Journaling for Mental Wellness

BWhat do Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, Anne Frank, the young Jewish girl who hid with her family in an attic during World War II, and Susan Sontag, writer, filmmaker and political activist, all have in common?  Each of these women wrote in a journal, or kept a diary.  Journaling can mean different things to different people.  For some, a journal is more like a to-do list or a food diary.  Others keep a gratitude journal or work out deep thoughts, almost a written therapy of sorts.  And remember the Burn Book from the movie “Mean Girls?”  That was also a journal.

Journaling is the fourth installment of our #GirlUBeWell Blog series because keeping a journal is a great way to organize thoughts, work out problems, encourage personal growth and help sort through emotions, happy or sad.   Consider a journal a safe place for deepest, darkest personal issues or the place to park troubles at night in order to stop the brain from ruminating on problems and disrupting sleep.

On the flip side, a journal can be a place to write about experiences in order to document memories.  A journal can also be a place for ideas and creativity and organizing insights.  Some people have found that by writing down one note of gratitude per day one can refocus a general outlook on life to be positive in nature.

There are a variety of ways to keep a journal as well!  Some people prefer old fashion pen and paper, and the variety of artisan notebooks highlights the popularity of this medium.  There are also apps available to journal on your mobile device since most people have a phone close by 24/7! And there is also the trusty laptop or desktop if fingers fly across the keys more comfortably than holding a pen.

Let a journal be the place for a brain dump!  Once a thought is on paper, or in the journal app, have a conversation with the brain to let this issue go and to stop mulling it obsessively.  If something gets under the skin, complain loudly and use expletives in the journal!  Consider this journal a private place to scream, to face down your fears, to buck yourself up and to voice your dreams, desires and wishes.  A journal is a judgment free medium so it should feel liberating to keep a journal.  Be well!

Add a Hat to your Summer Wardrobe

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One important addition to your summer wardrobe should be a wide brimmed hat to protect your face from the sun.  Whether you are strolling through a city, sitting by a pool or attending a sporting event, a hat will keep the sun out of your eyes and protect your skin.

Sunlight is important for Vitamin D but it also causes premature wrinkling and skin cancer when you worship sun to the extreme.  A tan might make you feel good in your 20’s but it will make you leathery-skinned in your 40’s.  Finding a balance of sun exposure is very important.

The good news is that a good hat won’t cramp your style or break the bank so bring one with you everywhere.

What to Wear with Period Bloating this Summer

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There are 15 precious summer weekends on the calendar this year from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but what if your cycle messes up one of those weekends with period bloating?  Not to worry because summer fashion options are plentiful for days with water weight gain.

Here are a few comfortable outfit ideas for those days when a waistline with a zipper and a button seem impossible and demoralizing due to PMS bloating!

The Maxi Dress – Whether you chose a jersey style fabric, or a more flowing chiffon style fabric, the maxi dress is a great way to keep it loose at the mid-section.  All you will need is an awesome pair of sandals and a few eye-catching accessories and you will be trendy along with comfortable.

Tunic + Leggings – Tunics are available in stores ranging from inexpensive at H&M and Forever 21 to more expensive, preppy labels like Vineyard Vines and Lily Pulitzer.  Either way, the shirt grazes the mid-thigh and leggings are totally stretchy around the stomach area.   All you will need is a fun pair of flip-flops or gladiators and you are set for a summer evening in the city.

Yoga Pants – Have you seen the different styles available these days? From tight to flare to jogger to pants that could easily pass for jeans!  Today’s yoga pants are stylish enough for the office and as comfortable as yesteryear’s sweat pants.

Overall’s – These have made the rounds on many, many fashion blogs so what is old is new again.  Since they hang loose at the mid-section, they are perfect for PMS bloating days!

A-line T-shirts – Even if you insist on squeezing into your white jeans, a loose, breezy A-line t-shirt is cut a little longer and doesn’t cling to the body.  If you are really uncomfortable, you can undo the top button of your jeans and no one will be the wiser.

Remember that this water weight gain is temporary and if you choose the right clothing, you can still feel and look good every single night and day this summer!

Plant a Summer Garden & Boost Self Esteem

gardenPart three of our #GirlUBeWell blog series to provide you with an off-screen, self esteem boosting activity is planting a garden.  If you start this weekend, you will be rewarded all summer long. Doing an activity outside gets you “back to nature” and an easy garden provides a soul satisfying experience of playing with dirt and nurturing a plant’s growth.

Even if your only outdoor space is technically a sunny kitchen window, or a balcony, you have enough space for a garden.  But even with acres of land, if you are a newbie, your best bang for the buck is to start off growing herbs.  They thrive in pots or in a small plot of land.

A trip to your local Home Depot, or Lowes, or hometown nursery will provide everything you need…the planters, soil and small plants of herbs.  Here is what we think will make the perfect starter herb garden!

Basil – Grows like a weed as long as it has good sunlight and regular watering.  Since is grows abundantly, pinch off leaves for a caprese salad, bruschetta or a quick pesto sauce.

Mint – Also a hardy plant that grows quickly!  If you put it in the ground, give it room to spread.  Mint is perfect for Mojitos and for infusing water.  Mix in chopped mint with lemon juice and Greek yogurt and you have a great topping for grilled food.

Thyme – Excellent all around flavor and easy to dry for winter use.  Thyme is great for a lemon chicken dish or in pasta sauce.

Marjoram & Oregano – Do you have a spice bottle of “Italian Seasoning?” These two herbs are staples in sauces.

Tarragon – Adds a rich, woodsy flavor to mushroom risotto or a chicken dish.

Rosemary – Excellent on roasted vegetables or potatoes and it smells heavenly in creamy sauces.

Sage – Another woodsy herb that grows quickly and the leaves are soft and fuzzy and a pale green that looks so pretty in the garden.

Chives - A subtle onion flavor and a welcome addition in salad dressing and on baked potatoes with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream.

This is a satisfying way to spend a few minutes every day and there are plenty of other herbs to consider!  Fussing over the plants, either watering or picking some herbs, becomes a daily habit.  Your finger tips will be fragrant with whichever herb you pick and it feels good to grow some of the food you eat. You might find yourself looking for easy recipes using tarragon or sage if you have a bumper crop, or taking a bunch of basil in a mason jar filled with water to a friend’s house to share.  Who knows, growing herbs might entice you to try growing tomatoes or zucchini next summer.

Get Rid of Cramps with Heat!

Sometimes the best course of action when cramps are ruining your life is to place something warm on your belly and let heat work its magic.   Here is a product roundup of hot water bottles and heating pads to get rid of cramps.

SpaComforts Cozy Comfort Hot Water Bottle, Spa Girl Pink

$9.99, Walgreens.com

SpaComforts Cozy Comfort Hot Water Bottle

 

This old-fashioned hot water bottle has a stylish, plush cover with a little girlfriend reminder to “relax.”  Fill it up with hot water and place it on your belly for hours of heat therapy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travel Size Heart Warmer Pillow Red

$11.01 on sale, Bucky.com

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It is a little heart shaped hug and at 5”x 5” in size, it is discrete enough to use the office kitchen microwave and place on your lap at work.  Whole buckwheat seed is used in spas since it provides a gentle, moist heat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CVS Heatwraps Menstrual Cramp Relief

$5.99 for 3 patches, CVS.com

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They are not sexy, but a patch provides 8 hours of heat exactly where you need it and no one will ever be the wiser!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunbeam Moist/Dry Heating Pad

$12.99, Drugstore.com

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The electric heating pad is great for those days on the couch in sweatpants when long-lasting, steady heat is the only remedy for those cramps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heat is an all natural way to deal with the pain of PMS cramps and the good news is that there are many affordable options for relief.

 

PMS Food Cravings

cupcakesFull disclosure: This blog was drafted in writer’s head on a walk to coffee shop for decaf skim latte to avoid office birthday cake temptation!

As rational women, here is what we know.  We know that diet is critical to mitigating PMS symptoms.  By eating small meals throughout the day to avoid extreme hunger and by choosing vegetables and lean protein, we can fill our bodies with the food it needs to maintain balanced blood sugar and avoid food cravings.

But food cravings are powerful and fluctuating hormones can sometimes be hard to overcome.  During our PMS days, stress hormone, cortisol, can spike and feel-good hormone, serotonin, drops.  What temporarily boosts serotonin? Carbohydrates boost serotonin.  And the problem is that we crave the most fat and sugar filled carbohydrates during stressful and emotional times of the month.

We asked for coping strategies from a sampling of women and here are their answers.

  • Taking a walk and sipping on a warm beverage are two coping strategies. Both light exercise and caffeine can provide a boost.  If you are stressed out, go easy on the caffeine because you really don’t need a boost, you need the Zen affect of sipping something warm and soothing.   A dusting of chocolate or cinnamon to the top of a latte or cappuccino provides a dessert type flavor to the coffee, satisfying a sweet tooth for some.
  • Chew gum. Sugarless grape bubble gum was the respondent’s choice for a sweet pick me up, but mint or bubble gum flavors are also fine.
  • Have a conversation with yourself to understand the craving. Ask yourself if you are really hungry or are you bored?  Are you eating your emotions and is there something else you could do instead (take a walk, pick up your knitting, write in a journal) to work through the emotions?
  • Make a satisfying substitution. One respondent said that she eats a few dark chocolate covered almonds versus a candy bar and rationalizes it by saying that the almonds are healthier than a candy bar from the vending machine.  Plus, it satisfies the craving for chocolate.

Here is a little secret that most women don’t know, your metabolism revs up during your PMS days.  It is Mother Nature’s little offset for those PMS food cravings!  Try to bust through cravings by distracting yourself or substituting a healthier option, but forgive yourself and move on if you find yourself in a miserable mood finishing a bag of chips.

Knit 1, Purl 2…Stress Relief Just 4 You

YThe focus of our #GirlUBeWell blog campaign is to introduce a few analog activities for stress relief and to carve out some “me time” during the week.  Working, exercising, family obligations and overall busyness erode any free time to sit quietly and just be.  These quiet times are important to rejuvenate the mind.

Why knitting?  There are so many reasons but start with “community.”  If you want to meet new people, find a yarn store and purchase your yarn and needles there, take a class and join a knitting circle.  You can ask for help as you get stuck or have an expert available to pick up a dropped stitch, or help you rip a few errant rows.   Grab a few friends and make it a new kind of happy hour.  Sitting around with a bunch of women and the “click-click” of needles working always sparks conversation, and it is nice to talk versus text sometimes.

“Creativity” and “concentration” are second and third on the list of reasons.  As you gain confidence and skill, you will try new things.  It’s ok to make twenty scarves, eventually you will want a hat, socks or maybe some fingerless gloves.  As you learn to more stitches, you might move up to a poncho or a shawl!  Knitting requires reading a pattern and counting things, like stitches and rows, so it is an activity that demands focus.  Checking your newsfeed is not advisable!

Knitting a few rows is a great way to wind down your night, no yarn pun intended!  There is no blue light from a screen that revs up your brain and the tactile feel of soft yarn and the repetitive motion is soothing.  And when you hold a finished product in your hand, even a simple scarf, it is a gratifying sense of accomplishment.  For more on knitting and why it is a great activity to try, check out this Yahoo article or this HuffPost article!

The Right Bra for Sore Breasts

braDuring those PMS days of the month, breasts may become sore, swollen and tender and a bra that fits correctly goes a long way to keeping “the girls” comfortable. Have you had a proper fitting for a bra? If you answered “no,” you are like most women who guess their bra size by trial and error. However, most women pick out the wrong size and that can have consequences!

Department stores and lingerie stores have employees who are trained to measure and fit a bra properly. Everything about getting fitted, buying one bra at that store and paying a higher price for the right size, is worth it. Most of the support from a bra comes from the band and the right cup size will prevent squishing, spillage and extra movement.

Here are a couple of key tips for wearing the most comfortable bra every day, but especially on PMS days.

The Band – The band should rest on the top of your rib cage. This is especially important if you are wearing an underwire bra. If the wire or band is digging into breast tissue, this can be very painful on PMS days.

The Cup – Breasts not only move up and down, but also side to side during normal everyday activity. A cup that is too big allows a larger range of motion, which can be painful during PMS. A too small cup will squish breast tissue, which is also uncomfortable when breasts are swollen and tender.

The Support- Breasts don’t have a lot of built in support, "Cooper’s Ligaments" hold your breasts up. This tissue is responsible for the “shape and lift” of your breasts, so excessive bouncing can damage the tissue.

We have written extensively about how exercise is good for combating PMS, like here and here, but if your boobs hurt that could really make exercise unappealing. So sports bras need to fit well too! A good sports bra will restrict bouncing which is important on PMS days. A good rule of thumb is to replace a sports bra when you replace your sneakers since the elastic wears out with frequent wear and washing!

If your breasts are sensitive to the touch during PMS, pick a bra with a soft lining versus a lace bra. Even a layer of padding will be helpful if your breasts are really sensitive.

One last note, the band and the shoulder straps should not leave visible marks on your body when you remove your bra. Use this as a quick check to see if you are wearing the correct bra size. If the straps dig into your shoulders and you have an imprint of the band around your chest, then do yourself a huge favor and get properly fitted for a bra as soon as possible!

Is it PMS or Perimenopause?

 

WIt could still be PMS when you are in your 40’s, but the symptoms of perimenopause are strikingly familiar to PMS.    Hormone fluctuations are at the root of both PMS and perimenopause. There are a whole host of physical and emotional symptoms associated with perimenopause and like PMS, not every woman has the same experience or symptoms.   As with PMS, there are natural ways to deal with symptoms through diet, exercise, healthy lifestyle and getting enough sleep.  Is perimenopause just PMS when a woman is in her 40’s?

Perimenopause is state of transition in a woman’s reproductive cycle that typically starts somewhere in the 40’s.  Hormone fluctuations are different during this phase.   Ovaries produce less estrogen but follicle stimulating hormone rises so…get ready for this…menstrual cycles shorten.   What was once a 28 day cycle might become a 25 day cycle.  Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) stimulates egg growth and development, but when ovulation becomes erratic and cycles shorten, your “flow” can go from normal to very heavy.

Perimenopause, as a coined term, is relatively new.  The four to five year time frame before menopause was only labeled peri or pre menopause roughly 20 years ago.  Most women realize things are changing because approximately 40% of women in their 40’s report symptoms, like mood swings, irregular cycles, heavy flow or hot flashes, but it is difficult to define how long you have been perimenopausal or exactly when menstruation will cease.

As with PMS, there are ways to treat and handle the unpleasant symptoms of hormonal fluctuations in our cycles.  They will sound familiar to you!

Exercise regularly-Abdominal fat starts to appear but regular exercise can melt fat, improve your mood and reduce your flow.  Mixing it up with strength training, cardio and yoga covers you for decreasing muscle loss, melting fat and providing a little “zen.”

Avoid Hot Flash triggers-Pay attention to your body!  If you drink wine or coffee, does that trigger a hot flash?  How about spicy foods or overly warm environments?  Try to avoid what ails you!  And if your hot flash is interrupting your sleep in the form of night sweats, invest in some pajamas that wick moisture away from your body.

Sleep-If an eye mask and ear plugs help, use them.  Try chamomile tea, practice deep breathing and relaxation techniques.  Poor sleep quality does not help your mood or your food choices during the day.  Keep experimenting with pillows until you find one that keeps your head supported, maybe have another pillow handy so there are three cool sides to the pillow at all hours of the night!

It is common to experience a little sadness when menstruation finally ceases, but then not having a period becomes extremely liberating!

Grown Up Coloring Books to De-Stress

IMG_3191Coloring is part one of our #GirlUBeWell blog series featuring analog pursuits to relax, de-stress and to boost low self esteem by focusing our attention on pen and paper and away from a screen.

The New York Times published an article in the business section a few weeks ago about The Secret Garden coloring books for adults and their creator, Johanna Basford.    This article, and others like this Pure Wow  piece, suggests that our fragmented attention as we bounce from social media to email to a text message to cat videos leaves us frazzled.

Coloring was something we all did as kids!  Some people scribbled outside the lines with reckless abandon and others meticulously selected colors and never strayed outside the lines, either method, though, was enjoyable and carefree.  As Ms. Basford said in the New York Times, “Part of the apparent appeal is the tactile, interactive nature of the books, which offer respite to the screen-weary. ‘People are really excited to do something analog and creative, at a time when we’re all so overwhelmed by screens and the Internet,’ she said. ‘And coloring is not as scary as a blank sheet of paper or canvas. It’s a great way to de-stress.’”

The smell of a fresh box of crayons alone may bring a flood of happy childhood memories, but there are also neon gel pens or retro tins filled with colored pencils from the artist supply store to choose from for achieving different looks.

We tried it and found coloring to be extremely soothing.  It presented an opportunity to create something unique and to step away from screens in an engaging, and yet mentally unchallenging way.  Just focusing on the design, colors and for some of us…staying in the lines…brought us each a short period of mental calm and an opportunity to let our minds just wander.

You don’t even have to buy a coloring book, here is a “zentangle” technique we posted on our Pinterest board!  Try it and happy coloring!