Archive for stress

Dec
17

Reducing Stress-Important during Holidays

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We all know that stress can be detrimental and disruptive to our physical and mental well being.  Many significant illnesses can be caused by or worsened by stress. And if you are a menopausal woman, your body is already under stress.

That is why it is important for you to take every measure possible to reduce stress and its affect on your body. We often forget to take care of ourselves properly when we are very busy.

The holidays can be very busy for many of us, and are no different in terms of stress as any other time of year. Even though the holidays are associated with celebration and joy, they can provoke many stressful reactions. The extra tasks and obligations that come with the holidays can displace time spent relaxing, exercising and sleeping. The holidays are a difficult time if you are not happy with your life, or have had loss in your life.  Work can also include a heavier load with year end duties needing to be accomplished. If you are in retail, or medicine, it is often far busier than at other times of the year.

Some tips for keeping stress under control include:

Making a list of important items to accomplish and prioritizing.

Set aside a few evenings that you will work on your task list, the other evenings are for your usual tasks as well as relaxing.

Set a firm bedtime and stick to it. Remember, you may not be able to everything you want and it may not be perfect.

Keep the big picture in mind, Christmas is more about feelings and thoughtfulness than a physical gift. Concentrate on showing the people important to you that you care by helping them, listening to them, laughing with them.

Stick to your healthy diet at meals that are no associated with a party. You can make a good effort to eat healthy at social occasions, but most of us don’t. Just go back to healthy meals the next day, maybe eat a small healthy snack in place of a  meal now and then if you had a big lunch or dinner.

Stick to your exercise routine as much as possible, aim for at least 3 days a week exercise and one strength training a week as a minimum. You can get back to more exercise after the holidays.

Try to set aside a few minutes every day to sit quietly and meditate. Just 10 minutes will help tremendously, and don’t forget to breathe deeply several times a day!

I see many more people coming into the clinic where I work with stress related symptoms, such as chest pain and irregular heartbeats, during the time period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Most the time it is all from stress.

This year, try some of the suggestions above to see if you will feel less of a burden of performance over the holidays; and more of the inner celebration of peace and love.

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May
21

MEDITATION-WHAT IT CAN DO FOR YOU

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When many of us think of meditation, we may think of a group of people sitting quietly in a temple some where for hours on end. We may feel this is a practice as foreign to us as sky diving or extreme mountain climbing. Not so! We can all meditate in our own ways and in our own homes.

The benefits of meditation are bountiful. As discussed in a recent NYT article, it is a bench press for the brain. Meditation increases both white and grey matter in the brain, aiding in something called neuroplasticity. This is the ability for the brain to change, to form new pathways. Meditation is one of the key ways to improve the activity of the prefrontal cortex region of the brain. This region is the area responsible for reasoning and self control, to name a few functions. Both meditation and exercise have been shown to increase blood flow and neural connections in this region of the brain.

So what does this mean for you?

Increasing your neuroplasticity, along with the strength and health in your prefrontal cortex; can help you with your willpower. This is essential for making changes or helping to achieve your goals that require changes in behavior. Increasing neuroplasticity in other regions of your brain can help with improved cognition, memory and understanding of new concepts. These are all important functions to preserve and improve upon at any age, but especially as we age.

You may wonder how this relates to menopause!

Meditation has also been shown to lower blood pressure, and heart rate; both important cardiovascular problems that can arise both with age and the change within the milieu of our female bodies due to lack of estrogen. Some studies have shown that meditation can help with hot flashes. And let’s not forget that meditation has a significant  impact on stress, arguably the number one reason we all make bad lifestyle choices in terms of diet and exercise, smoking and consuming alcohol. Lowering stress through meditation has been shown in studies to positively impact our health.

Meditation can be as simple and easy as sitting comfortable and quietly in a room by yourself. Emptying your mind by focusing on your breath, saying a simple work to yourself as you breath and again as you breath out. Trying to empty your mind of other thoughts as you do this, for as little as a few minutes. You can set a timer if you are worried about how long you are meditating, thus eliminating the concern about time. 10 minutes is all you need to start.

Start today, and start on a path of strengthening your mind, memory, willpower and brain power. Share with our community what is working and not working for you, share your experiences and benefits with our readers!

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Sep
13

MAKING TIME FOR HEALTHY LIVING

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Over the past many weeks, you may have had the chance to view my videos on YouTube regarding the 35 Symptoms of Menopause.

The 35 Symptoms of Menopause is is a list put forth by Project AWARE, to enlighten women regarding all the symptoms and changes that can be experienced during menopause. I am working my way through all these symptoms and making short videos about the various symptoms. In researching and thinking about these symptoms, and what my readers can do to minimize or rid themselves of these symptoms; it has become abundantly clear that the clearest and surest way to help yourself, is healthy living.

Over and over, I come back to exercise, stress reduction, adequate sleep and good nutrition as non-pharmacological ways to avoid many of these symptoms. These symptoms include, to name a few: hot flashes, sleep disturbance, heart palpitations, various gastrointestinal complaints, various mental complaints, fatigue, muscle and joint problems, skin changes, as well as changes in taste, urination.

Balance is everything, and this is what menopause is all about-a change in the balance.

This is why it is crucial to pay attention to what is happening to your body and mind, and make changes before it gets too far out of control.  Serious health conditions can start during this exact time of life. It is within your power to change the course of this downward spiral if that is what is happening. It takes a little knowledge, a little time, some support and COMMITMENT to make these changes happen.

Here are a few of my tips to you:

DIET

  1. cut down or out on sugar-that means table sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup
  2. read labels of what you buy so you are aware of sugar content
  3. eat 3 meals a day of food that has fiber, and protein with no animal fats, limit starches
  4. drink 8- 8oz glasses of water, plain or flavored with a wedge of lemon or lime
  5. limit alcohol, and for weight loss-stop the alcohol
  6. If you are trying to lose weight, and you are successful using the above strategies-You will need to continue with this eating plan in some form in order to maintain your new weight.

EXERCISE:

  1. aim for 30 minutes of movement 5 days a week
  2. get up 30 minutes earlier in the day to exercise (walk, exercise tape or exercise on demand on TV)
  3. try a class at a facility that does not require you join-many gyms will take drop ins for classes
  4. walk during your lunch hour, get a walking buddy to help motivate you
  5. take the stairs in buildings instead of elevators, park at furthest end of parking lot
  6. offer to mow the lawn instead of whoever usually does it

SLEEP:

  1. start a relaxing routine 1 hour before bedtime
  2. turn off computer, stop your chores or work 1 hour before bedtime
  3. keep bedroom cool, put a fan near your bed if necessary
  4. limit food, especially sugar (including alcohol) for 2-4 hrs before bed depending on your sensitivity
  5. keep lights and household noise low for 1 hour before bed
  6. allow the sleepiness you begin to feel to take effect, don’t fight by “doing one more thing”

STRESS REDUCTION:

  1. at least once weekly, do something just for yourself ie. massage, movie, out with friends, what ever YOU enjoy
  2. practice deep breathing throughout the day-deep breath in for a count of 3-4, out for a count of 3-4. Do this several times in a row, once hourly.
  3. take some time to stretch and think
  4. prioritize your tasks in order of importance, then see #5
  5. set a time for when you will stop your work/chores, then stop. Regardless of whether everything is done.

These are just my suggestions, it is what I try to do for myself and it is how I advise many of my patients. Many of you have other strategies equally as effective, write in and share with us what works for you. Most importantly, take care of yourself, make some time for yourself, and strive for that balance.


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Jul
13

5 TOOLS THAT YOU NEED TO CONTROL STRESS

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Fitness requires regular movement

Stress can sneak up on all of us, and it sometimes takes over before we know it. We can always think about the possibility that any given situation will cause us stress. Like everything else, if we have not practiced stress response techniques regularly, the effects are well on their way to causing us distress before we even realize what is happening.

We have talked about the different tools that can be utilized to help control stress and this video (in the membership section) sums up what I have been talking about. These tools lay a firm base from which you can effectively remain in control of your stress when presented with stressful times. There are of course exceptions to that, but for the most part, the daily stress of life do not have to effect you as much when you can employ the techniques of stress control.

1. Stay connected to friends.

2. Take care of your body.

3. Become involved in an organization whose mission you agree with.

4. Develop your spirituality.

5. Listen to your feelings and thoughts.

Regular practice of introspection, self respect, involvement in community and connection to friends all help to make us all feel that we are useful and valued by the people around us. This can lead to better stress control as we feel more empowered to meet the stress that life can bring us.

You can see this video in the membership site. I give memberships as a gift, you have to register so you can log-in on the blog page each time you return.

Go here, to the main page of Female Menopause Mentors, and register to for my membership gift. Leave me a comment about your experience with modifying your response to stress or your opinion about what I am saying here.

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Jul
11

Menopause and Stress Part 6

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Here is Video #6 in the series on stress. All 6 are available here on Female Menopause Mentors, 1,2 &3 are on the Blog, 4, 5 & 6 are in the membership area and you can find them on my YouTube channel AnneVPAC. In the future, I will not be mixing these mediums so content here will be exclusive to here, YouTube only on YouTube and Facebook only on Facebook. As a member you will also receive video links via email that only members with receive. Enjoy part 6 of Menopause and stress

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Jun
21

Stress and Self-Acceptance

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Why does lack of self acceptance cause us stress? Guilt? I woulda-coulda-shoulda? I am too young, too old, too dumb, an underachiever, too nervous, too scared, a man, a woman, the wrong color. All for these are ways we do not accept ourselves and let that attitude hold us back from personal satisfaction.

In this video I suggest you keep a journal. Writers block can be another way you can feel inadequate and reinforce negative attitudes about yourself. Mari over at CreateWriteNow has a Journal Prompts page. Use those prompts to get your writing flowing and just go where it takes you. This is exploration, not a task to get off of your list. Explore, don’t limit yourself and do not put a value on what you write. There may be a fire hose level of pressure coming out of your mind when you get started. Just go with it and repeat that exercise over and over until you feel you have done all that needed to be with that exercise.

I was looking for a story of self acceptance when I remembered Mari. She was a high powered coach and trainer. She came home just long enough to wash her undies and back on the road for another 70-80 or 90 hour week. Then “the best thing that ever happened” to her, HAPPENED. The quotes are her words. She developed MS and it paralyzed her R side, her dominant side. Look at the picture on the link to her page. See how you see her L arm but not her R. She started another business, bought her dream house and got to sing with Barry Manilow. Before she got sick she did not think that those things would ever happen. When she slowed down, she realized her dreams one after the other. Slow down, accept yourself, your dreams, your paralysis, what ever kind you have. Watch the video here and let us know in the comments section your self acceptance story and what you think of Mari’s

This is the membership area so only like-minded people are here. The whole world can’t see what you write.

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Jun
15

TOOLS FOR LOWERING STESS

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There are many techniques that can be used to help with reducing the effects of stress on our bodies
and our minds. In the previous post, we talked about how to identify what is contributing to your stress,
and different ways to approach dealing with your stress. I mentioned positive self talk, which is very
important to help turn your attitude from a perspective that brings you down to a perspective which can
lift you up and empower you. Re-directing your thought pattern can take time and energy, as you are
learning a new habit and it must be practiced frequently to become a habit!

As we rush around everyday, fulfilling our obligations, it can be difficult to feel inwardly calm. As we feel
busy, fatigued, overwhelmed; we often tense our muscle, engage in the “worry thought loop”, and we
often do not take slow deep breathes.

Slow, deep breathing is important to relax us and deliver fresh oxygen to our tissues and organs aiding
in their function. This is what the Relaxation Response is about. It is the focusing of our attention on
one thing and disregarding everyday thoughts. This helps to break the train of everyday thought and the
stress response that can be associated. The relaxation response is part of meditation, prayer, yoga, Tai
chi and Qi Dong.

Meditation is the practice of sitting quietly and comfortable for a period of time, 15-20 minutes to
see benefits. It requires focusing on one thought, word or deep breath and gently eliminating all other
thoughts as they enter in. Prayer is certainly a type of meditation, and can be practiced any where quiet.

Mindfulness is the practice of concentrating on what you are doing at that moment. It involves
eliminating all other thoughts like what chores you need to do, what your grocery list is, how you are
going to get a project done at work. You can practice mindfulness when you are reading a book aloud to
a child, while engaging in a hobby, or while eating a meal. It allows you to temporarily let go of the past
and future.

Yoga, Tai Chi, and Qigong are all ancient practices from the eastern part of our world which in general,
focus on slow movement coordinated with slow deep breathing. They emphasize concentrating on the
movement and breathing while eliminating other thoughts.

These are all tools that are available for you to try. You may feel comfortable trying some and not
others. Most can be tried in your home initially. Which ever you decide to try in order to lower your
stress level , these tools can give you increased relaxation and mental clarity as well as improved focus
to help you with your stress.

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When learning to change a habit or an emotional response to a situation or condition, introspection is
most important. Looking inside yourself can teach you about the feelings and triggers that drive your
responses. Many of us repress our feelings to a situation that we feel we have no control over. This
results in not understanding why we may feel overwhelmed or stressed during the course of our day. This
will then contribute to the stress response by raising blood pressure, causing an anxious state within
us, causing muscle aches and headaches, it can even trigger more hot flashes!

So what can you do? How do you start to gain control over this beast called STRESS?

Learn to know what you feel and why you feel it. Many of us are taught at an early age that we are not
supposed to feel or express anger or aggressive thoughts and we learn to repress these thoughts. Over a
life time of denial, this can lead to resentment and an underlying unease that is difficult to identify. It can
also cause us to be completely out of touch with the root our thoughts and feelings. Keeping a journal,
talking with trusted friends or a counselor can help you to get back in touch with how you are processing
your feelings.

There are times when you may need to take ACTION in a meaningful way. This can be as simple as
starting an exercise program, reconnection with a church and prayer, learning to meditate. Or it can
be as major as a job change, moving to a new community, severing a harmful relationship that has no
chance of changing. Working on your inner thoughts and motivations will help you to know when to
take these actions.

Learning to change negative thoughts or self talk can change your perspective on your day and life and
help you to feel more in control. Are you someone who always focuses on the worst aspects of your day
despite the many positive things that happen? Do you see things as only black or white, good or bad? Do
you personalize everything negative that happens and assume that these things occur because of you?

Learning to think in a positive way will help to eliminate this negative thought pattern and the stress
that comes with it. Write down the common negative thoughts that you tend to have during the day,
and then construct a positive version of that thought. For example you may think “I cannot do this
because it is to hard”, instead you could think “I will rise to this challenge and try”. “I don’t have enough
time” can become “I will re-organize my day and make the time”.

Learning to think positively, focusing on your inner strength and abilities, turning inwardly to examine
your thoughts and feelings and acknowledging them; are all important tools to begin controlling the
stress in your life and your health! We are here to help you with that, and please share with us your
thoughts, concerns and worries along with your successes and triumphs. As a community, we can help
each other!

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Hypothyroidism, or slowing of the thyroid, is a common problem as women age.

Too tired to Sleep

Many women develop this condition prior to the onset of the menopausal transition. The effects of aging on hormones can precipitate this condition and it is important for you to talk with your medical provider about testing for this if you are experiencing excessive fatigue.

The thyroid gland is located at the base of the neck and is responsible for the rate at which your body systems function. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:

  • fatigue
  • dry skin
  • slowing of mental functions or difficulty thinking
  • constipation
  • hair loss
  • feeling cold

These are a few of the symptoms, there are many biological changes which occur that can be measured or evaluated by your provider. The reverse condition, called hyperthyroidism, is much less common and is not  as associated with aging.

The thyroid gland produces the hormones, T3 and T4. This is regulated by the pituitary gland through production of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone). The regulation of thyroid function in the pituitary gland(in the brain) is in turn regulated by the hypothalamus (also in the brain) by production of thyrotropin releasing hormone. It is through the action of elevated cortisol that this finely tuned system is altered.

Prolonged stress and the resulting production of CRH ( corticotropin releasing hormone) causes prolonged elevated amounts of cortisol. This in turn inhibits TSH production and secretion. The elevated levels of cortisol in the blood stream also inhibit conversion of the thyroid hormone T4 to T3. Our bodies need both forms of this thyroid hormone to function normally. T3 is produced in lower quantities but is 4 times more powerful than T4.

This could be the cause of what is termed the “sick euthyroid” syndrome. In this setting, people have all the symptoms of  hypothyroidism but their thyroid lab work is normal. Some people can have difficulty converting T4 to T3 due to lack of an enzyme. So let’s put this together.

If you are a person who is genetically susceptible to these conditions, and you are entering peri menopause without a very healthy lifestyle. You are having trouble sleeping, your life is stressed and you are taking no time for yourself. You eat convenience food because you don’t have the time or energy to exercise and plan detailed meals. So your cortisol levels go up and you start gaining weight. Then it all spirals downward with more fatigue because your thyroid is not working well. What can you do to stop this?

Most of our previous posts have dealt with this very issue.

Important lifestyle changes to consider:

  • eat a diet low in processed foods, sugars and saturated fat
  • limit alcohol, caffeine, nicotine
  • exercise and/or find ways to add physical activity into your daily routine
  • practice techniques to lower stress
  • sleep enough hours to allow you to feel rested; 7-9 hours nightly
  • take vacation days periodically through the year
  • laugh with friends and family

Speak with your provider about how you are feeling and what you would like to have checked medically. Voice your concerns so you are heard!

Tell us your story.  What good or bad experiences have you had with fatigue and thyroid issues? Leave your story, questions or input in the comments section.

Anne Vaillancourt PAC

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Jun
14

The Sandwich – How Can It Be Bad For Me?

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What I am talking about here is not your standard bread and meat or peanut butter food item, but rather, the not so new phenomenon for the boomer generation now dubbed the Sandwich Generation.No, this does not refer to a generation raised on eating sandwiches.

This refers to women being caught between taking care of aging parents and children at the same time. And while people have been dealing with this issue for generations, the baby boomer generation may be the first to contend with these issues on the scale that currently exists.

With the advances in medicine and health, it is no surprise to anyone that people are living longer. It is  wonderful to have one’s parents living longer. However the parents decline in physical and cognitive abilities often occurs at the same time that baby boomer women are experiencing the stress of a career.

These women may be experiencing menopause and its myriad of symptoms simultaneously. Along with this, children are likely to be reaching the money intensive college years or early twenties and still requiring some financial assistance. Hence the sandwich. So what, you say, big deal!

A recent survey by AARP reveals that 45% of women between ages 45-55 have one living parent and at least one child younger than 21. One in Eight baby boomers are identified as caring and supporting both a parent and a child.

Why is this so different from other generations? Women are delaying having children by several years, the elder population is living longer, families are not always geographically close which can cause increased stress when problems occur or decisions are required. Additionally, the current economy is often causing adult children to rely on their parents for financial support or perhaps child care assistance.

So why is this a significant issue, more noteworthy than any other life stress issue? It is an issue for women  if they are also working significant hours. The time usually allocated to exercise, unwind, and social activities might now be usurped by parent’s/child’s need for attention elsewhere. So what is one to do when new demands are placed on time and energy. My answer is to say that it is important to continue to keep some time for yourself as a priority.

As women, we are expected to continually arise to any occasion asked of us. We often have spent years placing our needs below that of others whether they have been children, parents or employers and jobs. At some point, a woman has to make the decision to place herself first at least some of the time, so that she has the energy to care for herself.

Menopause is the age where it is important to take care of yourself in the form of:

  • Proper diet to avoid or help control blood pressure and diabetes
  • Some form of exercise to strengthen muscle and keep the heart healthy
  • De-stress to lower cortisol levels and help lessen chance of metabolic diseases and cancer.

It is too easy to put these important life style habits aside because of time constraints and fatigue. I have had so many women tell me they don’t have time to exercise and eat correctly, I have seen worrisome changes in a woman’s health from year to year often due to these time constraints. I encourage all you sandwich generation women to continue with healthy choices as much as possible, and to attempt at all costs to place yourselves first at least SOME OF THE TIME!

Anne Vaillancourt

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