Deal with Stress Before It Deals with You

“What an awful day.” Have you ever heard yourself – or someone close to you – express that sentiment? Some days are tougher than others . . . nothing seems to go right, time feels like your enemy, and whatever is plaguing you throughout the day follows you home like a stray cat. There you cope with bills, things that are broken (there’s always something broken), kid troubles, dog troubles, neighbor troubles – it’s a long list that seems overwhelming, especially when your work life is stressing you out, as well. Then you can’t sleep, and tired and cranky, you arise to face another day, frustrated, worried and exhausted.

Stress and work go hand in hand, but the physical and emotional costs of employee stress taxes employers as well through reduced productivity, low morale and teamwork issues. Together, these problems affect quality, service and overall performance.

Stress is insidious and pervasive. According to a survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) Center for Organizational Excellence, more than one-third of American workers experience chronic work stress. The APA also found high levels of employee stress, with two-thirds of those surveyed citing work as a significant source of stress, and more than a third reporting that they typically feel stressed during the workday.

These numbers help put into perspective what organizational development experts see as an epidemic-level wave of unhappy employees. If you’re wondering what the impact of this unhappiness may be on your workplace, consider that stress at work manifests itself in increased absenteeism and presenteeism, lower productivity and increased service errors, and has a negative impact on safety, quality and teamwork.

Yet despite growing awareness of the importance of a healthy workplace, few employees say their organizations provide sufficient resources to help them manage stress and meet their mental health needs.

People want to see an employer show an interest in them as human beings, and want to be recognized for their hard work, dedication and value. And since health is important to all of us, investing in health and wellness planning, and involving your workforce in both the planning and execution can result in a significant return on investment.

Taking time to ask employees what they think is important. That can be done informally at lunches, team meetings, small-group interactions, and one-on-one. There are a variety of inexpensive online tools available for surveying attitudes and communication, as well. But the easy steps, like building employees into planning and decision making is invaluable for improved execution and buy-in. And recognizing performance, personally and in front of the team, pays back in spades. Small gestures like gift certificates, comp time, and team lunches go a long way toward improving morale.

Additionally, you can sponsor team walks, charity events and after-hours athletic activities, supplement fitness center fees, host on-site health screenings, and take many other steps to foster improved wellness and comradery – the list of potential steps is long, as are the benefits.

Coping with Financial Stress

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.

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. 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, or offer to supplement the cost of these kinds of programs.

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 a spending application on your phone. 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. Good communication and honesty can help 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.

We all have to deal with stress – the question becomes, can we face our challenges in a healthy way, and get help when we need it, at home and at work, before it takes its toll on our physical and mental health and productivity? Employers can play an important role in helping to recognize and mitigate stressful factors and consequences.


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!

Spring Forward, but Watch Your Back

After an inactive winter it’s easy to strain or hurt ourselves the first time we’re working outdoors, clearing or preparing a garden, swinging a golf club or baseball bat, moving outdoor furniture or simply doing anything physical.  There are a number of tips we can follow to prevent or limit muscle strain, aches and injuries, including stretching before and after physical activities, remaining properly hydrated, getting enough sleep, eating well and knowing our own limitations.

One of the keys to remaining injury-free before work or working out is to make sure to stretch properly and bend and lift carefully to avoid back, knee and shoulder injuries. Always stretch before, and when possible, after working or exercising.

Proper stretching loosens up tight muscles and makes us more limber. When stretching, focus on the big muscles first. The quadriceps and hamstrings in our thighs are generally the largest muscles of the body and deserve special attention, particularly because they play a key supporting role for our backs. That means stretching the back, front, and inner and outer thigh. Then continue to work the other muscle groups, from your neck to your toes, tightening and loosening each as you move down your body.

Besides warming up, when gardening, doing yard work or taxing ourselves physically, it’s important to use proper techniques for bending and lifting. Simple tips include keeping objects close to our bodies when lifting, and maintaining the natural curves of our spine as we work. It’s useful to bend our knees and squat or kneel to get to ground level instead of bending over. And when kneeling, be mindful of position: try kneeling with one knee on the ground and the other up, and periodically switch knees to alleviate pressure. Also try to avoid sudden twisting or reaching motions, keeping movements smooth, and adjust posture frequently to reduce the risk of repetitive-motion injuries.

Another trick for staying loose and avoiding aches and pains is to apply heat before and after a workout. Heat prior to working out can minimize muscle strain. After a workout, muscles and joints are potentially dehydrated and, because they are weakened, are not as stable as when they have been resting. Applying a heating pad or wrap for 10 – 15 minutes while seated or lying down after a workout session or strenuous activity like spring cleaning can help muscles calm down and return to their normal state without seizing up.

Proper Bending Is Key to Avoiding Injuries

Always be sure to bend at the hip, not the lower back. Most people believe bending their knees will ensure a safe lift, but this form alone can still lead to a back injury. The most important tip is to bend the hips and keep the upper body upright as much as possible, pointing forward.

Keeping the chest forward also is important. When the chest is kept forward and the body is bent at the hips, the back is kept straight and back injury can be avoided. The back muscles will then be used most effectively for maintaining good posture, as they are designed to do. The knees will bend automatically so the muscles of the legs and hips will produce the power for lifting correctly.

Twisting, repetitive lifting or hefting strenuous amounts of weight is another dangerous mistake that can lead to back or shoulder injury. The shoulder is one of the most complex joints in our body; comprising more than 30 muscles and six major ligaments, it can move and articulate into more than 1,500 different positions. Our shoulders should be kept in line with the hips to avoid twisting movement. For changing directions, move the hips first so the shoulders will move in unison.  When moving the shoulders first, the hips tend to lag behind creating the dangerous twisting that can cause back injury, especially to the joints in the back and pelvis.

Here are some additional tips for avoiding injuries and remaining healthy, especially as the spring draws us out of hibernation and into a full range of outdoor and indoor activities:

  • Stay hydrated. This is good advice anytime, but especially when engaged in sports or working outdoors. Dehydrated muscles and tendons are less flexible and less resilient. If you’re a coffee drinker, reduce your risk of muscle strain by drinking more water than coffee, and avoid excessive alcohol, another cause of dehydration.
  • Avoid smoking. In addition to its other downsides, nicotine impairs the healing process for tendons and muscles.
  • Vary activities: Mix it up to prevent muscle imbalance. If repeating the same overhead motion, shoulder muscles will get overworked and others will decondition; this can throw off the shoulder’s balance, resulting in tendon damage.
  • Use proper form when lifting and carrying heavy items. Keep an upright position to help protect the back. And if you’re doing overhead work, use a ladder or step stool to put the work at eye level and reduce stress on the shoulders.
  • Eat well: Without the nutrients our muscles need to stay healthy and to heal if they become strained, we put ourselves at constant risk. Avoid sweets, fried foods and excessive salt, and focus on a broad mix of fruits, vegetables and grains, as well as fish and other proteins.

Preventing injuries and staying healthy is a day-by-day activity – if you hurt yourself right out of the gate in the spring, it may take months to heal . . . and before you know it, winter will be here again!  So, remember to stretch before and after physical activity to help your muscles relax and rebound more quickly, and take care of your body!


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!

Failing to Plan Is Planning to Fail

As we race to the end of another calendar year, it’s time to take stock of the health and wellness goals we set for ourselves in early 2018. Whether our intention was to lose weight, get to the gym regularly, run our first 5k, bicycle or hike, stop smoking or do something about stress, the remaining days of this year are short, but there’s hope:  after December 21st, each day is getting longer and we have a clean slate for implementing our healthcare plans for 2019!

Start with a glass-half-full approach: whatever we did do in 2018 counts and is better than nothing. There’s no point in lamenting about all the well-intentioned health and wellness options we never fulfilled, how badly we ate at the holidays or missing our weight-loss goal. Rather, now is a great time to make a firm and achievable personal wellness plan designed to improve physical, emotional and spiritual health in 2019 and beyond.

But first, we have to get through the holidays – so take it easy and enjoy the season. That may not sound like sage nutritional advice, but we all know what the coming weeks bring. It’s a stressful time of year without putting additional pressure on ourselves. Eat and drink consciously and in moderation, try substituting healthy snacks like vegetables and fruit when possible, and think about your personal goals.

Be it eating more healthfully, exercising more, finding time to relax or whatever suits you, change takes place progressively and through conscious choice. Making resolutions is as old as the hills, but setting simple goals includes taking the time to determine how we’ll achieve them, and how we will measure our success. This isn’t difficult and may be the best gift we can give ourself as we approach the new year.

When it comes to reasonable health and wellness planning, “simple, achievable and realistic” are our keywords. Here are some tips to help guide your steps:

  • Acknowledge a realistic vision of success. If losing weight is one of your goals, set a realistic number and timetable, so you can achieve your goal safely. Avoid “fad diets,” and take the time to learn about potential problems, such as vitamin deficiencies or other health risks that accompany weight loss. Read about sugar, fat, carbs, and the chemistry of food.
  • Adopt an effective strategy. Focus on relatively short-term goals, like eating vegetables four times a day, cutting back on carbs and sugar, eating healthy snacks, and doing at least 20 minutes of cardio a day. Keep track of your efforts daily and weekly by writing on a calendar or maintaining a journal, and create simple “rewards” for your weekly or monthly successes, such as buying a gift or doing something personally meaningful.
  • Seek professional assistance: If, for example, losing weight is an important health goal, speak with your physician, fitness expert and/or a licensed nutritionist about longer-term lifestyle changes that will help you achieve your mission. If you’re planning on losing or gaining weight, or considering supplements or aggressive options, seek professional input to ensure healthy results. And if you want to stop smoking, there are a variety of smoking-cessation programs and medications to assist you.
  • Review and adjust your commitment. To be successful you have to set goals, measure your progress, and adjust. Be flexible — if you find, for example, that walking every day is impossible, walk four days a week, or longer on the weekends. Sign up for a yoga or fitness class. And when you give in to that yummy, calorie-rich dessert, don’t despair . . . tomorrow is a new day. You know yourself better than anyone — make adjustments that will work for you if you fall off the wagon or fail to achieve your weekly goals.
  • Use the “buddy system.” Tell a friend about your goals and see if you can work out, walk, or practice your new diet together. Share helpful articles and tips, check in regularly, support each other when you miss a goal, and celebrate your individual and mutual successes.

Ultimately, the best advice about getting healthier is to just get started and to not give up, even when you miss a day or have a bad week. By setting realistic goals and a simple, formal plan, the gift of improved health and wellness is yours to keep.


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!

Help Employees Achieve Their Health and Wellness Goals

This is a wonderful time of year for merriment, catching up with family and friends, for recognizing and celebrating all we have, and for remembering those who don’t have as much. But it’s also a period of unhealthy eating and behavior that has both short- and long-term consequences on our health and the health of those working with and for us.

When it comes to an abundance of calorie-rich foods laden with salt, sugar and fats, the holidays are a great enabler. As a nation we already struggle with the fallout, such as diabetes, which afflicts nearly 30 million children and adults in the United States. Another 86 million Americans have pre-diabetes and are at risk for developing type-2 diabetes, with 1.9 million new cases of diabetes diagnosed annually in people aged 20 and older.

And it’s not only the dangers to your health and the health of your loved ones to consider — The American Diabetes Association estimates that the total national cost of diagnosed diabetes in the United States is $245 billion, including $176 billion for direct medical costs. But the cost is higher than just dollars: complications include heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, kidney and nervous system diseases, blindness and an increased risk of amputation of lower limbs from complications including poor circulation and wounds.

Researchers say the side effects of diabetes also represent $69 billion in reduced productivity. And after adjusting for population age and sex differences, average medical expenditures among people with diagnosed diabetes were 2.3 times higher than what expenditures would be in the absence of diabetes.

So besides urging employees and our ourselves to eat and drink in moderation, what else can be done to mitigate this affliction? For a start, studies by the National Diabetes Research Foundation have determined that just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity daily, and a 5 percent to 10 percent reduction in body weight, can reduce the risk of diabetes by almost 60 percent.

Help Employees Help Themselves

This is the ideal time of year to help employees explore their personal wellness regimen and health goals, and set positive behavioral changes in motion for 2019. As employers, we can set the pace for ourselves and our teams through proactive planning, education and outreach.

The challenge is helping people think about planning, then move from planning to action. Leaders help encourage and motivate their workforces. Healthier employees are happier, more motivated and productive. They also require less sick time, and are more attentive to their teammates and customers.

Supplementing the cost of membership in local fitness centers and gyms is a popular option. You also can bring health experts in areas such as nutrition, fitness and stress reduction into your office to talk with employees during the work day. Encouraging and sponsoring activities such as bowling, team workouts and charity drives encourages team-building and improves morale. This is particularly important during the cold winter months when getting outside is inconvenient or uncomfortable.

Spring, thankfully, isn’t that far away, so planning for charity walks, softball, volleyball and related activities can start soon.

Some employers sponsor in-house fitness classes, yoga and health screenings, and offer personal health and fitness coaches. There also are a variety of health and wellness initiatives companies can entertain. Asking employees for their input and participation helps keep people focused and engaged. It can be something as simple as healthy recipe swaps, replacing candy and soda machines with healthier snacks, and sponsoring fitness activities.

Workplace wellness programs have the potential to significantly improve employee health. Here are some tips on initiating coaching or wellness-related incentives:

  • Structure your programs to reward employees for engaging in healthy habits
  • Avoid the use of body mass index (BMI) as a basis for financial penalties or incentives
  • Ensure incentive programs are matched with health plans that cover evidence-based obesity treatment programs and medications
  • Focus programs on overall wellness for all employees, rather than only those affected by obesity or who are overweight
  • Create a supportive workplace environment that provides opportunities for healthy behaviors, such as healthy food options in the lunchroom and vending machines.

Encouraging employees to set their own goals, and to share their goals, is an easy way to get the new year started. Exercise and weight-loss efforts are always easier and more fun when multiple people are participating and helping each other. Measure one another’s progress, reward for reaching milestones, and lead by example – walk the walk, don’t just talk it!


 

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!

Recognizing Team Healthcare Wins

It’s marathon season – as in running a little over 26 miles in one race for fun, health, personal challenge, charity or any of these motivators combined. However you cut it, completing a race of any length, as well as competitive or non-competitive walks, bicycling, swimming, hiking, fitness activities or sporting events are enormous achievements, worthy of recognition and support. They also are huge morale boosters and team-building opportunities in addition to the obvious health benefits.

While employers cannot legislate their employees’ personal fitness and physical activities, they certainly can encourage, promote, model, sponsor and support these strengths and healthy behaviors. Creating time and space for these activities, rewarding for participation and generally promoting a culture of health and participation is a successful strategy for large and small companies regardless of their business, product or service inclination.

Many organizations establish employee health committees who focus on healthy eating and nutrition, fitness, athletics and stress-reduction activities such as yoga, meditation and walking. From hula hooping to jumping rope, whether for fun or charity, there are dozens of pursuits worthy of note that engage employees during the day and after work to come together in the name of health, fraternity and personal growth. Those values all benefit employers, as well.

Picking up the tab for a competitive sporting activity like bowling, volleyball, softball, hockey or golf, to name but a few, can be a wise investment in your team’s health. Supplementing gym and fitness memberships often is the little push people need to focus on their health. And getting people outdoors during lunch and after hours to walk together or to train for charity or competitive events enhances the work environment and employee attitudes about their jobs and work/life balance.

From a promotional perspective, it’s always good to see the company name emblazoned on tee-shirts and banners, on view for the public, at charity walks, runs and rides. But the catalyst isn’t self-promotion, it is the recognition that teams that play together work better together, as well.

Team activities have a positive impact on productivity, quality, safety, customer service, retention and absenteeism. Personal health and fitness challenges help employees maintain a healthier lifestyle, reduces susceptibility to illness, and carries over into employees’ lives and family relationships outside of work.

Even something as simple as setting, sharing and celebrating goals related to nutrition, weight loss, exercise, smoking cessation and other health-related activities is a win/win for employers and employees. Leaders who get involved make it easier for employees to participate, as well, but at the least, supporting your team through sponsorship, financial contributions and constant encouragement is a winning strategy for completing the marathon we all face each day.


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!

Stretching Is Critical, the Goats Are Optional

 

Picture this scene: You’re lying on your back on a yoga mat, eyes closed, comfortable, stretching different parts of your body as a voice gently takes you through a guided relaxation exercise. Quiet music invoking gurgling streams and singing songbirds plays in the background and you are extremely calm and serene. Suddenly, you feel pressure as two small hooves press into your belly, and giggling, you open your eyes as the tiny white and brown goat starts nibbling at your socks. Focus is now lost, but who cares? The dwarf goat is adorable and, after all, it’s really why you came to this yoga studio – all concentration lost, you stretch out your hand to pet its head as it bleats and runs off to visit another mat.

So-called “goat yoga” is a hot fad these days in the yoga industry. The marriage of farms and yoga studios is relatively new over the past few years, but has spread rapidly across the country, with at least a dozen locations in Connecticut seeing the value – and attraction – in combining yoga and a petting zoo. But whatever the catalyst for exercise, stretching is a critical component in any physical regimen, so if seeking out comfort from goats or puppies or other cute cuddly creatures gets you moving in a healthy way, there’s no down side – other than cleaning up when the critters do their business!

Why We Need to Stretch

Proper stretching is highly recommended for protecting our joints and muscles. It’s normal to take our joints for granted, but consider how important they are: The joint is the connection between two bones. Joints and their surrounding structures allow us to bend our elbows and knees, wiggle our hips, bend our back, turn our head, and wave wiggle our fingers.

Smooth tissue called cartilage and synovium and a lubricant called synovial fluid cushion the joints so bones do not rub together. But increasing age, injury, or carrying too much weight can wear and tear cartilage. This can lead to a reaction that can damage joints and lead to arthritis, injuries, discomfort and pain.

Stretching can help improve flexibility and our range of motion. Better flexibility improves our performance in physical activities, decreases risk of injuries, helps joints move through their full range of motion, and enable muscles to work most effectively. Stretching also increases blood flow to the muscle.

It’s a good idea to see stretching as an important ritual before you start exercising, playing ball, running, dancing or whatever form of exercise or sport you enjoy. But stretching incorrectly can actually do more harm than good. The best way to care for your joints is to keep them and your muscles, ligaments, and bones strong and stable.

You may hurt yourself if you stretch cold muscles. Before stretching, warm up with light walking, jogging or biking at low intensity for five to 10 minutes. Even better, stretch after your workout when your muscles are warm.

Consider skipping stretching before an intense activity, such as sprinting or track and field activities. Some research suggests that pre-event stretching may actually decrease performance. Research has also shown that stretching immediately before an event weakens hamstring strength.

Instead of static stretching, try performing a “dynamic warmup.” A dynamic warm-up involves performing movements similar to those in your sport or physical activity at a low level, then gradually increasing the speed and intensity as you warm up.

Here are some related tips for good joint health and proper stretching:

  • Strive for symmetry. Everyone’s genetics for flexibility are different. Rather than striving for the flexibility of a dancer or gymnast, focus on having equal flexibility side to side (especially if you have a history of a previous injury). Flexibility that is not equal on both sides may be a risk factor for injury.
  • Focus on major muscle groups. Concentrate your stretches on major muscle groups such as your calves, thighs, hips, lower back, neck and shoulders. Make sure that you stretch both sides.
  • Don’t bounce. Stretch in a smooth movement, without bouncing. Bouncing as you stretch can injure your muscle and actually contribute to muscle tightness.
  • Hold your stretch. Breathe normally and hold each stretch for about 30 seconds; in problem areas, you may need to hold for around 60 seconds.
  • Don’t aim for pain. Expect to feel tension while you’re stretching, not pain. If it hurts, you’ve pushed too far. Back off to the point where you don’t feel any pain, then hold the stretch.
  • Make stretches sport specific. Evidence suggests that it’s helpful to do stretches involving the muscles used most in your sport or activity. If you play soccer, for instance, stretch your hamstrings as you’re more vulnerable to hamstring strains.
  • Keep up with your stretching. Stretching can be time-consuming. But you can achieve the most benefits by stretching regularly, at least two to three times a week. Skipping regular stretching means you risk losing the potential benefits. For instance, if stretching helped you increase your range of motion, your range of motion may decrease again if you stop stretching.
  • Bring movement into your stretching. Gentle movements, such as those in tai chi or yoga, can help you be more flexible in specific movements. These types of exercises can also help reduce falls in seniors.

Seek out professional counsel from a trainer or physical therapist for guidance on how best to stretch as part of your exercise routine. And remember to start off slowly and at a low intensity to get muscles used to the motion before gradually speeding up. No matter the sport or activity, preparing your joints and muscles for the activity to come is a wise move. And if yoga is your thing – and interacting with dwarf goats make you happy – go for 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!

When It Isn’t Just A Game Anymore

 

Parachuting into a large farm compound, the avatar dropped down onto a wood pile and started bashing his way through a wall with a large pickaxe. The axe changed into an automatic rifle as the avatar charged through the barn and out into a corral. Spotting another figure at the entrance to a barn, the two exchanged fire, and dodging behind a wall, the player controlling the avatar called for assistance as another group of avatars came around the corner and headed to cut off the other player.  Running blindly toward the barn, he watched as a second group of avatars suddenly appeared to confront them, and “deceased” appeared on the screen. The player – a 15-year-old boy — shrugged, spoke to his friends on his headset, and with his character again activated, returned to the action.

Around the world, 2.6 billion people play video games, including two-thirds of American households, according to the Entertainment Software Association. But “gaming” isn’t necessarily as benign as many people – and the gaming industry – would claim. Yes, it may heighten eye/hand coordination and teach intuitive online skills, but it also is distracting, can lead to or exacerbate moodiness, anxiety and depression, and is now being classified as addictive behavior, similar to gambling, compulsive spending or eating and other behavioral problems.

Now, the World Health Organization (WHO) is saying players can actually become addicted. The reason for the “addictive” label is because some players allow gaming to consume their days, often at cost to schoolwork, jobs, recreation and relationships. They may become withdrawn and antisocial, turn to their gaming world for social contact, and elect to avoid doing many other activities that might once have been their normal routine. As such, WHO has added “gaming disorder” to their International Classification of Diseases, the highly respected listing of medical conditions.

Video game addiction is described as an impulse control disorder which does not involve use of an intoxicating drug and is very similar to pathological gambling.  Video game addiction has also been referred to as video game overuse, and pathological or compulsive/excessive use of computer games or video games.  Statistics show that men and boys are more likely to become addicted to video games versus women and girls.  Recent research has found that nearly one in 10 youth gamers (ages 8 to 18) can be classified as pathological gamers or addicted to video-gaming.

Those suffering from video game addiction may use the Internet to access massive multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPGs) and multi-user domain games (MUDs).  MMORPGs are networks of people, all interacting with one another to play a game to achieve goals, accomplish missions, and reach high scores in a fantasy world.  MUDs combine elements of role-playing games, fighting, and killing in a social chat channel with limited graphics.  Some of the most popular on-line games include EverQuest, Ultima Online, World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy, Vanguard, Fortnight, Overwatch, Call of Duty, and City of Heroes.  Most MMORPGs charge monthly subscription fees, but some are free.

Mental health professionals are concerned about the harmful aspects of technology, overall, and are urging parents and consumers to look for ways to scale back usage of social media and online entertainment. Gaming addiction side effects, they stress, are not dissimilar to what they see in cocaine addiction. And therapists say they increasingly see players who have lost control to a wide variety of online and purchased games, from Minecraft to Candy Crush Saga.

Recognizing and Responding to Gaming Addiction

Unfortunately, the video game industry is expanding so quickly that medical research has struggled to keep up. An older study published in 2009 found that nearly nine percent of young players were addicted to their games. Many experts believe that the number has increased as games have become more advanced, more social and more mobile.

Some mental health professionals believe that gaming disorder is not a stand-alone medical condition. Rather, they see it as a symptom or a side effect of more familiar conditions, such as depression or anxiety. Common symptoms they point to from game use include jeopardized or risked loss of significant relationships, job, educational or career opportunities; lying to family members, friends or professionals to conceal the extent of their involvement with games; and use of games to escape from problems or to relieve feelings of anxiety, depression, guilt or hopelessness.

Additional warning signs for children and teens include:

  • Fatigue, and tendency to fall asleep during school
  • Not completing homework or assignments on time
  • Declining grades, or failing classes
  • Dropping out of school activities, clubs, sports, etc.
  • Isolating from family and friends to play video games

Many people attempting to quit or reduce gaming use experience withdrawal symptoms including anger, depression, relief, fantasies about the game, mood swings, anxiety, fear, irritability, sadness, loneliness, boredom, restlessness, procrastination, and upset stomach.  Being addicted to video-gaming can also cause physical discomfort or medical problems such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, dry eyes, backaches, severe headaches, eating irregularities such as skipping meals, failure to attend to personal hygiene, and sleep disturbance.

Verbal communication is an important tool in addressing gaming addiction, with the goal of getting the affected individual to recognize his or her compulsive behavior and take steps to reduce it. If you’re a parent, monitoring your child’s development is important. You can help your growing child learn how to overcome problems in real life rather than giving up and relying on fantasies in games. To accomplish this, you can implement a reasonable schedule for times when playing games is allowed. Alternatively, you can replace gaming with another pastime. You can also teach your teens to consider playing games as a reward whenever they successfully resolve personal problems in real life.

Patience is always an important virtue when you’re helping someone recover from video game addiction. Find ways to counteract any negative reactions that the addict may exhibit. For instance, if the urge to go back to gaming is very strong, create distractions through sports and other strenuous activities. With the right responses to withdrawal symptoms, the addicted player may reduce or let go of gaming and get back to healthy living. Additionally, many professionals have been trained to help teens and adults recover from addiction.

If you or someone you know is behaving like a gaming addict, learn to limit game time to a specific duration per day so that the remaining hours of the day can still be used for other activities. You can choose between therapies, and certain medications can also help to inhibit compulsive behaviors. If the addiction is the result of another underlying problem, therapy can also address this other issue and teach the addict how to cope with conditions such as depression, stress and anxiety.

Since research efforts devoted to video game addiction are relatively small compared to those for other addictions, very few support groups are available to provide communal assistance. One of the more notable groups is the Online Gamers Anonymous, a nonprofit organization that offers a 12-step program for recovery from video game addiction.


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!

Preventing Dehydration and Heat Stroke

No matter how many times people hear messages about remaining properly hydrated in the hot weather, it’s easy to forget that heat, sun and even minor outdoor activity can make dangerous companions.

Proper fluid levels are important for ensuring a good flow of oxygen and red blood cells to our muscles and organs. During exercise and activity, we lose valuable nutrients and minerals. These include sodium, magnesium and potassium, which help keep our muscles working properly, reduce fatigue and prevent dehydration.

Under normal conditions, we all lose body water daily through sweat, tears, breathing and going to the bathroom. This water is normally replaced by drinking fluids and eating foods that contain water. When a person becomes sick and experiences fever, diarrhea or vomiting, dehydration occurs. It also happens if someone is overexposed to the sun and heat and not drinking enough water. Additionally, it can be caused by certain medicines, such as diuretics, which deplete body fluids and electrolytes.

Even without hot weather, our bodies create a large amount of internal heat. We normally cool ourselves by sweating and radiating heat through the skin. However, in certain circumstances, such as extreme heat, high humidity, or vigorous activity in the hot sun, this cooling system may begin to fail. This allows heat to build up to dangerous levels; it is exacerbated when we don’t replace those fluids, and compounded by the loss of essential body salts. If a person becomes dehydrated and cannot sweat enough to cool his or her body, his or her internal temperature may rise to dangerously high levels. This causes heat stroke, which can be life threatening.

The following are the most common symptoms of dehydration and heat stroke:

  • Thirst
  • Less-frequent urination
  • Dry skin
  • Fatigue
  • Light-headedness or dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Dry mouth and mucous membranes
  • Increased heart rate and breathing

In children, additional symptoms may include dry mouth and tongue, no tears when crying, listlessness, irritability and hallucinations.

In cases of mild dehydration, simple rehydration is recommended by drinking fluids. Many sports drinks effectively restore body fluids, electrolytes, and salt balance. For moderate dehydration, intravenous (IV) fluids may be needed. If caught early enough, simple rehydration may be effective. Cases of serious dehydration should be treated as a medical emergency, and hospitalization, along with intravenous fluids, is necessary.

How Much Should You Drink?

The rule of thumb should be to drink plenty of liquids before, during and after each activity.

A good guideline to use when preparing for an outdoor workout is to drink about two cups of fluid two hours before the activity. That helps make sure we are well-hydrated before we even go outdoors. Then, during the activity, we should drink four to six ounces every 15 to 20 minutes to keep our muscles well-hydrated. If planning an hour-long walk or gym workout, take a water bottle with about 16 ounces (two cups). Then, after exercise, drink again.

Fluids are vital to help our muscles function throughout our activity, but so is our blood sugar. Eat a light meal or snack of at least 100 calories about an hour or so before an activity. The nutrients from the snack will help keep hunger from interfering. The best snacks combine healthy carbohydrates, protein, and a small amount of fat. Fruit, yogurt, nuts, and granola bars are all good examples.

For most outdoor activities, regular tap or bottled water does the trick. If activity lasts an hour or more, either fruit juice diluted with water or a sports drink will provide carbohydrates for energy, plus minerals to replace electrolytes lost from sweating.

Sports drinks like Gatorade, Powerade, and All Sport can provide a needed energy boost during activity. They are designed to rapidly replace fluids and to increase the sugar (glucose) circulating in our blood. However, read the label to determine which sports drinks are most effective. Ideally, it will provide around 14 grams of carbohydrates, 28 mg of potassium, and 100 mg of sodium per eight-ounce serving. The drink’s carbohydrates should come from glucose, sucrose, and/or fructose, rather than from processed sugar or corn syrup. These are more easily and quickly absorbed. It shouldn’t be carbonated, as the bubbles can lead to an upset stomach.

“Fitness waters” are lightly flavored and have added vitamins and minerals. The additional nutrients are meant to supplement a healthy diet — not replace losses from exercise.

Fitness waters fall somewhere between the sports drinks and plain water in terms of being effective hydrators. They contain fewer calories and electrolytes but offer more taste than plain water. Whatever helps keep you hydrated is worth considering — as long as you keep drinking!


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!

Teams Who Play Together, Grow Together

With the return of warm weather and lengthening days, spring is the perfect time to plan outdoor activities designed around sports, walking, bike riding, water activities, and much more that — besides being fun and healthy — can stimulate teamwork, boost morale, and improve productivity.

Softball, volleyball, tennis, basketball, and many other team-related recreational opportunities are or will soon be available locally. If you haven’t already, now might be a good opportunity to see what events and activities appeal to your workforce, and support or sponsor one or more team endeavors. Fair weather also heralds charitable walks, runs, bicycling and all manner of fundraisers that offer great team-building options and promote healthy activities.

Employers also can encourage individual recreational pursuits — for example, offering support to employees who are interested in community gardening, and for planting flower boxes around their communities. Other outdoor activities that are fun with groups can include hiking, bird-watching, nature walks, park and river clean-up days, rock climbing, and much more. Organizations like the Audubon and Sierra Clubs, local YMCA or YWCA facilities, Boys and Girls Clubs, and private gyms host special days, seasonal activities, and competitive events worth exploring.

Whatever employers do to support employee activities can be good for morale and teamwork. And improved teamwork and attitudes boost productivity, retention and quality, reduce absenteeism and accidents, and increase voluntary participation. Not to mention the health and wellness benefits!

Of course, activities aren’t limited to the outdoors. There are bowling and indoor fitness workouts, spinning, swimming, cooking, art and pottery classes … there’s no limit if you apply your imagination.

Team weight-loss efforts and competitive programs also are trending. One CBIA Health Connections employer created a health and wellness committee to brainstorm and plan activities. They linked several of their activities to national health- and wellness-related observances. Another tied their activities to local events, charities, and parks. Many employers 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.

This month is National Great Outdoors Month and 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.

If you’re looking to link activities to disease prevention and education, every month in the United States, there are a dozen or more “formal” health-related 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 outdoor 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.

Healthier employees are happier employees. They get sick less often, suffer from fewer incidences of chronic diseases, and have reduced absenteeism and sick days. There’s no down side to encouraging work teams to play together outdoors; start your planning now, come up with some cool team names and tee-shirts, and have fun getting – and staying – 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!

Assessing Health and Wellness Activity

Three months into the new year, it’s easy for well-intentioned health commitments made in December to go south. It’s harder getting to the gym in the winter, comfort food may be beckoning during these cold, shorter days, and outdoor activities like running, bicycling, and hiking are far more difficult to complete.

Now is a good time to assess how effectively you and your team are using health and wellness tools. That includes those available to you through your health insurance provider and CBIA, and a variety of options you and your employees can embrace at your discretion.

Completing CBIA’s online healthcare assessment tool is an easy first step. Employers also can conduct their own health and wellness survey through a variety of media, including a written survey, using an online survey tool, or through small group or individual meetings. Discussions can focus on preferred health and wellness activities underway personally or through the workplace, or measure attitudes about the use of fitness facilities, tobacco-cessation plans, healthy vending machine options, nutrition, healthcare coaching and a variety of other subjects.

For example, when assessing topic areas, some possibilities might include the following areas of inquiry:

Health status:

  • Self-perceived general health status (i.e., poor to excellent)
  • Number of days per month impaired by poor physical/mental health
  • Specific questions about diseases or health conditions (e.g., high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, arthritis, stress)

Use of preventive health services:

  • Doctor visits (including an annual checkup)
  • Dental visits
  • Use of flu, pneumonia and shingles vaccines
  • Blood pressure and cholesterol checks
  • Colonoscopies, mammograms, and PAP smears

Health behaviors:

  • Tobacco use: Current smokers or other tobacco use, tobacco cessation goals
  • Diet and physical activity: Weight and height (to calculate Body Mass Index); self-perceptions of weight; fruit/vegetable consumption; activity level at work; recent moderate/vigorous activity outside of the job
  • Alcohol consumption: Drinks per week; drinks per sitting
  • Safety: Seatbelt and bicycle helmet use, ear and eye protection, etc.

Assessing current health status and health behaviors may point to opportunities for specific health-education programs. And completing a benchmark survey allows you to compare progress when you conduct follow-up surveys at set intervals. These can be conducted through the workplace, or online through a variety of employee healthcare information tools.

And when it comes to implementing health and wellness activities, some companies have gone the extra mile, inviting nutrition and fitness coaches to the office or workplace, holding onsite yoga, fitness and meditation classes, and encouraging employee participation through incentives and competitions.

Many employers form employee committees to oversee health and wellness programs, encourage participation and set and measure goals. When this outreach is peer driven, it tends to gather more steam and taps employee goodwill, enthusiasm and interest.

In the winter, team activities can include ice skating, sledding, downhill and cross-country skiing, and outdoor walks or hikes. Also, with spring right around the corner, so is the return of charity runs, walks and rides, and competitive team athletic activities like volleyball, softball and basketball. Encouraging and supporting team activities such as walks and sports builds morale, strengthens employee bonds and improves productivity. Employers can help their employees build personal health and wellness plans, check in to measure progress, or simply ensure that opportunities for staff wellness learning and exploration exist on a regular basis.


 

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!