Stress: It’s a Matter of the Heart

You might be surprised to learn that heart disease is the number one killer of women in North America. Part of this can probably be attributed to the fact that it’s hard to know when our hearts aren’t healthy because we cannot see them. When we’ve gained too much weight we see it in our thighs. We are reminded to check our breasts by the fact that we see them every day. But our hearts? Often we forget to take proper care of them because they’re out of sight and out of mind.

Given the dangers of heart disease, women have to get a handle on what can cause it, and how to help keep these causes at bay. Heart disease is caused by a number of factors, many of which we cannot control. One of these factors is the accumulation of stress that comes with everyday life. While we can’t necessarily control all the stressors in our lives (financial problems, horrible bosses, teenagers), we do have a certain amount of control over how we let them affect us and by extension, our heart health.  Learning to manage stress is key if you’re wondering how to prevent heart disease in women.

We are all affected by stress in different ways, and we all cope differently with stress. What works for you might not work for your best friend; I think yoga is probably the most boring thing in the world, but many of my friends have had it change their lives. I put together a list of tips that have been known to help people manage their stress. Using some of these techniques can help you control how much you’re affected by the stress in your life and could help keep your heart healthy (and sanity in check)!

Don’t Overindulge in Food and Alcohol: Don’t deal with stress by turning to food and alcohol. Over eating, under eating, and excessive alcohol consumption only band-aid the bigger problem. Coping by using food and alcohol will only lead to additional issues on top of the primary stressor.

Say No: Many women take on more than they can handle. Even women who work the same hours as their husbands have been shown to contribute more than 70% to the household duties. Adding kids’ schedules into the mix, as well as the expectations of friends and extended family can lead anyone to a nervous breakdown. Go through your commitments to distinguish between the ‘shoulds’ and the ‘musts.’ Cut down what’s on your plate so you can deal with your obligations properly without going insane.

Stop Smoking: Beyond the obvious impacts lighting up has on your health, the nicotine in cigarettes works as a stimulant that directly induces symptoms of stress.

Exercise Regularly: Regular exercise has direct links to maintaining a healthy heart, but it is the endorphins it releases that combat stress. They make you feel better immediately, and help you maintain a positive attitude. If you hate the elliptical, look for other ways to get exercise. Join an amateur soccer or basketball league in your neighborhood (most places have one), or sign up for a dance class or running group.

Evaluate: Figure out what it is in your life that is causing you stress, and then accept those things that you cannot control. Distinguishing between problems that are in and out of your hands helps you determine what’s really worth worrying about. Be realistic and flexible about issues that are beyond your control, and have a plan for what to do if things don’t go your way. Most of the time, these things aren’t the end of the world.

Get Sufficient Sleep: Many people can’t sleep because they’re stressed, and many people are stressed because they can’t sleep. Make sure that you’re getting at least seven hours of sleep a night. Make sure your bedroom is dark and comfortable, and use your bed for nothing but sleep and sex. Get the TV out of the bedroom, and avoid screen-time an hour before bed. If you consistently have trouble sleeping, try femMED Sleep as a sleep-aid. However you make it happen, make sure you give your body enough time to recharge!

Make the Cut: Avoid people in your life who stress you out. Obviously your mother-in-law is here to stay, but the ‘frenemies’ who do more harm than good aren’t worth sacrificing your health for.

In the same line of thinking, avoid topics of conversation that cause you stress. If religion or politics get you riled up, avoid the topic, or at least put it aside until your head is in the right place.

Incorporate Music: Many people find listening to music a good way to relax and escape from the pressures of stress. Whether you listen to music directly made to combat stress, such as nature sounds, or Beyoncé is more your thing, take time to let it calm you down next time you’re stuck in traffic or getting ready for a meeting that you’re anxious about attending.

Yoga/Meditation: Yoga and meditation help people check out from the fast-pace of everyday life. Taking the time to relax and appreciate your body and mind can for some people alleviate stress entirely. Make sure you go to at least five classes before deciding whether or not this is for you, as it is a practice that takes a bit of getting used to.

Get a pet: People who own pets are consistently shown to exhibit fewer signs of stress, and fewer health problems in general. Pets serve as great companions, and can calm your nerves at the worst of times. If you don’t have the time or money for a dog or cat, visit a friend who has one for a quick fix of puppy love!

Do Volunteer Work: Evidence shows that people who help others are more adept at coping with stressors. Helping people who are worse off than yourself will help you put your problems into perspective, and will also leave you feeling good about yourself.

Take a Vitamin: Make sure that you’re getting enough nutrients, especially vitamin B. Vitamin B is the master of the nervous system, and taking a supplement can help calm your nerves.

Get Lucky: Sex has been proven to reduce stress and stress symptoms. On top of that, it can be great exercise and can help you sleep (thus covering two other things from this list)!

Make Work More Comfortable: If you spend a lot of time at the office and your job causes you stress, try and bring some comforts into your work environment. Bring a picture of your family and your favourite mug from home. Scents such as basil and chamomile are all soothing. Keep a jar of some of these oils in a drawer to breathe in if you’re feeling overwhelmed. These sound trivial, but it’s the little things that help!

Give Yourself a Break: Everyone has commitments that stop them from taking care of themselves. If you have a huge project at work and don’t have time to make it to the gym or cook a good meal once in a while, that’s ok. During this time, make sure you’re treating yourself properly. Get up every half an hour and take a five minute walk. If your husband is driving you insane, book a dinner with your girlfriends to unwind. When your kids are causing you headaches, ask someone to look after them for the weekend and try and spend the weekend away. You can’t take care of all these things in your life if you don’t take care of yourself.

Share this with your friends!
Facebook Twitter Email Linkedin

Menopause Weight Gain

Menopause brings about many changes for women; some of these changes, like the end of the menstrual cycle are welcomed and others, such as hot flashes and weight gain are not.

There are various supplements and strategies that can help manage those troublesome hot flashes and night sweats. But for many women, it is much more challenging to keep body weight under control.

There are many factors that can contribute to weight gain in menopause. Hormones are partly to blame. A lowering of estrogen and testosterone can cause women to store fat. Lifestyle and genetic factors are also involved.

Stress also tends to become more prevalent in menopause. Whether triggered by personal, financial, or health reasons, stress impacts weight in a number of ways. Rising levels of the stress hormone cortisol make it easier to pack on weight, particularly around the mid-section.

Stress may also trigger unhealthy habits, such as overeating and eating unhealthy foods (comfort foods). It also has a negative effect on sleep, and lack of sleep is a recently recognized factor that can lead to weight gain, along with many other health problems.

Muscle mass also declines with age and since muscle helps drive metabolism and calorie burning, if you have less muscle you will burn fewer calories.

Despite all these factors that seem to be stacked against you, it is possible to keep weight under control by making some simple lifestyle modifications.

  • Boost muscle mass. Do weight training or resistance exercises to help build and maintain muscle mass. Increasing your muscle mass will raise your metabolism, so you will burn more calories and you will develop a leaner physique. Joining a gym is great, but if you are pressed for time/money, there are plenty of exercises that you can do at home, such as push-ups, squats, lunges, and chest presses.
  • Make better dietary choices. You don’t have to count calories or follow a restrictive diet, just make better choices and limit portion sizes. For example, start your day with oatmeal and berries, a large salad with chickpeas or grilled chicken for lunch and baked fish with mixed veggies for dinner. Choose healthy snacks between meals such as nuts/seeds, yogurt, dark chocolate and healthy energy bars, such as Luna Bar or Larabar.
  • Use supplements to complement your diet. Supplements that provide soluble fibre, such as femMED Weight Management, can help to reduce appetite and cravings and promote better blood sugar control – all factors that are helpful for managing weight.

These strategies will not only benefit your waistline, but they promote better heart health and improve your overall well-being.

Share this with your friends!
Facebook Twitter Email Linkedin

Trouble Sleeping Can Have Many Causes

I have had trouble sleeping well for the longest while. What can I do?

It is important to figure out what is causing your trouble sleeping. Many factors can affect quality sleep such as stress, diet, activity level, use of medication (antidepressants, blood pressure pills and many other drugs) and hormonal imbalances.

Here are some general tips for getting a good night sleep:

  • Set aside at least 7 to 8 hours for sleep. Leaving only 5 or 6 hours may make you feel stressed and impact your ability to fall asleep.
  • Establish a regular bed and wake time and try to follow this routine even on the weekends.
  • Do relaxing activities before bedtime – read a book, listen to relaxing music or have a warm bath.
  • Reserve your bedroom for intimacy and sleep only; don’t work in your bedroom.
  • Make your bedroom dark, quiet and comfortable. If you live near a busy street or have other noise to content with, problems dealing with any type of noise consider a white noise generator. No need to spend a lot of money on an electronic system, an old fan puts out great white noise. White noise masks disruptive noises.
  • Avoid bright light around the house before bed. Using dimmer switches in living rooms and bathrooms for a few hours before bed can be helpful. Darkness helps the brain produce melatonin. (Dimmer switches can be set to maximum brightness for morning routines.)
  • Exercise regularly early in the day. Vigorous activity in the evening can be stimulating and impair sleep.
  • Don’t smoke or consume alcohol– nicotine is a stimulant and impairs your ability to fall asleep and have a restful sleep and alcohol may help you to get to sleep but it will cause you to wake up throughout the night.
  • Stay away from stimulants like caffeine. This will help you get deep sleep which is most refreshing. If you take any caffeine, take it in the morning. Avoid all stimulants in the evening, including chocolate, caffeinated sodas, and caffeinated teas. They will delay sleep and increase arousals during the night.
  • To avoid nighttime waking to use the bathroom reduce fluids after 6pm.
  • Consider acupuncture, massage, yoga and meditation to promote relaxation
  • If you can’t get to sleep for over 30 minutes, get out of bed and do something relaxing in dim light till you are sleepy.
  • Prescription sedatives should only be used when all else fails as they are addictive and cause numerous side effects, including impairment in short term memory.
  • Natural sleeping aids can help without the side effects that prescription sleeping pills can. Look for a product with the following ingredients:

5-HTP: 5-hydroxytryptophan increases serotonin and melatonin levels which promotes relaxation and better sleep

L-theanine: an amino acid found in green tea which reduces stress, promotes relaxation and improves sleep

Melatonin: a hormone naturally secreted by the brain that regulates our sleep/wake cycles. Supplements can help reduce the time needed to fall asleep, reduce nighttime wakening and improve sleep quality.

If poor sleep quality is an ongoing problem and you aren’t able to determine an underlying cause, then it is important to ask your doctor for a referral to a sleep disorders clinic.

Share this with your friends!
Facebook Twitter Email Linkedin