International Day of Women and Girls in Science
Today is International Day of Women and Girls in Science. This special day is observed on February 11th each year to raise awareness for gender equality in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM. Despite the needle moving forward in regard to gender equality in the STEM fields, the presence of women is still severely lacking.
Squelch the Flames of Inflammation
You've probably seen the headlines or heard the news stories about inflammation inside our bodies. This can be a tough concept to grasp, because you can't necessarily see the inflammation. It's not like a cut that becomes inflamed with infection or a sprained ankle that's swollen and inflamed. But there are signs of chronic, internal inflammation if you know what to look for.
Acute inflammation is a very normal reaction that takes place in your body when there's been an injury or illness (like that sprained ankle or when you have a virus). It's simply your immune system's way of removing something in your body that is harmful or just shouldn't be there.
Chronic inflammation, however, is another story.
Sometimes, the body is unable to overcome or repair the damage. This can lead to the body slowly building up an internal inflammatory response that can last months or years. Scientists now believe that inflammation is behind many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, allergies, COPD, chronic kidney disease, Alzheimer's, irritable bowl disease, and arthritis.
So while you might not be able to see signs on the outside of the body, there can be signs and symptoms that you experience as a result of chronic inflammation, including:
Chronic fatigue and insomnia
Depression, anxiety and mood disorders
Gastrointestinal complications like constipation, diarrhea, and acid reflux
Weight gain or weight loss
Frequent infections (Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493173/)
Stop Fanning the Flames of Inflammation
The good news is that you can calm the inflammation inside your body.
- Reduce your processed sugar intake. This doesn't mean avoid sugar at all costs, and it definitely doesn't mean avoid natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables! But if your normal go-to's tend to be highly processed foods with added sugar, maybe consider swapping them for something more sustaining and less inflammatory, like whole grains, fruits, and veggies with a protein or healthier fats (like avocados and tuna). Side note: Beware assuming that "healthy" food is healthy for you. Even healthy foods can react in unhealthy ways inside your body. Get into the habit of paying attention to how you're feeling after you eat and as the day wears on. Do you feel bloated and "puffy"? Inflammation could be a culprit.
- Move Your Body. Studies show that consistently moving your body can help decrease inflammation. The type of exercise matters, though. When you engage in high intensity exercise without giving your body ample time to recover, it can increase inflammation and deal your immune system an unhealthy blow (we do have a solution for those of you who like your high intensity exercise, so keep reading...).
- Get your ZZZZs. You may be laughing right now, especially if you have little ones, but sleep deprivation is no laughing matter. Getting the sleep you need (ideally 7-9 hours/night for adults), will help in the long run. It's during sleep that human growth hormone is produced (hence, why it's also important for your little ones to be getting the shut eye they need, too), and your body heals and regenerates new cells (among a host of other things!). Create a bedtime routine for both you and your kiddos. You'll all be happier...and less inflamed.
- Master your stress. Have you read the VitaMom Club blog post on stress? If not, go read it now. Chronic stress is one of the leading contributors of chronic inflammation and can lead to depression, heart disease, and decreased immunity.
Lastly, chew on this. Turmeric (curcumin) has been shown to have major anti-inflammatory properties. But here's the thing. It's difficult to get enough of the curcumin that's found in turmeric to really make a difference in inflammation. That's why we've packaged it in a yummy gummy (sorry, couldn't resist that rhyme haha). We include black pepper in our formulation, because our bodies absorb curcumin better when it's combined with black pepper.
While it's impossible to fully avoid inflammation, it's important to start taking control of it where you can. Include daily self-care--no matter how small--as practicing consistently is what produces progress. Here's to you mom! xo
I'm Stressing and I Show It (Part 2)
In the last post, we discussed what stress is (like you needed that lesson haha) and what it does to your health. We also talked about some simple ways to manage your stress. In this post, we look at the root causes of your stress and how to dig them out.
Getting to the Root of It
Stress-relieving techniques are necessary and absolute lifesavers sometimes (lifesaving for you…and your kids!). But for chronic stress that just isn’t going away, it’s important to figure out the real root of it so it can be dealt with.
Start by asking yourself what your major sources of stress are. Go ahead—list them out.
Next, choose one of these sources. Ask yourself what exactly about this stressor is stressing you out?
For example, if your work is stressing you out, what exactly about your job is the problem? The actual type of work? A co-worker? Your boss? The pay? The hours? The commute? What?
Once you’ve narrowed down this root, let’s uproot it!
Change your perception of the stress? This is like the “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure” phenomenon. What stresses one person out, another let's roll off her back. Sometimes when we get rolling in that stress mode, we allow everything to stress us out.
Is this thing really worth you stressing out over…including the effect it’s having on your health and your family? How can you change your perception of it? One way is to look at the lessons you’re learning from it. What pearls of wisdom can you take from this situation? Offer up some gratitude for these lessons!
Change your reaction to this stressor? There’s a difference between reacting and responding. When we react to a stressor, it’s that knee-jerk, emotional reaction. There is no thought to the reaction. It’s automatic and usually emotionally-fueled.
A response, however, is more thoughtful. You take a little time to take that deep breath (hello, parachute…). This gets some of that lifesaving oxygen to your brain so you can make a more rational response.
When you’re faced, for example, with a continuously irritating, cranky co-worker (or family member...) (your saber-toothed tiger), 1. Take a step back (physically and/or figuratively), 2. Take a deep breath, 3. Respond.
If this person is used to your knee-jerk reaction, by responding instead of reacting, you might be surprised at the response you get back from them! Hey, a little shock value never hurts (the shock coming from them expecting you to freak out on them...but then you don't)!
Take action. Let’s say you’ve tried letting things roll off your back (changed your perception) and you’ve changed your reaction (way to be responsive!), but the stressor persists and you can’t take it any longer. What action might you need to take?
In the case of your job, do you need to look for a new one? Is there a conversation that needs to happen with your supervisor? Do you need to ask for more money? Do you need to transfer to a different department or shift?
Here’s the thing to remember: there are ALWAYS options, even when it feels like there are none! They might not be ideal for the long-term, but they can act as stepping-stones to get you out of a current situation and headed to where you want to be. You just have to be willing to get creative, brainstorm possible solutions (stepping-stones), and take action.
Here’s to less stress! xo
I'm Stressing and I Show It (Part 1)
Okay, aside from trying to be cutsie with the title (sing it to the tune of "I'm Sexy and I Know It"), there's nothing cute about stress. Studies show it affects almost every area of our bodies, including our brains, hearts, guts, immune systems, and endocrine systems (which includes sexual hormones and function). When we’re stressed out, we don’t think or focus as well (“Squirrel!”), our moods are wonky, and our memory wanes…
Where was I? Oh, yes. STRESS!
Research also suggests that chronic stress can be a culprit in causing inflammation inside our bodies. Inflammation is, in turn, a major contributing factor in diseases like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, gut issues…the list goes on and on.
But not all stress is bad. If a tiger came roaring into your house, the “Fight, Flight, or Freeze Instinct”—your body’s natural stress response—would kick in. Now, I can’t say which one of these you would choose, but I’m guessing “flight”. In other words, RUN! This is acute stress and the flight stress response in this case definitely has its benefits!
The problem, however, is when your fight, flight, or freeze response is constantly switched on, as is the case for many of us in this modern age. And while most of us no longer need to run from saber-toothed tigers anymore, our brains don’t differentiate between a true, immediate physical threat and ones that tend to threaten us mentally and emotionally over the long haul. Work stress, family stress, relationship stress, financial stress… This all adds up to chronic stress, and this is the stress that causes chronic inflammation and ailments.
What’s a Mom to Do?
For starters, take a deep breath…in through your nose…and slowly out your mouth. You might think deep breathing is some woo-woo distraction, but there is science behind it.
Studies show that deep, diaphragmatic breathing stimulates the vagus nerve (Let’s go to Vagus, baby!). The vagus nerve is the largest cranial nerve. In Latin, vagus means “wandering”. And wow, does this nerve wander! It starts at the back of your brain and branches down and out, touching nearly every major organ in your body, including your heart, lungs, and gut.
The vagus nerve is part of the parasympathetic nervous system, not to be confused with the sympathetic nervous system, which cranks your heart rate and breathing up (you know, when you get “nervous” or “all nerved up” and jittery?). You can remember the difference with the prefix “para”. Think…parachute. It slows you down when free-falling. Stress is your free-fall, the vagus nerve is your parachute.
Other tools to add to your stress-less toolbox include various grounding techniques and self-care. While bubble baths and pedicures can certainly be a part of your self-care routine, when you’re a mom, sometimes simply peeing alone with no kids at the bathroom is an act of self-care. Some others: taking a shower and applying a little lip gloss, shaving your legs, eating something that doesn’t resemble boxed mac and cheese, calling a friend, reading a book composed with words that are above a first-grade level…
Self-care can be whatever you need it to be. And ultimately, self-care is really family-care, because as the saying goes, "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!"
[Read Part 2 of this post to help get to the root of your stress!]
Ugh! Since I had my baby, my libido is in the pits. What can I do to help get my mojo back?
We hear you on this one!
First, cut yourself some slack! You’ve housed and birthed a human being (and yes, sex is what put you in that position to begin with, but still…). And if you’re breastfeeding, you may feel like your breasts’ purpose has changed from sexual to baby feeding vessels. OK, they kind of have, but they can be both (hear us out…).
For women especially, libido (a.k.a. sex drive) is part mental. If your head isn’t in the game, your body won’t be either. For example, one recent study suggests that for women, getting sexually aroused or “turned on” starts in the mind. As you start thinking about sex, what you’d like your partner to do, what you’d like to do to them…your body in turn becomes aroused.
(Cue a skidding car…) But let’s get real. You have young children. You might have older children. No matter how old your kids are, life with them brings stress—and plenty of it. And stress is one obstacle to a budding libido.
Decreasing your stress is important—for many reasons—but you don’t have to get rid of your kids to get rid of the stress (although some days…). There are many things you can do right now, including blasting your favorite music and dancing around like a mad woman (add a vacuum and microfiber cleaning cloths to your performance and you could be accused of multi-tasking and having a clean house…but I digress…), sipping on some green tea, and locking yourself in the bathroom with your earbuds in (so you can’t hear the pounding and “Moooommmy!” on the other side of the door) with some soothing music and just…breathe…
Joining stress is fear—as in fear of getting pregnant again. If you had a high-risk pregnancy, if this whole pregnancy and baby situation has just been plain stressful on every aspect of your life, or if you just hated being pregnant…the thought of doing the act that put you in that position in the first place can seem freaking scary, undesirable, and impossible to relax enough to enjoy it. There are many ways to address your fears and anxiety, so try them out.
Experts will also tell you that being physically and mentally exhausted is also detrimental to libido, so make sure you get a good night’s sleep.
OK, so right now you’re rolling your eyes or laughing your butt off, but as difficult as a good night’s sleep might be at this point in your life, it’s still important to do what you can to get one. Kids have bedtime routines. Adults need bedtime routines, too!
Start preparing your body an hour or so before you plan on hitting the hay. Lower the lights in your house—darkness is good, because it allows your body to produce melatonin, the hormone necessary to get and keep you asleep.
Get off your devices! Not only do they blast light in your face (read the previous tip), but they’re also stimulating. C’mon! Your brain needs a break! If you insist on being on a device, use the nighttime setting or blue light glasses to relieve the eyes from the type of light that keeps you up. Try to stay away from news stories, conversations, or movies that rev you up.
Use bedtime to show a little gratitude. Writing down what you’re thankful for in a journal at bedtime has several benefits, including falling asleep faster and staying asleep longer. This is a great exercise to start with your kiddos, too…even on those days when the baby wouldn’t stop crying, the kids wouldn’t stop fighting, the laundry and dish bombs went off in your house, and you were on your fourth day with no shower…there is still something to be thankful for.
Making sure you’re eating a well-rounded, balanced diet (and not just the “mom diet” of foraging off your kids’ plates…) goes a long way in helping boost your sex drive, too. Adding a little insurance with a vitamin supplement won’t hurt, either.
Exercise has also been shown to help improve a woman's libido. Of course, if you have an aversion to it, it might seem about as appealing as having sex right now. But exercise has also been shown to help you better deal with your stress, sleep better, and improve body image. Our tip: avoid exercising to burn calories and lose weight (seriously, it makes it more of a chore). Instead, do it for the other reasons, including healing your body after pregnancy and delivery, and staying strong enough to carry the infant carrier, diaper bag, 10 bags of groceries, and the pizza for tonight's dinner all at once...and still be able to open the door with your teeth.
Birth control and other medications, including antidepressants, can also send your libido to MIA status. I remember going on one form of birth control and thinking, “Wow, this is some amazing stuff! No worries about getting pregnant. I have no desire to have sex at all!”
Lastly, consider your beliefs about your body. Have they changed—for better or worse—since having a baby? Do you feel sexy? Do you feel desirable? How has your body changed? Do you now have stretch marks or varicose veins? Are your boobs leaking milk? Do you feel anything but a sex machine?
Pssst…it’s all normal!
Try having a conversation with your partner about how you're feeling regarding your body. Chances are, they'll help put your mind at ease.
Show your body—the one that houses, births, and feeds other human beings—some respect! Seriously! Stop hating on it and honor it by taking good care of it. Self-care is not selfish! Even super heroes need a little time to recharge—including a little action in the sack when you feel like getting back in the game.
*As always, we recommend seeing your healthcare provider if this really becomes an issue for you and your relationship.