The other day I asked my wife, “Are you satisfied with your overall sense of wellness?” I waited for her response to vote in a Twitter poll from Everyday Health. She paused for a moment to think about it. I realized soon enough that she could not easily gauge her sense of wellness in that quick moment.
The editor I work with at Everyday Health for The Itch to Beat Psoriasis alerted me that their special report, “State of Women’s Wellness 2017,” would post on December 15th. The report covers how “American women define and rate their wellness based on factors like stress, illness, relationships, sex, BMI, financial health, and money.”
Through the survey and discussions with experts, they sought answers to the questions, “What’s standing in the way of women’s wellness, health, and happiness? What would it take to enable them to feel empowered and inspired to live their best lives and achieve their highest level of wellness?”
How the women in my midst respond to these questions directly impact me as a son, husband, father, and minister. I live with a wife from Gen X, a Millennial daughter, and an iGen daughter. The report highlights generational differences that affect them all.
What would it take to enable them to feel empowered and inspired to live their best lives and achieve their highest level of wellness?
As a moderately dense, somewhat self-centered male, I needed to listen to these results. I typically make judgments or evaluate others equally without concern for gender differences. I not only wanted to listen to the women behind the survey, I desired to listen to the women in my life as well.
I quickly noticed the top three wellness challenges that women face: 1) 44% Stress about life, 2) 43% Lack of Sleep, and 3) 43% Finding Time for Fitness/Exercise.
I know my wife worries about others, especially me and my health. With three children still at home, two of them teens and one managing mental illness, she has plenty to keep her mind occupied. As the report states, “When respondents were asked if they were likely to put their own needs first, only 24 percent responded that they would.”
I did not want to presume, though, how my wife feels about her state of health and wellness. The report ends with a powerful statement: “we all have powerful stories to tell.”
What follows is my wife Lori’s health and wellness story told in her own words.
Greatest Health Fear: Breast Cancer
Before I share about a wellness challenge and how I overcame it, I want to address a health fear that I struggle with. In the Women’s Wellness 2017 Special Report, there were 5 top fears that women have. One of them is cancer. Starting in my childhood, I’ve lost quite a few family and friends to cancer–the most common for women being breast cancer.
In the Women’s Wellness 2017 Special Report, there were 5 top fears that women have. One of them is cancer.
The most directly impactful personal loss was my mother. She had a particularly aggressive case of breast cancer which metastisized quickly and took her four years after diagnosis. She also had chronic autoimmune disorders throughout her adult life so it was difficult to find a cancer treatment that wouldn’t seriously harm her. It was an agonizing situation that left me without my mother–and my young children without their grandmother–right after Thanksgiving.
It has now been sixteen Thanksgivings and times have changed.
Our awareness of breast cancer has increased. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. While I am deeply appreciative of the fundraising and 5Ks that women run for this very worthy cause, at times it can be overwhelming for me to face all the pink ribbons in October. It can serve as a painful reminder that I will have to get through the holidays without my mom. I miss her every year.
However, I want to be prepared in case I find myself facing a similar diagnosis. I recently booked a consultation with a genetic counselor to see if I could carry a genetic risk for breast cancer. After the consultation, I felt that I better understood having a genetic risk versus normal aging and changes in breast tissue.
It is alarming to know that three women in my family faced breast cancer (two of my great-aunts as well as my mom) and only one survived. However, I do not carry a genetic risk. I will keep up with regular breast exams and yearly mammograms trusting that should I face a diagnosis, it will be caught early.
Biggest Wellness Challenge: Rest and Sleep
One wellness challenge that I’ve focused on is getting enough rest and sleep. According to the report, 81% of the women in the survey said they struggle to get a good night’s sleep. When our kids were young–we had three children within six years–it seemed impossible to get a good night’s sleep. Night feedings, children waking up to use the bathroom, having nightmares, our son even was a sleepwalker for a period of time left me with four hours of broken sleep on a good night.
It was frustrating to be woken up from dreamland and when I finally got back to bed, I would toss and turn waiting for another child to wake up. By 5am, I was fed up with trying to get any more sleep. To compensate, I resorted to my old trick during my college days when I was pulling all nighters writing papers: drinking coffee.
It was frustrating to be woken up from dreamland and when I finally got back to bed, I would toss and turn waiting for another child to wake up
At first that seemed to work. But then I noticed that my brain was foggy. It felt difficult to make rather everyday, easy decisions (as in what to cook for dinner) and I would find myself zoning out in the produce aisle while my kids sitting in the grocery cart helped themselves to the apples on display. In my experience, sleep deprivation fed on itself. It became a mental struggle.
I lost faith that I could get a good night’s sleep so I would go to bed with a lot of anxiety about it and with a rather valid concern as to how I would function the next day. Then it just became a pattern. Night after night, time dragged on. I became deeply depressed and in retrospect, I believe sleep deprivation was a key contributing factor.
I Just Need to Breathe
In therapy, we focus a lot on breathing. At first I felt this was not a very bright idea. I mean we just breathe naturally–what’s the big deal? But when I focused in on how I was breathing I noticed that it was rather rapid and shallow. I was even holding my breath.
As I practiced taking slower, deeper breaths I noticed that my whole body would calm down–including my mind. It became more difficult to focus on my anxiety about sleep as I focused on the rhythmic inhale and exhale of my breath. I would even feel drowsy as I spent 8-10 minutes in a group relaxation session.
As I practiced taking slower, deeper breaths I noticed that my whole body would calm down–including my mind.
If it worked in a group setting, maybe I had a shot at making this work at home. I extended my relaxation session to 20 minutes lying down in bed. I began to have regular success with falling asleep and as the kids grew older, I wasn’t awakened at night quite as much as in the past.
The amount of time I spend sleeping improves my mood, prepares me for the next day, and even helps control my weight. At this time of year, I require more sleep. It can feel limiting not to spend more time with family or engaging in daily activities I enjoy, but I know it’s a good discipline for me that gives me energy and motivation for other areas of my life. The hours that I spend awake are more meaningful and that feels so much better than sleepwalking through life.