical and emotional reaction in-between.

If you close your eyes, can you smell your special someone’s perfume or cologne? Have you noticed the scent of their shampoo, the lingering traces of fabric softener on a shirt or pillow?

Our sensory capabilities are processing and registering millions of messages, translating information in our brains and then sending back millions of messages that are prompting reactions, both conscious and subconscious.

Scent is a powerful stimulus that can conjure up fond memories, nostalgia, and sexual attraction, and conversely, the urge to flee or reject another person or situation. It can change our moods, incentivize us to action, or induce melancholy. The biochemical agents and physiology that drive reactions to scent are still being explored, as are the complex ways scents cause us to react, protect ourselves, and help us choose mates.

The Chemistry of Love

Contrary to what the billion-dollar-per-year cosmetics industry would have us believe, scent is not some romantic elixir but, in reality, a complicated immune system reaction. When it comes to attraction, researchers and scientists have long pondered how we humans announce, and excite, sexual availability. Many animals, insects and even plants do it with their own biochemical bouquets known as pheromones.

Scientists have documented a rich array of natural pheromones for most animals, mammals and bugs, though not as conclusively for human beings.

Pheromone reception in other species is managed by two little pits (one in each nostril, near the septum) known collectively as the vomeronasal organ (VNO). For years after VNO’s discovery in animals, scientists argued that humans lacked this organ, or that it had shrunk or ceased to exist due to evolution. In the 1930s, scientists even claimed that humans lacked the part of the brain necessary for processing and interpreting VNO signals.

But modern science has debunked that claim. While smaller than those of our ancestors, VNO capability in humans is alive and well, and part of our larger sensory system that includes our hands and faces, which contain the most accessible concentrations of scent glands on the human body. And the part of the brain that processes scent works quite well, although it has evolved and for many years was hidden in our frontal cortex and harder to find. Together, with memory, these receptors work in concert to stimulate attraction, distraction, interest or disinterest, as well as mood and behavior.

Making Sense of Scents

Certain scents stimulate memories in rich detail, some ranging as far back as childhood, and can affect us physiologically. Cookies baking, a parent or loved one’s clothing, bacon frying, leaves burning, a lover’s perfume, flowering bushes adorning our childhood homes: the smell of certain items, even in passing, can transport us to another time.

Not all scent-related memories are good – the smells of illness, smoke from tobacco, car exhaust, medicines or cleaners and even the scent of another human being we’d prefer to forget all can remind us of another time and place.

But often, it isn’t the odor itself that has meaning, but the significance of a personal event related to the scent. With an initial encounter, we begin forming nerve connections that intertwine the smell with emotions. The capacities for both smell and emotion are rooted in the same network of brain structures called the limbic system. The olfactory center also interacts directly with the hippocampus, a brain area involved in the formation of new memories.

Certain scents are known to have properties that have been touted by the aromatherapy industry. For example, lemon increases people’s perception of their own health; lavender contributes to a positive mood; eucalyptus increases respiratory rate and alertness; and rose oil is thought to reduce blood pressure. Burning frankincense allegedly reduces feelings of depression and anxiety; cedar reduces tension; vanilla relaxes us; and jasmine helps us sleep better.

If you’ve ever purchased and lighted scented candles, your choice of scent is motivated as much by personal memory as it is by a pleasant odor. Floral scents may remind you of gardens, flowers in vases, and places you’ve visited. Chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon and other spices bring us back to past kitchens or feasts. And extinguishing the candle and the smell of the match can be a reminder of another time and place, holidays, birthdays or a special occasion with our loved ones.

As you contemplate gifts for this Valentine’s Day, keep scent in mind. Chocolate, flowers and jewelry may always appear safe bets, but mind the olfactory factors at work: knowing what your partner or potential amour enjoys, or being aware of his or her past can improve your odds of purchasing or offering a gift that hits the mark.

So this February 14th, and every other day, don’t underestimate the power of familiarity and memory as a catalyst for improving relations with a significant other, potential partner or even friends, associates and co-workers. Scent is busy regulating attraction and mood upfront and behind the scenes — the more you understand its subtle workings, the greater the reward.


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

Reducing Financial Stress: The Healthy Gift to Yourself in 2018

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

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

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

Coping through planning and daily focus

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

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

Here are tips to share for improving financial health:

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

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

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


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

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!