Charleston Cares Guest Blogger, Wanda Lefler, RN, is the Nurse Manager at Barrier Islands Free Medical Clinic. Each month, she will offer her insight into patient care, health management – and the art of listening. If you have a medical question for Nurse Wanda, please e-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Nurse Wanda: I have been experiencing a lot of major changes in my life recently, and I feel like it’s taking a toll on my health. Am I imagining this, or could I truly be feeling sick from stress?
The phrase “Change is the only constant in life” is accredited to Heraclitus – a Greek philosopher circa 535 BC – 475 BC. Not exactly written yesterday, so we know humans have been juggling the demands of their lives for a quite a while.
Since the posting of my last “Dear Nurse Wanda,“ there has been: a hurricane predicted to be barreling our way, rains flooding the islands, and the construction of our new clinic underway; all of this combined with life’s usual tasks and challenges.
As a potential hurricane approached, like many, I considered whether or not to evacuate. I prepared my home for flooding and winds; then there was the hefty clean up soon after the rain and winds had ceased. At the same time, I was also packing up my office belongings at our clinic trailer, which was to be moved off site to allow for new construction to begin. (To date, several of the boxes remain on my living room floor with nowhere to go until the building is complete!)
Amidst all the packing and cleaning that September held in store, I had to wonder: “How many times are you going to do this?” It often feels I am always in some sort of transition. I want to feel safe and settled: a routine is not a bad thing, after all. In fact, there can be much comfort in maintaining an organized, predictable way of life. Being a nurse, I am particularly aware that such a life has its health benefits.
Change can raise the stress hormone, cortisol. Increased cortisol levels can cause havoc on your body by lowering the immune system, encouraging weight gain, increasing levels of blood pressure and cholesterol, and heightening the risk for heart disease. Keeping this in mind, it is proven that routine or chronic stress can increase the risk for depression, mental illness and even decrease life expectancy.
Fortunately, there are methods to help us coping with the stress of change – you may even notice a few of these that your mother or grandmother may have told you about.
Stress Management Tips:
- Humor – laughing relieves physical tension and stress.
- Exercise – a walk, bike ride can change your perspective.
- Sleep – 7-8 hours a night recommended to allow the body to heal, restore and recharge.
- Healthy Diet – to obtain nutrients and minerals to feel your best and provide energy— Watch for the comfort foods during times of high level of stress for they are high in fat, salt and sugar which can lead to you feeling sluggish and constipated.
- Take some deep breaths – Promotes better blood flow and releases endorphins our body’s natural pain killers.
- Music – Engages the body and activates many regions of the brain. Playing instruments or singing has benefits as well.
- Take a break from the stressor – Do an activity you enjoy. (It is what I call changing the channel!)
- Change of scenery – Take a ride in the lowcountry, cross over a bridge, view the marsh, river or the sea.
- Close your eyes for a moment and picture one of your favorite places remembering the lighting, sounds, smells
- You do not have to do everything today! Take it a task/chore at a time. Do the ones that need to be done first and go from there.
- Seek help – Stress can become overwhelming and at those times reach out to your healthcare provider, friends and family. Sharing the burdens can reduce the load and enhance your coping skills. Sometimes we all need to stop and ask for directions.
No doubt about it, there will always be more storms, more packing and unpacking, and change will always seem to be a constant. If there is ever a time when you feel you are overwhelmed and need help, please know that there is help:
Charleston Dorchester Mental Health Center: 843 852-4100
Charleston Dorchester Mental Health Emergencies: 843 414-7850
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1 800 273-TALK
Barrier Islands Free Medical Clinic is a free clinic in Charleston, SC, that provides free medical care to eligible patients, just like any family practitioner or internist. The Free Clinic serves uninsured adults living at or below 200 % of the Federal poverty level who live or work on Johns, Wadmalaw or James Islands. You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.