As a physician who has worked with patients from the poorest women of Haiti to the wealthiest of Southern California, I’ve found that there are four key components of health, which together determine the overall well-being and quality of your life: mental, physical, spiritual, and financial aspects. But each aspect can contribute to stress and physical problems. Just like a four-legged table, if just one is off kilter, the table will wobble, or topple over.
Especially for women, mental health is directly related to relationships between themselves and their intimate partners, children, other relatives, friends, career, and community. It’s a given that relationships are full of ups and downs, and that a certain amount of stress is inevitable. High blood pressure, gastrointestinal upsets, headaches, depression, irregular bleeding, chronic muscle tension, weakening of the immune system and heart disease have all been clearly linked to stress. Stress has been linked to motor-vehicle accidents, and can also lead people to mentally or physically abuse their spouse and/or children.
People who don’t know how to control stress in a positive manner often use alternatives like drinking, smoking, drug abuse or overwork that temporarily mask the pain, but will eventually cause more physical problems and even more stress. An intuitive professional may be a good source to help you identify, cope with, or eliminate stressful sources.
Women typically take care of everyone else before taking care of themselves. We need to learn to value ourselves as much as we value the lives of others, and carve out time to devote to our own well-being. Women need to learn to say “no” when overwhelmed, and respect their own needs.
Some women find it very difficult to relax, especially if they have a busy lifestyle and small children. I suggest to my patients to see themselves as a battery that needs to be recharged from time to time — otherwise, the battery (and the woman) runs out of power just when it’s needed most. Try some relaxation techniques such as meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, stretching, guided visual imagery, dancing, walking, yoga, and prayer. Also, you might find a nice bubble bath or a soak in a relaxing spa a simple stress reducer. Spending time in my garden, digging in the dirt with my bare hands is a good way for me to relax.
Good mental health begins with knowing yourself: Can you answer these questions?
- Who are you?
- What are your dreams, goals, and values?
- What do you want out of life?
- What makes you happy and fulfilled?
- What do you believe in?
- What drives you?
- Why do you do the things you do?
- What are you passionate about?
- Do you do things out of a sense of obligation to others, because of expectations others have placed on you, or because you want to do them?
- Is your sense of self-esteem based on feedback, both supportive and critical, from people around you, or is it grounded in a clear sense of who you are, your convictions, and your sense of self-worth?
The wise Greek saying, “Know Thyself” can also be translated as “Know Your Enemy” because many people are their own worst enemy!
Many preventable illnesses are related to your lifestyle choices. Many things are within your control: Eating a healthy diet, adhering to a regular exercise routine, abstaining from smoking, using alcohol in moderation, managing your weight, and of course keeping up with your yearly checkup provide a very solid foundation for physical health.
You cannot hear too often that thinking positive, setting realistic goals for weight control and being physically active are proven methods of easing stress and staying healthy longer.
Our spiritual health does play a crucial part in our overall well-being. According to the results of a 28-year study of 5,000 churchgoers, those who regularly attended religious/spiritual services lived longer than those who did not attend.
Those who did not attend a service experienced a 36 percent higher death rate than those who did attend. It was theorized that this discrepancy could be explained by:
- increased social contacts
- improved health practices
- more stable marriages, and
- perhaps even the belief in, and practice of, prayer.
Many studies have revealed lower rates of depression and anxiety-related illness among those who pray. Practicing meditation and prayer regularly contributes to a sense of well being and eases stress.
I have discovered that many of my women patients’ physical complaints can be traced to personal financial stresses. Feeling out of control of your finances can make you feel out of control of your whole life.
Unfortunately, women who are stressed sometimes spend money as a temporary salve to other stresses and get into more debt, creating more real stress, and potential for real health problems. Setting long-term financial goals and finding ways to get out of debt and start saving is a solid way to ease overall stress in your life.
Feeling in control of your finances is truly empowering. Just making a budget and planning how to take charge of our financial health can be a major factor in reducing a major stress factor. Keys to financial success include:
- watching your spending
- building your cash savings
- reducing high-interest debt.
Please start to make small changes in each of the four cornerstones: mental, physical, spiritual, and financial. To improve your overall health and quality of life, make a balanced life a priority.