Well Women Care
As we come into the holiday season, many people start to feel not so much excited, but stressed. Fun as the holidays are, they can also be overwhelming with cooking, cleaning, hosting, shopping, and other activities added to the normal to-do lists. Women often bear the brunt of holiday chores and the extra stress (combined with exhaustion) can have a real impact on your health. There are a number of ways to successfully cope with holiday stress, but one important tool is learning calming breathing techniques. Knowing how to use restorative breathing can help you feel less stressed, more energized, and enable you to get a better night’s sleep (which in turn helps your physical and mental health). These techniques can aid you year-round whenever life seems overwhelming.
Learning How to Breathe
There are a number of ways you can learn useful breathing techniques. Taking a yoga or tai chi class will introduce you to helpful breathing as well as all the other benefits of these two disciplines. Classes in meditation or other holistic health practices will also talk about breathing. However, you can also learn, and start applying, some basic principles without signing up for a class. Here are some basic steps:
- Breathe from your belly. Most of us breathe shallowly much of the time. If you focus on where you are taking in air, you are likely to see only your chest rise and fall, or maybe your chest and your stomach. True deep breathing involves engaging your full diaphragm, which means taking slow, deep breaths from your belly. Place your hands on your belly and make sure you feel it rise and fall as you breathe.
- When doing this kind of breathing, it is important that you breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. (Some practices will have you breathe in and out through your nose only, but you can start by breathing out through your mouth, then phase in the nasal exhale.)
- Breathe slowly–slowly in, and slowly out. Think about your body taking in air and then letting it go.
- If possible, lie on the floor or on your bed. Have your knees up but relaxed. Keep your feet flat n on the floor or flat on your bed. Have your hands at your side, or place them on your belly. Make sure the room is quiet. Close your eyes. Breathe in and out.
- You need not do lots of repetitions (you don’t want to hyperventilate). Anywhere from five to 10 is plenty.
- When breathing, you can focus on just your breathing, or a peaceful scene or word, or just let your mind go blank–whatever is most restful to you.
- Try starting and ending your day with a deep breathing session; if possible, add one in at lunch as well. (If you don’t have a private office at work, try retreating to the bathroom or sitting outside for a few minutes to practice your breathing. You need not lie down–you can do deep breathing from a sitting position as well.)
- Deep breathing can help you throughout the day as well. As just noted, you need not lie down to get the benefits. Even a short session of two or three deep breathes can help restore calm. These sessions can successfully be done sitting or standing–just give yourself a minute to focus on your breathing and let your mind rest. If things seem stressful at work, or you are stuck in traffic, indulge in your breathing. Longer sessions are a great way to start the day and close the day, but employing this technique for shorter periods as needed can greatly help you stay calmer as you face the day’s challenges.
Why Deep Breathing Works
Deep breathing provides a number of proven health benefits.
- Deep breathing in the morning helps our body wake up and get energized, as well as start the day with a calmer outlook. Some people do a few deep breaths before getting out of bed.
- It takes the mind and body away from the “fight or flight” response associated with stress.
- It relaxes the muscles and helps reduce aches and pains; it can also help prevent muscles from clenching. Too often, we are hunched at our desks, shoulders tight, back tight, neck tight as we race to meet deadlines or deal with issues. A few short sessions of deep breathing helps undo this tightness. Combine deep breathing with some simple stretches–shoulder rolls, standing and reaching for the sky, neck rolls–for even greater benefits.
- Deep breathing before bed helps the body relax and prepare for sleep. A good night’s sleep provides numerous health benefits as it is the body’s restorative time. Sleeping well not only gives you energy for the next day, it also boosts your immune system so you are better able to fight off germs.
- Deep breathing releases endorphins, the “feel good” hormones, and so helps put us in a better mood. When you exercise, you breathe more deeply, as well. However, if you cannot get to the gym or out for a run, or are in a stressful situation, a few deep breathes can provide some of the same benefits.
- Deep breathing can also help reduce pain. If you feel a tension headache coming on, try a session of deep breathing. This can often keep headaches at bay, or at least reduce the severity.
- Deep breathing boosts energy. Often, while we are working–especially if at a desk job–we are breathing in a shallow manner. As the day wears on, we become tired, not because of the physical effort, but because we literally are not taking in enough oxygen. Getting up and exercising, or engaging in a breathing session can help boost energy. Turning to these strategies, rather than more food or caffeine, is a healthier option. Dehydration can also make us feel fatigued, so make sure you drink plenty of water through the day.
Enjoy the holiday season, and when things get crazy, remember–just breathe!
For more information about Partners for Women’s Health, call (603) 778-0557.
Alcohol and Pregnancy: What You Should Know
During the holidays, alcohol flows freely at parties and dinners. It can be very tempting to want to join in, and it can be easy to tell yourself that just a glass or two won’t hurt. However, if you are pregnant, or think you might be, then abstinence is the best course of action.
Everything you eat, drink or smoke affects your baby. If you are pregnant, alcohol quickly reaches your baby through your bloodstream. The same level of alcohol that goes through your bloodstream, goes through to your unborn child.
Alcohol is found in beer, wine, wine coolers, and liquor containing alcohol (all hard liquor). There is sometimes a misconception that wine or beer won’t hurt an unborn baby, that it is only hard liquor that should be avoided, but that is not true. Any alcohol can adversely affect your unborn child.
Women who drink heavily while pregnant have a higher risk of miscarriage than women who don’t drink. The more a woman drinks while pregnant, the greater the danger to the baby. The risk is greatest during early pregnancy.
Heavy alcohol use may also cause fetal alcohol syndrome. This is the most common cause of mental retardation in babies. Babies can be shorter, underweight, have heart and facial defects, and have poor control over body movements. Hyperactivity can also occur. Children suffering from hyperactivity are nervous, jittery, and have a poor attention span.
The mother is also at risk from heavy indulgence in alcohol. Some of the harmful effects for women are:
- Vitamin and mineral deficiency
- Damage to the heart, brain, liver, muscles, and digestive system
- Poor muscle control
- Higher risk of some cancers
Some women may think a glass of wine now and then is okay, as long as they don’t overindulge. But is it? The answer is that no one knows what amount of alcohol is safe. A glass of wine that may have no affect on a full-grown adult can have quite an impact on a developing fetus. Since no one knows what amount of alcohol (if any) is okay, the safest course for a mother and her unborn child is not to drink alcohol period. Avoiding alcohol during this time will increase your chances of having a healthy, normal, baby.
Celebrate this holiday season, and your pregnancy, with a beverage that is safe for you and your baby.
For more information about Partners for Women’s Health, call (603) 778-0557.