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Be the Best You Overview

Author: Wellintune Staff

How we handle stress can have profound effects on our health.  A balanced, healthy lifestyle incorporates effective stress reduction techniques and skills to cope with the stresses of daily living.  When we live our lives out of balance, not only do our exercise and eating plans suffer, but we tend to not sleep well.  Sleep loss disrupts normal hunger and appetite through hormonal mechanisms and the chronic fatigue that makes it even more difficult to exercise and make healthy food choices.

Not getting enough good quality sleep has other serious health consequences.  Sleep deprivation has been tied to lowered immune function, weight gain, and higher blood pressure.  The AttuneLife program is designed increase our awareness of how our stress and sleep levels may be impacting our ability to achieve our desired health outcomes.

Where are you at?  Build your case for change.

Assessment is the first step in creating a healthy lifestyle.  In this area, we need to assess our sleep patterns and whether or not stress is a negative influence on our lifestyle choices. 

If you determine this is an area of your lifestyle that could benefit from a different approach, a great strategy to build personal motivation and ensure that you really are ready to change a behavior is to make a list of the pros and cons.  For example, if you want to change your bedtime routine to improve your sleep quality, the pros would include more energy during the day, better concentration, and enhanced work performance.  The list of cons would identify what gets in your way of your success.  These things might include a spouse who insists on watching late night talk shows or required shift changes at work.  Research suggests that we shouldn’t even attempt to change a behavior until the pros or benefits far outweigh the obstacles.

Recent studies suggest that we consider targeting sleep, depression and stress as part of an effective weight loss plan.  Research found that the less people sleep, the more likely they are to be overweight or obese and prefer eating foods that are higher in calories and carbohydrates.  Specifically, people who report an average total sleep time of 5 hours a night, are much more likely to become obese, compared with people who sleep 7-8 hours a night.

The influence of chronic stress on metabolic balance is very similar to that of inadequate sleep.  Cortisol, a hormone released into the blood when we are under stress, can increase blood sugar, appetite and enhanced fat storage.  And, just like when we don’t get enough rest, unhealthy levels of stress can cause us to overeat and reach for simple carbohydrates like sugary foods.

Evidence is growing that too much stress and too little sleep can also increase our risks for developing chronic health conditions such as hypertension and diabetes.  For example, one study found that women who slept less than 7 hours a night were more likely to develop diabetes over time than those who slept between 7 and 8 hours a night.  Even slightly less sleep can also impair cardiovascular health.

Many of us underestimate the negative impact chronic stress has on our health.  It is important to understand the role of stress and unhealthy behaviors in causing and exacerbating chronic health conditions. 

Where do you want to go?

Most of us need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night.  That is the most widely accepted recommendation for adults.  School-aged children and adolescents may require at least 10 hours.

What is a healthy level of stress to aspire to is a bit trickier to recommend.  A certain level of stress is needed to help challenge us, resulting in increased personal strength and growth.  Unhealthy stress has the opposite effect.  We each need to find the sweet spot for managing the stress in our lives.  Becoming more aware of when we are stressed and developing healthy coping strategies should be the goal.  Also, honoring the need for rest and rejuvenation after we face periods of high stress which are beyond our control is essential for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Now that you have a pretty good idea of your current sleep patterns and how well you are dealing with the stress in your life, it is time to set goals around your desired behavior change.  Experts in behavior change emphasize the importance of setting SMART goals. A SMART goal is a Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Bound statement that summarizes your intentions to change your behavior.  Believe it or not, the wording really matters.  Many attempts to change behavior fail because the goals expressed are too vague. For example, stating that you will get more sleep is not a well-defined goal.  Stating that you will establish a regular bedtime and average at least 7 hours of sleep each night for the next month is a goal that is clear and unambiguous.  For more help on goal setting, read:

Once you have written your SMART goal, it is also important to commit to track your progress and reward your successes.  Establishing new behaviors is hard and the urge to return to old habits is pretty strong at times.  Setting up small rewards tied to weekly achievements can help sustain motivation.

Despite our best efforts, most of us will have setbacks and face days where we were unable to meet our goals.  Spend time evaluating why you weren’t successful and incorporate that learning into your approach to change.  We learn best from our own personal experiences, both what helps us be successful and when we come up short.  Learning from your own data will make a huge difference on whether or not you come up with the right plan to meet your lifestyle goals. 

What tools and skills do you need to achieve a balanced lifestyle?

Being successful at changing behavior requires more than personal motivation and setting SMART goals.  We need the right tools and skills in order to make change happen.  In the Wellintune area of Be the Best You, those critical skills and abilities include learning good sleep hygiene, learning stress management techniques and harnessing the power of positive psychology.

Research studies suggest that high quality sleep is the result of good sleep hygiene practices.  Great examples include: setting a regular bedtime; keeping your sleeping space dark, cool and quiet; and avoiding caffeine and vigorous exercise before going to bed.  The best sleep hygiene practices are the ones that work best for you. 

Managing stress involves more than learning to meditate or doing yoga (although we at Wellintune think both activities are great stress reducers!).  Managing stress also involves constant lifestyle choices like eating a balanced diet, getting adequate rest, avoiding stimulants like caffeine and tobacco, and spending time with supportive family members and friends.  Interestingly, these lifestyle choices can also serve as signals that stress levels are too high. Excessive overeating, inability to sleep, reliance on stimulants to gain energy and isolation can be signs of unmanaged, unhealthy stress levels.  Studies show that when people report high levels of stress, they are not likely to behave in ways that are good for them.  The Wellintune program can help find ways to replace unhealthy coping strategies with ones that can actually improve your health while lowering your stress level.

How do you enlist the support of others?

Research shows that people who make healthy changes together are more likely to succeed.  Finding close friends or family members who share similar health goals, may not be easy, but you may beable to create your own social support via the web.

A strong social network not only provides encouragement, but also can be the source of creative solutions to obstacles that we have struggled with for years.  The evidence that social support is crucial in achieving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is overwhelming.  Not only do people make healthier choices when they enlist the support of others, studies show that those of us who enjoy high levels of social support stay healthier and live longer.

How do you create an environment that supports a better you?

We often overlook the influence of our environment when trying to follow a healthy lifestyle.  It is important that we create spaces that support our desired behaviors.   For example, excessive clutter can negatively impact both our stress levels and our sleep.  Make your bedroom clutter- free and dedicate the space for sleeping only.  The first step in creating a healthy environment is to organize our stuff in ways that make it easy to find things and is aesthetically pleasing to you.

Spending time in nature is also an effective strategy to reduce stress and improve sleep.  Whenever possible, find time to spend outside.  Our connection to nature feeds our sense of well-being.

Bottom Line:  Getting enough sleep and managing our stress is an important part of the Wellintune lifestyle.

Follow the Wellintune Action Plan: 

o   Use the Sleep and Stress Trackers to better understand your current sleep and stress patterns.

o   Choose a behavior you want to change related to sleep or how you deal with stress.  Write up a list of the pros/cons for making the change.

o   If the pros are more compelling than the reasons not to change, make the change!  Replace unhealthy behaviors with ones that will improve your sleep and help you better manage stress. 

o   Monitor your progress and use data to adjust your approach.  Even days where you aren’t successful can provide valuable insights into what you need to do.

o   If you still have more reasons not to change, then start with a smaller step or pick another health behavior to work on right now.  

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