Nursing and living well: managing stress

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Even happy events, such as a new addition to the family, can cause stress.

Nurses Week offers the opportunity to highlight the good work of nurses at Tucson Medical Center. It’s also an opportunity to remember that working in a hospital can be hard and stressful work.

Some stress can be good because it keeps people alert and focused, and helps them avoid danger; but too much stress too often can cause health problems. Stress and fear can alter biological systems and, over time, can contribute to ailments such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Physical impacts and symptoms of unmanaged stress can include:

  • an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, which can damage the heart if it happens too much over time
  • a decrease in the body’s ability to fight infections and illness
  • headaches and other body aches and pains
  • poor sleep
  • a decrease in the ability to concentrate and remember things in the short term
  • a worsening of symptoms in asthma, diabetes and arthritis

Tips on beating stress

It is impossible to avoid stress – even things which can be viewed as positive, such as a new baby or a job promotion, can lead to stress. Performed regularly, the following practices offer simple but powerful ways to help dampen the physical and emotional impact of stress:

  • deep breaths
  • laughing
  • meditation
  • visualization
  • exercising
  • stretching and yoga
  • listening to music
  • doing something fun that you enjoy

Deep breathing

Deep breathing can be done anywhere and requires no special clothes or equipment. Anyone can do it. Here are some simple techniques:

  • First deep breath:  close eyes and breathe in to the count of 3, then exhale to the count of 3.
  • Second deep breath:  close your eyes and repeat your favorite word 3 times while you breathe in, then exhale to the count of 3
  • Third deep breath:  close your eyes and picture a place where you feel happy, breathe in to the count of 3 and exhale to the count of 3

Nutrition tips for managing stress

Staying healthy by eating right and being physically active can improve a person’s ability to manage stress. Poor nutrition and a lack of exercise can impair the immune system, and lead to fatigue and a reduced ability to concentrate.

Here are some tips to help people stay alert and focused when dealing with stressful situations:

  • Eat balanced meals and snacks throughout the day to help maintain stable blood sugar levels.
  • Be sure to include foods from all the food groups: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, protein and dairy.
  • Don’t skip meals. This only leads to decreased energy and poor food choices later when a person is starving at the next meal time
  • Avoid too much caffeine. While it may help keep a person awake, caffeine in large quantities can leave a person feeling jittery, nervous and unfocused. For those drowsy times, try standing up and stretching or doing 10 – 15 jumping jacks.
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid becoming dehydrated. Those relying on caffeinated beverages to keep awake are increasing their chances of suffering from mild dehydration, which can cause headaches and fatigue.
  • Avoid too many simple carbohydrates such as regular soda and candy; these types of foods and beverages are digested quickly by the body and will only give a brief boost. Focus instead on complex carbohydrates for energy.  Foods such as whole grains or fresh fruits and vegetables require a bit more time to digest and therefore last a bit longer.
  • Incorporating protein rich foods with complex carbohydrates at meals and snacks will provide a sustained source of energy and help avoid the lows after a sugar rush. Some good sources of protein are lean meats, peanut butter, and cheese or milk.
  • Increase intake of B vitamins during stressful situations. B vitamins support the nervous system, energy production and immune systems. Foods rich in B vitamins include:  broccoli, soy, nuts, legumes/lentils, corn and eggs.
  • Increase intake of Vitamin C. Vitamin C is an antioxidant which can help improve immune function, but it is also thought to reduce the symptoms of stress. Foods rich in Vitamin C include: citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, melon, tomatoes and broccoli.
  • Exercise a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes daily during stressful situations. Exercise – even if a person is tired – will help to clear the mind, invigorate a metabolism and wake a person up.

 

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Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461
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