When I educate patients every week, many of who have just had their first heart attack, the story is eerily familiar. They say they eat pretty healthily and try to exercise but then I find mentally they aren’t doing too hot: little sleep, lots of stress and pressures and not a lot of true self-care going on.
I believe that when it comes to health and well-being, we are missing the boat on the role that our crowded, overworked minds play in it all. And I had to learn that the hard way.
My first brush with panic
I was in my late twenties when the strangest feeling came over me while driving. I was dizzy and felt like I was losing control of myself. When the feeling subsided I was left clueless as to what just happened. This occurred a couple more times but never developed into much.
Not long after that, I dealt with swallowing problems, making it stressful to eat in front of other people. And when I turned 30, I started to have heart palpitations and got a full workup done by a cardiologist. I was told not only that I was fine, but I was in really great shape (this is the time I ran marathons).
So here I was eating right, working out like mad, but my mind was being left in the dust
The search for answers
I moved to New York when I was 31 and sought help at this time. Most importantly, I was able to leave my comfortable surroundings and get perspective on my life. I also researched the causes of anxiety. There is no doubt that I have a genetic tendency towards it, but I was surprised how much I could control and that included taming my thoughts.
What I discovered was that even though I knew my thoughts were over the top (my husband is always amazed at what my mind can conjure up), my mind took them very seriously. In fact, much of what I was feeling had to do with my thoughts and not my true self. What a relief!
One of the books I discovered was the Feeling Good Handbook, in which Dr. Burns goes into details about how thoughts make us feel, with the science to prove it. With this new awareness, my anxiety became manageable and those scary symptoms disappeared.
What this has to do with raising healthy children
Stress is a constant in most families. According to the 2010 Stress in America survey by the American Psychological Association, frequent stressors include money (76%), work (70%) and the economy (65%) with “family responsibilities” (73%) being cited as a key stressor for parents. Although most parents in the survey (69%) say managing stress is important, only about half feel they are successfully dealing with it.
That’s not all — the first Stress in America survey to interview kids (2009) showed that stress affects children more than parents realize. For example, 45 percent of teens (13-17) said they were more worried this year, but only 28 percent of parents recognized it. And while a quarter of tweens (8-12) said they worried more this year, only 17 percent of parents reported their child’s stress had increased.
Research shows that stress is not good for our health as it can increase hunger hormones, decrease immunity and is linked to chronic disease. Some of it has to do with how the stress is handled in terms of less sleep, poor diet and little exercise but researchers now believe that the hormones secreted during prolonged periods of stress can increase inflammation in the body.
I may not experience anxiety symptoms anymore, but I still have a lot of work to do to be a good role model for my kids. The unhelpful thoughts keep coming and I want to keep them at bay, while tuning more into my intuitive side. So with this blog, and its relevance to health, I thought, why not put it out there, as many of you might be in the same boat.
So I’ve made the commitment to sit still for 5 minutes each day and see where it takes me.
If you want to join me, leave a comment.