Looking for ways to improve our health and wellbeing, we often fail to notice the simplest solutions. Our health can be greatly improved by attending to the basics of relaxation, exercise, adequate rest, and healthy diet. Exercise and diet capture our focus because these involve active engagement--'doing' something. Here, I hope to inspire you to attend to often neglected basics of wellness, relaxation and rest, and provide you with resources and ideas to do just that--BE! This month Focus on Health spotlights:
RELAXATION AND REST: Relaxation and wellness go hand in hand. Perhaps the single most important thing you can do for your overall health and well-being is to learn to relax. Not only is it important to take time to relax on a daily basis, but to learn to be more relaxed throughout the day.
SLEEP AND THE STRESS CONNECTION: Getting enough good quality sleep is absolutely essential to health and well-being. We will discuss why sleep is so important and how stress contributes to insomnia--along with tips for relaxing at bedtime, as well as lifestyle tips to ensure good sleep.
Nurses don't need to be told that life is stressful, and that in many ways it is becoming even more stressful in the fast-paced and complicated time we live in. Not only does stress affect our quality of life by how it makes us feel, but most diseases are caused by or made worse by stress. We all need the ability to cope with stress.
Relaxation & Rest
Relaxation is perhaps the single most important key to health and well-being. It is the antidote to stress which is known to contribute to the development of disease. When we relax, our body has an opportunity to unwind. The benefits of relaxation have been well researched and some of these are summarized below. Relaxation gives the heart a rest by slowing the heart rate, reduces blood pressure, slows the rate of breathing, increases blood flow to the muscles, and decreases muscle tension. As a consequence, many people experience:
* More energy
* Better sleep
* Enhanced immunity
* Increased concentration
* Better problem-solving abilities
* Greater efficiency
* Smoother emotions--less anger, crying, anxiety, frustration
* Less headaches and pain
The biggest key to relaxation is taking time for it! We need to give ourselves permission to take time out and make relaxing a priority. Below are easy ways to relax throughout the day. They may seem obvious, and they are, but often the solutions to our problems are right under our nose--we are simply overlooking them.
* Stop; give yourself permission to "do nothing"! Take short relaxation breaks often by stopping and 'doing nothing' from time to time. Give yourself room to simply be. Rest is the basis of activity, and those restful pauses will help you reset.
* Take some deep breaths. "Take a deep breath" has become a cliche--you hear it on sitcoms, in conversations, everywhere--and for good reason. It helps! When you are anxious and tense, you tend to stop breathing, or the breath is very shallow. Taking some slow, deep breaths helps to break that pattern and gives you an instant sense of calm. Let your breath go deep into your belly, bringing your awareness to your abdominal muscles and letting them relax.
* Relax with each breath! Simply bring your attention to your breathing. Observe the natural flow of the breath. Notice how it moves in and out, how it feels, how your body moves as you breathe. Take time to become aware of all the details of the experience of breathing.
* Stretch! Simple stretching can do wonders. When you sit at a computer or do any work that causes you to remain in the same position for long periods of time, it is highly stressful. Stretch your arms and legs, bring your attention to your body and notice how it wants to move naturally.
* Listen to relaxing music or a guided meditation CD. Make it a priority to have relaxing music on hand--in your car, a personal MP3 player to use in the staff lounge--and use it! A guided meditation CD can also be a welcome help--it's often much easier to relax with a soothing voice guiding you.
* Lie down and rest--No guilt! Even five minutes of lying down can be refreshing. Don't mind if you feel restless and your mind keeps coming up with reasons to get up. When you've been revving up the engine in a car, it takes a while for it to come to idle when you take your foot off the pedal. It can be like that when we take time to relax--we need to let the body and mind gradually unwind. Obtain a lounge chair in the nurse's lounge and schedule staff 'rest' periods just like meals!
Sleep and the Stress Connection
Are you getting all the ZZZs you need? Does it often take you more than 30 minutes to fall asleep at night? Or do you wake up frequently during the night--or too early in the morning--and have a hard time going back to sleep? When you awaken, do you feel groggy and lethargic? Do you feel drowsy during the day particularly during monotonous situations? If you answered "yes" to any one of these questions, you may have a "sleep debt" that is affecting you in ways you don't even realize. And, you aren't the only one. A recent National Sleep Foundation (NSF) Sleep in America poll (2008) found that a majority of American adults experience sleep problems. Nevertheless, few of us detect the importance of adequate rest, or are aware that effective methods of preventing and managing sleep problems now exist. Edell-Gustafsson, Kritz, & Bogren (2002) examined self-reported sleep quality, perceived strain and health in relation to working conditions; the prevalence and severity of sleep disturbances and daytime distress arising from poor sleep in women on different work shifts. The results showed a persistently high rate of psycho-physiological long-term effects of stress related to working conditions. They concluded that sleep initiation difficulties, troubled sleep and exhaustion significantly predicted reduced sleep quality outcome with decreased resilience to stress and vulnerability to psycho-physiological disorders. We all know that many of us struggle in these areas--let's begin our assessment.
Principal "Sleep Stealers"
Psychological Factors: Stress is considered by most sleep experts to be the No. 1 cause of short-term sleeping difficulties. Frequent triggers include school- or job-related pressures, a family or marriage problem, and a serious illness or death in the family. Usually the sleep problem disappears when the stressful situation passes. However, if short-term sleep problems such as insomnia aren't managed properly from the beginning, they can persist long after the original stress has passed.
Lifestyle Stressors: Without realizing it, you may be doing things during the day or night that can work against getting a good night's sleep. These include drinking alcohol or beverages containing caffeine in the afternoon or evening, exercising close to bedtime, following an irregular morning and nighttime schedule, and working or doing other mentally intense activities right before or after getting into bed.
Shift Work: Nurses are among the 17 percent of employees in the United States who are shift workers & for whom sleep may be particularly elusive. Shift work forces you to try to sleep when activities around you--and your own "biological rhythms"--signal you to be awake. One study shows that shift workers are two to five times more likely than employees with regular, daytime hours to fall asleep on the job.
Healthy Sleep Tips
If you are having a sleep problem or feel sleepy during the day, many recommend lifestyle changes that can help promote sleep. Keep in mind that what works for some folks may not work for others. Therefore, your best bet is to find out what's useful for you and stick with it. In general, try to build into your schedule time for eight hours of sleep, and follow this routine as regularly as possible--even on the weekends or your days off. Here are a few tips that you may find useful:
1. Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol in the late afternoon and evening. Caffeine and nicotine can delay your sleep, and alcohol may interrupt your sleep later in the night.
2. Exercise regularly, but do so at least three hours before bedtime. A workout after that time may actually keep you awake because your body has not had a chance to cool down.
3. Don't use your bed for anything other than sleep or sex. Your bed should be associated with sleep.
4. If you have trouble sleeping when you go to bed, don't nap extensively during the day, since it affects your ability to sleep at night.
5. Consider your sleep environment. Make it as pleasant, comfortable, dark and quiet as you can.
6. Create a relaxing bedtime routine that will allow you to unwind and send a "signal" to your brain that it's time to sleep & steer clear of exposure to bright light before bedtime.
* Give yourself time to get ready for bed slowly. Delight in the moments of winding down as you wash your face, brush your teeth, and change into your bed clothes. You can use aroma oils, soft music--be creative! If spirituality is important to you, include a prayer.
* Keep your bedroom cool, quiet, and dark. (Usually a cool room promotes sleep, but you will have difficulty sleeping if you feel cold, so experiment. If your feet are cold in winter, warm them up before bed!)
* Drink a cup of warm milk (you can add nutmeg for its sleep inducing properties) or a relaxing tea, like chamomile.
* Massage your feet, especially with warm oil, right before bed--it's very relaxing.
* Stretch a bit before you lie down. You can literally stretch out some of the "kinks" and tension of the day. Stretching makes some people more energetic and some more sleepy, so experiment and find out what works for you. Don't overdo it--stretch just enough to help you relax.
* Taking a hot bath can be extremely relaxing. Light some candles. Add relaxing aroma oil, such as lavender oil, to the water. Savor it!
* Once you are in bed, listen to relaxing music or a relaxation or sleep CD to help you shift gears and relax into sleep.
7. Learn to relax and make relaxation a part of your daily routine. This may be the one most important thing that you can do, and there are many different kinds of programs and tools to help you to do it.
8. If you can't go to sleep after 30 minutes, don't stay in bed tossing and turning. Get up and involve yourself in a relaxing activity, such as listening to soothing music or reading, until you feel sleepy. Remember: Try to clear your mind; don't use this time to solve your daily problems.
As health care experts, you probably are aware of many of the ideas above, and can find plenty of others on the web, but the challenge is to actually incorporate these ideas into your life. That takes motivation and a commitment to self-care--a return to the self leadership that this column continues to emphasize. A good night's sleep is well worth the effort! Rest and relaxation are vital to our well-being--and to our ability to care for others.
How Financially Literate Are You?
Knowing how to manage your personal finances is essential for every nurses' long-term fiscal stability. Visit the Center for American Nurses website (http://www.centerforamericannurse.com) and complete their online 'Financial Literacy' survey to find out where your knowledge gaps are and help the Center develop educational programs that will enable nurses to plan for a financially secure future.
This major education initiative of The Center for American Nurses, partnering with the Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER), is made possible by a grant from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation.
Edell-Gustafsson, U. M., Kritz, E. I., & Bogren, I. K. (2002). Self-reported sleep quality, strain and health in relation to perceived working conditions in females. Scandinavian Journal of Caring Science, 16; 179-187.
National Sleep Foundation (NSF) (2008) SLEEP IN AMERICA POLL available at http://www.sleepfoundation.org/site/c.huIXKjM0IxF/ b.2417141/k.C60C/Welcome.htm.
by Susan Vorce Crocker, PhD, RN
Crocker, Susan Vorce. "The repose of wellbeing.(Personal & Financial Health)." Vermont Nurse Connection Nov.-Dec. 2008: 7. Academic OneFile. Web. 30 Oct. 2009.
Gale Document Number:A187426873
Disclaimer:This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.
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