If you’re a mom, you’ve got stress. I know. It’s a stressful season of life. But...does that mean there’s nothing you can do about it? Do you just lie there and take it?
Many patients tell me they’re stressed. When I ask them what they’re doing to cope, people often shrug. Or look at me blankly. What can I do? they ask, rhetorically. I’m juggling so many things, my days are a crammed mess...but there’s nothing I can do about it.
Okay, granted. Sometimes you can’t change your circumstances. You’re not about to sell your children. Or move to Bora-Bora. But here’s what you can change: the way you cope with stress.
The trouble is, it’s easy to go through your day without doing a single thing to help your stress. Unlike food—where you’re forced to make decisions (good or bad) every day because you have to eat—you don’t have to practice stress management.
What you need is a strategy. And that starts with recognizing you don’t just have to suffer. There are ways to build “stress hardiness” or “stress resilience.” So you can roll with those punches when they’re coming at you.
Once you realize that, the next step is to take a look at your lifestyle and your preferences. There are loads of stress management strategies to choose from. Tailor an approach just for you by selecting the tactics that speak to you, and fit with your lifestyle.
So...here’s a sampling of those stress management techniques:
Abdominal breathing exercises are easy and have been shown in several studies to reduce anxiety, panic attacks, depression, headaches, and fatigue. Instead of using shallow “chest breathing”, use your diaphragm to fill your lungs more deeply. To learn it: put one hand on your stomach, the other on your chest. Breathe in through your nose and allow your abdomen to push out. Exhale fully, allowing your abdomen to retract. Rinse and repeat.
Many of us have vitamin D deficiency, without having any idea. (Count me as one of those!) We’re learning more and more about vitamin D, and its key role in preventing many chronic diseases. One of those is depression. Take it from Dr. Andrew Weil, who says: vitamin D deficiency correlates with suboptimal mood and brain function. Consider getting tested, and taking supplements if necessary.
To benefit from meditation, you don’t have to buy into the whole spirituality aspect of it, if that’s a turnoff for you. And you don’t have to devote a huge amount of time, either. But the benefits can be huge-ola.
Studies show that people with anxiety may be deficient in the omega-3 department. Replacing this insufficiency can improve symptoms of stress and anxiety. Fill your plate with fish like salmon and mackerel. Eat walnuts and omega-3 fortified eggs. Or take supplements.
Whether it’s yoga or whether it’s something else, getting moving on a regular basis has been well-documented to help with stress. Plus there are heaps of other benefits, too—not the least of which is a healthier heart, and the supremely mood-boosting effect of a trimmer silhouette! No time to exercise? Read this.
Research has shown that a component of green tea, L-theanine, increases serotonin, dopamine, and GABA levels in the brain—changes that are associated with increased relaxation.
Find your inner cheerful self. You can learn to be more optimistic. And the fact is, research has shown that optimists are healthier, and live longer. They certainly can weather through stress easier than pessimists. How do you find your inner optimist? Here.
It’s hard to cope with stress when you’re sleep deprived and exhausted. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule is a great way to boost your resilience to stress. But...when you’ve got lots on your mind, sleep is often the first thing to go. Catch-22 much? If sleep isn’t coming easily, read this.
This one, for some reason, doesn’t get a lot of attention...but there’s good research to back it up, and it’s one of my key stress management strategies, personally. Studies show that music therapy lowers serum cortisol, heart rate, blood pressure, and perceived stress level. If music can alleviate the stress of parents waiting in a pediatric emergency department (as shown in one study), it can certainly help you in your day-to-day.
Beyond the specifics of vitamin D, omega-3, and the like, you need to take a generally healthy approach to nutrition. Eating regular meals, for one thing. Skipping meals is a sin easily committed, especially when you're busy and stressed. But starving yourself, even for a few hours, is its own stress on your system. Don’t be your worst enemy. Fuel your body so you can deal with the challenges of your day.
Aromatherapy, especially lavender, has been demonstrated to improve anxiety in a variety of stressful settings, like a dentist’s waiting room, and after working a night shift. Lavender aromatherapy has the potential to reduce serum cortisol—an important stress hormone.
This is not chanting mantras & affirmations. This is more about recognizing that negative inner voice that is simply not helping you cope, and replacing that voice with one much more positive. How? Here.
Most of us don’t get quite enough magnesium in our diets. What’s more, stress causes our bodies to eliminate extra magnesium, through urine or sweat. And having low levels of magnesium can cause all manner of symptoms: anxiety, fatigue, irritability, insomnia, headaches, muscle cramps or twitches, constipation...to name a few. You can increase your magnesium intake through food, or supplements. Read about both approaches here.
Okay, so the take-home message: eating fish and doing yoga isn’t going to make your problems go away. But if it helps you cope easier and feel better...in my book that makes all the difference in the world, to your health, happiness, and sense of well-being.
So you got sick. It happens to the best of us.
Fact is, kids typically catch 6-10 colds per year. And while they may not share every virus with you, there's a good chance you'll partake in some of those sniffles.
But don’t despair—if you’ve picked up a cold or the flu, there are lots of things you can do (and lots you can do to help those sneezing kids of yours, too).
Start taking zinc.
There’s good evidence that zinc lozenges can shorten the severity and duration of the common cold—in grownups and kids. For the biggest benefit, start zinc within the first 24 hours of symptom onset (when viruses are replicating like crazy). Those first inklings of a sore throat? Get sucking.
Breathing in nice, steamy air is soothing, which is important. But steam also works to clear your sinuses by thinning nasal secretions and encouraging drainage. Simplest way to harness the power of steam? A nice hot shower. Other ways: a vaporizer or humidifier. Or, cradling a nice hot cup of tea.
Cook up some soup.
Yes, Mom was right. A number of studies have shown benefit to the time-honoured remedy of chicken soup. It appears to help clear clogged nasal passages, and to slow down the inflammatory response brought on by cold viruses. Plus, there’s the inhaled steam factor (see #2, above), and the benefit of drinking fluids. And, of course, the comfort thing. I like chicken soup for colds, but to be honest, my go-to soup when I’m sick is actually Chinese Hot and Sour soup. Sadly, there’s nothing scientific about it. Not yet, anyway.
Salt water, or saline, does wonders to soothe a sore throat. Why does this work? Salt solution draws excess fluid from inflamed throat tissues, easing the pain. Dissolve half a teaspoon of table salt in a glass of warm water. Gargle gently and spit. Repeat frequently.
The typical reaction when I advise “plenty of rest” is exasperation. Who’s got the time for that? And I know, I know. But dammit, I’m not giving up my crusade to get people to slow down and rest when they’re sick. Here's the story: it takes an awful lot of energy for your immune system to successfully fight an infection. Let your body do its thing, because the truth is, a small investment of downtime means a quicker recovery. Keep slogging on, and you’ll only get sicker and then you’re really in trouble.
Try a Neti Pot.
The very idea of this Ayurvedic treatment makes some people shudder: and granted, it doesn’t sound all that pleasant, flushing your nose and sinuses out with something that looks a little like a gravy boat, a little like a teapot. But many people swear by it (especially since Oprah featured it on her show). It certainly can work to clear out all those thickened, nasty secretions. If you’re not wild about a full-on neti pot, try saline drops or saline nose spray. For kids, saline drops and a suction bulb can be very helpful. Convincing them of that, of course, is another challenge.
It’s an age-old balm for colds and the flu. Drinking plenty of fluids like water, juice, tea, and clear soup broth will help thin mucus and loosen congestion. It also helps counteract dehydration caused by fever and respiratory tract evaporation.
Rub on some Vicks.
Score another one for mom. Vicks Vapo-Rub was not considered to have any bona-fide benefit...until a study came out recently showing that children treated with Vapor Rub (Vaseline containing camphor, eucalyptus, and menthol) had more nighttime relief from cough and congestion, and better sleep, than did kids treated with a placebo ointment or no treatment at all.
Take Vitamin C.
Vitamin C is a good old standby. And there’s scientific evidence to support its ability to shorten the severity and duration of colds. Plus, if you get your vitamin C in the form of citrus fruits or orange juice, you’re also doing your body the double service of bumping up your fluid intake.
It’s hard for me to talk about natural remedies for colds and the flu without touching on Echinacea. What’s the deal, here: effective? Or snake oil? I hate to say it, but the jury is still out on Echinacea. Some studies have shown benefit, some studies have failed to do so. But there doesn’t appear to be any major harm. My opinion? It’s probably worth a try. But it wouldn’t be the only thing I do to treat a cold.
Let your fever go to work.
Fever occurs for a reason, and it's a sign of a healthy immune system going to battle. Of course, what makes viruses uncomfortable also happens to make us uncomfortable, thus the urge to lower a fever with medication. And a high fever deserves to be treated. But, if your fever is low-grade, and is tolerable...consider leaving it alone, and letting it do its thing.
Take honey to bed.
In a recent study, children over the age of 2 who were given two teaspoons of honey at bedtime had reduced nighttime coughing and improved sleep. Two excellent outcomes in my book. Never give honey to a child younger than age 1 (due to the risk of infant botulism), but for older kids it’s worth a go. If you’re a grown up, take your honey in the form of a hot toddy. The recipe (from my own mother, who grew up in Wales—where they know a thing or two about rain and colds and tucking into bed with a nice hot drink): whisky, honey, lemon juice, and boiling water.
I'm all about preventive medicine. Here's my list of 12 tips to keep your family healthy during cold and flu season.
Who doesn’t like the idea of a nice, long, healthy life?
To that end, I scoured the research recently and plucked out a few lifestyle changes that have been shown to boost longevity. And some of them, you’ll be happy to hear, are pretty easy to take on.
Add a mere 15 minutes of exercise to your day, every day, and add 3 years to your life. So says a study published in The Lancet a few months ago. 15 minutes is so do-able, such a minimum amount, I think most of us can squeeze this in. Not convinced? Here are some ideas.
A study published last summer in the British Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that once you're over the age of 25, every hour of TV you watch reduces your life expectancy by 22 minutes. Personally, I'm not hugely surprised by this one. Not only do I swear I can feel my neurons dying while I'm watching TV, I know that by sitting there I'm not really doing anything useful for my health or my body. Plus there’s that other association, between TV viewing and, um, Cheetos.
(Is tv your go-to relaxation strategy, your main de-stresser? Try this instead.)
I’m doing a talk on “The Connection Between Health & Happiness” in a few weeks so I’ve been reading a lot about this one lately. And the research is impressive. Happy people live longer, have healthier hearts, recover from surgery faster, and many other health goodies.
But...easier said than done? The good news: there are very specific, well-studied ways to improve your happiness levels. Take gratitude, for example. Simply take a few minutes on a regular basis to jot down 3 things you’re thankful for (and they can be little things, like: daffodils sprouting in the garden...Gingerbread Lattes are back at Starbucks...having a good hair day...). This brief intervention has been shown to big-time increase your happiness, and as a consequence, your health.
Now, all this talk of happiness leads me to my last recommendation for today....
I’m not kidding. A study in The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health showed that people over 65 who shopped every day had a 27% lower risk of death than the least frequent shoppers. I wrote all about this concept right here. There are many theories on why this one is beneficial—the socializing, the exercise, taking care of needs like getting prescription medication and buying fresh, healthy food. Whatever the reason, I like it. You?