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I can’t believe it’s already November! Crazy, right? Also – it seems like there has been a body image-related story in the news almost every day! So let’s get caught up …
FIRST OF ALL: Unless you’re just not totally obsessed with lady blogs, there’s no way you haven’t heard about the disaster that went down at Marie Claire last week. Writer Maura Kelly wrote a blog post about “watching fat people on TV” that basically sounded like some of the most superficial, hateful remarks from a junior high slambook. The post itself wracked up almost 1,000 comments, some of which were from Maura herself trying to defend herself. But she soon posted a lame-ass “apology,” saying that she thinks maybe her discomfort with overweight people stems from her own anorexia. (Uh, yeah, ya think?) Then, as if overnight, everyone had an opinion on the situation… I personally loved Dodai’s post at Jezebel, which called fat-phobics out as a bigoted idiots. Some of the comments actually made me tear up. For instance:
“I come to Jezebel nearly every day because it’s one of the only places I know of where I can honestly talk about body image with other people who (for the most part) get it. I’ve been able to talk about my struggles with showing my arms in sleeveless dresses, the hurt I’ve felt from my own parents sometimes, the judgement I feel when I eat in public – you name it. And yes, I’ve done all of this while trying (and succeeding, for the most part) to lose weight. Having a place to actually talk about it where I don’t get shitty platitudes like I do at Weight Watchers (“nothing tastes as good as thin feels”)has been a good thing. Hell, it’s been a great thing. I know it’s not here as a support group, but it certainly makes me feel like there are lots of other fabulous women who struggle too. And the fact that there is one little piece of the world that doesn’t judge me and condemn me for struggling all my life with obesity is glorious, indeed.” –erinfabu
Some thanked Dodai for her shoutout to women with PCOS, while others explain how much they used to hate their bodies when they were overweight, but they were still unhappy even after shedding a few pounds! It was once they learned to not equate their self-worth with the scale that they found themselves happier and healthier.
Reading these comments, I felt like I was surrounded (mostly) by other women who are all in the same boat: At various shapes and sizes, we’re all doing our best to be healthy. But sadly, a few self-hating skinnies with big, really loud media-backed megaphones don’t seem to have any clue what that looks like.
The fact that we’re often faced with their blog posts, advertisements, essays, feature articles, commercials, cover lines, books, etc. doesn’t help, when we’re already struggling with self-acceptance and body love. Hello, MORE news for ya: 40% of us are unhappy with our bodies, says a new survey by Glamour. And 71% of us “feel fat,“ even though only 46% are technically overweight.
Given the vitriol that one lone women’s pub (Marie Claire) seems to think is acceptable to spew about anyone who doesn’t fit into its fashionista definition of beautiful and healthy … is it any wonder that so many of us are paranoid and delusional about our own appearances? I mean, this isn’t exactly news to you, right?
Just look at Demi Lovato … The gorgeous young Disney star went to rehab this week for eating disorders and cutting, triggered by body image issues. This may be an extreme case, but it’s proof that the problem is out of control…
It seems to me every woman could stand to learn something from plus-size model Crystal Renn, who recently said, “I think that, you know, I will never be thin enough or big enough for anybody. So I think through this whole thing I had to just really be happy being who I am, and that’s when I found health.”
It’s not easy, that’s for sure. But I feel like, at least for me, it’s well worth the every pair of jeans, every glimpse of cellulite, every day struggle.
How ’bout you?
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Dan and I got back from vacation in San Francisco on Saturday. In addition to the amazing photographs, delicious food (Humphry Slocombe ice cream = nommm), scenic landscapes and unforgettable wine (Gundlach Bundschu = mmm), the trip also delivered serious peace of mind. One reason: I went to the Owning Pink Center as a patient of Dr. Lissa Rankin’s, who you may also know as the author of the book that comes out today (and which you should own ASAP!) What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend (St. Martin’s). See, the thing is, she actually is my very good friend. That’s just one reason why I wanted her to also be my doctor, because last month, I realized that I’ve been grappling with hormone-related symptoms for far too long…
Rewind to two days after my 27th birthday. My regular OB/GYN—who had ben a piece of cake to deal with when I was on the dreaded Pill—began to strike me as standoff-ish. Her in-and-out in 5 minutes flat attitude wasn’t going to cut it. I decided that I needed to sit down with someone wise, compassionate and interested in treating me holistically—as a whole person, not just a handful of acute symptoms. Enter Lissa.
This is one doctor who doesn’t wear a white coat and stand and preach while you sit and listen. On Thursday, Lissa wore a purple dress while we sat in her cozy office’s plush chairs and discussed my sex life, my stress level, my blood work and my fertility. It’s definitely easier to open up about all of these topics when your doctor is your friend. But even if she isn’t, you’d probably feel immediately at ease simply because her office is a warm, welcoming place.
We weren’t more than 20 minutes into our session—Lissa devotes an hour to each patient—when she looked at my labs that I had done in March with my NJ endocrinologist. “Wow, your TSH level!”
I said, “Wait, what?”
In the moment, I was so focused on Nonclassical Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia as the epicenter of all of my ailments that I couldn’t remember what TSH was. Lissa explained that it’s Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone, which the pituitary gland overproduces when the thyroid is sluggish in producing thyroxine, a metabolism-stimulating hormone. And while my levels are in the realm of what clinicians consider “normal,” Lissa noted that most people at my level tend to not feel very well.
Then, she asked me some follow-ups… How is my quality of sleep? I heard myself say, “Bad.” (Whoa, I thought to myself! I never really said that out loud before, but I guess my sleep isn’t really what I want it to be… I want to be able to fall asleep and stay asleep better. I told her this.) How is my skin? Combo/itchy sometimes, too. How is my energy level? Poor. I never met a nap I didn’t want to take. Just about any time of the day. I’m especially tired around 3 p.m. daily. And by the time I get home from work, I just want to throw myself on the couch. I’ve always chalked that up to stress, sitting all day at work, the wrong or nonexistent snacks perhaps. But, no, it’s more than that. Do I wake up feeling energized? Rarely. Have I had a ridiculously hard time trying to lose a small amount of weight? YES! Does anyone in my family have a history of thyroid problems? (It can be genetic.) Yes, yes, YES. My Grandma E, who I am pretty sure I take after biologically, was diagnosed with hypothyroidism at…get this…age 27!
Soon, Lissa concluded that yep, I’m symptomatic of hypothyroidism, or a sluggish, underactive thyroid. Treatment could get the gland chugging like it should, in turn, bolstering my energy. Not to mention the other symptoms… The thyroid and metabolism influence so many other body processes. In fact, hypothyroidism can prevent effective weight loss, cause weight gain, cause thinning of the hair, increased sensitivity to cold, muscle aches, dry skin, etc. I’d been wondering why I had been dealing with various symptoms – I had been wishing and hoping for answers. But none came, until I saw Lissa as a patient.
I read later that many people with thyroid problems don’t have any stand-out symptoms other than feeling “off” overall. So why isn’t it something that most doctors regularly look at or take into consideration more frequently? Why do numbers on lab work have to be astronomically high or deliriously low for them to do anything for us? Lissa explained that “normal” hormone levels are based on a given healthy population; most docs won’t treat you unless you’re in the lower 5th percentile or upper 95th percentile. But she’s found that patients may not feel very well when they’re on one side of the extreme (say, 60th-90th percentile). And they do fantastically with treatment.
I’m the opposite of Rx happy, but when Lissa suggested treating me with bioidentical (meaning the body can actually recognize the drug as identical to what the body produces) thyroid hormones, I could have shouted, “Sign me up!” It was like she found a missing puzzle piece, and I was stepping back to look at the completed masterpiece…
…Well, not quite. There’s still the NCAH, which I plan to work on with Lissa’s naturopath/partner, Lisa Brent, N.D. And other puzzle pieces that are floating out there. But I am confident now that I’ll find them, and that I have the support I need now to feel fully vital.
I’ve said it before, but I feel more strongly than ever now that we all deserve doctors who will will treat us as whole people, not just numbers on a chart. We deserve to be heard and to have our concerns validated. We deserve doctors who will look out for us as if they were our best friend. If that doesn’t describe your doctor, and you have concerns about any aspect of well-being … I strongly encourage you not to settle and to keep searching until you find the right doctor. She or he may help you find answers to questions that you didn’t know you’ve been asking all along.
A few months ago, I tried making my own kale chips. Because my friend Lisa, who is an actress/health industry pro in L.A. and a fellow healthy foodie, swore up and down that they were absolutely delicious. And I’m always game to try a recipe that is delicious and healthy. But, lo and behold, I burned the heck out of my kale chips. I think I left them in the oven too long, or our oven just plain stinks.
But now, it doesn’t matter! I discovered that I can BUY kale chips that are really delicious! (See, they’re so awesome that I pretty much polished off this here bag to the left. All that remains are kale crumbs.) They’re made from kale and fresh dressing and that’s it. The Rhythm people say that they use a process called “air-crisping” to turn 16 oz. of leafy greens into a 2 oz. bag of kale chips.
As you can see, you can have your kale and eat it, too in “Kool Ranch,” as well as “Zesty Nacho” and “Bombay Curry.” Really, truly I am not joking when I say that the Zesty Nacho flavor is on par with Nacho Cheese Doritos and the Kool Ranch is close to its corny junk food cousin — but of course, minus the fried part and extreme MSG … The only thing is that if you’re hankering for a solidly triangular crunchy chip, these might not be for you. But if you can stand for crispy…well, then you’re in luck! FYI, the Rhythm chips are a wee bit fragile and may turn into crispy crumbs in transit. But then you can just dump the rest of the bag down your gullet. 🙂 They’re only 100-120 cal, 5 g. of fat and hey – 5 whole grams of protein – per 1 oz. serving (2 servings per bag). Not to mention that they also boast the following descriptors: raw, vegan, gluten-free and filled with lutein, which is proven to be great for your peepers and your skin!
For $4.99/bag, you can buy them online here and in Whole Foods locations in the Southwest. They should be popping up in WF locations nationwide by the end of the year.
Do you think you’d try Rhythm Kale Chips?
On Monday night, I watched supertrainer Jackie Warner‘s new Bravo TV show Thintervention. One thing that particularly resonated with me was the situation of 23 year-old client Stacy. She could be me. I kind of was her. Like Stacy, I would chalk up my problematic relationship with food to being Jewish. Like Stacy, I would smirk and think to myself, “Wow, I’m the Queen of Camouflaging my chub!” And like Stacy, I have a hormonal issue that makes it easier for me to gain weight and harder for me to lose.
In the first episode of Thintervention, Stacy discusses one of her major health setbacks with the doc on (casting) call. He says, “You have PCOS, which can make you put on weight… But you can’t let it be an excuse.” For those of you who aren’t familiar, PCOS is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, an endocrine disorder caused by lifestyle and/or genetic factors and typically marked by resistance to insulin (a hormone that governs carbohydrate metabolism). Interestingly, 1 in 27 Ashkenazi Jews (myself included) have an adrenal disorder called Non-Classical Adrenal Hyperplasia, which mimics PCOS. I’d be interested to see if Stacy has been tested for NCAH, since she, like me, is a young Jewish woman.
Either way, PCOS affects as many as 30% of women total. And it clearly has a detrimental effect on weight. From what I can gather from the doctors I’ve seen and the info I’ve read on my own, research on the matter right now is kind of a chicken or the egg situation. Do lifestyle factors make you gain weight and in turn, worsen symptoms of PCOS (or NCAH)? Or does living with these conditions cause you to not as effectively store/burn calories? Based on my own struggles, I tend to think it’s more of the latter.
That’s not to say that women who suffer from either problem can’t lose and keep off excess weight. It’s just incredibly difficult. There are a couple of nutritionists who advocate a low GI diet, which is pretty much just a high fiber/low-fat/lower-carb and limited sugar diet. And some experts recommend women with PCOS work out for at least an hour a day, at least 5x a week. Sure, if you’re being trained by Jackie Warner on a Bravo reality TV show, that time commitment is nothing. But for most mere mortals, that’s a serious chunk of time.
I’m just saying I feel like there’s really not much research and health information/guidance out there for women living with PCOS and especially those with NCAH. Especially when it comes to weight management. And that’s definitely frustrating.
But it was great to see someone on TV come out as dealing with it in her effort to shed pounds, and I can only hope that might drive some awareness about the problem. That way, hopefully more women start asking questions and getting answers about how they can follow a weight-loss program that fits their specific health needs—instead of being told they should just suck it up and struggle to succeed on a One Size Fits All plan.
What do you think?
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L’shana tova! Today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I should be in temple, but Dan and I don’t belong to one, and I have to save my vacation time for, well, vacation. But I plan to observe in my own way, even if it is more of a spiritual, personal observation, as opposed to a getting dressed up and going to listen to a rabbi blow the Shofar-type way.
The holiday has always reminded me of apples and honey (the traditional Rosh Hashanah treat to symbolize a sweet new year, yum) and of course, new beginnings… While I hate to see the summer slip away, I am eager for a fresh start—from cute new fall clothes to new outlets for writing (exciting news next week!) While I’m not sure I want to call them resolutions, there are some things I’d like to work on as we head into the fall… Slash, as I head into my 28th year of life. (Oh boy, that sounds odd. Yeah, side note: I celebrated my 27th b-day on Labor Day.) I figure, I’ll share these goals with you, and then maybe they’ll be more definite just by floating out there in the Universe. I think I’ll employ a format developed by psychotherapy expert Nathaniel Branden, Ph.D. Called sentence completion, the technique works on conscious and subconscious levels to help people come up with insights that bring about meaningful change in their lives. So, here goes.
This fall, I want to…
–Advance my career. Professionally, I want to take my writing to another level. Here, on other blogs, in other publications. News and features. Personally, I want to spend time on creative fiction. I miss it, because to me, it’s about being truly imaginative. It’s a high I haven’t felt in awhile.
–Read more. I’d also like to find the happiest balance between working on my own writing and reading much, much more. There’s nothing like snuggling up with a juicy book that you’ve been just waiting for the right time to read. I have both a non-fiction and a fiction patiently waiting for me to crack their covers.
–Find a new way to take better care of my body. Long story, and definitely the subject of an upcoming post, but I recently hit a wall with my wellness regimen. It’s time for a change. My #1 priority is to take care of my body, honor my health and love myself, while minimizing negativity and stress.
–Organize. Right now, my desk at home is… well, you could say it looks like Tropical Storm Maressa had her way with it. I could really stand to stay more on top of filing all of my papers/bills, etc. Not only will it give me better peace of mind, but I really think Dan would be relieved, too. (It drives him nuts.)
–De-clutter. Dear Clothes/Shoes I Haven’t Worn/Makeup I Haven’t Used/Purses I Will Never Carry Again, etc., it has been nice knowing you. Now off with you to Good Will.
You don’t have to be celebrating Rosh Hashanah to channel a fresh start for the fall. What do you want to do differently this season?
Alright, I’ve had it! It is time to take a stand on what’s what in the world of lady health, and I need you with me. We have to make sure that we’re not buying into, parroting or perpetuating even more BS about what’s best for our sex lives, boobs, genitalia or hygiene. So without further ado, let’s get a few things straight.
–Douching is a no-no. There has been a lot of hullabaloo about a new Summer’s Eve ad that is titled, “Confidence at Work: How to Ask For a Raise” (see left). They claim they know what can really help you smash that glass ceiling: Manmade contraptions and chemicals used to wash your cooch, of course! …But, no. No, it isn’t. Don’t we all know that? When I heard about it, I thought, “Um, what? Why does that product even exist anymore? Who out there still thinks it is a good idea to douche?” I thought we all knew this by now—douching is generally not recommended, as it can adversely affect the body’s natural balance of bacteria, leading to vaginal infection and other problems. So, yes, this ad is totally ridiculous, but even more wild and crazy to me that there’s even a market for Summer’s Eve. Hey you, Mary Sue! The 21st century called—it wants you to walk away from the douche bag…
–Big mouths speaking out on breastfeeding. Please shut up, Gisele, and anyone else who thinks they know what is best for every single woman. Just stick to what works for you, mm’k?
–Vulva, vulva, vulva! OK, I don’t care if you think it’s school marmy. I’m a writer, so right there, you know why I’m a bit of a stickler for correct grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc. Also, I heart me some correct terminology. And I’m personally super-annoyed when women refer to their own gorgeous genitalia with the wrong name. A perfect example in the news: Kim Kardashian was quoted as saying, “I don’t know, I never looked at [sister Khloe’s] vagina. I thought it was, like, a shaved rashy vagina.” Ehhh! Sorry, Kim. You’d need a speculum to really see your sister’s vagina. It’s her red, bumpy bikini line that you must be referring to…or if she gets Brazilians, maybe it’s her vulva. That’s the outer part. I really hope it’s not her vagina. (Ooouchhh.) Bottom-line: If you’re not going to call it by it’s correct name, at least use something fun—like “honey pot” or “lady business.”
–Myths or missing info about birth control. This is a huge umbrella under there is one really nasty storm is going on. One golfball-sized piece of hail… The idea that the Withdrawal Method or “pulling out” is hands-down, no questions asked an express ticket to being called Ma-ma. The reality of it is that coitus interruptus is nearly as effective as condoms. That’s good news for many responsible, monogamous couples who trust one another and are in tune with their bodies. Then there is the missing info (and sometimes straight-up lies) about ParaGard, the copper-T, nonhormonal IUD. Some resources won’t mention it to you if you’re young and unmarried. Some dishonest practitioners will shoo you out of their examining room if you tell them you’re interested in using it instead of the Pill. (Really, you ask? Stay tuned. My sister will report on a personal experience in a future post…) The truth is that the IUD can be inserted in younger women who haven’t had a baby, and it is safe, 99% effective, good for up to 10 years and a stellar choice for birth control especially if you’re in a monogamous relationship.
Ok, now it’s your turn. What totally un-sexy trend would you like to blow the whistle on?
Last night, my boyfriend turned to me as we were falling asleep and said, “I think I’m going to pass a stone tonight.” Not your average pillow talk, right? I asked, “How do you know?” He alluded to the fact that not only could he could feel it physically, but he also sensed it—he knew it.
Dan suffers from a condition called Cystinuria, which is marked by an genetic abnormality that causes him to produce too much of an amino acid called cystine. The cystine builds up and forms chronic kidney stones. What we know right now is that one of the best ways to keep the stones at bay is to hydrate like crazy. But given a particularly difficult season of high temperatures and exhaustive outdoor work (he’s a movie electrician), that hasn’t been easy. In turn, stone incidences have become frequent. But as a result of this, Dan has become adept at reading his body’s signals and I think, without really meaning to, more intuitive about his health. And by extension, I think he’s on his way to being a proactive, empowered and self-aware patient.
Until recently, our first line of defense against a health concern was a visit to the doctor, who we hoped would offer us a diagnosis and treatment. Now, we’re all leaning more on WebMD and self-care. Only sometimes, after an Internet-induced hypochondriac rampage, will we (if we’re lucky enough to have health insurance) consult a real MD for a fix. In either case, we’re often leaving out a crucial step: tapping into health intuition. In fact, we can usually get some of the most accurate preliminary info about our problem just by stepping back and tuning into what our body is telling us.
I became familiar with the term health intuition when I wrote a short piece for my job on the subject. I interviewed Karen Grace Kassy, a life and health intuitive who wrote the book Health Intuition: A Simple Guide to Greater Well-Being (Hazelden). She explained how intuition can offer vital clues and serve as a great jumping off point for patients to discuss their concerns with their health practitioners.
So, you want to know why you’re exhausted all of the time or why your head feels like its pounding every day around 11 a.m.? Ask an open-ended question, in your mind or aloud to yourself. Try something like, How can I stop these chronic headaches? Kassy says that the answer can come in many ways—you could visualize it (maybe it’s that they’re actually hunger headaches, so you see an apple) or you could just sense it (a feeling that the answer lies in the kitchen).
She also noted that there are various “hallmarks” of an intuitive message:
– First impressions are usually right.
Go with your gut. When I first started experiencing back problems, I had a feeling that the root cause wasn’t just something superficial—like a pulled muscle from an overambitious yoga workout. When I saw a general practitioner, he shrugged it off as “tweaking something,” and he sent me home with ibuprofen and a worksheet of stretches. Weeks later, an MRI showed that I had a severely herniated disc in my lumbar spine. In a way, I had known the source of my pain was something like that all along.
– It keeps knocking on your door.
Sure, your lethargy could be tied to lack of sleep. Or it could be something else. If you have a recurring thought, like, “Huh, that article I once read in a women’s magazine about hypothyroidism causing tiredness, weight gain and mood swings seemed really spot on” or “I’ve been so stressed and tense while I’m falling asleep,” don’t brush it aside. That nagging little voice in the back of your head is likely your intuition clueing you in to the problem.
– It comes out of the blue.
Even when you’re not consciously seeking a response, intuitive information can suddenly float into your consciousness—for example, in the form of a thought that cautions, All that sugar is making you sick. Or you could have a meaningful dream. “I’ve worked with women who went for mammograms after having a ‘breast dream’ and received a life-saving diagnosis of early breast cancer,” says Kassy.
When honing intuition, it’s also possible—and likely—that you’ll get in your own way. “What can interfere is not being really comfortable with the truth,” says Kassy. “You can choose to block out the truth and not listen to your intuition, because you want something else so badly.” The solution? Make sure you really want to know the answer to your question. Feel at peace with it, even if it isn’t what you want to hear. Stay open-minded.
Think about it: Who knows more about your body and your health than you do? By tapping into that knowledge, we can be empowered to heal whatever ails us. “If intuition works for you, it can have life-enhancing qualities,” says Kassy.
Get this—Albert Einstein agreed. As spiritual as he was scientifically-gifted, the physicist/philosopher found great value in intuition. He once said, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” For the sake of our own well-being, we should all try to remember.
On Friday afternoon/evening, I got swept up in what can only be described as a brilliant, bold, Twitterific takeover of Midtown Manhattan by over 2,000 lady bloggers aka BlogHer ’10. My friend and associate (I edit her magazine column at First for Women), Lissa Rankin was one of the keynote speakers at the Voices of the Year Community Keynote, and she graciously invited me as one of her guests to see the speech and party afterward at the BlogHer Gala.
Although Lissa and I hadn’t discussed any of the details of what she would be presenting in her keynote, I nodded knowingly when she began reading her Op/Ed post, “What? We Can’t Say ‘Vagina‘?” If you don’t recall, this past spring, there was controversy regarding a Kotex tampon commercial that featured the word for the body part that tampons are for. The company had two choices: Give up the “vagina” or bury the spot. In her post, Lissa wisely weighs in and calls out the irony and insanity of our squirminess as a society to verbalize the female genitalia—especially in the Kotex context. The response? She had a blogger-filled ballroom literally standing up to those lame-o TV execs by chorusing, “Vagina! Vagina! Vagina!”
You can check out a video of Lissa reading her post at BlogHer here.
I’m always talking about loving your body. And for the most part, when talking about body confidence, we tend to think of curves, muffin-tops, jiggly thighs and maybe breasts. But what about the part of our body that TV networks would prefer to shroud in secrecy? The part of our body, which as Lissa points out, is where all human life comes from! After Friday night, I started to think … Maybe it’s about time we start cultivating our vagina confidence! We could have a soap company sponsor a “Campaign for Real Vaginies” and Jessica Simpson could have a show on cable called “The Price of Pretty Coochies.” 🙂
But in all seriousness, we need to take more pride in our “private” parts. I know, I know, it all stems from this backasswards Puritanical idea that we perpetuate as Americans that boobies and vulvas are to be bleeped out, covered up, blocked out with black boxes when shown on TV and slapped with an X rating (whereas blood, guts and guns—that’s just PG). And I’m not advocating that we start throwing “bottom-less” parties a la Harold and Kumar. But we should really listen to what Lissa’s saying and work toward being comfortable and confident as women with saying “vagina,” “vulva” or even a euphemism when naming our own normal, perfectly beautiful genitalia. Communication breeds empowerment, and no one else is going to own your health, your sexuality and your well-being like you can. So, let’s do like Lissa and start a vagina confidence revolution. One defiant chant of “Vagina! Vagina! Vagina!” at a time.
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My mom likes to laugh at me sometimes, when I’m freaking out about something. She’ll tell me that I’m driving myself nuts. I don’t know about nuts, but I certainly do drive myself sick. How? I’ll worry…about everything, either situations that have already occurred or that I am convincing myself will occur. Such as, I didn’t call my friend back when I had hoped to; I want to be two places at once in order to visit with family and also go out with friends; I’m convinced I’ll miss a deadline; I fail Weight Watchers by going a week or two without journaling or exercising, etc., etc. In all of these cases, it boils down to a common theme: I’m afraid of letting others down. I am a social perfectionist, or someone who has really high expectations of herself and her success. I put myself under pressure to achieve this success, which some may argue as a good thing (I’m motivated, right?), but I definitely also believe consciously and subconsciously that my family and friends expect SuperDuperAmazingAndNothingLess! achievement from me.
I’m working on this, by first of all, setting realistic goals. But I still end up really stressed. Then, laid up with back pain, stomach pain, headaches (once, an out-of-the-blue migraine that lasted for approx. 12 hours). There’s no doubt in my mind that emotions are inextricably linked to physical ailments. My friend Carey and I talk about falling down the Stress-Sick rabbit hole all the time — she swears by acupuncture and homeopathic cures. I’m not adverse to trying those, but I’m always looking for nutrition/exercise or 10 minute strategies that I can implement easily throughout my day. That may be why I was drawn immediately to a book called So Stressed: The Ultimate Relief Plan for Women by Stephanie McClellan, M.D. and Beth Hamilton, M.D. with Diane Reverand (Free Press, 2010).
Having read it, I can’t recommend it enough to women who wonder why they’re always tired, why they’ve lost their libido, why they can’t lose weight no matter what they do or even to friends who feel fine—but would like to feel better. Because I’m currently stressed—I’ll take the opportunity to open the floor the authors, who in the below video, explain what their book is all about:
Of the four types represented in the book, I identify the most with “Hypo-S,” which McClellan and Hamilton describe as “the most common type of stress response in women.” Hypo-S is calm on the surface but easily reacts to even a small amount of stress. Hypo-S’s stress manifests in aches and pains, PMS, asthma, weight gain, lethargy. The good news is that there are lifestyle management techniques that help.
For instance, I was thrilled to read that the Exercise recommended for a Hypo-S is low-impact, rhythmically paced exercise like walking or a graduated weight resistance program (which boosts endorphins, which lead to an increased sense of well-being). Not that the Stress Docs are excusing me from high-impact aerobic exercise, but they do explain how lower impact activities may come more naturally to me, reduce pain, boost energy and improve mood and memory. Oh yes, the icing: They recommend that Hypo-S types eat a small piece of dark chocolate (70 percent or more cacao) for pain relief! Score!
Besides the free pass on my chocolate fix, I got a slew of Nutrition advice, which makes a lot of sense—like eating low-glycemic foods (to avoid my arch-nemesis, The Blood Sugar Spike-Then-Crash) and being sure to time meals to a tee (to entrain the rhythm of the stress hormone, cortisol). One piece of advice that stood out in particular: Eating a lunch that is packed with protein and complex carbs. We know that’s just healthy eating anyway, but the So Stressed Docs explain why it’s especially crucial for Hypo-S types like me: Steering clear of a lunch that is too carb-heavy hinders 2-3 p.m. konk-outage. (Used to happen to me all the time my junior year of high school. To this day, I’m amazed that Mr. O’Rourke never shoved me away in the middle of our group reading of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.”)
Then, there are “Restoration” techniques for each stress type. As a Hypo-S, I should focus on diaphragmatic breathing, cognitive therapy and aromatherapy (I learned that it’s helpful that I’m already a fan of “parasympathetic activity-boosting” lavender oil).
Overall, So Stressed arms its readers with advice that is tailored, interesting, logical and easy to act on. That’s why I really have to remind myself to refer back to it, as if it’s a genuine prescription. Because taking care of myself in this completely whole way is not just about stress-relief—it’s about avoiding sickness and attaining true vitality. Neither of which are unrealistic goals, if you ask me.
In high school, I was attending a straight-edge, Kumbaya, leadership, “let’s do crafts and talk about our feelings” retreat called Operation Snowball. We did an exercise where some of us were blindfolded and guided by another group member through a maze made of yarn. One by one, others who were blindfolded made their way out of the maze. After what seemed like forever, I was the only one left. I was really frustrated that I couldn’t figure out how to get out of the maze. I remember sighing exasperatedly and throwing up my hands and uttering something along the lines of, “Just help me!” And like magic, I was out of the maze and un-blindfolded. The key to getting out of the maze? Asking for help.
When researchers at Trinity Western University examined the relationship between perfectionism and the risk of death, they found that those with high perfectionism scores had a 51% increased risk of earlier death when compared to volunteers who had low perfectionism scores. The researchers theorize that high levels of anxiety and stress (you know, caused by frustration when things doing turn out as planned or ahem, not asking for help) may contribute to a reduced lifespan.
Now, I’m not of the impression that living longer equals wheelchairs, loneliness, dependence on children and caretakers, etc. Probably because I’ve seen my Grandma E and Papa live quite contentedly into their 90s, I not only aspire to, but I believe that I am capable of living a long and healthy and happy life. But apparently, my chances of doing so will be greatly diminished by not asking for help, stressing out about every stupid slowpoke or overly aggressive tailgater I encounter on Route 4 or overanalyzing the minutiae of every day life.
Sometimes I’m stressed, because I don’t want to let someone else down. Or I don’t want to let myself down. Mostly, I want so badly to succeed at something that I freak out about the possibility of failure. Classic “Straight A Student” Syndrome, right? I also attribute my propensity for doing these things to my genes, my personality, my astrology (yes, laugh all you want, but in many ways I am a crazy worrisome, type-A Virgo), and it’s certainly environmental. Simply living anywhere adjacent to Manhattan is very stressful. But, this whole picture just means more than ever that I have no choice but to de-stress (with yoga, reading, walking leisurely in the park with Dan) and make a conscious effort to prevent perfectionism from taking over. Let me tell you, it is not easy.
Illustrated example. Last week, at the Lady Gaga concert, when little monsters were blocking my view and spilling beer on me, I could have made a greater effort to be less of an agitated control freak. I probably should have done some deep breathing during “Speechless” (I did take the ballad as an opportunity to sway), loosened up, let it go altogether, and I wouldn’t have pissed off Emmie so much. Don’t get me wrong, we still had an awesome time. But the fact is, I’m easily stressed out. I’m a work in progress. Aren’t we all?
Making it easier is the fact that it’s summer. And it’s Friday. That means two whole chill days to look forward to, filled with carefree time. I’m going to do my best—OK, maybe it doesn’t have to be my ultimate best!—to make the most of it. How about you?
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