All Articles Tagged "stress"

The Health Benefits Of Taking A Bath And 5 Products You Need For A Good Soak

August 10th, 2016 - By Victoria Uwumarogie
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When you’re just trying to hurry up and get clean, as many of us are often trying to do with our busy schedules, hopping in and out of the shower is the way to go. But every now and then it pays to slow down, take the time and relax in the tub.

Had a tough workout or worked your muscles in ways you didn’t foresee before choosing to be active during the day? Time in the tub can help with that.

Have a hard time getting to bed and need more than a glass of milk or some ZzzQuil? That’s right, the tub can aid you in obtaining a good night’s rest.

Irritated with the way things went at work and need to decompress? Run yourself some water and get to soaking.

Caught a cold unexpectedly and need help clearing your nasal passage? Let the steam of a good bath clear things out.

There are countless benefits to finding time for a bath occasionally, including boosted brain power, improved gastrointestinal health and cleansing of the skin. But to make it a must in your weekly schedule, you need more than a tub and hot water. Check out five products that will make your bath all the more fabulous instead of a sad scene out of a Rihanna video that leaves you with shriveled digits.

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Nubian Heritage Patchouli & Buriti Bath Bombs – $14.99

Filled with patchouli essential oil, Nubian Heritage’s new bath bombs are great for calming down the senses while stimulating them at the same time. Also mixed with Buriti oil, which is high in beta-carotene, vitamin E and C, the bombs can also help with collagen production and hydrate your skin. Drop them in the water and watch them fizz to perfection. The toning and uplifting accompanying body souffle ($11.99) is also a rich product that smells amazing while polishing up the skin.

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Shea Moisture Lavender Joint & Muscle Relief Soak – $12.99

After a day full of the rough and tumble, your muscles and joints may have an attitude with you. Soothe, hydrate and heal them with this amazing soak. The scent will relax you and the mineral-rich Dead Sea salts will give you the relief and spa experience at home — for much less.

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Lush’s Milky Bath – $7.95

It may look a little crazy (it’s supposed to resemble a milk bottle), but it’s quite relaxing. For those looking for something they can actually have soak into their skin, this milky bath soap is a blend of cocoa butter, skimmed milk and olive oil. It’s sure to make your skin feel like butter while soothing you with a bevy of bubbles and a lovely orange scent.

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Burt’s Bees Cranberry & Pomegranate Sugar Scrub – $13

Speaking of products that can really soak into the skin, there’s nothing like a good scrub to help even out your rough edges and polish your surface. Leave your body glowing with this particular sugar scrub, which smells delicious thanks to pomegranate oil, cranberry seeds and Shea butter.

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L’Occitane Almond Smoothing and Beautifying Supple Skin Oil – $46

Down to splurge every now and then? Invest in almond oil. L’Occitane’s Almond Smoothing and Beautifying Supple Skin Oil is the perfect product for moisturizing the skin after soaking in water. It absorbs in no time and is rich thanks to almond oil, omega-3 and 6 and camelina oil.

How Moms Can Deal With Debilitating Stress

August 3rd, 2016 - By Erickka Sy Savane
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It’s 4:37 a.m. on a Saturday morning and you’re sitting on the toilet, trying to pee. It’s your third attempt in 60 minutes and try as you might, nothing’s coming out. Your bladder feels tight like a balloon filled with water, but somehow your body’s not getting the memo because it just won’t release. Jumping jacks, dancing, nothing has worked so far. Panic is setting in. What if I can’t pee? you ask yourself for the gazillonth time.

Two hours later, you’re lying down on a bed in the emergency room at the hospital. “Your bladder is full,” says the doctor, “This is the only way we can help you pee.” He inserts a catheter into your vagina and your body drifts off into euphoria. Finally. By evening you’re home and peeing has resumed to normal.

Five days later, you’re back at the hospital. This time, peeing doesn’t resume and this catheter becomes your constant companion for the next week. Ever go to the park with your kid with a catheter strapped to your leg? You see specialists, but no one can help. Apparently, it’s one of those fluke things that can happen like running into an elephant on the highway. At one point, you decide to find your own answer and it becomes crystal clear. The problem is stress.

Stress?

Yes, debilitating stress.

Your mom, love her with all your heart, knows stress like she knows her own name. Growing up, there were times when she couldn’t breathe. Times when she, a single mom, was taking care of you and your brother, and going to school full time, walking 45 minutes there and back each day, once in the morning and back again at night. At one point, soars started forming on her scalp, and thick liquid would ooze down her neck. Doctors tried to help, giving her ointments and shampoos, but nothing worked. Finally, it became clear to her too. Stress was eating her alive.

In your case, the answer didn’t come until you did something that should have been done a long time ago, and that was move. Move your body, as in exercise, because the truth is you’d stopped exercising after your second child. The second was move location. You were living in a city that you despised like cockroaches scrambling on a counter when you turn on the light. Everyday was a constant reminder of how much you hated your life. It’s no wonder your body turned on you. How could it function under such circumstances? Once you moved to a city you liked peeing became as natural as water flowing down a stream. Does water ever have an issue flowing down a stream? For your mom, relief came when she decided to settle down, and that meant literally reminding herself to breathe.

So knowing that stress can be ruthless in its ability to cripple us, what are some things we can do to combat it?

You pose the question to Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Isaiah B. Pickens, and he says that first it’s important to notice signs that indicate that we are becoming stressed. “If activities and people that you used to enjoy irritate or anger you, this is a sign of both stress and possibly depression. Constantly feeling a cloud over your head (or in your head) that makes you say more often than not, “I don’t feel like myself,” is usually a sign that stress is becoming overwhelming.” He further adds that the stigma around mental health issues and the push to create super-moms can make many reluctant to admit these difficulties.

When it comes to doing something about it, he advises practicing daily check-ins. “Sometimes our days can move so quickly taking care of children and dealing with our work/home related duties, that we forget to do an inventory for what is stressing us out and how much it is stressing us out. Taking a moment in the morning to meditate or pray, journaling in the evening, or simply having quiets breaks during the day can go a long way to increase our awareness of stressors.”

It’s true because another factor that helped kick your stalled bladder in motion was that you started writing again. Before that, five years went by and you could barely write your name. Perhaps stress is just another name for mess; the messier, the stressier. But somehow knowing that you were able to pull yourself out of it gives you hope. Especially, even now when it starts creeping up on you masked as excess weight or even pimples that make you look like you’re going through puberty all over again. At the end of the day, there’s always hope.

Erickka Sy Savane writes the POP MOM column and hosts the POP MOM Video Series right here on Madamenoire.com. For more on her visit ErickkaSySavane.com.

How Does Your City Rank In The Most Stressed Cities In America?

July 24th, 2016 - By Ashley Monaé
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Coping with stress is no easy task but somehow we all seem to get through the rough patches that are pretty much inevitable in life — some of us better than others. But when stress reaches an unmanageable level and becomes chronic, we become vulnerable to its damaging consequences, such as health problems and loss of productivity.

In the U.S. alone, stress affects more than 100 million Americans, which equates to nearly a third of the population. The leading sources of stress stem from money, followed by work, family and relationships. But there’s good news: Stress has had a general trending downward in the U.S., with average levels decreasing since 2007, according to the American Psychological Association.

Recently, WalletHub conducted a study to identify the cities where Americans cope with stress better than others. Using 50 cities across 27 key metrics and a data set ranging from average work hours to debt load to divorce and suicide rates, the findings are intriguing:

  • Greensboro, N.C., has the lowest commuter stress index, 1.11, which is nearly 1.5 times lower than in Los Angeles, the city with the highest, 1.62.
  • Fresno, Calif., has the most psychologists per 100,000 residents, 80.1, which is about 22 times more than in Baton Rouge, La., the city with the fewest, 3.7.
  • Fremont, Calif., has the lowest divorce rate, 12.24 percent, which is about three times lower than in Cleveland, the city with the highest, 41.29 percent.

Below is a breakdown of the 10 most and least stressed cities. See how your city ranks.

Most Stressed Cities:

  1. Detroit, MI
  2. Mobile, AL
  3. Birmingham, AL
  4. Memphis, TN
  5. Cleveland, OH
  6. Shreveport, LA
  7. Columbus, GA
  8. New Orleans, LA
  9. Newark, NJ
  10. Montgomery, AL

Least Stressed Cities:

  1. San Diego, CA
  2. Sioux Falls, SD
  3. Overland Park, KS
  4. Plano, TX
  5. San Francisco, CA
  6. San Jose, CA
  7. Madison, WI
  8. Honolulu, HI
  9. Irvine, CA
  10. Fremont, CA

Why Self-Care Is So Important When The World Is Too Much

July 21st, 2016 - By Niki McGloster
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After President Obama’s PR perfect town hall meeting about race in America last Thursday, I was desperate to plan some distracting (and slightly drunken) weekend fun. In case you don’t have Twitter, woke friends or you’re living in the same land of delusion as Taylor Swift, the news cycle has been far more depressing than it’s been in a long time, especially for Black folks. In recent weeks, I’ve buried myself in the details of back-to-back shooting deaths of Black men and attacks on police officers without taking a real mental break. As a writer, it’s difficult to succeed without being in the know 24/7, but the rage and confusion I felt after watching President Obama and town hall goers gloss over the issue of policing in this country meant a mental vacation was mandatory for my sanity.

On any given day, with a few disparities based on socioeconomic status, African Americans are more likely to feel a sense of hopelessness and worthlessness when compared to White people. Then, imagine those same people constantly digesting the message that Blacks are disposable through the media every day. The mental pressure of both racism and feeling unsafe in your own environment causes higher-than-normal cortisol levels, which can lead to physical reactions like a weakened immune system and heart disease. It can even result in behavioral changes like overeating, heavy drinking and uncontrollable anger. And who wants to lose themselves because the world’s messed up? Nah.

The self-care you’d exercise to deal with everyday stress, like disconnecting from your work email and making a spa appointment, still applies in times of societal crisis. As the world seemingly unravels, find blocks of time to log off social media, hang out with friends (with your phone off) and create new, positive memories. Read something empowering like Sula by Toni Morrison and go to a boxing class (or just get active in general) to release built up anxiety. Or, take a boat ride around the Potomac River with friends like I did this past weekend. Just do anything to relax your mind and help reduce the negative effects of constant stress, and practice these coping methods often.

If you feel it’s selfish to ignore what’s happening in the world for 48 hours, you’re right. Petty people will assume things like the #KimExposedTaylorParty steal black folks’ attention away from “real issues,” but what they fail to realize is that many of us are begging for the mental relief that comes with celebrity clapbacks.

Truthfully, we all deserve some carefree moments. A few laughs with friends (and Twitter fam) far removed from the black hole of injustice is a welcomed psychological vacation. And we don’t owe anyone an apology for taking care of ourselves. Black death is traumatizing, and with the Trumps still trying to buy the White House, things aren’t necessarily looking optimistic out here. So, get your jokes off, ignore trolls and take care of yourself. I mean, you can’t help others unless you help yourself first, right?

5 Ways To Help Your Child Unwind During Summer Break

July 19th, 2016 - By Kweli Wright
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Ahhh, summer vacation: a relaxing break from all of the hustle and bustle of the school year, right? Not so much, say most families. These days summer vacation seems to consist of less vacation and more activities designed to keep us busy and on-the-go at all times. But what are the effects of the never-ending packed schedule for both parents and children? Stress!

Michele Kambolis, renowned child and family therapist, speaker, and author of “Generation Stressed: Play-Based Tools to Help Your Child Overcome Anxiety” has seen a significant rise in young patients with severe anxiety and points out that parents are also more stressed than their peers. In the article below, she points to five simple ways parents can help their children actually unwind and recharge this summer, relieving them of anxiety-triggers and positioning them for their best, happiest, most successful school year yet.

Now is the time to tackle anxiety issues, before they develop into something deeper and more difficult to treat – and summer break is the perfect time to start.

With school doors closed for summer, parents are left wondering just how to make the most of this precious time. While some pack in sports camps and even summer tutoring, others question whether there should be any plan at all. You’ll easily find experts on both sides of the debate. There simply are no hard and fast rules when it comes to finding that summer balance, but finding ways to unwind and recharge top everyone’s list.

1. Leran about mindfulness

A life practice of mindful attention and reflection is hands-down the most powerful tool we have to cultivate a family ecosystem of well-being. It also helps kids relax. When we connect through active, open attention on the present and live mindfully, as a non-judgmental observer, we can access the separation, patience and expansive state of being that supports heart-centered parenting. It is the antidote to anxiety. All it requires is sitting and quieting the mind (which is much easier said than done!). Persuading children to sit in contemplation for any period of time can be a challenge. Here is one trick that might help. Invite kids to sit on an imaginary train. Tell them to close their eyes and turn their internal spotlight on the scenery going by. Notice that the scenery is full of images and thoughts about caring for others. Ask them to do a body scan and notice where in their body they sense feelings of love and kindness.

2. Get your hands dirty aka play

With overscheduling and over-focusing on technology, many children have lost the essential, brain-supporting work of play – and play is indeed their work. They are calling on us to show up from a playful, non-anxious and conscious state of being. There is joy in play; where there is joy, anxiety cannot exist. So get down and speak their native language, where toys are your words and play is your palette. If that’s too hard to authentically pull off, try de-stressing together with animal yoga, building a worry wall with sticky notes, or playing a board game.

3. Move to relax

Getting busy with our bodies is one of the most powerful buffers from the harmful impact of stress. Summer is a natural time to get a move on. The surge in feel-good neurochemicals not only boosts our immune system, it helps us to feel less stressed overall. Add the great outdoors to the mix and you will have doubled down on the benefits. Studies show we’re happier and more relaxed when we’re in natural environments than when we are indoors.

4. Find a furry friend

This is summer happiness homework most children will easily buy into: spend some time with a pet. One study by Dognition, an organization founded by Duke University researcher and cognitive scientist Brian Hare, found pet ownership to be strongly connected to increased well-being. Researchers found that the act of petting a dog decreases blood pressure and increases dopamine, prolactin and oxytocin, all hormones associated with happiness and bonding, as well as beta-endorphins, which are associated with relaxation and pain relief. Snuggling a furry friend causes a pleasure surge on a par with finding money, eating chocolate and looking at pictures of smiling babies.

5. Discover down time

Unstructured down time is one of the greatest gifts (and challenges) we can offer our kids over the summer. It’s when they discover new passions, talents and learn to structure and regulate themselves. Their imagination flourishes and relaxation comes naturally as they find their authentic voice, un-imposed by adult expectations and agendas. It’s a time when children can be in control, relax and maybe even uncover their dreams.

Summer can and should be a time of meaningful, mindful activity, and of repose and reflection. Finding that balance is the key to a summer that is not only restorative for both kids and parents, but provides long-lasting benefits into the new school year and beyond.

Michele Kambolis (MA) is a registered Child and Family Therapist and Parent Educator and a Registered Clinical Counselor dedicated to raising awareness about mental health issues. Kambolis writes a popular weekly parenting advice column, “Parent Traps” for The Vancouver Sun and Postmedia Network chain of newspapers. She is also the author of Generation Stressed: Play-Based Tools to Help Your Child Overcome Anxiety. Her website is michelekambolis.com

According To A New Study, A Coloring Book Can Do The Mind — And Body — Some Good

July 6th, 2016 - By Victoria Uwumarogie
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People have been telling you time and time again that you should try coloring. There is even a coloring book for naturalistas to get you into the idea. And yet, you still haven’t bought yourself a coloring book and a fancy pack of colored pencils. But if you are constantly out here telling people how stressed you are and don’t know what to do about it, you really need to rethink your stance on adult coloring books. According to a new study, “art therapy” reduces stress levels to an amount that we’ve been underestimating.

Researchers at Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions conducted a study for the publication Art Therapy called “Reduction of Cortisol Levels and Participants’ Responses Following Art Making.” They used “biomarkers” to measure stress levels, specifically the hormone cortisol through saliva samples taken from 39 adults between the ages of 18 and 59. These individuals were asked to take part in a 45-minute “art-making period,” and during such time, their cortisol levels were checked before and after.

There were options to color, of course, but also clay and collage materials. Study participants were told to use the materials as they pleased. And while just under half of participants stated that their art experience was limited, researchers found that the cortisol levels of 75 percent of the 39 adults lowered, some substantially. According to the firsthand testimony of one of the participants, “It was very relaxing. After about five minutes, I felt less anxious. I was able to obsess less about things that I had not done or need [ed] to get done. Doing art allowed me to put things into perspective.”

Researchers also found that about 25 percent of participants ended up with increased cortisol levels. But Girija Kaimal, EdD, who is an assistant professor of creative art therapies told the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s EurekAlert! that it doesn’t mean they were more stressed after art therapy.

“Some amount of cortisol is essential for functioning,” Kaimal said. “For example, our cortisol levels vary throughout the day — levels are highest in the morning because that gives us an energy boost to [sic] us going at the start of the day. It could’ve been that the art-making resulted in a state of arousal and/or engagement in the study’s participants.”

They also noted a small correlation between the age of participants and the outcome of their cortisol levels. Younger individuals had consistently lower cortisol levels after the 45-minute session. Kaimal pointed out that art could be the perfect remedy for stress for this group of individuals.

“I think one reason might be that younger people are developmentally still figuring out ways to deal with stress and challenges, while older individuals — just from having lived life and being older — might have more strategies to problem-solve and manage stress more effectively,” she said.

And this way of dealing with stress definitely sounds effective, as according to Nielsen, despite only one million copies of adult coloring books being sold in 2014, a whopping 12 million were purchased in 2015. More than 2,000 were published last year, as opposed to just 300 in 2014. And, as we all know, lower cortisol levels mean lower fat levels, and that’s good for the body.

Whatever your artistic background, five great options for folks looking to get into coloring include Color My Fro: A Natural Hair Coloring Book for Big Hair Lovers of All Ages, I Love My Hair: A Coloring Book of Braids, Coils and Doodle Dos, Calm the F–k Down: An Irreverent Adult Coloring Book, Color the 90’s: The Ultimate 90’s Coloring Book for Adults, and Mom Life: A Snarky Adult Coloring Book. Thank us later, sis.

According To A New Study, Stress Is Actually Good For You

May 22nd, 2016 - By Ashley Monaé
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Stress is never pleasant. Well, until now apparently.

A new study published in Frontiers In Aging Neuroscience claims that all of the stress we endure on a day-to-day basis is actually good for us in the long run. Feel free to give us the side eye because we’re honestly doing the same.

According to the report, people who juggle stressful and busy lifestyles tend to have a better memory in several different ways. To test their hypothesis of engagement in mentally challenging activities has been shown to improve memory, they examined the relationship between busyness and cognition in 330 adult participants from the Dallas Lifespan Brain Study (DLBS) aged 50–89.

They ended up coming to the conclusion that stress improves memory of recent or recently learned things. Second, those that are better at remembering specific events or memories in the past more than likely have busy, stressful schedules. So, overall, it’s safe to encourage people to maintain active, busy lifestyles throughout middle and late adulthood. However, when it comes to stress, it still probably holds true that the less the better.

So “Low Battery Anxiety” Is A Real Thing, And It’s Making Us Do The Absolute Most

May 20th, 2016 - By Victoria Uwumarogie
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It’s no secret that many people can’t seem to operate without their phones. I’ve known people who traveled almost all the way to work and turned right back around to go get the phone they left at home. But as it turns out, our attachments to our phones these days is so great, we literally get stressed all the way out when we realize that they’re on their way to zero percent.

Electronics company LG recently did a survey while promoting their latest smartphone, the LG G5, which features a removable battery that can be swapped out for a fresh one when it’s getting low. They surveyed thousands of Americans and found that nine out of 10 people, that’s 90 percent, end up in a state of panic when they see that they have a low phone battery. Specifically, when their phone alerts them that they’re below 20 percent. According to LG, the ways smartphone users said they try to deal with such struggles, as well as the consequences (which they deemed “symptoms” of low battery anxiety), include asking a stranger to bum their charger off of them (39 percent of people); grabbing a drink or buying some sort of item at a bar or restaurant just to use an outlet (22 percent of people); so-called “borrowing” of someone’s charger that they see available (35 percent of people); skipping the gym to go home to charge a dying phone (33 percent), and then arguing with a significant other over the fact that they missed a bevvy of text messages (23 percent of people).

As for Millennials, 42 percent said they would totally skip out on a workout to charge their phone. Sixty-one percent said they will turn off their smartphone to prolong the battery life while 50 percent said they would hold off on taking photos to keep their phone alive. Oh, and 62 percent of Millennials said they won’t mess with social media if it means they can get a few extra hours of battery life in.

Other interesting findings from the survey included that 71 percent of everyday smartphone users will not share their backup charger or battery with others due to a fear that it won’t be available when they need it. About 41 percent of smartphone users said they have three or more chargers. Sixty-percent admitted to using someone else’s phone to place a call or send a message when their phone hit zero. And 32 percent of users said that they will make a u-turn back home to charge a dying phone.

If you know any people like this, gift them (or yourself if you’re guilty) with a portable charger, tell them to turn down their brightness, explain to them that power save mode is their friend and remember, when the going gets really tough, you can’t beat airplane mode.

 

Women’s Health Week: Here’s Why You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep Each Night

May 12th, 2016 - By Victoria Uwumarogie
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How much sleep do you get each night, on average?

While most of us would love to get a lot more, we are busy. We have work commitments, family and relationship responsibilities, and the duty to carve out time for ourselves to do the things we want and need to for ourselves. But as we established when talking about stress yesterday, a lack of sleep plays a big part in stressing us out, which, can in turn, up our risk for all sorts of illnesses, mental and physical. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-quarter of people in this country report occasionally not getting enough sleep. And insomnia? It’s no joke either, as 10 percent of people report experiencing it.

As annoying as it is for everyone to tell you to “get more sleep,” as though it’s the easiest thing in the world to make happen, you truly need to make your rest a priority. Not only to keep yourself healthy but to avoid hurting others as well (a lack of sleep is the reason behind many car accidents and “machinery-related crashes” each year). Not to mention that getting more sleep helps with skin issues, weight problems, overall happiness and more.

So how much sleep is optimal? Well, the sleep number hasn’t changed, despite our busy schedules doing all the changing.

“Eight hours is still the healthy amount of sleep needed to restore the body,” said Prudence Hall, MD, of The Hall Center in Santa Monica, California. “The busier a person is, the more important sleep becomes. We spend our energy during the day and restore it during sleep. Sleep is when the body detoxifies itself and the endocrine glands rebalance.”

But some of us truly can’t get to sleep. Insomnia, the sleep disorder that is characterized by problems getting sleep and staying asleep, as previously stated, is an issue for many people. For men, low testosterone is often a cause of insomnia. For women, it could be a range of things.

“Insomnia is due to three major categories: hormonal deficiencies, our thoughts and emotions, and structural physical problems, “Hall said. “The hormonal deficiencies causing insomnia are low estrogen from the birth control pill, perimenopause, and menopause. When our adrenal glands are depleted or imbalanced due to stress, insomnia is also a common symptom. Drinking alcohol at night also causes insomnia, as do many antidepressants and medications.”

And on top of menopause, your menstrual cycle can also greatly impact your sleep patterns. So when you struggle to get some sleep around the time of your period, you now know why.

“Right before a woman’s period, her estrogen levels fall causing insomnia,” Hall said. “Insomnia due to low estrogen is intensified as a woman goes into menopause. In fact, one of the classic symptoms of menopause is awakening around 2 or 3 a.m. and not being able to go back to sleep.”

And you can’t talk about sleep disorders without talking about sleep apnea. Looked at as a so-called “man’s disease,” women certainly don’t deal with it as much as men, but quite a few women have it. A recent study of 400 women among the ages of 20-70 found that a whopping 50 percent of those who took part in the research were found to have some degree of sleep apnea. Twenty percent had moderate sleep apnea while six percent had a severe form.

“Sleep apnea is one-third less common in women than men, but is still a common cause of insomnia,” Hall stated. “Low estrogen in menopause or perimenopause can lead to loss of muscle tone in the neck and soft pallet, causing sleep apnea.”

When speaking on treatment, Hall said that options for sleep apnea include “losing weight, avoiding alcohol, quitting smoking, replacing your deficient hormones with bioidentical hormones, exercise, and a C-pap machine.”

For the most part, if we’re honest, I’m sure we could all say that we stay up later than we should on a regular basis not because we’re swamped with work or personal projects, but because we choose to stay up and be entertained by whatever (or whomever) tickles our fancy. Still, in many other cases, some of us just can’t get to sleep, or get a good night’s rest, which could be a sign that you have a sleep disorder. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a recommended treatment for such problems, and sleeping pills are another option, though there are possible side effects and risks that come with them. But whatever you do, don’t just sit back and let the hours and sleep pass you by. We assume we can live without much sleep, but really, without it, we could be slowly taking ourselves out.

Women’s Health Week: Your Stress Is Doing More Than Wearing You Out–It’s Killing You

May 11th, 2016 - By Victoria Uwumarogie
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Everyone says they’re stressed. But how many of us are really, really stressed to the point that it’s affecting our health, physically and mentally? Unfortunately, it’s actually more people than you would think. According to the American Institute of Stress and MastersDegreeOnline.org, 44 percent of Americans say they feel more stressed than they did five years ago, and one in five say they deal with “extreme stress.” So outside of the uncomfortable tension, they’re also battling with heart palpitations, shaking fits, and, of course, depression. And stress raises the risk of heart disease to 40 percent. The risk of stroke? Fifty percent.

What is going on?

Well, we’re doing too much for one.

“In a society that glorifies hard work and multitasking, we all are susceptible to being overworked and burned out,” said Kathleen Isaac, MPhil, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology. “The danger of pushing ourselves too much is that we put ourselves at risk for adverse health conditions related to stress. In addition, we also put ourselves at risk for other mental health conditions related to stress such as depression and anxiety. We may also see a decrease in our ability to function at our best ability at work, school, etc., and this may take a toll on our work as well as our personal life.”

When we take more on our plate than we can actually handle, we are setting ourselves up to be overwhelmed to the point that it’s harmful to our well-being. And while we all often feel weary about our wealth of responsibilities, Isaac said that you know things are going too far when it starts to impact your body. A headache is one thing, but stress can manifest itself in even more debilitating ways.

“While most people are aware of increased worrying and tension headaches as indicators of stress, there are a number of physical symptoms that one can experience when stressed,” Isaac said. She cited “muscle aches or tension, stomach pain, low energy, chest pain, insomnia, frequent colds or infections and loss of sexual desire or ability” as physical effects caused by our daily anxieties. “Stress can also lead to weight gain because of increased cortisol levels, and certain behaviors associated with stress such as overeating, drinking, and poor sleep may put you at risk for conditions like hypertension and diabetes. It is, therefore, important to pay attention to your body. If you notice that you aren’t functioning as well as you used to, check in with yourself and with your doctor and seek counseling if needed.”

However, some levels of stress we can’t really control in the ways people think. Like the distress we might have to deal with at our place of work or our neighborhoods, specifically for women of color operating in places and spaces where there aren’t many who look and think like us. Different forms of discrimination pop up in minute and major ways, and they can drive people both ill and over the edge.

Isaac expounded upon this reality by confirming that racism and bigotry have long been associated with stressors faced by minority populations, as well as other physical and mental issues, both in the workplace and in everyday life.

“African Americans who experience both overt and covert discrimination (i.e. microaggressions) in their daily lives may be susceptible to higher levels of stress. The actual levels of stress will vary, however, depending on individual factors such as sensitivity to racism (how aware one is of being discriminated against) and coping style. Recently there has been some consideration of the impact that the growing visibility of racist acts in the media may have on stress levels.”

So what can we actually do about our levels of stress, aside from cranking A Tribe Called Quest’s “Stressed Out” and wearing our anguish and exhaustion as a badge of “I work hard and I’m a strong Black woman” honor? According to the CDC, it’s important that we channel our stress into healthy activities and habits, and also, be open about our feelings and issues with people who can hear us out, support us, and help us put things into perspective. That includes exercising regularly and eating better, getting as much sleep as we can, talking to loved ones, as well as a counselor, doctor or even a pastor when it all becomes too much, and most importantly, knowing when it’s time to take a break. We all need timeouts here and there from the things and people who messing with our psyche and sense of inner peace.

Granted, these things won’t end stress in your life for all time, but rather, alleviate it. Still, listening to your body and knowing when you’re bearing burdens alone that are starting to wear on you is important. The sooner we pay attention and do something about it, the better we can be to the people who rely on us, and most importantly, to ourselves.