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Taking Care of Yourself

We all feel the effects of too much stress in our lives. But nothing can be more devastating than the loss of a loved one or caring for a loved one faced with a progressive illness. It can result in an overwhelming amount of stress and can last for a very long time.

Care for Yourself
While stress is an unavoidable consequence of life, not all stress is necessarily bad. We learn and grow from stress. Care for yourself by paying attention to the mind, body, spirit connection. Listen to yourself and what your body tells you. Begin to engage in self-nurturing habits and attitudes as a safeguard against the physical and emotional toll of prolonged stress.

Effective stress management begins with lifestyle changes. Gradually introduce the following Simple Stress Reducing Tips into your life and enjoy peace, health and happiness!

Change Breathing Patterns to Induce Relaxation
The Latin word, "Spiritus" means breath. Calming breath can refresh the soul and soothe the body. Breathing properly is one of the simplest ways of relieving stress:

  • Inhale slowly through your nostrils, taking in a very deep breath, filling your lungs and cheeks.
  • Hold that breath for about six seconds.
  • Exhale slowly through your slightly parted lips, releasing all the air in your lungs.
  • Pause at the end of this exhalation. Now take a few "normal" breaths.
  • Repeat the first three steps, two or three times and then return to what you were doing.

Remember your breath; this form of deep breathing will put you in a more relaxed state!

Take a "Stretch Break" and Stretch Away Your Tension
Stretching is one of the ways your body naturally releases excess bodily tension. Stretching exercises stimulate receptors in the nervous system that decrease the production of stress hormones.

Following are two tension-relieving stretches that are wonderful ways to discharge a lot of excess tension:

  • The Twist. This stretch is great for the upper body. Sitting or standing, put both your hands behind the back of your head, locking your fingers together. Move your elbows toward each other until you feel some moderate tension. Now twist your body slightly, first to the right for a few seconds and then slowly to the left. When you finish, let your arms fall to your side.
  • The Leg-lift. This stretch is good for your lower body. Sitting in your chair, raise both legs until you feel a comfortable level of tightness in them. Maintaining that tension, flex and point your toes toward your head. Hold that tension for about 10 seconds then let your feet slowly return to the floor. If doing this with both legs is a bit uncomfortable, try one leg at a time.

Remember to stretch slowly and don't overdo it. Relaxation is the operative word!

Quiet Your Mind with Meditation
People from both East and West have been practicing meditation for thousands of years as a means of finding inner peace, enlightenment and harmony. Meditation helps relax your mind and body and turn off your inner thoughts.

Following are suggestions to help prepare for your favorite meditation:

  • Find a quiet place where you won't be disturbed for a while.
  • Find a comfortable body position. You are going to remain in one position for a few minutes.
  • Maintain your focus and adopt a passive, accepting attitude.

Try a Breath-Counting Meditation

  • Close your eyes and scan your body for tension. Let go of any tension you find.
  • Begin to breathe in a relaxed way. Imagine a small balloon just under your navel. As you inhale through your nostrils, imagine that balloon gently inflating and as you exhale through your nostrils, imagine the balloon slowly deflating.
  • Focus on your breathing. Your breath now becomes the object of your focus. When you inhale count this breath as 1. The next time you inhale is 2 until you reach 10. Then you start again at 1.
  • If you find a distracting thought or image intruding - let it go and return to your count. Continue this for 20 minutes.

The practice of meditation will refresh and invigorate. Remember, 1 minute of meditation is better than the 20 minutes of meditation you plan on doing, but don't!

Practice Mindful Eating with Healthy Foods
What you eat affects how you feel. Research has shown that food can increase or decrease stress in your life. Eating the right food gives your brain a better chance of getting what it needs to cope with stress.

Following are some guidelines to help you choose foods that will lower your emotional stress and help your body cope with it as well.

  • Get plenty of potassium. Potassium is a mineral that helps relax muscles. Good sources of potassium are found in milk, whole grains, wheat germ, nuts and bananas.
  • Eat proper amounts of protein. Foods high in protein enhance mental functioning and can help repair damage to your body's cells. Try eating more chicken, fish and other lean meats.
  • Eat your vegetables. Feed your body the vitamins and nutrients it needs to resist the negative effects of stress. Keep your vegetable intake colorful with carrots, dark green leafy vegetables, squash and beans.
  • Reduce "refined" simple carbohydrates such as cookies, white bread, doughnuts, candy etc. Foods with refined sugar feel good at the moment but will leave you feeling sluggish in the long run.
  • Include, "unrefined" or complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, legumes, brown rice, most vegetables and many varieties of fruit. They enhance your performance.

Remember to bring your grocery list with you to the store and always shop on a full stomach. And don't stress over your diet, it's ok to have ice cream and pizza now and then. Bon appétit!

Master the Art of Quality Sleep
Sleep can be a challenge in our hectic lives, but burning the candle at both ends leads to sleep deprivation leading to stress and fatigue. Unfortunately when you're tired, your perception of stress increases. It then becomes harder to sleep causing a cycle of insomnia that is difficult to break. Consider the following suggestions for breaking this cycle and help create a sleep ritual for many
nights of blissful rest:

  • Keep sleep time sacred and regular.
  • Turn off the computer 2 hours before bed.
  • Regulate room temperature.
  • Make sure you have a comfortable bed.
  • Maintain a dark, quiet environment.
  • Avoid exercise 2-3 hours before bedtime.
  • Do not go to bed hungry or thirsty. Try a warm cup of herbal tea with a light snack.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine prior to bed.
  • Use a natural relaxation technique. Apply a few drops of lavender essential oil to your temples for a soothing effect.
  • After 30 minutes of tossing and turning, get out of bed until sleepy.

Remember to keep your room cool, comfortable, dark and quiet. Sweet Dreams!

Smile
Did you know you can smile to improve your health and stress level? Research has found that you can even, "act as if" you are feeling an emotion - such as happiness - by arranging your face in a smile and you are likely to feel that emotion. The physical benefits of a smile include:

  • Reduced stress
  • Reduced pain
  • Increased relaxation response
  • Increased endorphins and dopamine

You cannot entirely eradicate stress. However, you can make changes in small ways that will change your unhealthy habits and unconscious impulses in big ways. Remember to start with a smile and the world will smile back!

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