By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
Reducing stress means keeping all areas of your life in balance.
That’s the message Nancy Proctor, senior program administrator with Blanchard Valley Health System, shared during a recent program at the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library.
“It’s interesting to know that up until the mid 1990s we defined wellness in a very one-dimensional and linear way,” said Proctor. “We were either at ease, which is what we used to define health as. And if we became unhealthy, we were at dis-ease, and that’s actually where the word disease came from.”
In 1994, the World Health Organization redefined wellness to include multiple dimensions, she said.
“Their definition is that wellness is a complete physical, mental and emotional well-being, not merely the absence of disease and infirmity,” she said.
According to Proctor, many authors further identify wellness as a balance in six dimensions including physical, emotional, spiritual, social, intellectual and environmental.
“It’s not enough just to be aware of those dimensions, but to work at them equally,” she said.
The six dimensions
The physical dimension is the one people are most familiar with and involves activities of daily living, Proctor said, such as getting adequate sleep, eating well and getting enough exercise.
Proctor referenced ultradian rhythms which are cycles of activity, rest and energy that people go through in a 24-hour period that “a lot of people don’t pay attention to.”
“As adults we can have a peak level of energy for about 90 to 120 minutes. After that we need to do something to renew and rejuvenate our energy,” she said.
The idea, said Proctor, is that you work at a project for a couple of hours, then get up and do something in another dimension of wellness.
“You might have a chat with a friend for 10 minutes. You might take a walk outside, might go get something to eat. You might even take a cat nap. But most of the time we don’t do that. We just plow through,” she said. “We see this in colleges all the time with students pulling all-nighters.”
Proctor, who used to teach nursing courses at Owens Community College, said she used to offer her students some advice: “If you’re going to pull an eight-hour all-nighter, here’s what I would recommend: sleep for two, eat for one, exercise for one and then study for four. And those four hours are going to be much more productive.”
The emotional dimension of wellness deals with how we feel about ourselves and others. What’s our level of optimism? How trustworthy do people feel we are, and how trusting are we of other people?
“It’s also about resiliency,” she said. “Do we see adversity as a challenge or a threat?”
The social dimension is about relationships. Are they destructive or constructive? How connected are we?
“Our true interaction has changed so much over the last 20 years because of our devices and social media,” she said. “So I spend a lot of time with employees at the hospital on the social dimension of wellness, teaching them how to connect, how to be empathetic and how to be compassionate.”
Proctor said the intellectual dimension deals with how much time we spend deepening and expanding our minds.
“Probably the biggest challenge today is the idea of multitasking. We, in my view, delude ourselves into thinking as we multitask we’re being more productive and getting more done. We know now that nothing can be farther from the truth,” she said.
She referred to Adam Gazzaley, who wrote “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World,” saying when we multitask, it takes us 25 percent longer to do all the things we’re trying to do than if we just did one thing at a time.
“It also takes 30 minutes for our brain to get back to the original task that we were doing,” Proctor noted.
The spiritual dimension of wellness is less about religion and more about how worthwhile we feel the things are that we’re doing, said Proctor. What are our values and what are our principles that are developing our character? And do the values that we have match the values in the place that we work, in the community that we live?
“So the question to ask ourselves in this dimension is, ‘Do I feel like I have a purpose, and am I making a difference and a contribution and having an impact?'” she said.
The environment dimension involves respecting nature and your surroundings.
“The idea is to spend equal time in each of these dimensions to have the most optimal level of wellness, because being good in one or two or three of them doesn’t make up for inadequacies in the others,” she said.
Proctor said stress is the common denominator across all dimensions that throws everything out of whack.
“To manage stress and make those choices in each of those dimensions, I think, is to go a long way toward wellness and health,” she said.
Stress in itself isn’t all bad, though.
“This is kind of an eye-opener to a lot of people,” she said. “Stress actually, up to a point, increases our performance. It motivates. It makes us productive. It keeps us confident and keeps us going.”
Problems occur when the stressors become too many and too challenging.
“So as long as the stress is keeping us performing, we have normal stress. As we fall over that curve, we go into distress, which is the type of stress most people are familiar with,” Proctor said.
People who are dealing with too much stress will see changes in their daily activities. For example, they might sleep too much or too little. Or, if they are typically active, they might stop exercising.
“Most of us spend too much time on the distressed side of the curve,” she said.
According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, cortisol, which is the primary stress hormone, increases sugars in the bloodstream, enhances the brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues. However, Proctor said that scientists have known for years that elevated cortisol levels interfere with learning and memory, lower immune function and bone density, and increase weight gain, blood pressure and cholesterol levels that can lead to heart disease.
Stress affects mental health as well, said Proctor. People who are under stress have difficulty focusing and can experience depression and aggression.
“We lose up to 25 percent of our intelligence when we’re under stress,” she said. “So we have to manage the stress.”
How do we get back in balance? We have to change the way we react to events happening in our lives, Proctor said.
“Everyone’s going to have stimuli that’s out of our control. We can’t control what’s happening, but what we can control is how we respond,” she said.
We have to look for happiness, Proctor said, referencing Shawn Achor’s book, “The Happiness Advantage.” According to Achor, we’ve been taught that if we work hard, we’ll be successful and then we’ll be happy. But recent discoveries have shown that this way of thinking is backward, Proctor said, adding that it’s happiness that fuels success, not the other way around.
To help achieve happiness, Achor has devised a challenge that consists of five activities to commit to doing every day for 21 days. These include: recording three new things that we’re grateful for, which rewires your brain to recognize and look for the positive; journaling about one positive experience, which will help your brain relive the positive memory, not the negative or embarrassing ones; exercising, which teaches the brain that behavior matters; meditating, which helps the mind and body focus on the task at hand; and performing random acts of kindness.
“When your mind changes, your behavior changes,” Proctor said. “You’re happier, you’re more creative and more assertive.”