Misuse of Alcohol to Manage Stress

Under stressful circumstances many people turn to alcohol to help manage stress.  Alcoholic drinks are often consumed to “take off the edge” or “relax” after a long, hard day of work.  While this may seem to help in the moment, in reality it pushes the emotions one is experiencing below consciousness or awareness.  It is difficult to resolve emotion that has been repressed and can build up if the pattern of repression is habitual.  Repeated alcohol consumption to manage stress can lead to addiction, which can have severe consequences affecting every area of one’s life.

Those who are experiencing personal trauma and/or secondary trauma through their work, family relationships or socially may be especially vulnerable to misuse of alcohol in order to mask painful emotions.  The moments when an individual most feels like they need a drink are often the worst time for a drink.

It is a good practice to be mindful when you feel the urge to have a drink.  Good questions to ask yourself are “why do I feel the need to drink right now?” and “what activity could I engage in that would be better for my health?”  Examples of healthy alternatives can include exercise, mindfulness meditation, breathwork, taking a relaxing bath, journaling, or seeking support.

The ability to meet yourself where you are, regardless of how difficult it may seem in the moment, is a skill worth mastering.  If you don’t like where you are, it is a good indication that you need to do something different, nurture yourself and/or perhaps seek some support or assistance to work through the emotions brought on by stress.  This can be done by talking with a trusted friend, co-worker, life coach, support group or therapist.  More involved help may be necessary if you suspect an alcohol addiction.

I was facilitating a Compassion Stress Management course for professional caregivers last year and had a participant walk out in the middle of the class.  A few days later I received an email from this individual that something I said had inspired her to leave and find an Alcoholics Anonymous group that was meeting in that city (she was from out of town) immediately.  This was an excellent example of self-awareness, courage and doing what she found necessary to cultivate a healthier, addiction free lifestyle.

A link to the article “Workplace Stress as a Trigger for Addiction” has been included http://stepstorecovery.com/workplace-stress-addiction/  for those who are interested in reading about the link between stressful work environment and the use of drugs and alcohol to cope.  Additionally, it provides alternatives available to promote a healthy lifestyle.

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Power Up with a Healthy Breakfast

It is often said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  Starting the day with nutritionally dense foods helps the body by providing energy, boosting metabolism, maintenance of healthy blood sugar levels and improves focus and concentration.   Breakfast with foods that are low on the glycemic index, high in fiber and combined with lean protein and good fats is sure to get your day off to a great start.

Smoothies are a nutritious treat to have with your breakfast.  Recipes for delicious smoothies are readily available on the internet or in cookbooks.  They can also be made quickly by combining fruits and vegetables without a recipe.  It is fun to stock up on fresh and frozen fruits/veggies and experiment to find tasty combinations.  I rarely use recipes for my smoothies and make them with a combination of approximately 50% fruit and 50% vegetables.  I mix the fruits and vegetables, with a small amount (1 cup) of water or almond milk, in the blender and serve.  The fruits I often use are blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, apple, kiwi, mango, banana, pineapple and avocado.  The vegetables I usually use are raw spinach, kale, cucumber, celery and carrots.  Adding herbs such as fresh ginger root, cilantro and parsley give the smoothie added flavor and health benefits.  The fruit naturally sweetens the smoothie, but if you like them on the sweet side adding pomegranate juice or a small amount of honey will help.  Adding 1 tbsp of ground flaxseed or chia seed is a great way to increase omega-3 fatty acids in the diet.

Omelettes made with vegetables such as spinach, onion, green pepper, red pepper and tomatoes are quick and nutritionally dense.  Eggs scrambled with sauteed onion and kale in extra virgin olive oil are tasty and delicious.  For a lean protein source turkey bacon or chicken sausage can be substituted for greasier pork counterparts.  Adding black beans, corn, tomatoes and cilantro to omelettes or scrambled eggs with salsa and/or guacamole can give them a great southwestern flavor.

Oatmeal, quinoa, and recipes made with almond flour (breads, muffins, quiches, etc.) are low on the glycemic index and pair nicely with lean protein for a hearty breakfast.  One of my favorite cookbooks, which is filled with delicious recipes, is The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook by Elana Amsterdam.

Cereals, granola bars and yogurt are often high in sugar, so it is wise to read the labels/ingredients of such breakfast foods prior to purchasing.  Additionally, fruit juices are high in sugar and can be substituted with low-sodium vegetable or tomato juice.

These are a few healthy breakfast ideas to get you started.  The time spent to prepare and eat a healthy breakfast each day will likely yield benefits such as feelings of well-being, improved clarity and concentration, enhanced performance, and beyond.  Every bite you take directly impacts the functioning of your body, so eating a nutritious breakfast is an investment of time worth making.

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Give Yourself a Break!

Taking breaks is helpful to avoid physical, mental and emotional exhaustion.  Awareness, self-permission and planning may be necessary to getting the break you need.  As humans, our bodies and minds need time for rest and rejuvenation in order to function optimally.  It is important to allow yourself to take breaks throughout the day, weekly and yearly.  While this may seem obvious, many people push themselves beyond what is healthy and don’t take the time necessary to rejuvenate.

Your body is an amazing source of information.  Having a connection with your body is helpful as it will signal you when it is time to step away from the pressures of life.  Connecting with your body requires awareness, or paying attention to how it feels.  For example, if you are at work and notice a feeling of tension in your shoulders and a sense of overwhelm, it would be a good time to leave your office and step outside for a few minutes.  If you notice feeling more tired than usual you may want to take a nap or allow for extra sleep at night until you feel revitalized or change your sleep patterns. I encourage you to be mindful of how you feel because it can give you information regarding what you need.  Ignoring the body’s signals can often lead to more serious situations, such as illness.

Breaks from work, responsibilities at home and from life’s pressures can have benefits such as improved health and wellness, reduced stress, shift in perspective, mental clarity and increased productivity.  Although taking breaks is an investment of time, the potential health benefits and efficiency gained are worth finding the time.

Giving yourself permission to take a break is often necessary as may seem as though there isn’t enough time in the day to accomplish all that needs to be done.  This can be especially important if the idea of taking a break makes you feel guilty, lazy or unproductive.  Repeating an affirmation in your mind, such as “it is okay for me to rest” might be helpful if you struggle with taking breaks.

A mid-day break or a lunch break is a great time to refresh and release stress of the morning by stepping away from your desk.  Many people work through lunch with the notion that it will increase their productivity.  In actuality, you may find that you return from the break with more clarity and energy, which can result in higher productivity.  In addition to eating lunch you may find the time to workout, spend some time outdoors or to run an errand that would give you more time for your evening activities.  Lunch with a co-worker or friend can be a wonderful opportunity to have fun and develop supportive relationships.  If taking lunch breaks is not encouraged at your workplace, taking a regular lunch break may be an opportunity to model effective self-care.  An improved attitude and higher productivity would certainly have everyone wondering what your secret is!

Taking a break, in the moment when you need, it advisable but not always practical.  I encourage you to find some time each day to rest and do something nurturing for yourself.  This may require some planning or can be done spontaneously when you see a window of time.  Good questions to ask yourself each day are “what breaks did I allow myself today?” and/or “what did I do for myself today?”  You will gain awareness of your habits through answering these questions daily.  From this place of awareness you can make the necessary changes to accommodate your needs for rejuvenation.

Scheduling time for rest and enjoyment each week is a good habit.  Setting aside a large portion of time or a day of rest each weekend can help you to refresh and maintain balance.  Additionally, taking vacation time each year can be restorative, aid in maintenance of a positive outlook and prevent burnout.  Scheduled time off can be beneficial whether you go on a trip or stay home.  Allowing yourself some time to do what you feel like doing in the moment can feel liberating and help release tension.

Taking breaks daily, weekly and yearly is good self-care practice.  Meeting your needs for rest, rejuvenation and fun can help to improve job satisfaction, prevent burnout and result in a better quality of life.  Enjoy taking a break for YOU today and every day!

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A New Year, A New You!

The new year is a great time to make changes within yourself and your life to reflect what you’d like to create. The first few months of the new year can have a spaciousness as the holidays have passed and there is often less to do during the winter months. Finding time to contemplate on what you’d like to create within yourself and your life, set goals, and plans to bring them into your reality can be a gift to yourself. Many people are more motivated for change at the beginning of a new year. If this is true for you, take advantage of the motivation, inspiration and sense of renewal. If not, taking a few smalls steps in the direction you want to head can help to get the ball rolling.

I encourage you to be very mindful of the activities you engage in and the habits/patterns you repeat. Taking an honest look at which aspects of your life are beneficial and which aspects are outdated or counterproductive can help you to decide what to continue with and what needs to go. We often engage in activities and habits that don’t serve us by habit and lack of awareness. As the saying goes, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got.” Putting intention and consciousness behind everything you do can yield powerful results.

The winter months are a great time to do some cleaning up and clearing from the outside-in. Many people have reported feeling lighter and more organized after doing some deep cleaning or getting rid of things that they no longer need or that no longer serve them.  It may be that positive feeling of accomplishment when such endeavors have been completed or the feeling of freedom from letting go.  Additionally, it feels great to donate those things we no longer want to someone who is in need.  It can take some motivation to get started on cleaning, clearing and organizing projects, but the benefits are well worth it.

We can also affect our external world by creating and clearing space internally.  Are there emotions, attachments, relationships, and/or habits within yourself that you would like to release?  Are there activities you still do that are no longer of benefit or people you spend time with that drain your energy or you no longer enjoy?  These questions are worth contemplating and if the answer is yes, now is a good time to release that which no longer serves you in order to create more spaciousness.

Perhaps time spent with a therapist or life coach could be beneficial.  It is possible that starting or improving upon your exercise regimen, bettering your current eating habits, taking up a new activity or spending time with a new friend might be enjoyable.  Making more space for yourself to take pause, contemplate and/or relax could be what you do with the additional space created.  We can sometimes feel resentful of the time and effort given to others when we are not spending enough time meeting our needs.  Self-awareness regarding personal needs and responding to those needs can help us to restore balance and peace within a busy life.

I encourage you to think on these things and put intention into what you want to keep, let go of and bring into your life.  It is helpful to evaluate that which is working well and no longer working in your life.  Contemplate on how you can make space and take action.  The new year is a great time to focus on a healthier you and the life you’d like to create!

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Relaxing Baths for Stress Relief

Relaxing baths are a great way to warm up and relax during the holiday season, winter months, or anytime.  Taking a bath upon arriving home from a stressful day of work can help to ease tension and restore peace prior to engaging in nightly activities with family and friends.  A bath taken nightly before heading off to bed can assist in deep, restful and rejuvenating sleep.

A good soak can be enhanced by adding 2 cups of epsom or sea salt to relax muscles, eliminate toxins and cleanse the energetic field of the body.  Adding a few drops of essential oils such as rose, sage, or lavender to your bath can create a nice aroma and have healing properties.

You can create a spa environment while taking a bath by dimming the lights and lighting candles.  Relaxation can be enhanced by listening to nature sounds such as ocean waves, waterfalls, rain, chirping birds, etc.  A bath is also a great time to listen to a guided meditation.  Click Here to enjoy the cleansing meditation, a meditation/visualization exercise on water that cultivates relaxation, letting go and energy renewal.

Taking some time out to luxuriate in a relaxing bath can be both stress relieving and nourishing.  Doing small things like this for yourself can feel like wonderful gifts of nurturing.

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It’s an Inside Job

It has been said that healing practitioners can only go as deep with their clients/patients as they are willing to go within themselves.  As caregiving professionals, we are trained in and spend a great deal of time assessing and healing others.  It is important to contemplate, look within and to work through personal issues such as unhealthy patterns of behavior, faulty belief systems and personal traumas.   The work can be difficult and require great vulnerability, but strength can be found within by working at such depth.

The greatest gift we can give to others is to live and work work from a place of wholeness found within ourselves.  The gifts we receive by doing our inner-work can include the ability to connect deeply with self and others, compassion, wisdom, intuition, clarity and an unwavering inner-compass.  As caregivers we have the honor and opportunity to touch the lives of everyone we come into contact  with.  It is our responsibility to be the best we can be when doing our work as caregivers.  Compassionate service can be increased when we have the ability to connect deeply with our heart and soul.

Utilizing counseling and therapy services, consulting with a life coach, meditation, yoga, spending time in nature, spiritual retreats, artistic expression and journaling are practices that can assist with personal discovery and healing.  When seeking outside help with your inner-journey it is important to find a professional who has has a commitment to both his/her inner-work and the healing of others.  One can guide others better from a place of personal experience and proficiency.  Enjoy the journey!

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Self-Care Toolbox

A toolbox of self-care tools and qualified people to assist with self-care is helpful to draw upon to keep oneself replenished.  Using self-awareness to continually monitor personal needs and energy level is essential for optimal self-care.  Different situations call for different tools and having several to choose from, depending on the circumstance, is beneficial.  I recommend doing something to nurture and relax yourself daily.  Doing so can help you to maintain balance and resilience during times of stress.

Your toolbox can include anything you do for yourself that helps to relieve stress, nurtures you and/or revitalizes your energy.  Only you know what works best for you.  Seeking out new tools to add to those you already use can be invigorating and fun.  Examples of self-care tools include meditation, sea/epsom salt baths, nature walks, exercise, journaling, tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique), Reiki and acupressure point massage.

It is also recommended to have a team of qualified professionals whom you can call upon to assist with your self-care needs.  Examples include a counselor/therapist, life coach, exercise trainer, massage therapist, chiropractor and acupuncturist. Appointments with qualified professionals can be scheduled regularly (a monthly massage, for example) or scheduled as needed.

Support from trusted friends, peers, mentors and/or supervisors is an important part of a self-care toolbox.  The people you work with can be a great resource because they can closely identify with work stressors and situations encountered.

Identifying, building and utilizing your self-care toolbox is great prevention of compassion fatigue and creates the resilience necessary to handle the intense work of a caregiving professional.  By taking care of your needs, you will have more energy to serve your clients.  Additionally, from this place you’ll have more to give your family and friends.

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What is Self-Care?

A focus on self-care is becoming increasingly important as the demands within caregiving professions seem to be intensifying.  Self-care is any activity of an individual that is done with the intention of improving or maintaining wellness.  Professional self-care can be defined as the incorporation of skills and strategies by caregivers to preserve their personal, familial, emotional and spiritual needs while serving the needs of their clients (Newell & MacNeil, 2010).

Categories for self-care can include 1) physical:  body work, exercise, adequate sleep, nutrition:  2) psychological:  effective relaxation time, contact with nature, forms of creative expression, balance between work and recreation;  3) social/interpersonal:  supportive relationships and knowing when/how to obtain help;  and 4) professional:  balancing work and home life, setting boundaries and limits, and getting help/support through peers, role models, and supervisors (Charles Figley interview, 2005).

Self-care has been identified as the greatest strategy to prevent or reduce the undesirable effects of Compassion Fatigue, Secondary Traumatic Stress, Vicarious Traumatization and Burnout.  Professional caregivers are at much higher risk than other professionals of experiencing compassion fatigue due to the nature of our work (Radey & Figley, 2007).

Compassion is a very important element in the success of a caregiver engaging clients in direct practice work.  In order to gain the trust of the clients we mush develop a positive working relationship and be able to empathize with the client.  “Sometimes our hearts go out to the clients to the point where we feel their pain and suffering, which can lead to mental, physical and emotional fatigue” (Radey & Figley, 2007).  Chronic exposure to others’ traumatic events is also a factor that puts caregivers at higher risk of experiencing compassion fatigue.  Compassion fatigue can lead to burnout, a condition of emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual exhaustion that results from practicing with people who are vulnerable or suffering (Newell & MacNeil, 2010).

Citations

Compassion fatigue:  An expert interview with Charles R. Figley, (2005).  Retrieved 4/15/14 from http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/513615.

Newell, J., & MacNeil, ., (2010).  Professional burnout, vicarious trauma, secondary traumatic stress, and compassion fatigue:  a review of theoretical terms, risk factors and preventative methods for clinicians and researchers.  Best Practices in Mental Health 6(2), 57-68.

Radey, M., & Figley, C., (2007).  The social psychology of compassion.  Clinical Social Work Journal 35(1), 207-214.

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Scheduled Time Off

Scheduling time off for vacation, “staycation” or weekend getaways can be essential in preventing burnout.  “Burnout is a progressive loss of idealism, energy, and goals as the result of personal or occupational stress.  Burnout results from high levels of stress over time.  Continuing personal or work stress, without rest, will eventually lead to burnout” (CR Figley (Ed.) Encyclopedia of Trauma. Sage Publications).

Getting a break from the demands of life, both professional and personal, can be necessary.  Sometimes we need a change of scenery to let go, rejuvenate, and gain fresh perspective.  This can often be accomplished by scheduling time off from work and away from home.  It is best to schedule time off before reaching the point of frustration and exhaustion.  Vacation to a new destination, a favorite place previously visited, a workshop or retreat, visiting out-of-town family and/or friends could be exactly the break you are needing.

If you have some paid time off but cannot financially afford a vacation away from home, I recommend the “staycation”.  Spending vacation time at home can also be a refreshing break.  Time off may seem extended by “unplugging” for a while by taking a break from email and turning off the cell phone.  Letting people know in advance that you will be doing so is a good idea.  Setting boundaries around your scheduled time off can give a sense of freedom and relaxation.  Giving yourself permission to do what you want to do, moment by moment, and without a schedule during your time off is a wonderful gift to yourself.

If time off from work is not an option, you may also get a nice break by scheduling a weekend getaway trip.  A quick change of environment can have similar relaxing and refreshing effects as a vacation.  The same intentions as the “staycation” mentioned above could be done during a weekend at home.  Sometimes saying “not now” or “no” to others and “yes” to yourself is necessary self-care.  You’ll have more to give others when you tend to your needs and rejuvenate yourself.  By giving from this place, everyone wins.

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Tips for Starting a Meditation Practice

Meditation may seem foreign or intimidating if you have never tried it.  Learning to meditate is actually very simple and can be as natural as breathing.  For the sake of stress relief, the purpose of meditation is to calm the mind and relax the body by inducing the parasympathetic relaxation response.  The more often you do it, the better the results.  Below are some tips to help you get started.

  • Find some quiet time by yourself that will be uninterrupted.  This could be in the morning before you get out of bed or in the evening before going to sleep.
  • Get comfortable by sitting on a cushion, chair, or lying down on your back with your spine straight.
  • Set the intention of “being” rather than “doing”.  You can set other intentions such as letting go, giving your mind and body permission to relax, connecting with yourself, etc.
  • Start by noticing your breath and how it feels in your chest, belly, nostrils or wherever.
  • Continue to focus on your breath, moment by moment and breath by breath.
  • You may notice that your breath begins to change as you give it attention or that you begin to feel sensations in your body by giving it your awareness.
  • You may notice your mind wandering and if so, just notice without judgment as this is what minds do. 
  • This awareness and acceptance can assist with detaching from thoughts and prevent you from getting carried away by them.
  • Observe what is going on and what you are experiencing, without judgment, for that is the moment of awareness. 
  • You can bring your awareness back to your breath over and over, as necessary. 
  • Initially, this practice can take time to get used to.  It requires patience, self-compassion and appreciation for attempting a new practice and taking the time to nurture yourself. 
  • When you are finished be sure to ground yourself by bringing your awareness back to the room and into your body by noticing your feet on the ground and how your body feels as you move. 
  • Following guided meditations can be helpful and relaxing as you begin a practice.  For your convenience, complimentary guided meditation downloads can be found on our website.     

 

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