Category Archives: Women’s health

Holiday Stress Relief

We’ve all found by now that holidays are stressful.  Yes, there is a lot of joy and a lot of celebrating, but along with that comes the stress of preparation, the stress of paying for large numbers of purchases, and so on.  So, is it possible to celebrate a holiday and relieve that stress?  Of course – it just takes a little thought and perhaps some planning.

Here are 15 ideas that I have tried over the years that work.  Use what appeals to, or makes sense for, you.  Not everything will work for everyone.

  1. Get away from it all – literally. Take a time out.  Take time each day to spend by yourself, in quiet.  It doesn’t even really matter how much time it is – even 15 minutes a day helps.  The quiet will help sooth nerves rattled by holiday traffic and the cacophany of noises that surround us now.
  2. Get sleep. I know that it is hard during busy holiday seasons to keep to a normal schedule, to get as much sleep as you would like.  One idea that helps relief stress and doesn’t steal too much time: go to bed an hour early once a week.  That’s it – once a week.
  3. Watch your sugar, caffeine, and alcohol intake. Of course, this is difficult during the holidays but if you moderate your intake you can enjoy all of these things without increasing the stress on your body.  It will also help make the sleep you get better quality sleep, too.  Ideas for this include drinking your caffeine early in the day and drinking fewer caffeinated drinks overall.  Try juice or water instead.  If you need to wake up, go outside for a few minutes of fresh air.  Eat treats – just not at EVERY meal.  Have two cookies instead of four!
  4. Don’t take it all so seriously! The holiday doesn’t have to be PERFECT – in fact, it won’t be so stop expecting that.  Laugh when you have a mishap – then let it go.  If things don’t work out quite the way you expect, smile and enjoy the situation anyway.
  5. Say no from time to time. Is it really necessary to go to your brother’s wife’s third cousin’s nephew’s party?  Probably not.  Do you really need to buy presents for all of your second cousins’ kids?  Probably not.  Decide what is really important and focus on that; let the other stuff go.  Don’t over-schedule yourself and your family!
  6. Laugh. Tell jokes, read funny books, watch a funny movie.  Take a laughter break in the midst of all the “hurry, hurry, hurry” of the holiday!
  7. Light – and lots of it. This is particularly true of winter: you need more light.  Get outside in the sun for 15 minutes a day if you can.  Grey, wintery weather can really get to you – really, grey weather in general.
  8. Take some time for your hobbies. Stop long enough to relax a little and do something creative each day.  Crochet, knit, work a cross word puzzle.  Read.  Spend some time pruning your plants.  Play with your animals, not that that’s a hobby – but it is relaxing and soothing.
  9. Take a break from the news. Too much “reality” can depress.  Besides “good news” doesn’t sell newspapers and get people’s attention on the network news – the depressing, bad, and sensationalistic news is what sells.
  10. Go see Christmas lights! Whether you go to a commercial display or simply explore neighborhoods around you, go out and take a look.  A lot of people really go all out in decorating for Christmas.  In fact, some go all out at each holiday!
  11. Make time for your family. Eat dinner together – without phone interruptions or TV.  Talk to each other.  Play games one night a week.  Develop some family traditions that are your own!
  12. Treat yourself. Get a massage.  Get a pedicure and a manicure.
  13. Reach out to others. Help those who are struggling to whatever degree it is possible.
  14. Develop a special, relaxing “holiday routine” for your family and stick to it. Play a game each evening.  Watch one person’s favorite movie in the evening – a different movie each night.  Drink hot coco or hot tea together and talk about the day, after you’ve changed into pajamas.  Read a family book together.  Read a family book outloud to your children.
  15. Reduce the pressure to buy, buy, buy. Simplify your Christmas/holiday/birthday present list.  Don’t try to buy EVERYTHING for your children.  Try to find significant gifts, things that will really mean something for the people on your list.
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Ways to Manage Stress

You can’t eliminate all stress from your life, but you can learn to manage it. Some stresses are good, like weddings, the birth of a baby, promotions, and some are bad, like layoffs, divorces, deaths, and so on. Symptoms of stress include anxiety, feeling scared, irritability, and moodiness. You can also become forgetful, have trouble concentrating or focusing, and have low self-esteem. Behaviors include stuttering and other speech problems, changing eating patterns (either losing your appetite or overeating), grinding your teeth, increased use of alcohol or drugs, and crying for no apparent reason.There are some things you can do to manage the amount of stress in your life. For example, time management can be an issue. If you are perpetually running late to things, that can be stressful – particularly if you get to work late on a regular basis. Most bosses don’t appreciate that. You can adjust your schedule in ways that make it possible to get to work in a timely fashion:

  1. Go to bed 15 minutes earlier and get up 15 minutes earlier.
  2. Lay out your clothes the night before.
  3. Be sure that everything you need to take with you is in one place the night before.

Pay attention to what stresses you. Do you get stressed in traffic? If so, why? Is it because you are running late? If it is, look at ways to adjust your schedule – or ways you can manage your time better in the morning. Are you stressed by a crying child? Are you just overtired? Can you call someone to help you and give you a break? Put the child down somewhere safe, like a crib, for 10 minutes and take a small break. Are you stressed about a big project? Break it down into smaller steps, then break those down into smaller steps and continue this process until you have manageable steps to follow to finish the project.

Look for ways to strengthen your physical reserves. Be sure to get a good night’s sleep as often as you can. Go to bed earlier and go to bed at the same time every night; you should find that you feel better if you stick to a routine. Get exercise as many days a week as you can; a recent study found that even 30 minutes of moderate exercise three times a week helps. Eat healthy meals; you’ll feel better if you avoid fast food and junk food as much as possible. Watch your caffeine intake; it can increase nervousness and cause irritability. Don’t forget to laugh – watch a funny movie, read a funny book, watch comedians…laughter can be very helpful. In addition, try keeping a journal or just writing out what you are feeling or going through; you don’t even need to keep it if you don’t want to do so. Sometimes the simple act of writing it out will relieve stress.

Some resources online:

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A Comforting Thought for Busy People: Short Bouts of Exercise Are Helpful Too

According to an article in the Washington Post on August 14 (here), a new study finds that “even low amounts of weekly physical activity can reduce blood pressure and improve overall fitness in adults.” This was a 12-week study that was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. It involved 106 healthy but sedentary people between the ages of 40 to 60. What they found was that even the group that did 30 minutes of brisk walking only three days a week also had significant reduction in systolic blood pressure and waist and hip girth, along with the group that did the exercise five days a week. The group that maintained their normal, sedentary lifestyle made no such improvements.

What a comforting thought. I’ve been trying to take better care of myself by exercising more often, flossing daily, taking my vitamins, eating more fruits and vegetables, and so on. But there are just days when I cannot fit my exercise in. I suppose it makes sense to think that some exercise is better than none, but it is nice to have it confirmed that there are visible and measurable improvements to be made even by moderate exercise. According to the article, “even slimming a few centimeters off hip and waist circumference and gaining a slight reduction in blood pressure is enough to reduce the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.”

Now, I know that I can work in 30 minutes of exercise three times a week at least, even if I can’t work in 5 times a week. That relieves some of the pressure of trying to fit everything into my week, and I hope it will relieve some of the guilt. I think that feeling guilty about letting other things overtake my exercise time is one reason I tend to quit exercising after a certain length of time.

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Depression and Pregnancy

A lot of people view pregnancy as a happy, joyful time – in fact, I’d venture to guess that most people do. However, there is something that most people don’t talk about: prenatal depression. It isn’t talked about for many reasons, some of which include (a) the feeling that pregnancy SHOULD and always is a joyful time, (b) the belief that pregnancy protects women from depression, and (c) it is simply a hormonal thing – the normal ups and downs of pregnancy. “According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, approximately 10% of women who have just given birth experience postpartum depression.” (1) Also, any depression within 6 months of giving birth is “postpartum” depression.

I’m finding through my own personal experience that prenatal depression is very real and very troubling and, like other forms of depression, very hard to fight on your own. I realized something was wrong when I noticed that I couldn’t make simple decisions well, I had stopped doing all of the hobbies I used to enjoy, and I had stopped enjoying most of the shows I used to watch. I also lost interest in preparing food, although I still enjoyed it if I went out. I wasn’t crying all the time, but I was pretty apathetic about life in general. It was difficult for me to accomplish what I needed to for school because I could not get motivated enough to start. I just didn’t care about school work. I could not focus on any of my reading or assignments. At first I thought that was just “spring fever” but it didn’t pass and it didn’t improve. Basically, I had trouble with day to day life – I found myself avoiding doing everything I needed to do for me and my family except the bare necessities. I checked some on-line sources and found descriptions of depression and realized that I had many of the symptoms.

Symptoms of depression (2) include the following:

  • Depressed mood (hopelessness, sadness, discouraged, empty)
  • Appetite or weight changes
  • Loss of interest or pleasure (nothing interests you – including hobbies, social activities, and sex)
  • Sleep changes (either insomnia or sleeping TOO much)
  • Fatigue or lethargy
  • Self-loathing
  • Inability to sit still, or sluggishness, lack of responsiveness
  • Irritability
  • Inability to focus or concentrate

Risk Factors for Postpartum Depression (3)

  • Multiple or serious stressful life events
  • History of severe PMS or difficulty becoming pregnant
  • History of childhood abuse (of any sort)
  • Poor social support
  • Poor nutrient diet or severe morning sickness
  • Poor relationship with your mother
  • High weight gain during pregnancy and/or poor weight loss after pregnancy
  • Unexpected or unwanted pregnancy
  • Women having their baby after the age of 30

The good news is that there is treatment. I was under the impression that there wasn’t much my doctor could do for me, since I’m pregnant. However, there are treatments. There are things doctors can do. First of all, it may help simply to talk to someone and let them know there’s a problem. Secondly, you can go to treatment. What helped me the most was a combination of talking to my doctor and having her understand that I was truly depressed and also having her put me on medication. It is true that you have to be careful about taking medication while you are pregnant, but doctors will help you when you are depressed. It is important – very important – that you take care of yourself as well at this point and doctors know that. According to the NIH, “women treated with antidepressant medicines and talk therapy usually show marked improvement. Depending on the type of medication they’re using, they may be able to continue breast feeding.” (3) It is important for women to realize that there is ALWAYS help available – of one type or another. It is also very important for the people around them to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression (versus the “blues”) and to reach out to them and offer support.

Treatments (4)

  • Talk therapy
  • Medications
  • Group counseling

Things You Can Do (4)

  • Try to get as much rest as possible.
  • Stop pressuring yourself to do everything. Do what you can and leave the rest!
  • Ask for help with chorses and feedings.
  • Find other mothers and talk with them; learn from other peoples’ experiences.
  • Do not spend a lot of time alone.
  • Get dressed and leave the house – take a walk or run an errand.

It is hard to find the words to describe what depression is from the inside. I always thought of crying, black moods, unfathomable sadness…and it may be those to others. For me, it has been like being in molasses up to my thighs – difficult to move around once you stop, difficult to get started again once you stop. It has meant no longer enjoying anything I used to do, including craft, read, watch forensics shows (I’ve cut out all but 2), cooking, and so on. No tears, really – not even a real sense of sadness. Just apathy, lethargy, lack of interest.

My purpose in writing this is to share my experiences and what I’ve discovered along the way in the hope that someone else won’t put off seeking help as long as I did. To think that I could have felt better much sooner is somewhat upsetting but I am not blaming myself or kicking myself or regretting anything; it is what it is. At least I did seek help and I did let someone know that I was having problems coping with my current situation. There is no shame in seeking assistance, in admitting that you’ve reached your limit and need help.

1 Helpguide – Postpartum Depression

2 Helpguide – Signs of Depression

3 NIH – Understanding Depression

4 Treatment of Postpartum/Prenatal Depression

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Filed under Depression, Pregnancy, Women's health