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Self-Help Techniques Alleviate Sleep Issues, Reduce Anxiety and Stress

A Cleveland Clinic caregiver for 36 years (a nurse for 12 years and nurse practitioner for 24 years), Cheryl Cairns knows a lot about the services available within Cleveland Clinic. So when she began experiencing concerning symptoms of memory loss and anxiety, she reached out to her colleague, Robert Saper, MD, MPH, a family medicine physician specializing in wellness and preventive medicine.

Cairns has a benign Schwannoma, a rare type of tumor that grows slowly from cells that surround the nerves in the peripheral nervous system. A routine MRI in early October 2022 to monitor the growth of the tumor showed hydrocephalus (the excessive accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid within cavities of the brain).

At the time of the MRI, Cairns still felt fine. But as the month of October progressed, things changed.

“My stress level was high due to a serious health issue with my grandson,” says Cairns. “I was having difficulty remembering things, and my husband told me I wasn’t driving well. Things seemed to be going downhill quickly.” After speaking with a neurosurgeon, Cairns decided to have surgery to place a shunt to relieve the hydrocephalus.

“The symptoms I was experiencing, combined with concerns about that upcoming surgery and my grandson’s health, were making me more and more anxious and irritable. I was under enormous stress and having difficulty sleeping, so I reached out to Dr. Saper to see if he had any suggestions as to how I could better cope,” says Cairns.

Cheryl Cairns and her husband while vacationing on the beach.

Cheryl Cairns and her husband, James, enjoy traveling to the beach together. (Courtesy: Cheryl Cairns)

Dr. Saper arranged for Cairns to see a sleep neurologist and a psychologist. He also prescribed massage therapy and encouraged her to check out Cleveland Clinic’s Mindful Moments app along with other commercial apps that provide mindfulness meditation exercises to help alleviate stress and aid in relaxation.

“I had been prescribed anti-anxiety medication but didn’t feel it was helpful. The online tools that focused on relaxation were much more effective,” says Cairns. “They helped me refocus my thoughts and learn about the behaviors I needed to work on, and guided visualization and simple yoga helped prepare me to face my upcoming surgery.

Over time, Cairns was able to utilize the techniques she learned without using the apps. And while her life is now less stressful, she still practices what she learned specific to mindfulness, relaxation and sleep when she does get stressed out.

“Cheryl is a remarkable caregiver who had the courage to be vulnerable, share what she was feeling with a colleague, and ask for help,” says Dr. Saper. “So many of us suffer in isolation when we don’t have to. I was able to listen to her concerns, offer support and suggest things she could do to help herself. She took those suggestions and ran with them.”

Related Institutes: Wellness & Preventive Medicine
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