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Slowing Down to Heal: The Nurse's Role in Addressing the Speed of Life

Updated: Jan 25

I truly adore the late Wayne Dyer (a renowned American self-help author and motivational speaker), and I listen to him often. I have definitely been on my own journey to slow down over the past few years, and I had an interesting moment (AKA reminder) yesterday. While driving, I was listening to Dr. Dyer on a podcast episode. Because I'm often trying to squeeze more into every day than I should, I tend to play videos and podcasts on "double time" or at least "1.5x". Today, I opened Spotify to increase the play speed from 1.2x to 1.5x. I thought to myself, "you know this would be a great opportunity to slow down", but I didn't listen, lol! Within seconds, Dr. Dyer is speaking in a podcast episode about the pace we live our lives and its impact on our health. He then proceeded to quote Mahatma Gandhi:

"There's more to life than increasing its speed."

As a family nurse practitioner and an advocate for functional medicine, I've seen firsthand how the relentless pace of modern life can erode our health. This coming week, my current cohort of students delve into the intricate relationship between stress and sleep in the Functional Medicine for Nurses course, and I'm just feeling pretty amused by that quote and the timing.

I think society at large underestimates the role that stress can play in our health, and I know for a fact that it is under-addressed in our current healthcare system. Functional RNs and NPs have such a huge opportunity to improve health outcomes by increasing patient awareness around their "speed of life."

The Cost of Speed in Our Lives

In our pursuit of efficiency and productivity, we often forget the toll that a perpetually fast-paced life takes on our physical and mental well-being. Chronic stress, a direct consequence of this incessant rush, has been linked to numerous health issues, from hypertension and heart disease to anxiety and insomnia. It even affects our fertility, libido, and risk for conditions like diabetes. As nurses and nurse practitioners, we witness the ramifications of this fast-paced lifestyle daily: patients grappling with stress-induced ailments, struggling to find balance in their hectic lives. When this manifests in their health, they look to us for answers.

Understanding the Biochemistry of Stress

The connection between a high-speed life and deteriorating health isn't just anecdotal; it's deeply rooted in biochemistry. For one thing, stress activates our body's 'fight or flight' response, releasing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. While beneficial in short bursts, prolonged exposure to these hormones can disrupt almost all your body's processes. This increases the risk of numerous health problems and hinders our ability to think clearly and make healthful choices.

Empowering Patients Through Education

As functional nurses, we are uniquely positioned to guide our patients in understanding these connections. Educating them about the biochemical impacts of stress and the importance of quality sleep is crucial. But more importantly, we must help them realize that slowing down isn't just a luxury—it's a necessity for health.

Practical Strategies for a Slower Pace

1. Mindfulness and Meditation: Encourage practices that cultivate present-moment awareness. Regular mindfulness exercises and meditation can significantly lower stress levels and enhance sleep quality. This could include guided meditation, deep breathing exercises, or even simple practices like mindful walking or eating. The key is to help patients find moments of stillness in their day, allowing their minds to rest and rejuvenate.

2. Time Management for Health: Assist patients in reassessing their priorities and managing their time with health as a central focus. This might involve making tough decisions about what to keep in their lives and what to let go of. Encourage them to evaluate their daily activities and obligations, identifying potential stressors that can be minimized or eliminated. In some cases, this may mean considering a career change or a reduction in work hours for a less lucrative, but more balanced and fulfilling lifestyle. Help them understand that sometimes, less is more when it comes to leading a healthier and less stressful life.

3. Simplifying Life Choices: Guide patients to embrace the beauty of a simpler life. This can include decluttering their physical and mental spaces, choosing leisure activities that are relaxing rather than stimulating, and even opting for social interactions that are nourishing rather than draining. The goal is to create an environment that supports relaxation and wellness, both at home and in the workplace.

4. Nutrition for Stress Relief: As a proponent of functional medicine, emphasize the critical role of nutrition in managing stress. Educate them about a diet that is not only balanced but also tailored to their individual health needs. This includes choosing whole foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support the body's stress response. Discuss the impact of caffeine, sugar, and processed foods on stress levels, and offer healthier alternatives.

5. Sleep Hygiene Education: Teach patients about the importance of good sleep hygiene. This involves more than just setting a bedtime; it's about creating a nightly routine that signals the brain it's time to wind down. This might include practices like avoiding screens an hour before bed, engaging in a relaxing activity like reading or taking a bath, and ensuring the sleep environment is conducive to rest (e.g., cool, dark, and quiet). Educate them about the effects of alcohol and caffeine on sleep quality and the importance of a comfortable mattress and pillows.

6. Embracing Leisure and Downtime: Encourage patients to carve out time for activities that bring them joy and relaxation. Whether it's a hobby, spending time in nature, or simply doing nothing, it's important for them to have downtime where they are not productive but are just being. This helps in resetting their mind and body, reducing the buildup of stress and anxiety.

7. Learning to Say 'No' and Prioritizing Self-Care: We can't say 'Yes' to everything. One of the most powerful tools in managing a busy lifestyle is mastering the art of saying 'No.' Teach patients the importance of setting healthy boundaries in both their personal and professional lives. This involves recognizing their limits and understanding that it's okay to decline additional responsibilities or engagements that can lead to stress or burnout. Encourage them to assess their commitments and prioritize tasks that align with their values and health goals.

By practicing selective engagement, they can focus their energy on activities that are truly meaningful and beneficial to their well-being. This doesn't mean shirking responsibilities but rather making conscious choices about where to invest their time and energy. It's about giving themselves permission to put their health and self-care at the top of their to-do list.

Educate them on the concept of self-care not as an indulgence but as a necessary practice for maintaining physical, mental, and emotional health. This might involve setting aside regular 'me time,' whether for relaxation, hobbies, or simply quiet reflection.

The Nurse's Role Extends Beyond the Clinic Doors

We must model these practices in our lives. When we embody a balanced lifestyle, we not only improve our health but also become more effective in guiding our patients. Embracing Gandhi's wisdom and slowing down is not about doing less—it's about being more in each moment, more aware, more present, and ultimately, happier and healthier. As nurses and nurse practitioners, let's lead this shift, both in our lives and in the lives of our patients, towards a more mindful, healthier existence.

Remember, in the race of life, sometimes the best way to win is to slow down.

For RNs and NPs eager to deepen their understanding of these types of intricate health connections that can enhance their clinical practice, I teach the Functional Medicine for Nurses™ course through the Integrative Nurse Coach Academy in partnership with the Institute for Functional Medicine. This course is designed to blend the functional medicine approach with the nursing perspective. By enrolling, you'll gain comprehensive insights into functional medicine principles, including in-depth explorations of topics like this, and how to apply this knowledge in nursing practice. This training is not just about acquiring information; it's about empowering you to transform patient care and become a leader in the field of holistic nursing and functional medicine. If you're passionate about advancing your career and enhancing your ability to heal, I invite you to join us and take the next step in your professional journey. Learn more here.

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