What About Mom?
In addition to taking care of everyone else, busy moms need to take care of themselves too!
I grew up in an Irish-Catholic family where little self -indulgences like getting a massage, taking a hot bath with candles or even going on a solitary walk to calm the mind were unheard of. Subsequently, it was instilled in me from a young age that serving others without focusing on my own needs was part and parcel to my role as a woman..
I went on to become a nurse, and then a mother remaining relatively oblivious to that all important inner voice that whispers (or sometimes shouts) for us to slow down , relax and pay attention to our body’s needs.
All that changed after my first marriage ended and I became a single mother of two. A very sensitive counselor and a few years of therapy helped me develop an understanding that carving out time to take care of me was not selfish. I realized (in my mid-thirties) that if I was going to stay sane, be physically healthy and be the kind of mom and person I wanted to be, self-care wasn’t an option, it was an imperative!
I was prompted to write this article because lately I’ve been receiving disturbing news of a number of young moms who have developed illnesses including cancer. I know how busy life can get and how easy it is to put your needs including your health on the back burner. I also know that illness is not always preventable and that in this fast paced society there are few support systems set up just for mom. Yet, by taking a few minutes here and there, (in the midst of juggling the million-and-one tasks of caring for your family), you can make a little time for you and that can make a huge difference in your overall health and happiness!
There’s a thought- provoking cover story in the July 12th issue of New York magazine entitled I love My Children. I Hate My Life. It’s provocative because it discusses a body of academic research that indicates that having children lessens one’s happiness. I know what you are thinking, and I feel the same way. Having children is one of the greatest joys in life. However, the author brings up a good point and its one we don’t often discuss: having kids wears you down by eroding both your personal time as well as time you need to nurture your marital relationship. One study (a meta-analysis looking at parents from the 70s onward by W.Keith Campbell and Jean Twenge) found that “couples overall marital satisfaction went down if they had kids and that every successive generation was more put out by having them then the last-our current one most of all”.
There are many aspects of this feature article that I’ll leave for you to explore and interpret, but one message I took away from it is that part of the reason we feel so drained as moms is not only “the gulf between our fantasies about family and it’s spikier realities”, it’s also the fact we enter parenthood ill-prepared and unaware of how important it is to carve out time for self care. I remember remarking (half jokingly) to my ex husband a few months after we divorced (when he was bringing the kids back home after having them for the weekend), that if he had just given me a weekend off or even a day once in a while to take care of my needs , we might not have ever needed to get divorced! We both laughed and went our separate ways, but I know there was an element of truth to that statement.
There’s no one simple formula for being happy and staying healthy in the midst of a busy life. We are beginning to learn however that illness often develops as a result of a complex interaction between genetics, the environment (including stress) and nutritional factors. Although we can’t do much about the genes we inherit, we can optimize our diets and learn better healthier ways to manage stress .
Unlike 30 years ago when I first became interested in health, stress management and nutrition, there is now a multitude of resources to tap for information on a wide range of health topics. Women’s magazines, books, the Dr. Oz show and websites abound. The issue is no longer where do I go to get this information, it’s how do I find the time to apply it? One trick I learned from my counselor involves replacing negative self talk with positive statements like: “I love and honor myself enough to eat healthy food, take that yoga class or go for that massage.” I’ve also come to understand that creating a balanced lifestyle that includes exercise, an optimal diet, a spiritual practice (and yes, some self- indulgences) is the best gift I can give myself and my family, and that inspires me to keep practicing the art of self-care. As my husband always says (and his married male friends agree) “when mama’s happy , everybody’s happy.”
Just in case you are still resisting the idea of taking care of yourself, here’s some information from Mary James, a Naturopath from Asheville who provides a few incentives on why we need to avoid the damaging effects of stress. “The stress reaction, itself, is not bad—we need it in order to respond quickly when we’re in danger. This reaction, though, is designed to be short-lived. Our modern-day lifestyles unfortunately tend to promote a stress response that’s non-stop, which takes its toll on the body. Constantly circulating stress hormones from anxiety and frustration are known to increase blood sugar and insulin levels (which, in turn, increase our risk of diabetes and heart disease), raise blood pressure and cholesterol levels, imbalance our immune system, break down our bones, and divert blood away from non-‘fight or flight’ organs such as the digestive system, bones, reproductive organs, and skin. Chronic stress also reduces oxygen and nutrient delivery to the body, can make us form a ‘belly’ as we age, injures the brain cells responsible for memory, and can even produce depression. All of these effects can be made worse by inadequate sleep, which is all too common when lying awake with a mind that’s rehashing the day’s events.
A researcher, Hans Selye has suggested that events, themselves, are neutral, but are defined as positive or negative only when we attach meaning to them. In other words, ‘stress’ depends largely on our perception. Positive thoughts, especially those involving appreciation or compassion, are known to promote harmony in the body, whereas anger and frustration does the opposite. This is why it has been suggested that if you want to know how you’ll look down the line, take a look at your thoughts today! The negative perceptions especially of ourselves, is often practiced unconsciously by us on a daily basis, so it takes some conscious attention to undo this practice.”
All that sounds great right? But you are probably still asking “how in the midst of my hectic life can I find the time to reduce the negative impacts of stress”? Jen, a creative young mom with two kids, five chickens, a large garden and two puppies says: “Start with your thoughts. When a negative thought comes up, switch the channel in your brain to a more positive one.” I agree and definitely believe that much of the fatigue we experience comes more from mental exhaustion than actual physical hard labor. Uncontrolled thoughts of worry or negative self talk really wear you down. Redirecting thoughts of worry and negativity to better feeling ones is not always easy, but it doesn’t take much time and you don’t need a therapist to try it.
Another stress reducing technique is as simple as breathing. Next time you are at a stop light, take those few seconds to breathe deeply (pushing your abdomen out as you inhale and collapsing it as you exhale.). If you find you have a little time on your hands as you wait for the kids to get out of therapy or their piano lessons, prolong the conscious breathing session or go for a beautiful walk while continuing to stay focused on your breath.
In addition to taking a few moments each day to relax, breath, get into a place of calmness and appreciation and experience the health benefits of these stress reducing techniques, tweaking our diets and adding in an exercise program can really go a long way in helping round out an optimal plan to help us feel great and resist illness.
Here are some tips for staying healthy in the midst of a busy life l
- I’ve seen so many moms prepare fabulously nutritious food for their kids while gulping down a mug of coffee instead of eating some of what they made for the family. A good place to start would be to actually eat some of the healthy food you make for others.
- We all know sugar isn’t good for us, but now new studies out of both Korea and Sweden say when your blood sugar levels go up, your body produces more insulin and a protein called insulin growth factor to try and keep your blood sugar levels under control. And both of those hormones stimulate the growth of cancer cells. The Swedish study published in Dec 2009 issue of PLOs Medicine followed 555,000 residents of Sweden, Norway and Austria for 10 years and it showed that high blood sugar levels increased the risk of cancer by 11% in women.
- Keep washed organic carrots, celery, cut up apples etc in cold water in the fridge ready to grab at a moment notice. Use these for dipping into hummus or guacamole instead of corn chips. Shoot for 4-5 cups of organic vegetables and fruit per day. Adequate fiber has been shown to help reduce your risk of breast cancer
- To help maintain your energy, mood and stabilize your blood sugar, eat lean sources of organic protein every 4-5 hours. In addition to meals containing organic eggs, salmon, chicken, nuts, grass- fed beef (if you are so inclined), store the leftovers in small containers for quick access.
- Women who have a very acid producing diet (based on sugar, meat, soda, coffee etc) are more prone to developing osteoporosis because when the blood is acidic, calcium is drawn from the bones to balance the pH of blood. Since some health advisors believe acidic blood is more conducive to the perpetuation of illness, its wise to eat more alkalizing foods such as vegetables, whole grains and fruit.
- In a fun economical way, green your home by switching from toxic cleaning and personal care products to organic or more sustainable ones. In terms of reducing our toxic load, what we put on our skin and hair is as important as what we ingest.
- Consume plenty of pure water (improve your health and save money by getting a great water filter and drink from stainless steel or glass bottles instead of plastic).
- Having enough good friendly bacteria (like acidophilus and bifidus) in your intestines helps prevent the harmful types of estrogens from getting reabsorbed which has also been shown to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer. Probiotics will also minimize the overgrowth of yeast and other nasty gut bugs.
- In addition to taking probiotics, keep your intestines healthy by consuming fiber (like fresh ground flax seed, nuts, pumpkin seeds, fresh veggies)
- I know no one likes to talk about it, but having 1-2 good bowel movements a day is ideal for helping your body rid itself of toxins.
- Use healthy fats including organic cold-pressed olive oil, nuts, avocados, walnuts and flax oil.
- To minimize extreme mood and energy swings and to help maintain a healthy weight, eat foods with a low-glycemic index (meaning they raise your blood sugar slowly instead of causing a surge of insulin and increasing inflammation)….foods such as nuts, seeds, veggies, protein and whole grains.
- It’s easy to consume some super-foods like Acai ), blueberries, and pomegranate when you just add them to morning or late afternoon smoothies. These colorful antioxidant rich foods help ward off chronic illness.
- A little bit of dark organic chocolate (early in the day so the caffeine doesn’t keep you up at night) or maybe a glass of red wine (I know we all want more than one glass, but the studies say one glass is the amount that brings all the health benefits) are both good sources of anti-oxidants
- Green Tea not only gives you a quick pick me up, but it also contains a calming nutrient called L-Theonine
- When you’re flavoring chicken dish, soup, salads or stews, spice them up with anti-inflammatory seasoning like cayenne and turmeric .
- Dr. Resa Johnson a chiropractor in Asheville suggests that an exercise routine that includes some cardio, stretching like yoga and some resistance work is ideal, but not always practical. So she recommends getting some of your exercise needs met by doing things like parking your car really far away from the entrance to a supermarket and doing some stretching when you can.
- To help you get the all important good nights rest, add a cup of Epsom salt and some lavender oil into your bath (and definitely light the candles.) Epsom salt has magnesium which is a very calming mineral and sulfur which help your detoxification pathways. Lavender is great for reducing anxiety. This helps kids get a good night sleep too.
- Consider using some common herbs like: Valerian for its calming and sleep inducing effect. Echinacea and golden seal to help fight infections, Nettles as a source of calcium etc.
- Take a good comprehensive multi like Nutritionist’s Choice www.NutritionistsChoice.com (a little plug here because I own this company and because I think it’s a fantastic multi.) Make sure whatever multi you choose has adequate amounts of the B vitamins (as they really help with stress) and the proper balance between magnesium and calcium which are both calming nutrients). You may also consider adding additional nutrients such as fish oil as a source of anti-inflammatory Omega 3’. .
- Get your Vitamin D blood level checked and take enough of this important vitamin to maintain a healthy heart, brain, immune function and bones. Since many of us aren’t outside enough (and when we do go out we lather up with sunscreen), it’s common to test low in Vitamin D. Recent studies have shown that those of us with Vit D levels above 50 have decreased incidence of dementia, heart disease and cancer.
- If you’ve been on the pill or are beginning to enter peri-menopause, you may want to consider consulting a naturally oriented physician regarding the benefits of taking bio-identical progesterone. Progesterone is produced during ovulation (a process blocked when taking the pill). Also when we enter our late 30’s and 40’s ovulation becomes more sporadic and so this important (often calming) hormone can decrease significantly. Without enough progesterone, we can become estrogen dominant making us more prone to weight gain, tender breasts, mood swings, PMS etc.
It’s been a while since I’ve had young kids and besides each of our lives are so different. So, I don’t profess to know what it’s like to walk in your shoes. But what I do know is, that while caring for others if we also make ourselves a priority by: eating well, taking extra stress-nutrients, minimizing our bad habits, maximizing our healthy self-indulgences, exercising, laughing (as often as possible) surrounding ourselves with supportive friends, and practice positive thinking we’ll be a lot healthier, less likely to develop certain illnesses and better able to deal with what comes our way!
My kids tell me I can get a little preachy about health, and for that I apologize. My goal is not to preach, but to inspire you to be the healthiest and happiest you can be. No one is perfect, so don’t expect to follow all these guidelines all of the time. I certainly don’t. Just love yourself enough to carve out a little time in your day to practice the art of self- care and pay attention when that wise, intuitive voice says it’s time to take care of you!