I have a confession. I am a recovering RUSH-A-HOLIC.
Most days I like to believe that I am in remission and to give myself some credit I have done (and continue to do) a lot of hard work to improve my perspectives and live fully. I’ve gone from rushing most of the time to rushing some of the time. The hard truth is that it’s the school morning rush that still does me in most days. I’m a lifelong work in progress. It’s not just me though. Everywhere I look I see women in a hurry. Women complaining about how tired they are and how much they have on their to-do list. Women who just look defeated most days. Rushing rushing rushing.
The pace of modern day living, a rapidly increasing work load and an ever lengthening to-do list, instant availability via emails, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter has left little room for rest and communing with the rhythm of nature. Even in a modern household like mine where both partners share the family responsibility and actually enjoy doing it, in general, the mental load on mum is much greater. From keeping the pantry stocked with the right foods and checking food labels, making sure all school gear and lunch is sorted the night before, organising clothes, lunches, breakfasts, being on top of the school schedule including extra-murals, birthdays , homework, projects, taking care of sick kids, making sure the pet is alive and has food, being in touch with the greater family circle and organising visits with the grandparents, friends and family, households and miscellaneous bills, clothing, shopping, educational and recreational wellbeing, vitamins, lotions and potions, your own work, your own wellbeing and growth and squeeze in being a good wife, daughter, granddaughter, daughter-in-law, sister, friend. In some cases being responsible for the care of sick or frail extended family members. Sheesh.
It’s no wonder so many women are suffering from chronic diseases including obesity, diabetes and the metabolic syndrome, diseases of the reproductive system, nervous system and the gut!
So how is all this rushing bad for our health?
To answer this question we must first answer this.
Why do we rush?
Let’s look at an example from how my mornings used to be. It started always from the night before. I slept too late; usually because I was wired and tired. I was tired from not prioritising my needs. After saying an always heart wrenching goodbye to my angel (safe in daddy arms) and dropping the other piece of my heart off at school, I would spend most of my day focussing on the needs of others and not prioritising what I loved and needed. I loved my job of course but I was evolving and felt trapped within a system that at best stayed stagnant at worst moved even further away from the direction I was headed. On days that my kids were sick or had struggled to let me leave, I would be wracked with mum guilt.
I felt like a victim, drained, exhausted to my bones. After work I’d rush home to my darlings. A scarce 10 minutes after those warm wonderful embraces my mind would skip to work and how my sick patients were doing. I would flit between sms’s to colleagues in the emergency room and “Mummy watch this!” Dinners were punctuated with calls from colleagues. I’d spend a few precious hours with my kids before they went to bed and I was quite relieved each night as I closed the door on their sleeping darling faces. After sorting out lunches and prep for whatever the next day might bring, I’d be left with a precious hour to myself to settle down. Most nights I read. Books that helped me figure out who I am. Books that helped me find my way back to me. I read late into the night, knowing I needed to sleep especially if I was on call and knew that the phone would ring but unwilling to give up those delicious moments I had to myself. I didn’t want to talk to my hubby even though I adored him. I was all talked out. I’d finally fall asleep wired from that inevitable second wind and wake exhausted to my alarm clock – hit the snooze button spin and repeat. Finally when I could snooze no longer I would RUSH out of bed, wash, dress, wash and dress the kids, feed them, quick kiss and handover to hubby the kids schedule for the day. Rush to drop off my daughter. Pray drop off would be smooth. Hit the road to work. Somedays I’d walk into a resuscitation and it was all systems go all day long.
Lets analyse this:
I rushed because I fell asleep too late. I slept too late because I needed more me time. I needed more me time because I didn’t prioritise my own needs. I didn’t prioritise my own needs because I didn’t know what they were and because I didn’t feel they were important enough. As optimistic and bubbly as I appeared on the outside, on the inside, I was struggling to feel gratitude for my life. I was disconnected from myself and unwilling to embrace my life as it was OR make some changes.
So I ran away from the inner turmoil. I kept so busy that I would not hear the inner voice of discontent. I became addicted to busyness. I worked harder at work. I worked even harder at home to be a better mum. I did more. Extravagant birthday parties, cooking meals, snacks everything from scratch, accepting no help. Someway I had to prove that I was enough. I did and did and did until I burnout.
Here’s what I’ve learnt:
Overloading your schedule also overloads your family’s schedule. Children emulate this disconnect and start to distract themselves in their lives with TV, food, the newest toys (oh how I splurged on the latest educational toy to ease my mum guilt) social media or friends who aren’t real friends fill the void. Nobody wins. All anybody ever wants is connection. Connection to a Universal Intelligence, connection to self, connection to loved ones, connection to a village, connection to the thread of love and power that connects us all.
On a physiological level living a life of disconnection and rush results in constant sympathetic overdrive. Each moment in the day, our hypothalamus is asking us this question: ‘Am I safe?’ When we perceive the task ahead of us to be stressful or if we don’t actually want to be doing what we’re doing or if we choose to think stressful thoughts about the things and people around us, we answer loud and clear : “NO!!! I AM NOT SAFE!!” The hypothalamus answers back : “ No problem, let’s run away from that Saber tooth tiger! Here’s some extra adrenaline, and cortisol to get more blood to your muscles (never mind it shunts blood away from your other important organs like your gut) and here’s a bit more glucose to fuel your muscles while you run way from that nasty tiger! Acute stress is good- it gets us away from danger. In short, it helps us to be more productive. However chronic stress and recurrent secretion of cortisol causes other hormones especially sex hormones to become depleted. You gain weight, sleep badly, have digestive issues, have heavy painful periods and other reproductive issues, an imbalanced nervous system and you get sick.
On the other hand, scientists have discovered countries around the world where people age gracefully well into their 100’s with almost no sign of chronic disease. Studies from these Blue Zones show us that life can be long and healthy when we follow the rhythm of nature and tap in to our own bodies and intuition.
How can we live better?
Our genes only contribute 20-30% of our longevity. The remaining 70-80% influence we have on how we age can be modified by lifestyle changes.
1)Live a life of purpose
When you have purpose, you are more connect to yourself. You prioritise yourself and your needs. It becomes easy to say NO to energy drainers. Your priorities have shifted. You are now more likely to make healthier choices all around and take on a long term view of life.
2) Choose real food
Choose foods that your body approves of. Make a decision to honour your body and to introduce only the most wholesome food into your being. Those foods become you so choose wisely.
3) Don’t overeat
Blue zone areas have an 80% rule. Stop eating when you are 80% full.
3) Move more
Make movement a habit. If you have an office job make a point of moving around every hour. Go get some water, do some push-ups, try some pull-ups. Hold a squat or dance…whatever beats your drum. Many of my patients use a fit-bit or similar device to help remind them, some have converted to a stand-up desk or have made some form of exercise a daily habit.
People in the Blue zones move all day long. Think mountain goat, upward climbing and uneven terrain. Our lives today are comfortable with smooth flat and predictable surfaces. It helps to challenge the body to stay strong regardless of the terrain.
I’ve put exercise into its own category because it is that important and in my opinion, different to daily movement. Exercise increases endorphins and helps you get stronger. Don’t put yourself into any specific category. There is no rule that says that women should do ‘ladies’ push-ups. By all means pace yourselves but aim for a regular push-up, then three, then thirty. Feel how amazing it feels to be strong. Choose the slightly heavier weights at the gym next time – your body will adapt and get stronger. Don’t hurt yourself, know your limits but aim to go beyond gradually. Run for endurance and throw in some high intensity training. And stretch. Exercise to stay strong, maintain mental fitness and your body will feel and look great!
5) Honour your circadian rhythm
Be consistent with the time that you wake and the time that you sleep. Be disciplined and consistent with the time that you start and stop eating and most of all, stop eating 3 hours before going to bed. Recent science has proven a strong link between the time that you stop eating and the quality of the depth of sleep. Studies have also linked consistency in time of eating and waking with longevity.
Sleep is the foundation of good health. Sleep has always been thought to be ‘a pillar’ of good health. More and more research is emerging showing that there is very little that can be fixed, if you don’t get your sleep right first. By doing your best to make sure you get great sleep quality and quantity, your body is able to use the sleep hours to maintain immunity, memory, mood and emotions, appetite regulation, bone and cartilage health among other important tasks.
7) Find your tribe
Blue zones all showed a sense of belonging, whether through community, family, religious group. There are numerous studies showing that loneliness is a greater risk to your health than smoking or lack of exercise while socialising and belonging improve health.
Make time to rest. Whether it’s a power nap or just some reprieve from screens, take time in the day to connect with yourself and take mental stock. Breathe. Relax.
How do you do all this? It may seem like an added load of stress to find a way to squeeze all this info into your life. You may feel guilt if you don’t manage to do it all, most or even some of what I’ve shared. Don’t worry. Start slow. It’s not easy but you will soon make light work of it. Start by resetting your mindset. Then make a decision to incorporate one new habit into your life and stick to it until it becomes second nature.
As you master each new habit, add another but make sure it’s something you love and becomes personal to you.With things you don’t like much like exercise or choosing healthier meals, find something about them to love about it. Watching new muscles develop where you didn’t know you had any. The feeling of getting stronger. An ever decreasing waistline and knowing that you redoing your best to add healthy years onto your purpose driven life. The point is to commit and to start. Take breaks if you want when life gets over-the-top busy but never ever quit.
This International day of Action for Women’s health, I would like to encourage all women to prioritise yourself. You are the heart of the home. You nurture the future in your wombs, then at your bosom, then in your laps and forever in your hearts. Let that heart reflect a love that is true, filled with love for self and connected to the wisdom and strength of the Universe.
Yang YC, et al. Social relationships and physiological determinants of longevity across the human life span. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2016;113:578
The Circadian Code: Dr Satchin Panda
About the author:
Dr Hassina Kajee is co-founder and Medical Director of The Noakes Foundation ‘Eat Better South Africa’ program and was instrumental in overseeing and facilitating the Foundation’s first ever Eat Better South Africa! intervention programme conducted in the Ocean View community. She has since advised on a number of the Foundations subsequent interventions. Her enthusiasm and passion about the LCHF eating science emanates through her. She believes that prevention starts with educating and empowering her patients and the general public with knowledge of the tenets of optimal health including optimal nutrition backed by robust science.
Dr Kajee turned her clinical practice towards chronic disease prevention after years of practicing ‘palliative’ chronic medicine at the tertiary level where she headed up the High Care Unit at Groote Schuur Hospital. She currently practices privately; in addition she advises as Medical Director of Eat Better South Africa, The Nutrition Network and as a director on the Board of The Noakes Foundation. As a wife and mother of 2 young children, she is passionate about preventative health care and believes in supporting prevention as early as possible- at the prenatal level.