Breath In … Breathe Out

By Dr. Angela Babaev, Assistant VP for Education and Nursing Recruitment at SBH

Yes, 2020 was a challenging year. The COVID-19 encounter is unquestionably a worldwide team effort, but as health care providers we have a special part to play because of the profoundly close relationship we
form with our patients by creating hope, developing trust, sharing their pain, and caring for critically ill patients and their families. How do we find the strength to carry on at work, at home, and then to pursue other responsibilities like school, or caring for loved ones, etc.? How do we support our patients and our families during these challenging times? How do we practice self-care while we battle these challenges? And, how do we deal with stress without being stressed?

Stress – what is the meaning of stress? Without a doubt, stress is part of our daily life and may come from multiple sources – work, family, projects, health, finances, etc. However, the most important question is how does one
perceive stress?

“I am an old man and I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened,” to quote Mark Twain. Viewpoint is very important to how we form our outlook, which leads to our attitude. So attitude – our mindset, our outlook, our perspective and mood – can and will make a difference on the health status of our body and mind. Stress is hard to measure. However, there are things related to stress and stress relief that are easily measurable and correlate with better health of body and mind. These include work hours, sleep duration and the environment with which you choose to surround yourself.

According to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow – the title of his well-known book – is the state when one is in the “zone” and time does not matter. This is when we are laser focused on what we are doing and feel the most enjoyment. According to the author, “flow” occurs most often at work, 54 percent of the time, and only 18 percent of the time at leisure. Apathy occurred only 16 percent at work, while 52 percent at leisure. So it seems that most people find fulfillment and enjoyment at work as long as it is balanced.

It is a known fact too, that little sleep brings increased stress and worry. Conversely, studies show that just living in an area that has green space is associated with less stress. “Forest bathing” refers to taking a long walk in the forest. It has been associated with lower blood pressure, reduced cortisol levels (stress hormone), improved mood, decreased stress, better immune function and enhanced brain function.

What is the best way to reduce stress effectively? A Robert Wood Johnson Foundation survey asked this question and found the following:

• Spending time outside (agreed to by 94 percent)
• Enjoying a hobby (93 percent)
• Exercise (89 percent)
• Having a pet and spending time with it (87 percent)
• Using meditation or prayer (85 percent)
• Enjoying time with family and friends (83 percent),
• A good night’s sleep (76 percent)
• Healthy eating habits (63 percent)

It is important to make the decision to be less stressed or to de-stress. Remember, perception is everything and how we allow stress to affect us is an actual stressor itself. Humans are habitual, so this is something we must practice until it becomes a habit. “I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions,” wrote Stephen Covey.

I know this seems easier said than done. There are several well-known ways to start to mitigate stress that are very helpful and do not require much effort.

Practice gratitude – to be thankful. Studies show that a daily gratitude journal can improve sleep, mood, self sufficiency, and lower cortisol. Think of just two to three things that you are grateful for – perspective is everything. Daily use of meditation or prayer only takes a few minutes and helps too. Worry does not change anything. It just leads to more stress.

So go outside more to enjoy sunlight, fresh air and nature. A full night’s sleep will make you feel more rested and able to enjoy the next day. Being socially connected and spending time with friends and family makes a difference in everyday life. Exercise is certainly one of the best ways to relieve stress and ward off mental illness. Having a pet will add more love and happy feelings.

We may never be able to eliminate stress completely from our lives, but by employing some of the methods mentioned we can change the extent stress has on our body and mind by choosing what we believe and think – once again perception.

At SBH, we have taken many steps to support our employees and the community we serve. The SBH Health and Wellness Center is an amazing opportunity to include exercise and healthy eating in our daily working life. We even have a “Recharge Room” in the hospital where we can “recharge our batteries.” So please take time for yourself and enjoy the resources offered. Now is the perfect time to get your wellbeing strategies in order.

Breathe in … Breathe out.