Contributor: Dr. Staci-Marie Norman, PharmD, DCES
Let's talk about STRESS! I'm sure we've all had some form of stressor in our lives, especially during the past few years. As women, stress can sometimes feel like a constant issue. We have jobs, spouses, kids, and aging parents, which is the tip of the iceberg for many of us. Each of these parts of our lives, although providing joys, comes with its own dose of stress, and stress can be hard on our bodies. Did you know that stress can raise your heart rate, elevate your blood pressure, cause muscular contractions that lead to stiff necks, aching backs and shoulders, or trigger migraines? Stress can also increase your blood glucose levels because it pumps extra hormones, such as cortisol, into our system. All of this can lead to a greater risk of hypertension, chronic pain, diabetes management challenges, and chronic migraines. That extra cortisol can inhibit weight loss and promote weight gain; talk about another stress!
So why am I focusing on stress? This month we are discussing all aspects of women’s health, and I have seen more and more within my practice that stress affects women at a very high rate. I was listening to a radio program this past week that said ninety-two percent of the caregiving, either child or eldercare, is done by women in the United States. And over the past two years this has led to increased reports of anxiety and depression due to the stress of caring for children at home while working from home. And in some cases, also caring for elderly parents - either within the home or who live independently but need help with shopping, doctor visits, and socializing. I listen to women every day at the pharmacy trying to keep all the balls of their lives up in the air and feeling like they are just hanging on. This is a problem and one that we need to fix for ourselves!
There are many ways to reduce stress, and believe it or not, most are free.
- Eat healthy foods - Do you know how it seems that we talk about a healthy diet and exercise when talking about our health? You've got it. A balanced diet can help you feel better and combat the potential of weight gain due to extra cortisol levels caused by stress. It will also help keep blood glucose levels within goal, significantly eliminating stress.
- Move your body - Exercise is also a great stress reducer. Not only will it help your blood glucose and blood pressure, but it stimulates the release of endorphins. These hormones cause the "runner's high" and can help bring about a sense of calm and relaxation, and you don't have to run to produce this effect! Taking your dog for a walk or going on a brisk walk with your spouse after dinner is enough to get endorphins pumping. Take it up a notch with some more strenuous exercise, and those endorphins will really be flowing.
- Take a deep breathing break - Maybe you are at work and can't sneak away for a quick walk? Take a minute or two, close your eyes, and take ten deep breaths. Inhale over 10 seconds and then exhale over 10 seconds. Repeat at least ten times, and I promise you will feel an immediate sense of calm. Maybe not all the way to stress-free, but enough to help you get through the task at hand. This deep breathing is a simple form of meditation.
- Practice meditation - Meditation can be beneficial in dealing with stress. You just need a quiet place and a few minutes to yourself to breathe deep, pray, journal, sit and look at nature, practice yoga, or just zone out. All of these activities can help to calm your mind and relieve stress.
- Get enough sleep - I know it might seem like a glass, or two, of wine or beer, can help calm your nerves and decrease your stress level, but it can lead to poor sleep and cause swings in your blood glucose levels. Sleep is also essential in decreasing stress. We need approximately eight hours of sleep each night to function optimally. With less sleep, we can see increased levels of that big, bad hormone cortisol! It is also harder to manage any stress that the day throws your way if you aren't getting sleep.
- Treat yourself to some pampering - If you have the time, and extra cash, think about going for a massage. That is 30, 60, or 90 minutes that all you must do is relax and be pampered. Or how about a manicure or pedicure? I must admit this is my vice. Twice a month, I have one hour all to myself to sit in one place and be quiet. The manicure even comes with a lovely hand and arm massage. How could you ask for more!
These are all great ways to help tame stress, but if life is becoming overwhelming, please do not hesitate to reach out to a loved one or your doctor for help. There are many medications that can help with anxiety and depression. There is nothing wrong with asking for and receiving help for your mental health! You have a very important job as a woman, and every Wonder Woman reading this article needs to know that you have a team out there supporting you through the goods and bads of life.
Dr. Staci-Marie Norman, PharmD, DCES received her bachelors from Purdue University (’94) and her Doctor of Pharmacy from the University of Oklahoma (’96). In 2000 Dr. Norman added to her credentials by becoming a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist. She is currently the Clinical Coordinator and staff pharmacist for Martin’s Pharmacy. Dr. Norman is a national faculty member for the American Pharmacist Association, teaching certificate programs in both diabetes and cardiovascular disease. She serves on the advisory board that oversees development and revision of these programs. Along with teaching and development responsibilities for APhA, Dr. Norman serves as a peer reviewer for research grants and publication submission. Dr. Norman has also spoken for Abbott, Bayer, Lilly, Mannkind, and Lifescan as a diabetes specialist.