Well Woman Care
Improving Your Mental Health
Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) identified eight key health issues for women. Among them were well-known concerns such as heart disease, breast cancer, uterine and cervical cancer, gynecological health and pregnancy issues, but also on the list were anxiety and depression. Natural hormonal fluctuations can make women more vulnerable to these conditions. The mood swings of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) are fairly common and affect many women; there are also women who experience a more intense version of that condition called premenstrual dysmorphic disorder (PMDD). After pregnancy, it is not uncommon for women to have the “baby blues,” and unfortunately, some women may find themselves suffering from the more severe post-natal depression. As women age and enter perimenopause, possible issues with depression can rise again.
If you find yourself dealing with chronic, severe anxiety or intense sadness, then you should consult with your healthcare provider and seek treatment, as these conditions tend to only get worse. However, even if your bouts of feeling down or overly stressed come and go, it’s still wise to pay attention to your mental health. Taking care of one’s mind is as important as taking care of one’s body.
The following tips can help you improve your mental health and feel better overall.
* Eat a Healthy Diet
Following a diet with an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein, as well as nuts, is not only good for your physical health, it can help you maintain better cognitive health as well. Similarly, foods high in sugar, caffeine, artificial ingredients and processed foods can impact your mental health and make you feel dull, sluggish and more inclined to negativity. Having foods high in caffeine or sugar in the evening can also wreak havoc with getting a good night’s sleep, which can also affect your mental health.
* Avoid High Alcohol Consumption
It has been well documented that consuming large quantities of alcohol can lead to anxiety and depression. A cocktail now and then can be relaxing, but drinking heavily on a daily basis may put you at risk for mental health issues down the road.
* Don’t Do Drugs
Drug abuse is also associated with depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders. Sometimes, the mental illness is already present and leads to the drug use, but in other cases, it is the substance abuse itself that causes problems with the brain. Nothing is worth endangering your mental health, so avoid taking drugs. If you are an addict, get help. It’s never too late to get on the path to recovery.
People who abuse substances of any kind, including alcohol, may become social outcasts, usually due to their behavior when under the influence. This creates a vicious circle as the more isolated and alone they feel, the more it feeds their need to escape by taking drugs or getting drunk.
* Exercise Every Day
Exercise not only helps keep your body healthy, it also sends a healthy rush of “feel good” chemicals to the brain. Called endorphins, these chemicals create what’s often called the “runner’s high” but any type of exercise will achieve the same results. Exercise is a great way to burn off stress and let the mind rest. It will also help you sleep better, which is important. Next time you feel depressed, tense or upset, instead of reaching for a sugary snack or a cocktail, hit the gym or head outside.
* Spend Time Outside
Most people enjoy being outside on a lovely day, but scientists are now finding that spending time outside provides real health benefits. Looking at greenery and flowers, watching birds, breathing in fresh air, feeling the sun on your skin, all of these sensory experiences help the body relax and rejuvenate. We also know that exposure to sunlight improves mood and can help treat seasonal depression. Try to be out in the sunlight at least a half hour every day. If this is not possible, you can purchase special bright light visors on the Internet to use at your home or office.
* Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Recent studies have indicated that sleep problems can affect our mental health. In fact, some reports state that getting less than five hours of sleep per night may put you at higher risk for mental illness. Sleep is the body’s restorative time, so make getting a good night’s rest a priority. Try to encourage a regular sleep pattern by going to bed and getting up at the same time. Keep work items out of the bedroom and reduce your screen time well before bedtime–this includes TVs, phones, tablets, and computers. Their screens stimulate the brain and can make it hard to unwind. If you must look at computer or TV screens in bed, scientists have discovered that orange-tinted sunglasses screen out the wavelengths of light that keep us awake, so trying these may be worthwhile. Still, it is best to unwind from work and the stimulation of TV if you can. Having a cool, dark, quiet bedroom will also foster sleep.
* Find Ways to Cope with Stress
We can’t avoid stress–it’s part of life, but we can find ways to manage it effectively. Exercise is one way; so is taking up known stress-busters such as yoga, tai chi or meditation. It’s also important to make time for you during the day. Try to set aside 30 minutes or so to relax, take a walk, read a book, or do whatever gives you some calm and joy.
* Help Others
Often, when times are tough, the best thing you can do is to help someone else. Giving to others, especially those less fortunate, makes us feel good about ourselves and takes our mind off of our own troubles. Finding a worthy organization to volunteer with can help give you peace of mind.
* Build Real Relationships
Making time for friendships is very important. Today, many people lead hectic lives and this can make it difficult to make or sustain friendships. However, it is key that we make time for friends and family. Staying connected does not require elaborate or lengthy outings. Meeting for coffee, for a walk or lunch is fine. Communicating by social media or email is not the same–it’s important to have personal contact. Hearing someone’s voice, getting a hug and seeing them face to face provides that meaningful connection that sustains us.
When we feel stressed, troubled, worried or afraid, it’s important that we communicate our feelings with friends or family. Keeping emotions bottled up is never healthy. Neither should you assume that someone will magically figure out what’s bothering you–you need to communicate. People who care about you can offer comfort, advice and support that can help in difficult times. Often, just knowing that there is someone you can talk with can help you feel better. And, if the sadness and anxiety persist, get professional help—it’s only a phone call away.
For more information about Partners for Women’s Health, call (603) 778-0557.
Get Your Flu Shot
Over the years, some women have expressed concern about whether to get a flu shot or not when they are pregnant. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), getting a flu shot while you are pregnant is not only safe, it is one of the best things you can do.
* Influenza is a serious illness, and can cause significant problems when you are pregnant. Even normally healthy women can develop complications if they contract the flu while pregnant. The reason is because pregnancy itself causes changes in a woman’s heart, lung and immune system functions. According to the CDC, pregnant women who get the flu are at a higher risk of hospitalization and even death, than non-pregnant women. Severe illness in the mother can be dangerous to the baby because it increases the chance of premature labor and delivery.
* Getting a flu shot protects both you and your unborn baby.
When you get your flu shot, your body starts to make antibodies that help protect you against the flu. These antibodies are passed on to your unborn baby and help protect the baby for up to six months after he or she is born. This is important because vaccines do not work in babies younger than six months. In fact, babies younger than six months cannot get the flu vaccine because they will not develop a sufficient immune response.
If your child is already born, and you breastfeed your infant, your antibodies from your flu shot may be passed on to your child in your breast milk.
It takes about two weeks for your body to make antibodies after getting the flu vaccine.
* The flu vaccine comes in two forms–the injectable form or flu shot, and a nasal spray or LAIV vaccine. The LAIV vaccine is NOT recommended for pregnant women. Pregnant women should receive the flu shot.
* The nasal spray is for use in healthy people ages 2 to 49 who are NOT pregnant.
* Women who are not pregnant, but are breastfeeding, may receive either the flu shot or the nasal vaccine.
* You can receive the flu shot at any time, during any trimester, while you are pregnant. Millions of flu shots have been given to women over the years. Flu shots have not been shown to cause harm to pregnant women or their infants.
* If you have your baby before getting your shot, you still need to be vaccinated. The flu is spread from person to person. If you get the flu, you can pass it to your child. Anyone in the household who comes in contact with your baby should be vaccinated.
* The side effects of the flu vaccine are typically mild. The most common are tenderness, soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site. Some people also experience headaches, muscle aches, fever, nausea or fatigue after getting the shot. This usually passes in a day or two.
* If you have symptoms of the flu, even if you have already had a shot, call your doctor immediately. Doctors can prescribe medications to treat the flu and reduce the chance of serious illness. These medications should be started as soon as possible. If you have any or all of these symptoms call your doctor:
* Sore Throat
* Body aches
* Runny or stuffy nose
If you have any of the following symptoms, call 911 or seek emergency medical care right away:
* Problems breathing or shortness of breath
* Pain or pressure on the chest or abdomen
* Sudden dizziness or confusion
* Severe or constant vomiting
* Decreased or no movement of your baby
* High fever that is not responding to Tylenol or another acetaminophen
If you have further questions about the flu or flu vaccine, talk to your doctor. You may also get additional information at 1-800-CDC-INFO or by visiting www.flu.gov.
Portions of this information were provided by the Centers for Disease Control.
For more information about Partners for Women’s Health, call (603) 778-0557.