“Gradually, we can chip away at doing more of the things that are good for our bodies and less of the things that are bad. Everyone has their own needs and ideas about wellness. As women, we tend to hold onto feelings about all the things on our to-do lists and can become our own worst critics. So, practice silencing that critic and connecting with other women who can help you see things more clearly.” Said Dr. Lucy Lomas, Obstetrician, Gynecologist, and Health Equity Advocate
Although women make an estimated 80% of family health decisions, it’s not a secret we tend to prioritize the wellbeing of others. We have very little discretionary time so, finding, securing, and then going to appointments, just for our kids can feel like a part-time job. And it’s become harder to interact with the healthcare system. Not to mention, many people have less faith in positive outcomes.
But our health and happiness are inextricably linked. We need energy and endurance to enjoy life’s journey. Especially when it rarely goes according to plan. So, maintaining the will to react to surprises is hard when you’re feeling crispy. But if you’re frayed, it doesn’t have to last. You can become savvier and more proactive about your health. And reignite your capacity with wellbeing.
Notice and Document Changes in Your Health
Managing our changing health can feel overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. Lucy said, “A good place to start is to journal. Write down how you feel. That may be your emotions or paying attention to your physical body, like gastrointestinal symptoms if you have any. Or if you are perimenopausal and your periods are a little bit more irregular, then document that.”
It’s not uncommon to forget about a year’s worth of experiences during an annual visit. So, collect your own data to ease the process. “And on a regular basis go back to review and reflect. Not from a place of criticism but curiosity. See if you can notice any trends and then, when you go to your doctor, your experiences are documented.”
Check In with Yourself Regularly
Sometimes, if we don’t feel 100 percent, we ignore it. Or worse, doubt ourselves. But follow your intuition and use it to support your habits and routines. Lucy said, “Trust your gut and keep exploring until you feel it’s resolved. Sometimes it’s addressing your emotional and mental well-being or making an assessment about your physical body. Ask yourself, ‘Am I getting enough rest? Am I getting enough sleep? Am I eating okay? Do I have enough help at home? Am I engaged and involved with my community? Do I have a spiritual group that I can stay and remain connected with?”
Commit to Healthy Changes
Lucy said, “Something may be off because there are so many things that can be off! And as an individual you get to take that holistic approach to your overall health and well-being.” We often see our healthcare specialists infrequently. And they rarely communicate with each other. But our mental, physical, and emotional health are connected. “They all impact and intertwine with one another. So, take a self-assessment and ask, ‘How can I improve? What small thing can I change now?’”
That Improve Your Wellbeing
Habit change tends to work best when it’s incremental. Lucy said, “For example, you can say ‘I am going to go on a 5-minute walk every day.’ So, I’m not talking about exercise for cardiovascular health, I am talking about a 5-minute undistracted walk. Or ‘for 5 minutes before I get out of bed or pick up my phone, I’m going to do some deep breathing. And focus on my mindfulness practice.’ Those are small things I like to encourage people to start with. Because it’s free and hopefully the lift is small, and the impact can be significant to move your health and well-being in a really good direction.”
Factor in Hormonal Shifts
Lucy said, “Paying attention to your menstrual cycle and how it effects your energy levels is an excellent idea. Especially based on how estrogen and progesterone levels cycle every month. Estrogen is naturally a feel-good hormone and when our levels spike, we’re going to feel more energized. But when it starts to decline, we’re not going to feel so awesome. Which is one of the things that contributes to perimenopausal women saying ‘I’m so moody’ or ‘I want to strangle husband’s neck.’ Let me say, as an OBGYN, you don’t have to pick up the slack during those periods. Let your family help and support you. And as women, usually we’re not good at asking for help. But guess what, it’s good for your health.”
Including When They’re Unpredictable
“There are a couple of things that I try to encourage people to consider during perimenopause. Because the cycles are less predictable, practice being okay with it being unpredictable. And remember that your body is trying super hard to get that ovary to ovulate and release an egg. So, people do feel those fluctuations.”
Although we tend to get a lot of information about what to expect during pregnancy, many of us don’t learn details about perimenopause or menopause. At least, not in advance. She added, “There’s no prescription so we need to create plans for ourselves. And when we practice paying attention, we get to figure out what we need.”
Consult with Experts About Your Options
Lucy said, “I read something that said only 20% of OBGYNs even feel comfortable prescribing hormone replacement therapy. And I was a little shocked to see that number because you can use it as a tool to help decrease symptoms. So, don’t approach it from a place of fear but learn who’s at risk for cardiovascular disease, breast cancer and endometrial cancer. As individuals, we have to know our personal history, family history and overall level of risk tolerance.”
As Moms we navigate change for our kids and within our careers constantly. Health is dynamic and perimenopause is another natural stage. So, consult with your doctor to explore what’s available and right for you.
And Explore Alternative Practices to Feel Better
Lucy explained that we don’t have to suffer. “You can decide, ‘Okay, I want to go the completely natural route.’ And there are multiple mindfulness practices we can engage in.” Many of us are already burned out for good reasons. Including, working too much, and sleeping too little. So, what can we do to feel better? She explained there are many options. “Nutritious food, social emotional and spiritual support. Using embodiment practices and not worrying about the future and things that we cannot control about the past. We also know so many things make it worse, like excess alcohol or self-criticism.”
Including, Feeling Empowered
We’ve all seen the horror stories about declining maternal health. Especially for pregnant and postpartum Moms. And the outcomes are much worse for Black women in the US. So, there’s an added layer of fear for many when interacting with the healthcare system.
Lucy explained that the physical effect of chronic stress or fear, creates its own problems. And the challenge, is we want to decrease activity from our sympathetic nervous system. The ancient part of our wiring that causes us to experience, fight, flight or freeze. And increase activity from our parasympathetic nervous system. What’s sometimes described as where our ability to ‘rest and digest’ comes from.
“We want to allow our body to function the way it is designed to. Maybe you don’t trust the health care system. But who or what do you trust? Because this is a community effort. So, how can you engage with multiple layers of support for you and your family?”
Feeling empowered? Please find every support you can. From your health care team and other experts, family and friends. And engage in the self-care and mindset practices to help manage your long-term health and wellbeing.
Many thanks to the talented Dr. Lucy Lomas, MD!
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Dr. Lucy Lomas MD is an expert in women’s health and wellness. She is leading a community-owned wellness center located in Roxbury that prioritizes the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being of patients and healthcare workers. Lucy is a board certified OB GYN physician with over 10 years of clinical experience. She serves as the director of community, health and wellness for the New England Medical Association, a network of black physicians. She graduated from the University of Southern California for Medicine (2009) and Biomedical engineering (2004). Lucy loves creating joyful experiences for her children, family and friends.Tags: health and wellbeing for Moms, holistic wellbeing, Hormonal health for women, mental health for moms, perimenopausal health, Physical health, women's healthcare