As nurses and CNAs, we are no newcomers to stress. Working in the healthcare field and having a background in health education makes us even more aware of what our bodies are going through.We know that stress is the psychological and/or physiological response to internal or external challenges. Whether that challenge is to run a mile in under 12 minutes, get an A on an anatomy test, or try to resuscitate a patient during a “code,” the repercussions of stress will take a toll on our bodies.And though everyone experiences stress at times, the causes can be different for each individual. If not well managed, exposure to long term stress can affect your health (mental and physical), your relationships, your job, and your general wellbeing.Listen to your body! A huge part of stress management is self care. Here are eight stress busters to put you on the rejuvenation track.
Adequate sleep allows for muscle repair, mood regulation, and memory processing. Studies show that chronic sleep deprivation can impact our judgment, increase stress, and lead to health concerns from high blood pressure and obesity to increased stress.Sleep experts suggest adultsget 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night. Tips to get a good night’s sleep:
- Reduce screen time at least 30 min before bed - 2 hours is ideal. The screen emits a blue light which can affect your circadian rhythm by suppressing the production of melatonin (a sleep-inducing hormone). If you have to utilize some screen time before bed, many computers and phones now have a “warm light” setting to ease the stress on the eyes and limit interference with sleep.
- Limit or omit caffeine (a stimulant) late in the day.
- Prepare your body for sleep by introducing a bedtime routine.
- Incorporate relaxation techniques like focussed breathing or meditation.
Stress and sleep have a beautiful interdependent relationship. More sleep will reduce stress, and less stress will prompt better sleep. Get a good night’s sleep and give yourself the rest and rejuvenation you deserve.
The physical and mental health benefits of exercise are endless! It can lower blood pressure, increase energy, produce endorphins, and even help you sleep.The key to reducing stress is to get your body moving in a way that works for you. Here are a few ideas for stress-reducing exercises:
- Yoga, Tai Chi, Pilates: This kind of rhythmic flowing exercises incorporate a breath-mind-body connection and can feel like meditation in motion.
- HIIT (high-intensity interval training): Breaking up cardiovascular exercise in 10 minute HIIT sections throughout the day, can be just as safe and effective as working out for 30 minutes continuously. Start slow and build up to a moderate to high-intensity activity.
- Martial Arts / Kickboxing: Reap physical and self-defense benefits. The structure and discipline needed for these activities can keep you focused, and will allow you to leave your worries outside the dojo.
- Team sports: Hang out and be active with friends for a double whammy of stress busting.
3. Create Healthy Food Habits
Maintaining a healthy, well-balanced diet will ensure your body is equipped to fight stress from the inside out. In addition to lowering blood pressure and boosting your immune system, a healthy diet can also release that “feel good” brain chemical serotonin. Stress-busting foods:
- Chocolate (the dark kind): Shifting from comfort food to a psycho-active food, chocolate’s effect on the body is chemical (brain) and emotional (mood). Filled with positive neurotransmitters for mood enhancement, antioxidants that reduce free radicals, and cocoa butter that helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and increases blood flow.
- Blueberries: Packed with antioxidants and vitamin C to lower stress hormone cortisol, keeps free radicals in check, repairs your body, and boosts the immune system.
- Oatmeal: Complex carbohydrates (whole grains) contains fiber which influences satiety and extends serotonin release.
- Bananas: Combination of Vitamins B6, A and C; fiber, tryptophan, potassium, phosphorus, iron, and protein. Provide energy and stress-busting serotonin properties.
- Green leafy vegetables: B Vitamins which are natural antidepressants.
- Oily Fish (Salmon and Tuna): Contains omega-3 fatty acids for healthy nerve cells and decreased depression risk.
- Walnuts: Omega-3 fatty acids combined with uridine is a natural antidepressant.
- Flaxseed, hemp, canola and walnut oils: Great source of omega-3.
- Boiled egg: Packed with tryptophan and omega-3.
- Oranges: Full of Vitamin C for immune boosting and cortisol lowering.
- Turkey: Tryptophan and tyrosine for dopamine release to contribute to feeling pleasure and satisfaction.
- Coffee: 300 mg/day or less is beneficial to help with decreasing fatigue, producing serotonin and has an enhancing effect on the cardiovascular and respiratory system.
- Tea: Contains theanine for that brain relaxing effect.
4. Get into Nature
Connect with nature to soothe your soul and ease your stress. Studies show that people living in rural areas are happier than city dwellers, and being out in nature can elevate mood and cognitive function. Researchers are now able to take EEG equipment and measure brain waves while in different environments - one such study was done in a forest in Japan. They have found being in nature decreases activity in our frontal lobe - which is in charge of problem solving, communication, cognitive skills, language and regulating our personality, emotion, and judgment. When we are out in nature, our brain generates alpha waves which allows us to be calm, but alert - meditation taps into the same alpha wave connection. But you don’t need to go to Japan to take a forest bath to get the benefits of nature. Go to a local park, the beach, or some local hills for a relaxing hike. Bonus: Being out in the sun exposes us to vitamin D, which is a total stress buster and also helps with bone health!
5. Challenge Yourself
Give yourself challenges that are manageable and that excite you. While it may seem counter-intuitive, goals like these create a positive form of stress (known as eustress), which can give you a dose of endorphins and an energy boost!
- Start a new job or hobby.
- Learn a new language.
- Take a class in a subject of interest at your local community college or online.
- Try a new exercise, running path or compete in a manageable race.
6. Cultivate Gratitude
One of the most beautiful ways of relieving stress is by changing your attitude. Spiritual author Diana Butler Bass, in her book Gratitude, reminds us that being grateful is more than a feeling; it is an ethic.
- Journal. The simple act of writing down your daily thoughts allows free flow of ideas and is a way to declutter your mind. Consider a Gratitude Journal to help you focus on the positive.
- Be Present. Dwelling on the past and worrying about the future cause anxiety and stress. Living in the present allows us to appreciate the moment and not create the expectations and guilt of the “should have” or “could have.”
- Volunteer. Giving back to the community is a great way to cultivate some gratitude in your life. Choose an activity that doesn’t feel like work.
7. Frankie Says Relax
How do we help ourselves take a moment to breathe? Sometimes the conscious choice to rest our minds will help us become more productive.
- Meditate. A mindful body-breath connection creates a focused state and activates alpha waves in your frontal cortex. Alpha waves put your brain in a calm, but alert, sense of being, which allows you to destress. Start small with deep breathing exercises or simply sitting in silence outside in nature or before bed.
- Take a Mental Health Day. Don’t feel guilty for taking a day to rest a tired body or mind.
- Take a Vacation. Research has shown that approximately 47% of Americans don’t use all of their vacation time. While the reasons for this are complex, rest can help rejuvenate a stressed body.
- Listen to Music. The stress-reducing qualities of listening to music have been well documented. And there’s even a study linking a boost in mood in nursing students to making music of their own!
- Socialize. Connecting with family and friends outside of work is important to maintaining a sense of self beyond your job.
8. The Art of Letting Go
There comes a time when we have to consider and give thought to whether the situation we are in is a good fit for us: whether it is work, relationships, or certain thoughts. Don’t be afraid of giving up that which is harmful to your overall well-being. Hard as it may be to give up control, sometimes all we can do is to let go and live through the process to trust things will work out the way it is supposed to be. Downsize in smaller ways by setting boundaries around activities like work, friends, or screen time in order to open up margin in your life. Additionally, don’t be afraid to seek help from family, friends, or a healthcare provider if you need extra support.Working in healthcare is a heavy load to carry; we try to cope not only with our own stress but those of our patients as well. Start with one stress buster and work your way up to help manage the stress in your life!Click here for more on staying healthy in healthcare. If you want to learn more about becoming a CNA click here!