The Benefits and Downside of CBD Oil

As natural remedies go, hemp – and its more potent cousin, marijuana – have been used to treat a variety of illnesses for thousands of years. That’s thousands – in fact, hemp is one of the fastest- growing plants, and was grown commercially by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers. It also was one of the first plants to be spun into usable fiber 10,000 years ago.

Industrial hemp, typically found in the northern hemisphere, is a strain of the Cannabis sativa plant species. And while well known and popular in eastern cultures for its healing properties, U.S. Federal laws aimed at curbing the use and sale of marijuana and Cannabis plant derivatives have restrained the popularity of these medicinal potions in many U.S. states. But now, as the sale of marijuana and products containing THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) is becoming legal (for medicinal and recreational use), there is a bounty of options available to consumers.

THC is one of at least 113 cannabinoids identified in cannabis, but is the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis – the product that produces the euphoric “high” that people enjoy. But it’s also used for treating a variety of illnesses and diseases, for pain relief, and for behavioral mental health treatments.

The use of CBD-based oils, lotions and ingestible products is now legal in many states that have not legalized recreational marijuana use, including Connecticut (which has legalized the use of medical marijuana only). Marijuana contains both THC and CBD, and these compounds have different effects. Unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive. This means that CBD does not change a person’s state of mind when they use it. However, products marketed as CBD oil may contain THC, though these only are available through state-sanctioned and taxed dispensaries, or can be obtained, often illegally, through mail-order and black-market sites.

The Advantages of Using CBD Oil

According to the Institute of Medicine of The National Academies, 100 million Americans live with chronic pain. Along with drastically reducing quality of life, chronic pain can increase healthcare costs and have a negative impact on productivity at work. So, any natural remedy is bound to draw a lot of attention.

CBD, or cannabidiol oil, contains CBD and often other active compounds in a carrier oil. There are a number of forms of CBD oil, including softgel capsules, tinctures, and under-the-tongue sprays. Some forms of CBD oil can also be applied directly to the skin, in the form of products like creams and salves. The concentration of CBD varies from product to product.

For many people experiencing chronic pain, CBD has steadily gained popularity as a natural approach to pain relief. Cannabidiol is sometimes touted as an alternative to pain medication in the treatment of common conditions like arthritis and back pain.

The use of cannabis for pain relief dates back to ancient China. It’s thought that CBD oil might help ease chronic pain in part by reducing inflammation. In addition, CBD oil is said to promote sounder sleep and, in turn, treat sleep disruption commonly experienced by people with chronic pain. Emerging research shows that endocannabinoids may play a role in regulating such functions as memory, sleep and mood, as well as metabolic processes like energy balance. In addition, CBD oil may help improve a variety of health conditions including stress, which exacerbates high blood pressure.

As its popularity has grown, so has the hype, and the marketing mania – CBD is promoted by some as a miracle oil that, among other cures, can shrink tumors, quell seizures, and ease chronic pain. Cannabinoid-laced drugs have been approved by the Federal Drug Administration for treatment of epileptic seizures, and moderate doses of CBD are mildly energizing.

But very high doses of CBD may trigger a biphasic effect, meaning it can produce two different results; the CBD-rich cannabis flower produces sedative and painkilling properties. CBD is not intrinsically sedating, but it may help to restore better sleeping patterns by reducing anxiety.

Industrial hemp typically contains far less cannabidiol than high-resin CBD-rich cannabis flower tops. Huge amounts of industrial hemp are required to extract a small amount of CBD, thereby raising the risk of contaminants because hemp is a “bio-accumulator” that draws toxins from the soil. But plant breeders are now focusing on developing high-resin cannabis varietals (marijuana) that satisfy the legal criteria for industrial hemp – with THC measuring less than 0.3 percent and CBD levels exceeding 10 percent by dry weight.

That may seem like too much technical information, but it’s all to point out that there are a lot of CBD-based potions now on the market that may have some medicinal benefits, and many that won’t. Because CBD oil products are mostly unregulated, there’s no guarantee that any given product contains a safe or effective level of CBD. In fact, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2017 found that nearly 70 percent of all CBD products sold online are incorrectly labeled, and could cause serious harm to consumers. Some CBD oils may also contain incorrectly labeled amounts of THC and other compounds.

Some research indicates that the use of CBD oil may trigger a number of side effects, including anxiety, changes in appetite and mood, diarrhea, dizziness, drowsiness, dry mouth and nausea or vomiting. There’s also some concern that the use of CBD oil may lead to increased levels of liver enzymes (a marker of liver damage or inflammation).

However, on a more positive note, researchers are now finding that CBD may help treat generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, and also is useful in combating addictions to tobacco products and even to THC itself. CBD also may have moderate pain-relieving effects for neuropathic pain without the cannabinoid-like side effects. However, there is currently a lack of proper trials and research confirming these effects.

The bottom line is that if you’re thinking of using CBD oil to treat a health problem (and it is legal where you live), make sure to consult your healthcare provider first to discuss whether it’s appropriate for you, and to ensure that the product you buy is truly beneficial.


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!

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!

Stop Working to Increase Productivity

Our brains and our bodies run out of steam after sitting or standing too long at our desks, work stations, machines, counters or work sites. Excessive sitting, in fact, wreaks havoc with our physiology, and is a known factor for increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attacks, stroke, cancer, depression and obesity.

Our metabolism slows after 20 minutes of physical inactivity, lowering HDL, which is the “good” cholesterol. And without some physical stimulation over an extended period, we tire, lose focus, productivity drops and opportunities for mistakes and accidents increase.

Taking breaks is smart business practice, though many people choose to work through lunch or avoid breaks. That may be due to deadlines and important projects, piecework, service coverage or because of a work culture that doesn’t encourage downtime. Many managers and senior executives often set that pace by not taking breaks themselves or by not encouraging their workers to take time for healthy movement, stretching or recreation time during the day.

According to a workplace study conducted by Tork, a leading global hygiene, medical supplies and health company, nearly 20 percent of North American workers surveyed worry their bosses think they aren’t working hard enough if they take regular lunch breaks. Another 13 percent worry that their co-workers will judge them, and 39 percent say that don’t feel encouraged to take a lunch break.

And their fears appear justified, in that 22 percent of North American bosses say that employees who take a regular lunch break are less hardworking. To the contrary, nearly 90 percent of employees surveyed said that taking a lunch break helps them feel refreshed and ready to go back to work.

Taking Breaks Increases Productivity

Smart organizations realize that productivity and quality are negatively affected when employees are more tired, stressed and physically inactive. To help mitigate productivity loss and employee burnout, they are making great strides toward changing this paradigm by encouraging employees to regularly stand up and move, stretch, walk or exercise during breaks and lunch and generally move around during the work day.

For some workers, it’s simply knowing the importance of getting up and moving for three or four minutes at least once an hour. That can be walking to get a beverage, going to another office or work area, or strolling for a few minutes. Proper stretching to loosen muscles and limbs is valuable, and encouraging individuals or groups to walk together at or after lunch or dinner promotes exercise, safety and teambuilding.

For good health, adults should engage in moderate physical activity at least 30 minutes a day. Many organizations now offer fitness, yoga or meditation instruction at the workplace, have fitness rooms, or subsidize local gym memberships. Companies also sponsor charity walks, runs or bicycling activities, team athletics such as softball, basketball, volleyball and tennis, and support personal interests such as swimming, climbing and dance.

Here are some simple and easy steps you can take to get moving during work hours:

  • Take daily breaks from work and go for a short walk. Over time, try increasing your distances or taking multiple short breaks several times a
  • Take a few minutes for some easy, natural stretching. Do this several times a day at your desk or in a private area, such as a fitness space. If you go for a walk, include a few minutes for gentle
  • Join a lunch-hour fitness program, or choose a time that works for you, such as in the evening or before work. Select activities that you can also do on your own time so it can become a regular part of your
  • Consider taking public transportation and daily walks to transit stops. Try to enjoy the walks and the fact that they allow you to be more
  • For those with disabilities, or medical or mobility issues, take breaks that are right for you and approved by your doctor. If you have a medical condition, you may be able to participate in or modify some of the exercises in a fitness
  • Support fundraising events with your co-workers for charitable causes that support active living events by training regularly with your co-workers; this can be good for both your health and for
  • Host walking meetings for small groups. Also, getting outside for a walk can invigorate participants, encourage creativity and reenergize everyone.

Worksites can encourage physical activity through a multicomponent approach of offering management support, physical access to opportunities, policies, and social-support programs. We each have to take personal responsibility for our own health and wellness. But when organizations demonstrate their commitment to employees’ health in the workplace, that benefit carries over out of the workplace, as well, and results in reduced absenteeism due to illness and stress, and increased productivity, morale, personal engagement and teamwork.

 


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!

Smart Tools Help Employees Stay Healthy and Engaged

Thanks to the popularity of smart phones, Fitbits, Apple Watches, mobile wellness applications and other easy-to-use “smart” portable technology, employers now have more opportunities to work with their employees on health and wellness programs that can be tracked, measured and reported, synergistically, using today’s accessible technologies.

Wearables such as the Fitbit or the Apple Watch do more than simply measuring steps – they can help monitor stress levels and heart rates. They also aid in implementing fitness plans, so they can be a valuable tool in encouraging workplace health. Simply having access to apps on already existing smartphones can be effective as well.

Progressive employers are using these tools to support employee wellness engagement, taking an interest in the shape of each employees’ health efforts across multiple dimensions including fitness, movement, stress, disease risk and disease management.

The challenges inherent to employer involvement in wellness at work always have included time constraints, encouraging employee engagement, privacy issues and the employer’s willingness to participate or fund these proactive efforts.

However, effective wellness programs improve workforce health, reduce healthcare costs, improve morale, boost teamwork and increase productivity. Corporate wellness programs strive to get employees more active, but, like too many New Year’s resolutions, programs often fall short because people stop participating — and return to an unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle.

This has led many businesses to investigate the use of technology combined with wellness programs to increase and maintain employee engagement. But throwing technology at the problem without proper strategy and support programs will not accomplish the desired result.

With so many millennials and their younger associates, “Gen-Z-ers,” adept at personal technology and absorbed in social media, employers can work with their staffs to encourage personal goal-setting, as well as team goal-setting, and consider setting up online tools, social media groups or dedicated websites for employees to report and track their own and one another’s progress involving mutually agreed-upon goals linked to walking, running, fitness, weight loss, nutrition, hydration, sleep and more.

Some wellness devices wirelessly and securely transmit all activity data through the Cloud to personal web applications without employees lifting a finger. Their daily activity is automatically recorded and uploaded where it is available for easy viewing and personalization. Coupled with incentives provided by a supportive employer, this can create an excellent opportunity for organizations and individuals to get on the same preventive health-care page.

Data gathered from wearables can help an organization make a business case for a wellness program or fine-tune one already in place. Wearables can provide employers with a vast amount of biometric data and help evaluate the return on investment — but only if employees consent to share this information.

Using wearables can decrease the sedentary lifestyle that often pervades present-day working generations. With features such as activity apps, employees can track their physical movements and set reminders to stand when sitting for long periods of time, drink water, track their sleeping patterns, meditate, count calories, and much more.

Make It Easy, and Make It Fun

A growing number of companies, embracing wellness as a positive business model, are facilitating the use of digital technology tools and programs for their employees.

For instance, by demonstrating the impact of poor eating and exercise habits for a person with high cholesterol and a family history of heart disease, or for someone who is pre-diabetic, immediate lifestyle changes can be recommended through a simple mobile app that can also help the user set personal goals. This technology then provides ongoing motivation by displaying their progress along their journey to improved health. If employees agree to share the results, these changes and progress can then be monitored and recommendations adjusted accordingly.

Monitoring and evaluating real-time data of employee’s physical activity, sleep patterns, and stress levels can help employers evaluate the drivers of health risks to their employees, and potentially mitigate illness and prevent long-term disability leaves. Also, it provides the ability to examine the health risks and trends facing the organization’s entire workforce, not just specific individuals.

Employers can create fun challenges, promote friendly competition for willing participants, and reward participation as well as individual or team progress with time off, sponsorships, gift cards, cash prizes, team outings and a variety of “bragging-rights” incentives. Some employers actually purchase wearable technology for their teams as added incentive and a strong sign of commitment.

However you proceed, include employees in the planning and execution. Consider working with an outside firm, fitness expert or wellness professional when possible to establish reasonable goals and review procedures, and practice these simple steps when designing your program:

  • Make it as easy as possible to participate
  • Use helpful reminders
  • Develop engaging programs
  • Seek employee consensus and participation
  • Provide incentives that motivate employees
  • Recognize and reward all participants

With today’s popular and affordable technologies, it’s easier than ever now to engage employees in improving their own health and wellness. Everyone wins, and the only losers are the ones who shed pounds or unhealthy behaviors in favor of fitness, good nutrition and the satisfaction of setting and achieving personal health goals.


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!

Laughter and Work Actually Do Mix

What’s so funny about work? Well, depending on where you’re sitting and your position in the organizational hierarchy, just about everything! Come on, now, you have to admit it: Who doesn’t laugh at work? And if they don’t, what do you honestly think about them?  We all know that person – stiff, always serious, never smiling or seeming to enjoy work or their life . . . a sad stereotype. But whatever their reasons for being who and how they are, the uber serious aren’t just missing out, they are likely not as healthy as those who laugh and find humor in the people and things around them.

That’s not to say the workplace shouldn’t be a serious place. Work is important, as is making deadlines, ensuring service and decorum, maintaining quality and increasing productivity. But humans are social beings, and laughter helps relieve stress, strengthens teams and binds us to common goals.

When you watch people sitting together at lunch or talking at breaks or at gatherings you can see them change physically and relax. Whether enjoying a joke, story or anecdote, or just reflecting on something that has happened or been observed, laughter is good for our mental and physical health and should be encouraged, as appropriate to time and place. But as we can’t legislate happiness, sadness or frustration, we also can’t control people wanting to laugh . . . nor should we. Instead, as employers, we can encourage and support opportunities for relaxing and enhancing teamwork.

People have the remarkable ability to find the humor in almost every situation. It’s an important coping mechanism, and a way to release tension and search, consciously or subconsciously, for empathy. And that is very, very healthy.

Next month (April) is both National Humor Month and Stress Awareness Month. While many health-related awareness designations have little relevance to one another, this combination is an exception. Humor plays an important role in reducing stress, and laughter, whether loud and boisterous, or soft and silent, drives biological reactions that reduce pain, strengthen our immune systems, increase productivity and improve our relationships with our fellow workers, friends, families, and even with total strangers.

Striving to see humor in life and attempting to laugh at situations rather than complain helps improve our disposition and the disposition of those around us. Our ability to laugh at ourselves and situations helps reduce stress and makes life more enjoyable. Humor also helps us connect with others. People naturally respond to the smiles and good cheer of those around them.

The chemical reaction linked to humor and laughter involves endorphins, pain-relieving chemicals usually caused by physical activity or touch. Our bodies create endorphins in response to exercise, excitement, pain, spicy food, and love, among other things. In addition to giving us a “buzz,” bursts of energy and a general good feeling, endorphins raise our ability to ignore pain. In fact, researchers believe that the long series of exhalations that accompany true laughter cause physical exhaustion of the abdominal muscles and, in turn, trigger endorphin release.

Consider these facts about the positive health effects of humor:

  • People with a developed sense of humor typically have a stronger immune system.
  • People who laugh heartily on a regular basis have lower-standing blood pressure than the average person. When people have a good laugh, initially the blood pressure increases but then decreases to levels below normal. Breathing then becomes deeper, which sends oxygen-enriched blood and nutrients throughout the body.
  • Laughter can be a great workout for your diaphragm, abdominal, respiratory, facial, leg, and back muscles. It massages abdominal organs, tones intestinal functioning, and strengthens the muscles that hold the abdominal organs in place. It is estimated that hearty laughter can burn calories equivalent to several minutes on the rowing machine or the exercise bike.
  • Laughter stimulates both sides of the brain to enhance learning. It eases muscle tension and psychological stress, which keeps the brain alert and allows people to retain more information. Laughing also elevates moods.

Organizations can support this spontaneous health benefit by encouraging people to dine together in and out of the office or workplace, and by creating common areas where people may congregate before, after or even during work hours. Pictures and posters that elicit humorous comments, sharing of humor online and through organizational websites and emails, as well as through speeches, meetings and presentations, shows employees that everyone – even the boss – has a good sense of humor and realizes that while we’re all working hard, we need to acknowledge our social side and not take ourselves too seriously.

The sound of laughter is far more contagious than any cough, sniffle, or sneeze. Humor and laughter have many benefits, and they don’t cost a penny. So, laugh at yourself and laugh with others — you’ll be improving your health and the health of those around you with every chuckle and smile!


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!

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!

 

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!

 

Simple Preventative Steps Lead to Large Returns

When employers promote preventative care, they help create a culture of wellness that dramatically improves the chances that employees and their immediate family members will be more aware of potential health problems, get diagnosed earlier and avoid more serious health conditions down the road. Healthy employees are productive employees, and the goodwill generated when employees see their employer vested in their wellness is invaluable for improving teamwork, morale and service.

Employers can take an active role in health and wellness education, including communicating health provider benefits and encouraging workers to get annual physicals and recommended health screenings. That can include setting up preventive screenings for items such as blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol, reinforcing the value in timely immunizations, and reminding employees to get annual physicals, mammograms, prostate and cervical cancer exams.

Chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are responsible for seven of every 10 deaths among Americans each year and account for 75 percent of the nation’s health spending. These chronic diseases can be largely preventable through close partnership with patients’ healthcare providers, or can be detected through appropriate screenings, when treatment works best.

Health screenings measure key physical characteristics such as height and weight, body mass index, blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood sugar. Over the past several years, organizations have started introducing workplace health screenings as a way to evaluate the overall health of their employees and identify the biggest risk factors. This also gives organizations the information they need to work with their health insurance carrier to better address specific needs.

Health screenings, however, are definitely not a replacement for regular medical examinations or wellness visits with a health care provider. They are also not intended as a way to diagnose disease.

Understanding Resistance to Screenings

There are many reasons why employees don’t want to mix work and their personal health. But one of the most common is a fear of exposing personal health information and not understanding how it will be used. Employees also may believe the information will be used against them later, and they might be subject to consequences, penalties or discrimination.

In addition, employees could just be more comfortable going to their own doctor. In those cases, organizations can choose to incentivize annual physicals wherever the employee wants to go. That way, the employee sees his or her personal doctor and gets the same tests, but their employer doesn’t see the results and the organization still has proof that it happened.

Today, the majority of U.S. employers offer employees some sort of wellness incentive. Monetary incentives have become the most common, as well as raffles for gift cards, time off, meals and other motivational rewards.

Under health care reform, organizations can offer incentives based on a percentage of the total annual cost of individual coverage. That could mean contributing to a health savings account, discounting premiums or waiving cost-sharing responsibility, which refers to deductibles, copays and coinsurance.

The Cost of Inaction

But no matter what you elect to do, education and effective communication is the key to help employees get past any concerns they may have, especially if those concerns involve their personal health information. It’s simple to remind employees of the value in counseling, screenings, wellness visits, prenatal care and other essential steps they can take to improve their health and secure early interventions.

It’s also important to create a culture of health, regardless of whether you offer an incentive or how much it is. When employees feel like they are in it together, they share their experiences, like losing weight, reducing tobacco or alcohol use, eating more nutritious foods, exercising together or getting an early diagnosis that might save their life. Those kinds of personal messages, from people they know, can be powerful motivators.

Health problems are a major drain on the economy, resulting in 69 million workers reporting missed days due to illness each year, and reducing economic output by $260 billion per year. Increasing the use of proven preventive services can encourage greater workplace productivity and cost savings for everyone.

Eating healthy, exercising regularly, avoiding tobacco, and receiving preventive services such as cancer screenings, preventive visits and vaccinations are just a few examples of ways people can stay healthy. The right preventive care at every stage of life helps avoid or delay the onset of disease, keeps diseases employees already have from becoming worse or debilitating, and reduces costs.


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!

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!

Reducing Employee Tobacco Use and Vaping for Improved Health

Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States, yet more than 45 million Americans still smoke cigarettes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Half of all smokers who keep smoking will end up dying from a smoking-related illness. In the United States alone, smoking is responsible for nearly one in five deaths, and about 8.6 million people suffer from smoking-related lung and heart diseases.

There also are approximately 13.2 million cigar smokers in the U.S., and 2.2 million who smoke tobacco in pipes. Additionally, the CDC reports that more than 3.2 percent of American adults use e-cigarettes. Additionally, more than 2 million teens (11.3 percent of high school students and 4.3 percent of middle school students) were using e-cigarettes in a national study conducted in 2016, and it’s expected that those numbers have soared over the past two years.

The CDC says that more than half of these smokers have attempted to quit for at least one day in the past year, often without lasting success. That is an opportunity for employers to assume a supporting role through education and personal outreach to help address a calamity that is costing American businesses billions of dollars annually in related healthcare costs and robbing millions of Americans of their health.

Need More Fuel?

Most consumers – including smokers – know that smoking can cause lung cancer, but few people realize it is also linked to a higher risk for many other kinds of cancer too, including cancer of the mouth, nose, sinuses, lip, voice box (larynx), throat (pharynx), esophagus, bladder, kidney, pancreas, ovary, cervix, stomach, colon, rectum, and acute myeloid leukemia.

Smokers are twice as likely to die from heart attacks as non-smokers. Smoking is a major risk factor for peripheral vascular disease, a narrowing of the blood vessels that carry blood to the leg and arm muscles. Smoking also affects the walls of the vessels that carry blood to the brain (carotid arteries), which can cause strokes. Smoking can cause abdominal aortic aneurysm, in which the layered walls of the body’s main artery (the aorta) weaken and separate, often causing sudden death. And men who smoke are more likely to develop erectile dysfunction (impotence) because of blood vessel disease.

Based on data collected by the CDC, it is estimated that adult male smokers lost an average of 13.2 years of life and female smokers lost 14.5 years of life because of smoking.

Each year, smoking causes early deaths of about 443,000 people in the United States. And given the diseases that smoking can cause, it can steal our quality of life long before we die. Smoking-related illness can limit our activities by making it harder to breathe, get around, work, or play.

The Dangers of Vaping

Vaping involves using electronic cigarettes (also referred to as e-cigarettes). These devices contain heating elements, batteries and a reservoir that holds vaping liquid. According to the CDC, the liquid usually consists of varying amounts of nicotine, flavorings and chemicals. When users puff e-cigarettes, the heating element is activated and produces an aerosol, or vapor, which is inhaled.

Many chemicals that cause cancer are in this vapor. That includes formaldehyde, heavy metals, and ultrafine particles that can get stuck in the deepest parts of our lungs. Other potentially harmful substances found in e-cigarettes include flavorings like diacetyl (a chemical linked to lung disease), volatile organic compounds, cancer-causing chemicals and heavy metals such as lead, tin and nickel.

It’s hard to know how much of these chemicals are breathed in when people vape. The levels are usually lower in e-cigarettes than regular cigarettes. But some studies show that high-voltage e-cigarettes have more formaldehyde and other toxins than standard e-cigarettes, and most contain nicotine, which is addictive and dangerous.

Getting the word out to employees about the health risks of vaping – through workplace wellness programs, company-wide newsletters, signs, posters or email blasts – helps lower disease risks and improve health, wellness and productivity in the workplace.

Help Employees Quit Now

No matter how old you are or how long you’ve smoked, quitting can help you live longer and be healthier. People who stop smoking before age 50 cut their risk of dying in the next 15 years in half compared with those who keep smoking. Ex-smokers enjoy a higher quality of life. They have fewer illnesses like colds and the flu, lower rates of bronchitis and pneumonia, and feel healthier than people who still smoke.

Habits and addictions are hard to break. Humiliating, shaming or punishing smokers isn’t the answer – it’s not illegal to smoke in Connecticut, just to smoke in certain places like restaurants and where otherwise dictated. But there are several steps people can take to improve health and longer-term quality of life. The most important is to quit smoking immediately and keep as physically fit as possible. Keeping active is essential for improved breathing function, and pulmonary rehabilitation can help rebuild strength and reduce shortness of breath.

November 15th is the Great American Smokeout

Mark Twain famously reported: “Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it a thousand times!” The American Cancer Society is marking the 41st Great American Smokeout on November 15th by encouraging smokers to use the date to help smokers quit, or to plan in advance and quit smoking that day. By doing so, smokers will be taking an important step towards a healthier life — one that can lead to reducing cancer risk.

There are an abundance of programs, many free, to help smokers quit. Physicians can prescribe supportive medical aids as part of a more formal program, there are over-the-counter remedies, and support groups are available in most communities and through local hospitals. Most health insurance providers also offer smoking-cessation assistance.

Quitting is hard, but employees can increase their chances of success with help. The American Cancer Society provides an abundance of information about the steps to quit smoking and provides resources and support that can increase the chances of quitting successfully. To learn about available tools, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 or visit www.cancer.org. The American Lung Association also has a wealth of information and resources. Reach them at 1-800-LUNG-USA, and find online support at www.lung.org.


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!