Being Mindful Throughout the Day

A lot has been written about stress-reduction techniques like exercise, yoga, meditation and mindfulness. While all offer methods for strengthening our bodies and our minds, each technique may not be practical at work, at school, or while shopping or driving in traffic. Yet there’s no question that the ability to calm ourselves and improve focus reduces tension, improves our mood, is good for heart health (February is National Heart health Awareness Month), and increases productivity, morale and teamwork. So clearly, there’s value in considering how to implement or support stress-reduction in the workplace.

The trick, says experts, isn’t to see relaxation through mindfulness or meditation as a magic pill you take when you’re already melting down, but rather, as a daily practice that begins when you awaken and carries forward throughout your day, regardless of where you are or what you are doing.

Mindfulness is being focused on the present moment. That means you’re not worrying about what’s going to happen tomorrow, or dwelling on what happened in yesterday’s meeting, before you left your house this morning, or what’s waiting for you later in the day. By remaining totally present, you are able to take a step back and make better decisions. That includes not reacting negatively in that moment, being able to take the time to think things through more objectively, and not making judgments based only on what could be incomplete, emotionally polluted or circumstantial information.

There are a number of ways to achieve this more peaceful, calm presence. Some steps are obvious; these include:

  • Don’t answer your phone or check your emails when meeting with another person or group;
  • Establish an advance agenda and stick to it during the allotted time;
  • Keep meetings or calls on schedule and respect other people’s time
  • Listen carefully to what others are saying, not just their words; and
  • Try to put yourself in another person’s shoes, knowing full well that whatever you think may be driving their actions or words could be completely wrong.

But getting to a more peaceful place yourself, and for your workers, takes practice. Here are a few techniques to consider:

Start your day by meditating. Meditation is useful in dealing with medical conditions worsened by stress, such as anxiety disorders, asthma, cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, pain and trouble sleeping.

Don’t let the thought of meditating the “right” way add to your stress. If you choose to, you can attend special meditation centers or group classes led by trained instructors. But you can also practice meditation easily on your own.

Taking 15 minutes to half an hour each morning before the day carries you off is a perfect way to seize control before the stress and pressures seize you. Find a quiet spot, sit comfortably, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. Just breathe in and out, slowly and rhythmically, and feel the air entering your body through your nostrils, traveling down through your body, and then being slowly expelled.

One common trick is to practice a simple one – two count. Breathe in, one two, breathe out, one two, and repeat this step 20 times.

While you are breathing, try clearing your thoughts. This isn’t easy . . . but the idea is to let things come in and pass out without allowing them to attach. You may not be able to prevent these thoughts, but, as one meditation expert says about random ideas, “they may come to your house, but you don’t have to invite them in for tea.”

Consider a mantra. This can be a positive thought, a few simple words or a phrase that is simple and meaningful that you repeat over and over while relaxing. It can be a goal, an aspiration, a prayer – whatever works for you. Again, the purpose is to help you control your breathing and relax.

Take a lunch break or quiet time. It sounds obvious, but when we’re busy, pressured or on a deadline, we may feel we don’t have time to take a break. But separating ourselves from our stress, even if only for 10 or 15 minutes, allows us to reset and refresh. How you use the time is wide open:  take a quick walk, sit and meditate, write a personal note, read, eat a meal, listen to some music . . . whatever works for you. The trick is to give your brain and body a few minutes to recharge. Taking a deliberate break and detaching from work is a mindful way to improve concentration, facilitate greater awareness, and take control of our day.

Talk with a friend, family member or co-worker. When we’re busy we get into our own heads and become preoccupied with whatever challenges we are facing. It’s good to be reminded that there are plenty of other things going on in our lives, and that work – while important – isn’t everything.  While we want to remain mindful and focused while on task, taking a few minutes during the day to get in touch with our outside world is important, as well.

Keep a journal or daily record. Set goals and record successes and actions. Each step we take is important and when we don’t achieve our goals, it’s not a failure – just part of the process for self-improvement and increased awareness. By organizing ourselves and keeping track of how we do, we can better plan for each day and see our incremental improvement.

Celebrate milestones and successes. When we hold ourselves or our teams accountable for huge successes, it’s easy to forget to recognize each step in the journey. Establishing achievable milestones – and then rewarding ourselves for reaching them – is an important part of teambuilding and boosts morale and engagement.

Establish a “quiet place.” If possible, setting aside a small area or room for people to visit during down times, for lunch, reading, or for mediation is very helpful. It can be a corner with a few chairs and lamps, or an unused office . . . the idea is to demonstrate your support for this common area, and to encourage people to find ways to relax and focus on their health and wellbeing.

Remember, learning how to be mindful doesn’t happen overnight. Like anything else worth doing, it takes practice and dedication. But the rewards, individually and collectively, are great, and the long-term value is priceless.


 

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!

 

Woowhee, It’s Cold Out There

We’ve already seen sub-zero temperatures in Connecticut, and winter is barely half over (Groundhog’s Day was February 2nd). If you work or recreate outdoors, you have to take extra precautions. If you dress for the cold, wearing multiple layers and properly covering your head, hands and feet, it’s uncomfortable but tolerable. However, for five percent of Americans suffering from Raynaud’s Disease, dressing warmly still may not be enough to avoid extra discomfort, chaffing and pain from exposure to extreme cold.

Raynaud’s Disease causes some areas of our body — such as fingers and toes — to feel numb and cold in response to cold temperatures or stress. In Raynaud’s Disease, smaller arteries that supply blood to our skin narrow, limiting blood circulation to affected areas. Women are more likely than men to have Raynaud’s disease, also known as Raynaud or Raynaud’s phenomenon or syndrome. It appears to be more common in people who live in colder climates, and often occurs prior to the age of 30.

Treatment of Raynaud’s Disease depends on its severity and whether you have other health conditions. For most people, Raynaud’s Disease isn’t disabling, but it can affect quality of life. Signs and symptoms of Raynaud’s Disease include:

  • Cold fingers or toes
  • Color changes in your skin in response to cold or stress
  • Numb, prickly feeling or stinging pain upon warming or stress relief

With Raynaud’s, arteries to fingers and toes go into vasospasm when exposed to cold or stress, narrowing vessels and temporarily limiting blood supply. Over time, these small arteries can thicken slightly, further limiting blood flow.

Cold temperatures are most likely to trigger an attack. Exposure to cold, such as putting hands in cold water, taking something from a freezer or being in cold air, is the most likely trigger. For some people, emotional stress can trigger an episode.

During an attack of Raynaud’s, affected areas of the skin usually first turn white. Then, they often turn blue and feel cold and numb. As you warm and circulation improves, the affected areas may turn red, throb, tingle or swell. Although Raynaud’s most commonly affects fingers and toes, it can also affect other areas of the body such as our nose, lips, ears and even nipples. After warming, it can take 15 minutes for normal blood flow to return to the area.

There are two main types of the condition. Primary Raynaud’s, the most common form, can be so mild that most people don’t seek medical treatment. It often resolves by itself. However, Secondary Raynauld’s typically is a side effect of another underlying cause; though less common, it tends to be more serious.

Recognizing and Mitigating Symptoms

Causes of Secondary Raynaud’s include:

  • Connective tissue diseases.Most people who have a rare disease that leads to hardening and scarring of the skin (scleroderma) have Raynaud’s. Other diseases that increase the risk of Raynaud’s include lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s syndrome.
  • Diseases of the arteries.These include a buildup of plaques in blood vessels that feed the heart (atherosclerosis), a disorder in which the blood vessels of the hands and feet become inflamed (Buerger’s disease), and a type of high blood pressure that affects the arteries of the lungs (primary pulmonary hypertension).
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome.This condition involves pressure on a major nerve to hands, producing numbness and pain that can make the hand more susceptible to cold temperatures.
  • Repetitive action or vibration.Typing, playing piano or doing similar movements for long periods and operating vibrating tools, such as jackhammers, can lead to overuse injuries.
  • Smoking constricts blood vessels.
  • Injuries to the hands or feet.These include wrist fracture, surgery or frostbite.
  • Certain medications.These include beta blockers, used to treat high blood pressure; migraine medications that contain ergotamine or sumatriptan; attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder medications; certain chemotherapy agents; and drugs that cause blood vessels to narrow, such as some over-the-counter cold medications.
  • Family history.A first-degree relative — a parent, sibling or child — having the disease appears to increase your risk of Primary Raynaud’s.

There are specific tests for helping physicians diagnose Reynaud’s Disease, and a variety of medications and treatments, typically aimed at treating the underlying causes. For the most part, common sense prevails. Avoiding rapidly changing temperatures (indoors and outdoors) when possible and dressing properly are the most obvious preventative measures. Stop smoking, which causes skin temperatures to drop by constricting blood vessels. Exercise increases circulation, and learning to recognize and control stress may limit attacks.

Getting outdoors in the winter is important for our physical and mental health. Enjoy it responsibly, and remember – the days are already getting longer and spring will be here before we know it!


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!

Hashtags, Smiley Faces, and Love

Remember when we were kids and we gave each other simple cut-out valentine cards and those little heart-shaped, multi-colored tasteless candies with pithy expressions such as “Be mine,” and “love u 4ever” on them? Then, as we grew older, there were the ubiquitous chocolates and roses, perfumes and colognes, dinner at jammed restaurants and, for the truly lucky, sexy lingerie or boxers with hearts to be viewed and enjoyed.

But it all became pretty straightforward, ritualistic . . . and stressful. Sales of diamond engagement rings, jewelry and sweet and sappy greeting cards still soar in February. For all the ballyhoo, though, it remains a much-heralded and often feared annual rite of love, joy, disappointment and loneliness for millions of Americans of all ages, ethnicities, genders and religions.

Today, of course, we have social media and a variety of electronic tools to use in communicating with loved ones, families, friends and potential amours.  You typically don’t have to purchase anything; you can simply reach out and touch someone through Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, send email notes or electronic cards, text, or use any of the dozens of messaging and dating media available at your fingertips.

Many people now meet through social media or online dating sites. Electronic communication is an established norm, and allows users to more safely probe and analyze a potential love interest or find ways to disqualify them before they actually meet in person.

It’s easy to get excited when you are flirting or feeling drawn to someone, based on repeat electronic interaction. Because so much communication takes place through rapid-fire texts, messaging and the exchanging of photos, a false sense of intimacy is quickly created. This type of personal interaction, warn relationship counselors, also amplifies the desire for immediate gratification and constant access to someone you hardly know.

In fact, therapists say that many online candidates put off actually meeting because they are afraid of disappointment, either in the other person or in facing their own insecurities. The fantasy, in this case, becomes more attractive than reality, due to fear, uncertainty or previous experiences. And because relationships solidify or start to fall apart after several face-to-face dates, many people are reluctant to burst the bubble of an attractive online flirtation and face the variables and challenges present in actual relationships.

These safer online interactions might be enough to gain a smile, spread some warmth, push a boundary or potentially light a fire. And if you grew up with a smart phone attached to your hand, it is a pretty normal way to communicate. But researchers and psychologists looking at the bigger mating picture beg to differ:  In their professional opinions, if you truly want to build, cement or embolden a personal connection, romantic or otherwise, phone calls and face-to-face encounters still are the best way to go.

Electronic Media Distract from True, Healthy Intimacy

We are constantly linked to our phones checking emails and news alerts, scrolling through social media apps, playing games or interacting virtually. Much new research is being done concerning addiction behaviors linked to phones, computers and social applications, but you can do your own research, any day of the week, by walking into a bar, restaurant, coffee shop, library or anywhere people gather and observing their behavior.

Chances are, their phones are on the table or counter near them or they’re using them, even when they’re with another person or in a group. And as long as this appealing electronic candy is there, vying for our attention, we aren’t fully focused on the conversation or interaction going on right in front of or around us. Sadly, our phones are getting in the way of true listening, bonding and intimacy.

Venues for instantaneous communication work for and against us. In the old days, we might pen a letter or write a love or hate email note, and then have the wisdom to sit on it until the next day, when we were thinking more clearly. On the other hand, writing something is often safer than saying it face to face, though you lose the advantages of eye contact and body language, all-important nuances in love and life.

So, while it’s important to not respond to a post or comment when you’re feeling emotionally charged, angry or frustrated, oftentimes those are the emotions that drive honesty, as well . . . if you react on the spot, you don’t take the time to soften the edges, edit yourself or manipulate the message. It’s more from the gut than it is politically correct, and that can have positive and negative consequences.

Remember, also, that everyone is entitled to their own opinions . . .and learning those opinions is an important part of developing a personal relationship. How much do you want to glean by voyeuristically scouring someone’s Facebook page, Instagram or Twitter posts, compared to sitting across the table from them, sipping a beverage of your choice and talking about movies, hobbies, roommates and world events?

And keeping our private lives private is still a valuable commodity – when birthdays, breakups, job woes and vacation chatter is splashed across social media for your “friends” and the world to see, it loses much in the translation, or worse, allows someone to make a less-informed, virtual choice about your potential worthiness as a romantic partner or friend. All without you being able to defend or explain yourself.

Part of the thrill of getting to know someone is through personal exploration. And while you can ask plenty of questions online, it doesn’t replace those quiet moments together when your prospective partner talks about his or her fears, likes and dislikes, families, work associates, dramas and joys. It’s these surprises and this sharing that gain us valuable insight and either turn us on, romantically or fraternally, or push us away.

So, if you’re on the market for a love interest, trying to get to know someone better, or just conversing with a new or old friend, pick up the phone or meet in person. Conducting mating rituals online and playing 20 questions electronically may be less risky than face-to-face encounters, but it’s not as rewarding, either.

Happy Valentine’s Day!


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!

Putting Disease Management Programs to Work

People with chronic health conditions can benefit from specialized healthcare outreach and self-management programs in place at CBIA’s health benefits partners, ConnectiCare and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. These programs help patients manage their conditions more effectively, with the goal of enhancing patient knowledge about specific diseases, encouraging compliance, preventing painful or dangerous complications as much as possible, and mitigating flareups when they occur.

ConnectiCare’s Touchpoints Program offers options to help members manage specific conditions including:

  • BREATHE – Asthma: for all members with asthma.
  • BREATHE – COPD: for members with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
  • DiabetiCare – for adult members with diabetes.
  • HeartCare – CAD: for members with coronary artery disease.
  • HeartCare – HF: for members with heart failure.
  • Birth Expectations — for pregnant members with a history of a previous pre-term delivery or of carrying more than one baby.

Additionally, they offer a Kidney Case Management Program designed to help ConnectiCare members and their families manage kidney disease. A registered nurse with specialized training calls members to provide guidance and support and to monitor health conditions and complications that are commonly related to kidney disease.

Harvard Pilgrim takes a comprehensive approach to disease management, focusing on patient-centered care that coordinates resources across the health care delivery system and throughout the life cycle of a disease. Harvard Pilgrim’s disease management programs include a range of components specifically designed to reinforce clinicians’ treatment plans. These include:

  • Clinical practice guidelines for effective care
  • Patient identification and outreach
  • Patient education in managing their condition in order to reduce adverse outcomes and maximize quality of life.

These programs assist patients by helping them better understand their condition, giving them useful and timely information about their disease, and providing them with assistance from clinical health educators, nurses and pharmacists who can help them manage their disease.

If you think you qualify for a disease management program, or have other questions, contact your health benefits provider directly using the customer service number on your member identification card.


 

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!