Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Self-Care: It’s Not a Luxury, It’s a Necessity

By Paula O’Neill, M.S., RN-BC
Clinical Program Manager

Quick…name the top 5 individuals who are most important to you.  If you are like most people you did not include yourself in that list.  You stay late at work, care for loved ones, drive the kids to activities… the list goes on and on.  We often think of ourselves last, if we think of ourselves at all.  But caring for ourselves is so important.  Anyone who has flown on a plane is familiar with the safety directions given at the beginning of the flight: put on your own oxygen mask before trying to help someone else with theirs. If you can’t breathe you certainly cannot help anyone else.  Likewise, if you don’t take care of yourself, you certainly cannot care for others.

According to Dossey and Keegan (2013), self-care is defined as the “practice of engaging in health related activities and using health-promoting behaviors to adopt a healthier lifestyle and enhance wellness.” Many people think of self-care as a luxury or “fluff”.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Taking time to care for yourself can help to decrease stress, help you to feel calm and relaxed, support your physical, mental and emotional well-being, and help you to be at your best so you can be present for your loved ones.  It is a necessity, not a luxury.

You can use Hackensack Meridian Health Integrative Health & Medicine’s Five Pillars of Health & Well-being as a guide to self-care.  By selecting activities in each category you will be on your way to a great self-care plan.  Below are some suggestions, but it is important that you find things to do for yourself that you enjoy.  That way you will be more likely to continue doing them and maintain your self-care routine.
  1. Exercise—the benefits of exercise include improving your physical and mental health and well-being and it can help reduce stress. Try a yoga class; take a walk or a run; dance; garden; when you shop park at the parking spot furthest from the store. Try to exercise at least 30 minutes, 4-5x per week. Remember to check with your physician before starting an exercise routine.
  2. Nutrition—food provides the nutrients for a healthy body and mind.  Therefore, the quality of the food we eat has a tremendous impact on how we feel, physically and mentally. Eat three meals/day; eat a variety of fruits and vegetables (a rainbow of colors); limit the amount of sugar you consume; prepare your own meals (make meals on the weekends and freeze them so you have them readily available during the week); limit your salt intake; use herbs and spices (which have health benefits of their own) to flavor your food.
  3. Sleep—Good quality and quantity of sleep benefits your body and mind.  According to the National Sleep Foundation, being well rested contributes to being more productive and happy, and being in a better mood.  Lack of sleep can contribute to heart disease, inflammation, and depression. They recommend 7-9 hours of sleep per night for adults and 7-8 hours per night for adults over 65 years of age. Create and stick to a sleep schedule; dim, or better yet turn off, electronic devices-even small amounts of light can interfere with sleep; try Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 Relaxation Breath Exercise to help you relax and fall asleep: inhale through your nose for a count of 4…hold your breath for 7 counts…exhale for a count of 8…Repeat 3 more times.
  4. Resilience—the ability to adapt to adversity and respond to stress.  Managing stress is key to well-being and self-care. Try yoga; meditate; 4-7-8 Relaxation Breath Exercise; listen to music; exercise.
  5. Purpose— “There’s no greater gift than to honor your life’s calling. It’s why you were born. And how you become most truly alive.” - Oprah Winfrey.  Knowing your purpose leads to a more meaningful, fulfilling, and satisfying life. Determine your life purpose.
There is no better time than now to start your self-care plan.  You owe it to yourself and your loved ones.

“The best health care plan is a self-care plan”
~ Nina Leavins

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Get Better Sleep in 2018!

By Lisa Sussman, Psy.D.
Health Psychologist

While celebrating the New Year, we often think about what we want in the upcoming year ahead. We set goals for better health and fitness, increased satisfaction and happiness, improved relationships and job performance, and so forth. What if we could focus on one thing to change, knowing that if we work on this one thing, we could create sweeping benefits across all of these desired areas of change? I am referring to the quantity and quality of sleep. Yes, sleep! The very thing we normally cut short because we have other more important things to do with our time, don’t think much about during the day, or prepare ourselves for as evening sets in. Society has pretty much ignored sleep until recently as something that is important for us to focus on and understand better.  

The Center for Disease Control reports that insufficient sleep is a health epidemic. Over 70 million Americans have difficulty getting the sleep they require. (The exact number of hours a person needs can vary individually, but generally is between 7-9 hours, with under 5 hours of sleep per night on average seriously increasing their risk level for illness and even mortality). Chronic insomnia affects 10-15% of adults at any given time, is more common in women and people who do shift work, and becomes more frequent with age. Chronic sleep deprivation is linked to weight gain, motor vehicle accidents, decreased quality of life, and impaired performance, including poor decision making and interference with learning. It is also a risk factor for mood and anxiety disorders, stroke, dementia, osteoporosis, and heart disease. One tidbit about insufficient sleep that I find fascinating is that, when we haven’t slept well, we tend to rate our daytime functioning and performance as normal, even though objective testing shows a decrease in processing speed, reaction time, and problem solving. We don’t even realize that we are functioning sub-par! But we are. Even just one night of getting 1-2 hours shy of our normal sleep affects our reaction time, our mood and frustration tolerance, and the way we process information. 

We are learning more and more about the purposes of sleep and why we need to make a good night sleep a top priority. Each stage of sleep does different things for us. For instance, when we are in slow wave, deep sleep, our bodies can repair and grow, and growth hormones are released. When we are in REM sleep, we are mentally restored and information gets consolidated and organized so we can better retrieve it later. Our bodies require that we go through 5 cycles (about 90 minutes each) of sleep to get these full benefits. Sometimes the medications that we take, the food that we eat and drink, our exposures to toxins or excess stimulating content or screen time, our activity levels, how we manage stress, and the environments of our sleep space impact our sleep quality and disturb our sleep cycle. We can even wake up from what we thought was a good quantity of sleep, and still feel physically tired and mentally sluggish.  

Imagine a world where we all value and protect our sleep, making it a priority, and modeling it for our children. If institutions altered their cultures and policies to reflect our need for a full night’s sleep, we would find it easier to carve out these 7-8 hours and not feel guilty or that we wouldn’t get our to-do list checked off. We would know that when we got the right amount and quality of sleep consistently, we would be more effective and efficient at our jobs (or school) and more patient, tolerant and kind with others, cultivating stronger bonds. We would be sick less often, miss less work and school, and healthcare costs would decrease. We would be happier and more satisfied with our lives and our relationships and our level of functioning. Sleep can do all that and more! We can all play a role in making our sleep a priority in 2018. It starts with shifting our mindset around sleep, which then will help us make the behavior and lifestyle changes we need to implement to give us the chance to get the best quality and amount of sleep that is optimal. 


The Integrative Health & Medicine program offers Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia. Please call me at our clinic at the Hackensack Meridian Health Village in Jackson at 732-994-7855 to find out more. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Living Purposefully in the New Year

By Kathleen Welshman, RN-BC, BA, NBC-HWC
Integrative Nurse Health Coach

As we enter another new year, we often think of a new year’s resolution. What will I resolve to do this year? “New year, new you” is often a thought. This is a common time of year for people to join a gym, vow to lose weight and eat healthier. These are all great ideas and important to consider in terms of making healthier changes in our lives. BUT, have you ever stopped and thought about the reason behind these resolutions? What is the reason you want to lose weight or exercise more? Why do you want to be healthy? What is the driving force behind these ideas of change? Think about what is important in your life, your values and beliefs. Think about why you get out of bed in the morning!

At Hackensack Meridian Integrative Health & Medicine, we explore the Five Pillars of Health & Well-Being: sleep, activity, purpose, nutrition and resilience. Perhaps try a different approach to your new year’s resolution this year by exploring your purpose first. Purpose is what gives your life meaning, your reason for being. Purpose is the essence of who we are and what makes us unique. It is a source of direction and energy. By tapping into a clear sense of purpose, often everything else follows naturally.

Christine Whelan, Ph.D., author of The Big Picture: A Guide to Finding Your Purpose in Life, suggests you ask these questions:
  • What are my values? 
  • What are my strengths? 
  • Who do I want to impact? 
Then fill in the blanks: Because I value ___, I want to use my strengths for ___ to impact ___.

It is important to re-evaluate our purpose as we journey through life, as it may change at different phases of our lives and with changing life circumstances. As we change, our priorities and values shift; our confidence grows, may dissolve into doubt and return once again. When we make choices that are in line with our purpose or our values, it gives greater meaning to the reason we are doing something.

An integrative health coach can partner with you as you set small, achievable goals. With your purpose in mind, those goals are more likely to be sustainable. So as we journey into another new year, learn to embrace the “why” of purpose before selecting the “what” of your goals. Live intentionally – live ON PURPOSE. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself to answer the question “Why do I get out of bed in the morning?”

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Mind Over Matter


By Lori Knutson, RN, BSN, HNB-BC
Administrative Director

You are probably familiar with the phrase "mind over matter." It is often used when we are trying to persevere over a situation we find difficult. But what if this isn’t just a figure of speech but is actually literal? Well it is!

Science informs us that each thought carries an electrical charge that stimulates neurotransmitters to be released. Neurotransmitters basically carry information from the brain to the nervous system, which leads to a physical response. For example, norepinephrine is a chemical  (hormone) released when one is experiencing a stressful situation. This chemical activates the muscles to contract in preparation for what is called the “flight or fight” stress response. Simply meaning that a person either runs from the stressful situation or fights the situation. 

Now let’s talk for a moment about stress. Perception is the underlying basis for how we respond to stress.  In other words, how we interpret a situation. Our brain responds to what the mind tells it.  And the brain then chemically informs our body what to do. No two people will respond exactly the same way to a perceived situation. You have probably wondered how some people can handle stress better than others. The stressor is the same but their perception of it isn’t.  

Then there are the stressors that are a little less obvious but that we are bombarded with everyday.  Some are related to finance, relationships, work, the environment, social media, or school. On a daily basis, a cascade of stress chemicals charges our body in response to these stressors. Over time, our mental and physical health become compromised. Once we become aware that we are in stress we can take action by either changing how we perceive the situation or removing the situation. Our stress chemistry will change and subsequently relinquish our body from potential negative impact. Mind over matter.

So how do we live less stressful lives and bring more health to our body and mind? Mindfulness. The practice of mindfulness brings our attention to how we are choosing to respond to life experiences. It equips us with the ability to regulate our emotions and the capacity for self-control. This reduces the negative impact on our mind and body. Ultimately leading to a healthier and happier life.

If you plan to make a 2018 New Year’s resolution why not choose developing a mindfulness practice. This is a mind over matter that really matters!


Click here to learn about the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction classes we are offering. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Importance of Integrative Health and Medicine

By David C. Leopold, M.D.
Medical Director

Your health is important to you, but your health is also important to the health of our nation, and even the world. The average person may not think about how their actions directly affect the overall healthcare of the nation, but they do. The lack of prevention of disease results in increased utilization of resources, most directly, time and money. The U.S.A. spent roughly $3.3 trillion last year on healthcare, about 18% of our GDP. The Centers for Disease Control estimates 83% of healthcare dollars (about $2.7 trillion) are spent treating chronic disease and this is expected to increase 42% over the next ten years. Resources spent treating preventable disease takes from resources that could be used for other services such as (fill in whatever condition is important to YOU here). Similar to the concept of everyone chipping in to recycle and minimizing waste, by keeping ourselves healthy, we also contribute to helping with a seemingly insurmountable problem.

Combine all of these issues and you have what everyone in healthcare already knows -- there is a looming American healthcare crisis in the not too distant horizon. But there are two important significant things you can do by keeping yourself as healthy as possible: 1. you can prevent these types of diseases for yourself (and maybe even inspire your friends and family to do the same) and 2. you avoid contributing to the collective burden of treating preventable diseases, thereby freeing up the resources available to be used for (again, fill in whatever is important to YOU here). (Of course, I whole heartedly endorse that you see your health care professionals for regular prevention type services and regular health checkups, or for any issues that are concerning to you!)

At Hackensack Meridian Integrative Health & Medicine we utilize a Five Pillar approach to a person’s health and wellbeing. These Five Pillars of Health & Well-being are: Nutrition, Exercise, Resilience, Sleep and Purpose. By analyzing and addressing strengths and deficits in each of these core components of a patient’s overall health we can develop specific and individual care plans as we to partner with our patients to minimize the risk of developing a preventable disease, and also to improve almost any existing chronic disease. There are extensive interventions that have been shown to improve quality of life, improve disease, and many actually prevent disease. As I noted in a previous blog, many of these interventions are relatively simple to incorporate but some take work and a partnership between patient and practitioner. Lifestyle change is often difficult, but it has been proven time and time again that lifestyle changes work, and have lasting effect. In fact, these changes are often the most effective interventions, particularly in the long run.

Let’s take just a brief look at just a few interventions we have been talking about: Healthy eating and dietary changes are proven to reduce obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Exercise has been shown to decrease pain, obesity, heart disease, reduce cancer and reduce recurrence of certain cancers. Exercise is also a powerful antidepressant and is an excellent intervention for stress management. Meditation, mindfulness and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) have been shown to help reduce stress, anxiety and to improve pain (possibly more than medication in the long run). Acupuncture has been shown to help many different disease conditions (e.g., complications from cancer treatments, headaches, anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome, hot flashes, etc.) and a multitude of issues relating to many different types of pain. In fact, based on extensive research and evidence showing safety and efficacy, acupuncture is now recommended by multiple major medical organizations such as the American College of Physicians for the treatment of chronic pain.
The evidence is clear: when applied appropriately (the same goes for any “traditional” medical intervention), lifestyle modification and integrative medical approaches to multiple conditions can be significantly effective. In addition, these interventions can help reduce disease burden and improve suffering and quality of life.

For the reasons above, I believe that integrative medical approaches -- including interventions for sleep, healthy eating, appropriate exercise and reduction of sedentary lifestyles, resiliency teaching and development and cultivation of one’s life purpose -- are not only the Five Pillars for an individual’s health but for the health of this nation. By utilizing the interventions above to improve overall health and reduce disease, we can stem the tide of chronic and preventable disease that is reducing the quality of life for so many people and overpowering our nation’s healthcare system. So you can feel great about taking care of yourself, and also our nation and our planet. You can make a difference! Most importantly, application of these Five Pillars of Health & Well-being can help to keep YOU healthy and in a state of Optimum Wellness. Try making some changes today!