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
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
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
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
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
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.