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!

Achieving Balance Between Work, Health, and Overall Wellness

It is rare when you find a company that seems to have successfully bridged the gap between hard work, customer service and quality of life. ZAG Interactive is one of those organizations, featuring a vibrant, energized workforce that prides itself on customer quality, innovation, teamwork and their own health and wellness.

ZAG Interactive is a full-service digital agency specializing in website design, strategic marketing, custom development and campaign support. Much of its name recognition comes from building or redesigning websites for credit unions and banks across the country. It employs 55 people, and has been growing like gangbusters. It’s a youthful organization founded 15 years ago by a young, hands-on CEO, Larry Miclette, Jr., who leads by example, in the office and in the fitness arena.

Miclette has always supported work/life balance, and takes a personal, interactive interest in the health of his employees. The culture, says the company’s Wellness Champion Dawn Stanford, operations coordinator for ZAG, is very family and team oriented. People work and play together, and even spend time in one another’s company out of the office. And fitness, nutrition and exercise play important roles in helping them bond, manage stress and remain customer focused.

ZAG offers a variety of opportunities for employees to increase their activity level and health, Stanford says. “Employees are given a full membership to Healthtrax Fitness and Wellness, a gym that specializes in group classes, personal training, or individual training. We also offer a membership to Mission Fitness, which is a group-fitness-style gym that specializes in group boot camp, boxing, power and spin classes. They also offer ‘Mission Adventures,’ which include trail running, hiking, and triathlons.”

ZAG recently provided on-site lunch-time workouts with a trainer from Mission Fitness. The trainer offered nutritional guidance as well as a 20- to 30-minute workout. Lunchtime is playtime, as well – interested employees gather to enjoy Wiffle ball, a fun activity that started with a few ZAG players and now has expanded into a league, with tournament time quickly approaching and a trophy – and bragging rights – on the line.

Every Friday during the warm months there is a team picnic, and an employee who is a yoga instructor offers a class onsite on many Thursday evenings. Frequently employees bring in fresh vegetables and fruit from their gardens, share smoothie and nutritional snacks and dinner recipes, and discuss healthy food alternatives at lunch time and throughout the day.

“Our team is very congenial, supportive, proactive and involved,” says Melissa Wilkinson, a senior designer at ZAG, who also assists Stanford with the day-to-day health and wellness communication, planning and outreach. “In the past we’ve posted daily health tips such as how to optimize a 30-minute workout break, nutritional information, and other ideas. Many of us go outside at lunch for walks or hikes, and there’s a park nearby with walking and fitness trails. We set and share personal goals, and prompt and support each other.” A fear years ago, Zag hosted a “ZAG Fit” competition. The competition encouraged employees, their families and friends of ZAG to upload photographs of themselves doing any kind of health and wellness activities that interested them at work or on their own time. If they posted photos with a ZAG Fit hashtag, they were entered into a drawing for a free Fitbit. One was awarded to an employee, and one went to a non-ZAG employee.

They’ve also created a wellness advocacy team, comprising one representative from each business area. The goal, Wilkinson says, is to better integrate health and wellness across the organization by recognizing that each department has different interests, challenges ideas and its own subculture. Inclusivity, she adds, is key to success.

“Everyone benefits in a culture that embraces wellness,” Wilkinson explains. “We all think we eat healthy and exercise properly, but getting a professional to come in and explain things to the group, or in a one-on-one setting, makes a huge difference in how effective and educated we are when it comes to nutrition, fitness and overall wellness.”

“Here at ZAG, living a healthy lifestyle is important,” Stanford stresses. “‘Living healthy’ means different things to different people. We offer many opportunities for our employees to help reduce their stress and be active, involved and nutritionally fit every day. Wellness is a regular topic of conversation, and a way of life.”


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!

Flu Shot Protocols for Employers

The cost of getting sick taxes employers and employees alike. Chronic illness and injuries—though not always anticipated—can be managed, but it’s hard to limit exposure to viruses and bacteria. However, there are steps we can take to mitigate the chances that we and our fellow workers will come down with and share certain contagious illnesses, especially in the workplace.

High on the list of contagions that can be controlled is influenza, or the flu. Every year, millions of Americans contract the flu, losing three to five days of work or more, requiring visits to physicians or walk-in clinics, and for many, a stay in the hospital. It’s also life threatening for seniors, small children and adults with compromised immune or respiratory systems. The annual medical costs run in the billions, as do the costs of lost productivity.

With easy, convenient, and affordable access to safe immunizations for preventing the flu, employers across the country, especially in the healthcare industry, are taking a more proactive stance toward ensuring employee compliance. Some companies are shooting for 100%compliance, launching educational campaigns, team competitions, rallies, and incentive options such as discounts and premiums. Others are taking a carrot and stick approach, linking employer contribution incentives to medical savings accounts. Others are just wielding the stick, insisting that employees receive a flu vaccination as a condition of employment, with exceptions for those who have legitimate religious concerns or allergies to the vaccination.

Recognizing the central role businesses and employers play in protecting the health and safety of their employees, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have produced materials intended to guide employers in their planning and preparedness for seasonal and pandemic influenza. The guidance is intended to help employers take actions to decrease influenza spread, maintain business continuity, and secure critical infrastructure. OSHA recommends that employers prioritize vaccination because it is a long-term and effective intervention that reduces reliance on employee behavioral changes such as hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.

As far back as February of 2010, the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP) released their provisional recommendation that all people six months of age or older receive an annual influenza vaccination, unless contraindicated. The CDC also recommends that employers encourage employees to seek vaccination against both seasonal and pandemic influenza, offer influenza vaccination opportunities at their worksite or consider allowing employees time off from work to seek vaccination.

Despite the potential benefits of vaccination, self-reports within the National Health Interview Survey suggest that vaccine coverage among healthy adults 18 to 49 years is only approximately 20%. Offering vaccination in the workplace could increase coverage by making vaccination more convenient, and reducing or eliminating the associated cost may further improve influenza vaccine participation.

Studies have shown that individuals who received influenza vaccine at work cited convenience as an important factor in the decision to be vaccinated. Following physicians’ offices, workplaces are the most common location to receive an influenza vaccination, with one-third of 18- to 49-year-old vaccine recipients and one-fifth of 50 to 64-year-old vaccine recipients receiving the vaccine at work. The addition of workplace education programs can provide information and alleviate employees’ concerns and misinformation about influenza vaccination.

Compliance and the law

More and more healthcare employers are requiring that all employees get the influenza vaccine in order to help protect patients and coworkers during flu season. This trend has resulted in questions pertaining to the legality of such policies, as well as how to properly implement a mandatory influenza vaccination policy for employees. Employers may adopt mandatory flu shot policies which are drafted and implemented in a legally compliant manner.

As a condition of employment, an employer may require that all employees receive a flu shot. However, an employer’s compulsory flu shot policy must provide for exemptions in order to comply with various laws regulating the employer/employee relationship. For example, if an employee with a physical or mental disability refuses a flu shot, the employer may have to make a reasonable accommodation in order to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A reasonable accommodation could take the form of exempting the employee from the requirement and instead requiring a different protective measure, such as wearing a surgical mask. Similarly, if an employee objects due to a sincerely held religious belief, the employer may also have to provide a reasonable accommodation, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer.

If an employee refuses to comply with the employer’s policy and/or any reasonable alternative protective measures required by the employer if an exemption is granted, an at-will employer may pursue disciplinary action which could include termination. Employers should consult knowledgeable legal counsel before making employment-based decisions.

Employers wishing to require flu shots should adopt a written flu shot policy so that all employees have reasonable advance notice that receiving an annual influenza vaccination is a condition of employment. The policy should set an annual compliance deadline based on the anticipated start of the flu season and outline consequences for noncompliance. For instance, the policy may list the steps triggered by noncompliance, such as a written warning, suspension, and termination if the noncompliance is not addressed within a certain time frame. The policy should also specify what written documentation the employee must furnish the employer to prove that the employee was vaccinated.

An Employer’s Policy Should Include Exemptions

An employer’s influenza vaccination policy should provide a process for employees to request an exemption from the employer. Additionally, the policy should notify employees that if the employer grants an exemption, employees are required to comply, as a condition of employment, with reasonable alternative protective measures specified by the employer.
Exemptions should be allowed for reasons such as

  • A sincerely held religious belief or creed;
  • A qualifying physical or mental disability;
  • A prior severe allergic reaction to the flu shot;
  • A history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome; or
  • Some other relevant medical reason.

Ultimately, educating employees about the benefits and importance of the flu shot may help maximize employee participation. Just like frequent hand washing, the flu shot is an important protective measure for employees and their families. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), and the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC) recommend that all U.S. health care workers get vaccinated annually against influenza. The CDC has a variety of resources related to influenza vaccination  that may be helpful to employers and employees, especially those in the healthcare field.


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!

Are You a Candidate for Medical Marijuana?

Though the debate about the use of medical marijuana continues in many states and in Washington, DC, close to half of the country — including Connecticut — has legalized the use of cannabis and its cannabinoids for medicinal purposes for treating a variety of conditions.

Use must be approved by a Connecticut-licensed physician or an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN), who must write a prescription that only can be filled at a licensed dispensary using products produced locally by a handful of State-approved growers.

To qualify, a patient needs to be diagnosed as having one of the following debilitating medical conditions that is specifically identified in the law, including:  Cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, certain types of damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord, epilepsy, cachexia, wasting syndrome, Crohn’s disease or post-traumatic stress disorder. Other approved medicinal uses include:

  • Sickle Cell Disease
  • Post Laminectomy Syndrome with Chronic Radiculopathy
  • Severe Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
  • Ulcerative Colitis
  • Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

The laws regarding medical marijuana are fluid and constantly changing, as a board of physicians and legislators reflect on patient needs, other available drugs and therapies, and new research. The following additional medical conditions are now covered for patients over 18 (excluding inmates confined in a correctional institution of facility under the Department of Correction, regardless of their medical condition), although patients under 18 also qualify, with certain restrictions and requirements:

  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Irreversible Spinal Cord Injury with Objective Neurological Indication of Intractable Spasticity
  • Terminal Illness Requiring End-Of-Life Care
  • Uncontrolled Intractable Seizure Disorder

The first step is to make an appointment with the physician treating you for the debilitating condition for which you seek to use medical marijuana. You will not be able to register in the system until the Department receives a certification from your physician or APRN that you have been diagnosed with a condition that qualifies for the use of medical marijuana and that, in his or her opinion, the potential benefits of the palliative use of marijuana would likely outweigh the health risks.

Patients with a prescription for medical marijuana need to complete an application with the State Department of Consumer Protection, which oversees this program in Connecticut. The process involves providing proof the patient still lives in Connecticut; an updated photograph; certifications that have to be completed online or in writing; and the payment of a program fee. Medical marijuana in Connecticut is not a covered health insurance benefit.

Qualifying patient applications take between two to three weeks to process. Upon approval of the application, a temporary certificate is emailed to the patient. This temporary certificate is valid for 30 days from the approval date of the application. The temporary certificate will allow patients to use their selected dispensary facility while their permanent Medical Marijuana Certificate is being mailed.

Patients must visit their selected dispensary in advance of filling their prescription as part of the screening process. Then, once approved, they can fill their prescription by accessing medical marijuana in a variety of forms and strengths. This includes product for smoking for those who might have trouble ingesting this medicine, or who prefer this delivery method. Prescriptions also cover the use of liquids, lozenges, edibles and other styles.

Though legalized, there are rules restricting use. For example, the law prohibits ingesting marijuana in a bus or any moving vehicle; in the workplace; on any school grounds (public or private), dormitory, college or university property; in any public place; or in the presence of anyone under 18. It also prohibits any use of palliative marijuana that endangers the health or well-being of another person, other than the patient or primary caregiver.

Finally, not every physician or APRN may be willing to write a prescription for medical marijuana, despite legalization. The Department of Consumer Protection does not require physicians or hospitals to recognize marijuana as an appropriate medical treatment in general or for any specific patient. If you believe that your physician is not providing you with the best medical care for your condition, then you may want to consider working with a different physician.

For more information, visit http://www.ct.gov/dcp and look for the section for medical marijuana under Laws & Regulations.


 

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 More You Know, the Better You’ll Feel

Informed patients make the best consumers of medical care. But with so much information available from a wide variety of sources, as well as age and cultural differences and cost and access issues, becoming a good medical consumer isn’t as easy as buying groceries or shopping for a new lawnmower.

Access to reliable, accurate information is one challenge. Another is a patient’s ability, or willingness, to ask informed questions and educate themselves about their disease, illness, condition or surgery. Those questions can range from “Why are you suggesting this procedure or medicine?”  to “What are the costs?” But the grey area in between is enormous. People may be intimidated by medical professionals, afraid of sounding ignorant, or uncomfortable asking questions. The age of the patient, and the age of the physician or technician can be a factor, as well as gender and ethnicity.

There is a lot of quality information available online. Additionally, most large insurance companies have comprehensive websites, and many have information lines accessible by phone or email. Some insurance provider websites also provide cost-comparison tools, though not for all services and procedures, and sometimes just for Medicare services.

Employers should encourage their employees to learn as much as possible about treatments for an illness or disease, or before having surgery.  For example, many hospitals offer nurse navigators to help patients prepare for surgeries involving joint replacement (such as hips, knees and shoulders), and maternity and gastro-intestinal (GI) departments also offer materials, videos, booklets and informational forums.

Disease-management programs have become popular over the past decade. If you suffer from heart or respiratory disease, diabetes or other chronic conditions, specialized programs now exist for answering questions, and for measuring weight, blood pressure and blood sugar. Remote monitoring can involve electronic scales that register and communicate your weight loss or gain to offices staffed by technicians and nurses located anywhere in the country. They review the results, and if they see changes, can then call the patient or the patient’s physician to set up an appointment or recommend an intervention. Oftentimes, dedicated nurse hotlines exist for the patient, and he or she may be asked to complete periodic assessments, or they may receive regular calls to check on their status, to schedule appointments or to offer suggestions.

Employees who are not taking advantage of these programs are missing out on useful, important services that are included in their benefit package. Employers can remind employees about these programs, or encourage them to look into every possible resource prior to a planned surgery or maternity, or while recovering from an illness.

Hospitals also have interpreters available on staff, via phone or online to ensure that non-English-speaking patients’ questions are answered completely or clearly. And for some patients, a medical professional who looks or sounds like them can be the difference between going into a procedure with confidence or with fear – or not taking the risk at all.

Libraries now have extensive medical and healthcare sections. Additionally, many physician practices have created patient portals where you can access information about appointments, tests, results and recommendations, ask questions online or seek other information. These portals are confidential and easy to use, requiring online access only.

Finally, if you have questions for your doctor or nurse, you should ask them – call or request a face-to-face meeting and learn what you need to feel confident, less afraid and informed. Bring another person to act as a second set of ears, if necessary. Either way, if the office resists, it may be time to find another practice that welcomes your inquiries.

Understanding as much as possible about your healthcare helps you maintain control over your body, and over your wallet. The more active a role you take in your personal health, the better the results are likely to be.


 

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!

Teams that play together work better

For many active, over-extended or retired weekend warriors, it’s hard driving past softball games, volleyball or tennis matches, 5K charity walks or groups of bicyclists spinning down paved bike paths without feeling wistful. It’s already June, the weather is finally warm and our bodies could really use the exercise and mental release. But we’re busy with work and life and can barely make time to get to the gym and see our family and friends, let alone go play.

Yet going to play and exercising are crucial for our mental and physical health.  For millions of American workers, the opportunity to combine physical activity within or related to the workplace environment has long been a staple of progressive cultures. This healthy practice is catching on in small and large organizations nationwide as increased awareness of health and wellness becomes integrated in team environments. Savvy employers recognize athletic activity as a tool for increased productivity, stress reduction, improved morale, team building and a path to overall wellness.

One CBIA Health Connections employer created a health and wellness committee to brainstorm and plan activities. They linked several of their ideas to national health- and wellness-related observances. Another tied their activities to local events, charities, and parks. Many employers bring in guest presenters and instructors, or sponsor classes, health screenings, nutritional education, and internal competitions. It’s all good fun, can be used to support charitable programs, and helps build stronger workplace teams.

Every month in the United States, there are a dozen or more formally designated awareness commemorations. These provide great topics around which you, your wellness champion, management team, or staff employees can develop an action plan for one or more activities.

There’s something for everyone, ranging from high-profile cancer-awareness months for ovarian, prostrate, breast, lung and skin cancers, to fruit and vegetables “matter” month, obesity, eye and hearing care, diabetes, yoga, UV protection, blood pressure, workplace and helmet safety, immunizations, and much more.

This month is National Great Outdoors Month – there are a variety of activities planned at Connecticut State parks, perfect locations for picnics and outings. And even though it’s not even summer yet, it’s never too early to begin planning for the autumn and winter – by building a schedule well in advance, you can encourage more employee involvement in planning and implementing activities that ultimately improve teamwork, enhance morale and productivity and support health and wellness.

Healthier employees are happier employees. They get sick less often, suffer from fewer incidences of chronic diseases, and have reduced absenteeism and sick days. By delegating – and using the many health and wellness tools available online – you can play a major role in promoting, supporting and funding health and wellness activities that feature a huge return on your investment.


 

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!

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.

Raise Your Glasses… Then Place Them Back Down

Think what you will about alcohol use, but a culture of drinking is part of our heritage and lifestyle. While many people abstain due to health, religious, or moral concerns, millions of Americans and people around the globe imbibe socially, use wine in religious ceremonies, binge drink, or abuse alcohol for a variety of reasons varying from habit to pain relief to genetics.

Many people enjoy the experience of being lightly intoxicated including reduced inhibitions and stimulation, and drinking is a normal part of many of our every-day rituals and customs here in the United States and around the world.

But drinking too much – on a single occasion or over time – can have serious consequences for our health. These consequences go far beyond having a headache and a hangover that make us uncomfortable but go away relatively quickly.

April is National Alcohol Awareness Month. Most people recognize that excessive drinking can lead to accidents and dependence, and can cause liver disease. But that’s only part of the story. Unlike other drugs, alcohol disperses in all body tissues and therefore has the potential to harm many organ systems. Alcohol abuse can damage organs, weaken the immune system, and contribute to a variety of cancers. Plus, much like smoking, alcohol affects different people differently. Genes, environment, and even diet can play a role in whether you develop an alcohol-related disease.

On the flip side, some people may actually benefit from drinking alcohol in small quantities. Alcohol’s effect on our heart is the best example of alcohol’s dual effects. Drinking a lot over a long time or too much on a single occasion can cause heart problems including high blood pressure, strokes, arrhythmia, and cardiomyopathy, a condition that causes our heart muscle to weaken and droop. But research also shows that healthy people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol (such as red wine) may have a lower risk of developing coronary artery disease than people who never drink at all.

Putting drinking in perspective

If you enjoy an alcoholic beverage once in a great while, you’re in good company: According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), seven out of 10 Americans report drinking alcohol at some point in the past year, and 56% drank in the past month. However, 26.9% of people ages 18 or over reported that they engaged in binge drinking, and 7% in heavy alcohol use regularly.

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) – or problem drinking – was reported in 15.1 million adults age 18 and over, with 1.3 million Americans seeking help in treatment facilities for drinking problems. What’s even more frightening is that, according to NSDUH, 623,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17 were reported suffering from AUD, resulting in 37,000 treated at medical or rehabilitation facilities.

Approximately 90,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the fourth-leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Close to 10,000 Americans die in alcohol-related car accidents annually, and alcohol misuse costs our country approximately $250 billion in health-related expenses, lost work time, and other factors such as reduced productivity and accidents.

How alcohol hurts us

While drinking in moderation may not affect the health of our liver, heavy drinking can definitely take its toll. The liver helps rid our bodies of substances that can be dangerous, including alcohol. By breaking down alcohol, the liver produces toxic byproducts that damage liver cells, promote inflammation, and weaken the body’s natural defenses. This can make conditions ripe for disorders like steatosis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis, and dangerous inflammations like hepatitis to develop.

Pancreatic inflammations can also develop in response to drinking too much. Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually cause inflammation and swelling in tissues in blood vessels. This inflammation, called pancreatitis, prevents the pancreas from digesting food and converting it into fuel to power our bodies.

Aside from damaging our organs, drinking too much alcohol can also increase our risk of developing certain cancers, including those of the mouth, esophagus, pharynx, larynx, liver, and breast.

Alcohol also can weaken our immune systems, making our bodies a much easier target for disease. Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows our body’s ability to ward off infections, even up to 24 hours after getting drunk. Chronic drinkers are more likely to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink too much.

So while some light to moderate drinking may not hurt you, it’s important to understand the toxic, longer-term effects of alcohol and use common sense when drinking any alcoholic beverage. We may never be a nation of teetotalers, but understanding what we put in our bodies and making smart decisions about our health will always work in our favor.