It’s not surprising that working mothers run some very real health risks. Too many women suffer from fatigue, stress, and the consequences of overlooking other signs and symptoms simply because there doesn’t seem to be time to do anything about them.
Here are some suggestions that can help keep you healthy.
- The easy and most obvious answer is to get more sleep. Review how you spend the last hour of your day. Try to stop what you are doing and go to bed one half-hour earlier each night for a week.
- If you must work late most nights, make it a rule to go to bed at 8 o’clock once a week, perhaps on the weekend.
- Fatigue is sometimes more mental than physical. Learn to write everything down so your mind needn’t work overtime remembering jobs to be done. Delegate as much responsibility for home duties as you can.
- During a particularly tiring time, consider withdrawing from extra commitments, at least temporarily. Learn to refuse or postpone invitations.
- Come to terms with your body rhythms. The body’s internal systems are in flux all day: blood pressure, pulse rate, and body temperature wax and wane in cycles which is why some of us are brilliant, fast-talking and efficient in the morning but limp by early evening while another lot are just coming into their own at 10 pm. Once you sort out which sort of person you are, go with it. If you are better at night then make lunches, organize, iron, set tables, and make lists when everyone else is tucked in bed. If you are a morning person, get up with the birds and get it all done before the family stirs.
- At work apply the same principles. If you are at your best before lunch tackle your most difficult tasks in the morning, but if you blossom in the afternoon leave the most demanding jobs for the afternoon and do routine work in the morning. Some fatigue stems from not coping well with work or worrying about child-care arrangements. If a new routine doesn’t help, look carefully at what you are asked to do. Do you understand what is expected of you? Is your job too difficult? Could you use more training or help? Don’t put off asking for what you need. Your problems will surface at some point.
- Consider some form of regular exercise. Although, to a tired woman, this may seem like the straw that broke the camel’s back, in fact, exercise usually relieves fatigue and makes the sluggish feel marvelous. Squash, jogging, tennis, bike-riding, jazz ballet, gym classes, and swimming are all popular and effective. If you can’t manage any of these, get up early and go for a brisk walk or spend an hour in the garden.
- Review your diet. If you lack sleep you will benefit from a high protein diet. Snack on cheese, chicken legs, hard-boiled eggs, fruit and fruit juices, yogurt, and cottage cheese. Vitamin B is said to be helpful.
Learning to control stress
However liberated and enlightened a household is, the woman still seems to bear the bulk of family and household duties in addition to her career. And with a foot in each camp you may never feel you have things totally under control. That’s what causes stress. And stress has been linked to cancer, migraines, menstrual pain, herpes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. But it can be controlled if you try.
Every time you worry that you can’t handle a situation or feel threatened, you experience stress. Stress triggers some chemical reactions in your body collectively known as the “fight or flight” reaction, enabling us to escape at speed from dangerous situations.
The heart speeds up, adrenalin and fatty substances flow into the blood, blood pressure rises to rush food and oxygen to your muscles so you can fight fiercely or leap tall buildings in a single bound, if necessary. The problem is that for most of us stress is not related to immediate danger but rather to longstanding problems and pressures.
Fat released into the bloodstream can build up in veins and arteries, a forerunner to clogging of the arteries and heart attacks. Under stress your blood clots more quickly, great if a large dog has just made a meal out of your left leg but otherwise clots may form in coronary arteries, the first step to arteriosclerosis.
Under stress, muscles tense so you can fight or run but a working mother, trapped behind a desk and worried about a sick toddler, may experience muscle tension leading to headaches, muscle cramps, or insomnia. Stress also interferes with our immune system. It can disturb and weaken our ability to fight off viruses and bacteria, leaving us vulnerable to diseases.