Category Archives: Wellness

Leaning into Limitations: A New Era of Wellness

When I initially sat down to write this first article following maternity leave, my infant decided to wake up wailing after no less than five minutes. Eventually, I was able to get through writing the first half. The second day I expected to carve out some time to write was the same day as my youngest’s 6-month check up, which turned into a sick visit because my toddler’s classroom had a Covid exposure. The day got turned upside down from there, masking to grab groceries in the event of a quarantine, picking up test-to-stay kits from my child’s school, and so on. Such is the nature of the season that I’m in as a parent with limited childcare for the summer. This state seems to mirror the pandemic-era world of canceled events, last minute changes in plans, and constant iterations for how we live. All of it leaves me (and I assume many of us) feeling limited.

 

 

No one likes feeling limited, least of all Americans. We are so completely entrenched in our own ideas and plans going exactly as expected that the fast moving trains we set in motion are bound to run off track. But when they do, we fuss and complain. We dig our heels in harder and claim that grit and perseverance are our best assets. The ones that will win us the race, earn us the promotion, get our waistline back, buy us the house, and fill us with full satisfaction. Limitlessness is the dream and beyond the sky is the destination, but we remain forever bound by skin, neediness, hunger, sleep, and a desire for connection.

I’ve worked with not hundreds but thousands of individuals, some in depth and some more surface level. I’ve witnessed nearly every one of them (and myself) pine for achievement, a sense of completion, and – most noteworthy – the ability to do more. The opposite of living limited. The bedrock of Western culture in a word is MORE. Consumerism is defined by more, as is the fitness industry in which I have spent many years of my professional career. More reps. More sets. More weights. More distance. More speed. More strength.

Even places of worship are tempted into the deliciousness of “more” by trying to gain additional members and achieve greater things in the name of their God. As a woman of faith, I see a great danger emerging as certain Christian denominations and groups threaten America’s collective wellness with their desire for more power and control. The entire crisis of the war in Ukraine has been driven by one individual’s bloodthirsty desire for more – more land, control, power, dominance, and fear. The poison of more even impacts gun violence. Automatic weapons are especially deadly because of the greater potential number of victims in each assault on human life. And so it would seem, this thirst and hunger for more is quite universal but perhaps, when we sit with its reality, we can see how dangerous it is. Not just for dictators and fringe extremists but for all of us.

For the past half year I’ve been tending to the needs of my third child in the first months of her life. I’m constantly feeling the pressure of “more.” I wish I could divide myself into five parts at once – one of me to tend to my oldest child, one for my middle child, another for the breastfeeding babe, one for my work, and another to collapse in a heap of exhaustion and *finally* get that nap that I so desperately need. But I too am bound by my own skin. My own limitations. God, help me to accept them.

 

 

The problem isn’t that we are limited creatures in this existence. The problem is that we resist limitations even when they are a part of our very makeup. Denying them and trying to play the more, more, more game breaks us. Yes, we hear stories about executives who start at the bottom and work 20 hour days to make it big and athletes who train eight hours a day year round to win the Olympics (I just watched the “Untold: Caitlyn Jenner” documentary on Netflix), but let’s face it – none of us can outrun the exhaustion forever. There is always a price to pay either mentally or physically. Sometimes we can recalibrate and reverse the damage and other times, it leaves its mark.

Pushing myself past the limit always follows the same pattern:

Life gets busy yet I pressure myself to do even more during already maxed-out daily schedules. The overwhelm of this traps me in a state of anxiety which only serves to drive me forward harder and faster, more determined to get everything done quickly – and done well. My body enters into sympathetic nervous system overdrive, feeling on edge, hyper and anxious most hours of the day. Eventually, an acute stressor enters the equation such as something traumatic happening in the nation or world or my toddler bringing home a nasty virus. This added mental or physical stress is enough to tip my system past its breaking point and I burn out and crash (usually with a head cold).

Do you have a vicious cycle too? One where you know you’re past your limits but keep pushing anyway?

Time and maturity have helped me identify this harmful pattern of pretending and trying to do more than I can. I’m not perfect at avoiding or fixing it though. It’s a gradual process and I constantly have to remind myself that the rat race and nose-to-the-grindstone mentality are no way to live in true wellness. Both tear down the individual and the collective in very tangible and harmful ways. I find myself in a much healthier place when I openly and lovingly acknowledge my limitations.

 

 

Here are a few things that limit me:

Breastfeeding all three of my children has limited me for the better part of the past decade. It’s time consuming, forces me to slow down, and means that I opt for less help with childcare for the first year of their lives due to the frequency of nursing and sub-optimal pumping output in substitute of direct breastfeeding.

My back limits me. I used to be a marathoner but I was hit by a car while riding my bike in DC and ever since have dealt with ongoing spinal instability. Long mileage doesn’t work with my body anymore and I have to heavily favor foam rolling and strength training despite wishing I could run days upon days in a row without issue.

My scar limits me. It’s from an emergency C-section from a pregnancy loss and then the planned C-section for my third child. The underlying tissue is still healing and I’m actively working to keep the fascia from forming tight adhesions that could some day cause me problems. This whole process sets off the instability in my back. The visual scar challenges me mentally and emotionally in many ways too, although less than it used to.

The list is longer but you get the idea. We all have things that challenge us to slow down or do things differently than we would ideally choose to. Again, that’s okay. This is human. Normal. The thing that’s NOT okay is allowing our limitations to steal our joy or question our worth, and yet so many people fall prey to these fear-based mentalities, as though not being able to do more means our inherent value is less. But that’s a lie.

 

 

I cope best with my limitations when I remind myself that I’m enough as I am – and that I’m not all things. Sometimes, it can help to run through a list in your head or write down all the traits you possess and are proud of while also making note of a few things you’re not the best at but beat yourself up about. If you do this, I would ask you to thoughtfully sit with the things you feel guilt, frustration, anxiety, or sadness about and consider if you might be able and willing to accept them with love or let them go in such a way that they can’t allow you to feel shame anymore.

Living limited can lead to a beautiful and flourishing wellness. When I embrace living this way I’m able to breathe deeply and rest peacefully. My priorities become clearer and I let go of the voices in my head threatening to measure my worth based on productivity and accomplishment. In the next few months I will share with you all what one of those crystal clear priorities is and how it’s taking shape but for now, let’s part ways after repeating these affirmations a few times silently:

 

My limitations are where I can find my strength.

My worth is not based on appearances or output.

I am enough.

I am not all things. And that’s okay.

I can find peace in the moment.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

How to Manage Chronic Fatigue with Exercise

I’ve long preached that exercise is a double-edged sword. It can help or hurt our bodies depending on an individual’s health status at the time of exercise combined with the mode and intensity of the workout. We must remain mindful of how and when we workout, especially when battling fatigue. When used improperly, exercise can be EXTREMELY harmful for a person battling chronic fatigue syndrome.

Data shows us that women suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome far more than men. So, let’s explore how to identify if you’re suffering from regular fatigue or chronic fatigue syndrome, and then what kind of exercise is appropriate under each circumstance. Every woman is worthy of feeling healthy. Let’s make sure we equip ourselves – and each other – for this worthwhile endeavor.

(Please be patient while the video loads – thanks!)

For more videos and content while I’m on maternity leave, you’re welcome to follow along on Instagram:

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

Every Woman is Worthy

Out with the old and in with the new!

I’m excited to (verbally) introduce the new slogan for WellnessWinz: Every Woman is Worthy!

In the video below, I dive into why this slogan gets to the core of wellness and the heart of the site’s content over the past seven years. Included in our discussion are the four aspects of wellness covered through long-form content on WellnessWinz – physical wellness, emotional/mental wellness, spiritual wellness, and most recently, social wellness. There are a handful of other dimensions of wellness that are important such as occupational, intellectual, creative, environmental and financial, but I will leave other more qualified experts to dive into those.

So, for now…let’s explore what “Every Woman is Worthy” means, how judgement of the self and others holds us back, and why living this message out is so important for women from diverse backgrounds.

(Ps – An alternative to watching me through the whole video is to start playing it but listen as though it’s a podcast while you cook, clean, exercise, etc.)

(Please be patient while the video loads – thanks!)

I would love to hear what you think every woman is worthy of. Fill in the blank in the comments:

Every woman is worthy of ______.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

“Women Can Have It All” [the myth that hurts our wellness the most]

I was reading a news article recently and was caught off guard by how angry it made me. I get worried, stressed, fearful, and frustrated but seldom truly angry. Now, before going on, I *don’t* want to get political here. That’s never been what WellnessWinz is for or about. So please discard that idea as you read on. It’s not my agenda.

The article that made me angry was about a triggering topic that just doesn’t seem to stop making headlines lately: Abortion rights. I’ve heard allllll the arguments from both sides and from activists that are secular and faith-based. Trust me when I say I know a lot more about this topic than the average woman due to a medically complicated pregnancy just over a year ago that left me torn as to what I ought to do to protect my unborn child from suffering. It opened my eyes to the torment that so many women endure when considering ending a wanted pregnancy and the underrecognized struggles of many women considering ending unplanned pregnancies, not to mention the plight of women at large.

(If you want to read more about my experiences feel free to check out one of several articles I’ve written about pregnancy loss, grief, healing and being pregnant again after trauma: Glimmers of Joy Amid Grief, My Emergency C-section Recovery, Mental Health Support for Mothers, Pregnancy After Loss Is…)

 

 

So, what made me angry in the article that I read?

Answer: The idea that abortion, chosen or not, legal or illegal, is about empowerment.

 

The arguments go something like this:

Pro-choice: Women’s bodily autonomy = empowerment to choose timing of children, career, education, etc. (this is a long-standing stance).

&

Pro-life: “Women can have it all these days” (the exact words from the article) = empowerment to both raise children and hold down a job.

 

In my honest opinion, politics aside, empowerment has nothing to do with the difficult decision to end a pregnancy, wanted or unwanted. Empowerment is the farthest thing from explaining why many women feel so disadvantaged and under supported that they don’t have the choice to keep their unborn child. Empowerment also doesn’t begin to scrape at the struggles that lie ahead for women who keep their babies against the odds. Empowerment? No.

Allow me to explain the weak points of both sides here:

Bodily autonomy is an important thing, even as people on both sides of the abortion debate have varying definitions of what that ought to mean; however, the idea that it’s empowering to be forced to choose between a child and career, single and/or young motherhood or higher education, putting food on the table for older children or adding a starving mouth to a hungry household is in no way, shape or form accurate, in my humble opinion. It’s incredibly damaging to women’s wellness. No matter the choice, a woman must make a sacrifice.

On the flip side, the notion that “women can have it all” is a long-standing myth that actually means “women must find a way to DO it all.” This is the way our society continues to place heavy burdens squarely on the shoulders of women while disadvantaging and under supporting them along the way. This harms our collective wellness as women too. Big time. It’s entirely out of touch with reality and how much women’s health suffers in nearly every way from an unequal society.

My mom has told me for years that she felt frustrated by pro-choice claims decades ago that abortion “allows women to have it all” (she recognized the oppressive nature of this myth long before I came to terms with it) and now, quite ironically, we’re beginning to hear the exact same argument used against abortion from pro-lifers. What gives?!?!

Let’s move on from abortion debate “highlights” and talk about the most pressing thing:

The reality that women are vastly underserved by our society and are paying a steep price for it, monetarily, personally, and with their health. As a women’s wellness advocate, I can’t turn away from this disheartening data even as I confess that I don’t have many answers for solutions. But perhaps continuing to shine a spotlight on these things is a start…

 

 

The Proof That Women Are Far From “Having It All”

A major gender pay gap exists in many developed nations, not to mention third world countries. In the U.S., women earn 83 cents to every man’s dollar, and this trend of earning less is true across nearly every occupation. In the U.K., women earn a whopping 40% less than men. Unequal pay most certainly means fewer options and opportunities for women despite their hard work.

Earning an advanced degree doesn’t help advance women very much in their earning potential, not to mention the student debt it accrues. On average, most women with advanced degrees (master’s, Ph.d., etc.) earn less than white men with only a bachelor’s degree do, and this pay gap is especially disproportionate for black and Latina women. Again, these disparities persist across nearly every occupation with some small exceptions. Check it out for yourself with this interactive tool that allows you to compare wages (and gives you fuel to ask for a raise).

Not only are women earning less money but they’re shouldering the caregiving load in both married and single parent households. In the U.S. alone, most single parent homes are overseen by moms (8.5 million) compared to dads (2.6 million). According to an article on Parents.com, single mothers feel firsthand all the weight they’re carrying for their careers, families and society’s expectations of them: “Single mothers confirm they’re facing these pressures and high expectations every day and are even shamed when their abilities don’t match up to the ideal.”

Indeed, women are expected to do SO much and with a smile on their worn out faces. Add these struggles to the high cost of childcare, inequitable healthcare coverage, and lack of paid maternity leave, and you have a society that is telling women they can have it all while denying them of all the support for fulfilling that dream.

One example of how women are intensely under supported is the steep decline in breastfeeding rates from infancy to one year of age (84% of women initiate breastfeeding their babies but only 57% still are at 6 months and 35% are at one year). Breastfeeding is arguably one of the most physically natural roles a mother has and yet in our society it’s nearly impossible for most women to stick with due to pressures to return to work, a lack of support for breastfeeding logistics, low help with childcare for older children, and only half of employers offering lactation support programs and on-site nursing/pumping rooms. Not only that, but depending on where you live geographically in the U.S. there are varying degrees of cultural support and importance placed on this healthy maternal-infant relationship: see here.

 

 

How else is our culture expecting too much and offering too little for women? Ohhh, let me count the ways…

I have seen within my own family the toll that caregiving can take. My mother was working full-time, raising three kids, helping support three aging relatives and her disabled younger brother, all while going through menopause. The weight of all these responsibilities is not unique to her. It’s a common, untold story of middle-aged women at large. Right when women’s self-care needs must be addressed to manage menopause in a healthy manner, life demands reach a crescendo and minimize a woman’s ability to focus on her own wellness.

Roughly 66% of caregivers for aging relatives are female, averaging 49 years old and working outside of the home while simultaneously providing 20 hours of unpaid elderly care per week. During this phase of life, the demands placed uniquely on women’s backs has the following repercussions:

    • “33% of working women decreased work hours
    • 29% passed up a job promotion, training or assignment
    • 22% took a leave of absence
    • 20% switched from full-time to part-time employment
    • 16% quit their jobs
    • 13% retired early
    • In total, the cost impact of caregiving on the individual female caregiver in terms of lost wages and Social Security benefits equals $324,044″…read more

This data only reflects the challenges of caregiving for elderly loved ones, let alone the percentage of women who quit work and/or struggle with demands to caretake for disabled or sick children. I think most of us can agree that these numbers do NOT match up to the mythical ideal of “women can have it all.” These struggles are seen generation after generation and unfortunately, the future for women looks somewhat bleak. According to the U.S. Department of Labor:

“The pandemic has set women’s labor force participation back more than 30 years.” 

 

By early 2021, women’s participation in the work force fell to less than 56%, matching rates as far back as 1987. Women of color and those working in low-wage occupations have been the most impacted.

I know, I know…this isn’t a feel good article. But it’s important that we get to the core of why the myth “women can have it all” just isn’t adding up to reality.

 

 

The Ripple Effects of Gender Inequality on the Average Woman’s Wellness

A Statement from the 2020 Global Gender Gap Report:

“In no country in the world is the amount of time spent by men on unpaid work (mainly domestic and volunteer work) equal to that of women; and in many countries, women still spend multiple-folds as much time than men on these activities. Even in countries where this ratio is lowest (i.e. Norway or the United States) women spend almost twice as much time as men on unpaid domestic work.”

This global gender gap contributes to higher mental health challenges for women versus men. The World Health Organization shows that women outpace men on rates of mental disorders such as depression, anxiety and somatic complaints, to name a few. Within the U.S. alone, one study demonstrates disheartening findings stating that “by many objective measures the lives of women in the United States have improved over the past 35 years, yet we show that measures of subjective well-being indicate that women’s happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men.”

Women’s mental health suffers gravely because of how much we are tasked with. Mental health is further complicated by the following factors that contribute to social insecurity:

  • gender-based violence
  • socio-economic disadvantage
  • income inequality
  • low social status and rank
  • responsibility for the care of others

As long as so many women suffer from mental health challenges, the collective wellness of society suffers too. Our bodies suffer. Our families suffer. Our workplaces suffer. Our healthcare systems suffer. And so on.

 

 

Is There a Path Forward that is Better for Women’s Wellness?

I don’t have the answers for pay equity, changes in government policies and benefits,  and normalizing caregiving for men, but I can say without a shadow of a doubt that ALL of this information compels me to scream from the rooftops that we are hurting women’s wellness with the myth that “women can have it all.” We’re far from that reality becoming manifest. So for now, this myth continues to be synonymous with “women must do it all,” and I can’t think of anything more suffocating, oppressive, sexist, and damaging to women’s collective wellness than that.

I hate to end on such a negative statement. That’s seldom my style. But I find myself realizing that passive complacency or putting a positive spin on these complicated circumstances is no longer acceptable as it allows that myth to gain in momentum and harm.

Women deserve better.

Perhaps it’s time we should accept that having it all (ahem, doing it all) is an impossible standard for a person of any gender? Just a thought.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

5 Tips For Women to Get Better Sleep

Today, WellnessWinz is hosting Morgan Adams as a guest writer to discuss insights about women’s sleep needs and solutions. Morgan recently launched a new website for her Sleep Coaching services. Check it out and read on. Sweet dreams! Yours in health and wellness, Maggie

 

5 Tips For Women to Get Better Sleep

According to the National Sleep Foundation, up to 67% of women say they’ve had a sleeping problem at least a few nights during the past month—and 46% said they had problems almost every night. The average adult needs seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Unfortunately, fewer than two thirds of women (according to the CDC) actually get that much sleep each night.

This pre-pandemic data clearly speaks to the fact that many women are getting suboptimal sleep. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but I would argue that women’s sleep situation is actually worse than these statistics suggest. Pandemic-related anxiety, lack of boundaries between work and family life, and women often shouldering more of the household duties have created the perfect storm for sleep struggles.

While many of these issues seem beyond our control, I want to share 5 strategies I’ve been helping my clients implement:

 

 

  1. Avoid starting prescription sleep medications

In my mid-30’s, I had a personal crisis that caused insomnia. I sought a prescription for a popular sleeping pill which I became dependent on for almost a decade. The downsides for me were late-night binges without any recollection of these episodes the next morning and feeling extremely foggy the next day up until close to lunchtime. 

According to Dr. Matthew Walker, author of the best-seller Why We Sleep, “Sleeping pills do not provide natural sleep, can damage health, and increase the risk of life-threatening diseases.” While prescription sleep drugs can help you become unconscious, sedation isn’t the same as sleep. These drugs can actually restrict the deeper brain waves that happen during REM sleep, which is why so many people experience grogginess the next morning.

So what should you do if you’re already on prescription sleep medicine and no longer want to be taking it? Work with your healthcare provider on coming up with a plan to gradually reduce your dose. 

 

  1. Pay close attention to what you consume in the evening

Avoid eating a heavy dinner 3 hours before bed. This could help you avoid potential heartburn or indigestion, which can make it more difficult to fall asleep.

Have an alcohol curfew. If you’re going to enjoy a cocktail or a glass of wine, it’s better to do so at Happy Hour as opposed to an after-dinner drink. I’ve personally found that I (and my clients) sleep much more soundly when we stop drinking about 3 hours before bed. While alcohol can help you get to sleep faster, the downside is that it impairs your REM sleep which you need for consolidation of memories and processing of emotions.

If you’re going to chill with Netflix before bedtime, consider the type of content you’re watching. Shows that are disturbing and overstimulating could impact your sleep. So go for “Ted Lasso” instead of “Handmaid’s Tale.”

 

 

  1. Track your sleep

Tracking your sleep is important because you want to 1) identify whether or not you’re getting enough of it and 2) make sure it’s quality sleep. You can opt for logging your sleep data in an online or paper tracker. My preference for really drilling down to get some hard stats is to use a sleep tracking device.

In a recent study in the journal Nature and Science of Sleep, several popular wearable trackers were evaluated. The findings concluded that there were large variations between devices and that the greatest amount of confidence was measuring Total Sleep Time, Total Wake Time, and Sleep Efficiency. Where all the devices fell short with regard to accuracy was measuring sleep stages (eg. REM and deep sleep). Fitbit and Oura were both noted as being the most accurate devices.

Personally, I’ve had an Oura ring for a year and a half and have gained so many insights from using it nightly. Its ability to measure your body temperature could be of interest to women who are closely tracking their fertility or menstrual cycle. One piece of advice I’d offer to those who are using wearable sleep trackers is to pay more attention to your weekly trend lines than what data the tracker reports each day. If you lean toward perfectionism you don’t risk developing an unhealthy obsession with achieving perfect sleep (AKA “orthosomnia”).

 

  1. Practice relaxation techniques

A common sleep complaint I hear from women is not being able to fall asleep because you’re having worrisome thoughts OR waking up in the middle of the night with random things running through your brain. 

If that’s you too, here are a few strategies that could be helpful. I’d suggest choosing one that resonates with you. If that doesn’t seem to help then try another strategy. The same techniques aren’t going to work for every person.

  • 4-7-8 breathing: Rest your tongue against the roof of your mouth, right behind your front teeth. Breathe in quietly through your nose for 4 seconds. Hold your breath for a count of 7 seconds. Exhale forcefully through your mouth, pursing your lips (make a “whoosh” sound) for 8 seconds. Then repeat this cycle up to 4 times.
  • Meditation: Research has backed up that mediation is an effective strategy to help those who struggle with sleep. In a 2015 study published in JAMA, researchers analyzed how meditation affected 49 adults who had moderate sleep problems. The participants were randomly assigned 6 weeks of meditation or sleep hygiene education. The study concluded that the meditation group experienced fewer symptoms of insomnia. There is an abundance of free meditation apps on the market these days, with dedicated sections devoted to sleep meditations. I’ve found that the Insight Timer app has the most meditations for sleep. Other apps to check out include Calm and Headspace.

 

 

  1. Make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary

When I’m coaching my clients, one of the first things we address is their bedroom environment. This is what I call the “low hanging fruit” because most tweaks in your sleeping environment are super simple to address. For example, adjusting your thermostat to 65-70 degrees can help you sleep better. Why is this? Studies have shown that we need to lower our core temperature by 2 to 3 degrees to prepare our bodies for sleep. Another simple tweak is to put electrical tape on any bright lights. Fun fact…your bedroom should be so dark at night that you shouldn’t be able to see your hand if you put it in front of your face. 

 

DO THIS NEXT!

Make sure your bedroom is optimized to help you sleep better. I put together a handy and SIMPLE guide to turn your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary. Click here to download my Better Bedroom checklist today!

 

 

Random Things Every Woman Should Learn About Women’s Health

I learned a lot more about women’s health over the past year for two unexpected reasons: 1) a medical emergency that resulted in deeper understanding of female reproductive anatomy, and 2) being drawn to a book titled The XX Brain by Lisa Moscani, PhD. My takeaways from both were so unexpected and enlightening that I started bringing up these newfound facts in conversation with friends, family members, and my book club circle. I was surprised to find that these very basic facts about our bodies and health aren’t common knowledge.

So, here I am today as a wellness coach and fitness professional trying to shed light on some startling facts about women’s health. Bear with me if these seem unrelated to your personal situation at the moment…you never know when they might become relevant for you or a woman you know. Knowledge is power and women are worthy!

 

 

Reproductive Organs & Health

Fact 1: Removal of a single fallopian tube only reduces fertility by about 10%, not 50% as many women assume. (I told you this was random stuff.) But this is great news for those of us women with a single tube! I was surprised to learn this fact after losing one of my tubes last year. It gave me tremendous hope.

Fact 2: The ovaries sit closer together, somewhat behind the uterus, not far apart as shown in textbooks and anatomy diagrams. It’s odd to me that women are taught so little about their reproductive organs! We’re seldom taught how they really work sexually despite the basic education in sex ed. class, and conceiving a baby doesn’t seem like complicated stuff until a woman starts meaningfully tracking her cycle and figuring out peak fertility signs and symptoms. And lo and behold – now I realize that we don’t even really know what we look like “down there” without a mirror for the outside or a kind doctor explaining the intricacies of all the stuff on the inside. (Did you know your uterus has 3 layers?! My point exactly!)

Fact 3: Fallopian tubes are flexible and mobile. You heard me right – those skinny little suckers can move! This is why you can still get pregnant while having only one tube, assuming it’s healthy and undamaged. A single fallopian tube figures out how to intelligently move to the ovulating ovary, even if it’s on the opposite side, to suck up or “catch” the egg that is released. The next month, it will move to the opposite side in preparation for the next ovulation cycle.

This. Absolutely. Boggles. My. Mind.

Women are complicated and magnificent. Thanks to this phenomenon, I’m currently pregnant with a baby girl whose egg came from my ovary on the side *without* the fallopian tube. I’m still in shock.

 

 

Fact 4: Most aggressive forms of ovarian cancer start in the fallopian tubes, not the ovary itself. This is really eye-opening information to me. I hadn’t thought much about ovarian cancer and internal female reproductive anatomy until a year ago when my world tilted. Now, I’m processing the fact that my paternal great-grandmother died from ovarian cancer. I believe that the reason ovarian cancer is so deadly is because of its frequent origin in the fallopian tubes. You see, the tubes are wide open to the abdominal cavity on one end, meaning that cancer originating in the tubes can quickly and easily spread to any number of internal organs.

When I went to a fertility clinic to check if my remaining fallopian tube was healthy, the doctor did a hysterosalpingogram (HSG) procedure where dye was injected through my uterus up and into my fallopian tube to check for obstructions. I saw the thin line of ink on the screen and was told that was my tube. But then I also saw a fanning out of the dye as though it were spilling into open space. The doctor explained that’s exactly what it was doing – it was spilling from the open side of my tube into my abdomen (the doctor called this a “blushing effect” and sign of a healthy tube). While this was encouraging at the time, I must consider my family history of ovarian cancer and its risks for me. Which leads me to the decision to have my remaining tube removed after this pregnancy because research shows…(see fact 5)

Fact 5: Removal of fallopian tubes can reduce ovarian cancer risk by over 40%. Ovarian cancer has been shown to have a genetic component in some cases and is worth discussing with a genetic counselor if your family has a history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer. If you’re a women intrigued by genetic testing then this is a good thing to check genetic risk for too, even in the absence of a family history.

 

 

Hormones & Brain Health

Fact 1: Did you know that the X chromosome is much larger than the Y chromosome and contains over 1000 more genes? And women have two X chromosomes at that! That’s a lot of genetic power, if you ask me. According to The XX Brain these genes primarily support hormone production and brain activity.

Fact 2: Men’s brains produce more serotonin (mood, sleep, appetite, “feel good” hormone) whereas women’s brains produce more dopamine (drive and reward-motivated behavior). Does this make a light bulb go off in anyone else’s mind? This fact produces such an “aha!” moment for me. It makes so much sense.

My husband sleeps like a log, has a fairly level mood every day, and seems generally content to watch football on the tv while playing a mindless video game on his phone. My day is much different. Sleep is easily thrown off by hormones, my mood is much more subject to fluctuations, and some evenings I battle feeling “unproductive” if I’m being a zoned-out couch potato. I wonder what life would feel like as a man for just one day…but then I remember that women have more brain power, so I quickly forget the notion 😉

Fact 3: Women’s Alzheimer’s risk is an emerging health crisis. According to Lisa Moscani, “two out of every three Alzheimer’s patients are women” and “a 45 year old woman has a one in five chance of developing Alzheimer’s during her remaining life.”

Does this startle anyone else? I’m mind blown and saddened by these statistics but also encouraged from reading The XX Brain because it helps dive into preventive actions, risk assessments and more, so that women can be proactive about their health.

 

 

Fact 4: Pregnancy-related gestational diabetes and preeclampsia may predispose a woman to develop heart disease around the time of menopause. This was a bit of a side note in Moscani’s book but one that really jumped off the page to me (page 49, for those interested). According to studies, women who experience gestational diabetes during pregnancy have a 26% higher risk of heart issues after menopause. Women with former preeclampsia are at a 31% elevated risk. If you suffered from one of these two prenatal health conditions it’s worth filing this note away for the future so that you can speak to a trusted medical professional about managing menopause and taking actions to boost and monitor heart health (good news – you can start ALL of these things well before menopause).

Fact 5: Removing a woman’s ovaries (or just one) before menopause can increase her risk of dementia by up to 70% (page 53, The XX Brian). If you’ve had one or both of your ovaries removed for medical reasons then please consider reading The XX Brain to learn what you can do about Alzheimer’s prevention. I was very alarmed by this data and hope that women will spread the word and get the preventative help they deserve.

Fact 6: While some aspects of menopause are out of our control, we have the ability to adapt our lifestyle behaviors before and during the process to help ease the intensity of the fall in estrogen. Although I’m still somewhere in my “fertile years” I know that I will inevitably hit menopause one day. For the longest time I thought menopause was just something that “happened” to you, like you step unexpectedly onto a roller coaster with no way off until it stops. Thank goodness this isn’t entirely the case! There are steps you can take to help your body manage the intense downshift in estrogen and the brain/body’s process of adapting to functioning on far less of it.

 

Thanks for hanging in with me and diving into the random, unexpected world of women’s health!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

The Complicated Return to Collective Wellness

Malcolm X once proclaimed that “when I is replaced by we, illness becomes wellness.”

 

With the dawn of the coronavirus pandemic, the interdependence we have on one another for our health and wellness has become a focal topic in many peoples lives. Collective trauma, wellness and healing are newly revived topics in mainstream western culture but they’re far from infantile or irrelevant beyond this global crisis. Whether we recognize it or not, collective wellness is a powerful influence in our history and daily lives, and right now a lot of people are struggling to integrate it.

 

Modern Tribalism

Although the word tribe often applies to traditional tribal communities such as Native American and aboriginal communities, the term can apply to “modern tribes” or “modern tribalism” too. These tribes are groups that we consciously or unconsciously belong to and affiliate with, and which possess great influence over our identities, actions and decisions. According to Foreign Affairs we live in a tribal world and “in many places, the identities that matter most—the ones people will lay down their lives for—are not national but ethnic, regional, religious, sectarian, or clan-based.”

(Before moving forward with this topic I encourage every reader to respect the term “tribe” and use it in the proper context rather than casually or with flagrant disregard for people of color who come from or currently live in traditional tribal settings.)

 

 

The Dark Side of Tribal Instinct

Tribalism is a force to be reckoned with. Just as quickly as it can empower unity, it can breed division (ex: political divisiveness, discrimination based on ethnicity and/or religion, violence based on differences in beliefs in covid-19 masking and vaccination, etc.). When a tribe feels threatened or is in danger, fear and anxiety reverberates with all its members. Sometimes this draws members of the tribe closer together but other times it causes them to look unfavorably on outside people and groups.

“This is the dark side of the tribal instinct,” according to neuroscientist Ian Robertson, who continues by saying that there is “a greater tendency to demonize and de-humanize the out-group.” This lowers the empathy people have for one another’s suffering and reduces demonstrations of compassion, outreach and volunteerism.

Robertson explains that this tribal instinct begins in childhood: One study demonstrates how when children were told to wear red or blue they made negative social assumptions about children wearing the opposite color. The children’s judgements were quite obviously based on non-reality assumptions. But how easily can adults recognize a similar bias in themselves? In truth, adults discriminate far more often and the judgements become more harsh, aggressive and violent to those outside of their tribes.

Without question, the “dark side” of tribalism possesses great potential for damage both within the tribe and in opposing groups beyond it. As tensions, stress, trauma and other negative lived experiences impact one member after the next, the collective wellness of the tribe is greatly diminished, if not altogether extinguished.

 

Tribal Health & Wellness

Tribal members collectively benefit when healing and thriving occur. One person’s victory becomes a shared victory for all and the successes of the larger community are sources of pride for each person. This is what you might call “the light side” of modern tribalism and it’s why moving the needle towards collective wellness is so critical.

We are all reaching towards comfort and health during these difficult times in the world. We each feel the effects of the pandemic’s collective trauma and toll on our physical and mental health. Sometimes it can feel like “the light side” is far from our grasp, but underneath the heavy feeling of trauma is the capacity for healing. This is why we can take action and inch slowly towards a brighter path.

Healing requires that we navigate this global crisis with patience and tolerance, heal ancestral wounds, process our lived experiences in emotionally healthy ways, and integrate the tribe’s experiences into our cultural narrative. These are just some of the many ways that we gradually build personal health resilience and collective wellness.

 

 

How Individual Healing Translates into Collective Wellness

Individualism is something that western cultures value above all else whereas eastern cultures tend to place more emphasis on a collectivist mentality. As we in the western world grow more ego-centric and self-reliant for our health needs, we lose touch with the ability to see how our tribe’s mentality and circumstances impact our well-being, and vice versa. The two are interdependent and in constant relationship with one another.

Collective wellness depends on each individual’s efforts towards self care and self love while keeping the greater good in mind. This allows us to offer our best to the world and live vibrantly within our purpose. According to Cultivate Balance, “It is the greater vision of what we are working toward in the small moments when we care for ourselves. Valuing the wellbeing of the whole invites us to think critically about our communities and our roles within them. It is about looking beyond our individual experience to honor a collective vision that prioritizes the needs of many.”

 

The Future of Wellness

As a wellness professional I anticipate the words “health” and “wellness” becoming increasingly associated with these processes of community healing. I anticipate a world where exercise and eating vegetables are givens for health and we can finally sink our teeth into the meatier stuff that requires a lot more chewing. Stuff like trauma and healing through storytelling, putting tolerance into practice, allowing space for rest, honoring and getting comfortable with grief, and so much more. One fundamental component of healing from trauma is “the experience of being truly heard and seen.” When we speak up for ourselves and our needs, share our stories, and offer a compassionate listening ear then we are paving the way for healthy connection and community.

The world won’t remember many of us by name or face, but the modern tribes we belong to will tell their stories for generations to come. Personally, I want to contribute to my community in such a way that its story is one of collective healing, wellness and redemption.

(Will you join me?)

 

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

Create Your Own Wellness Retreat (at home!)

We all need a little time to decompress, especially as concerns mount over a new delta variant of Covid-19. While wellness retreats and spa packages are indulgent and delightful options for pampering and reducing stress, they can also prove expensive. Some people might also be reluctant to spend an hour getting a massage in a room with a stranger if they don’t know the professional’s vaccination status, aren’t comfortable removing their mask indoors, or are high risk themselves despite vaccination status. All of these factors can cause anxiety for some people – and that’s the opposite of what self care time is supposed to do!

So, today I’m going to outline the perfect at-home wellness retreat schedule! The best part? The day’s plans don’t require spending money on anything – unless you want to! I will throw in some ideas for wellness products ranging from $18 to $500, but these are entirely optional splurges. Your main agenda is setting aside a day for yourself to relax and intentionally engage in healthy, rejuvenating activities.

 

 

If you have a partner, family or roommate then be sure to make plans with them in advance to allow you the personal space you need and deserve. Once they’re on board and willing to support you, keep it clear that you will be maintaining your boundaries no matter what. This means no last minute chores, errands, laundry loads, calls, etc. Claim the day and keep it open!

 


At-Home Wellness Retreat Schedule & Health Benefits

 

8:00 am or later: Wake-up at a leisurely hour

Sleep is crucial for rejuvenating the spine, boosting immune function, balancing hormones, and improving energy, to name just a few of its functions. Modern culture often places an emphasis on waking before dawn to make the day more productive. Not only does this mean that many people are shortchanging the hours they spend sleeping but the emphasis is squarely on productivity. We think of rest, down time, and a morning spent sleeping in as “unproductive” but that’s simply not true. Sleep is one of the most critical things we need for both physical and mental health. Slowing down is never unproductive. It’s a mature way of acknowledging that our lives demand balance between high and low energy, active days and periods of time spent in spiritual, creative, or mentally replenishing endeavors.

 

8:15 am: Drink 8 oz of water and make a healthy breakfast including fresh fruits

Hydrating early in the day helps your body rehydrate from the long night without fluids. Early hydration helps release toxins and ramp up your digestive system too. A healthy breakfast is another important start of the day. It’s an opportunity to get nutrient dense foods into your system right away (think fruits like berries, cantaloupe, apples, oranges) and give your metabolism a wake-up call. A few delicious options for a healthy breakfast include:

  • Two scrambled eggs topped with avocado slices with a side of fresh fruit
  • Sliced apple w/ 1-2 tablespoons nut butter
  • Greek yogurt topped with berries and a drizzle of agave syrup or honey
  • Egg white, spinach and feta cheese omelet with a side of fresh fruit
  • Whole grain toast topped with avocado and slices of hard-boiled egg
  • Steel cut oats or old-fashioned oatmeal with half a cup fruit mixed in
  • 2 or 3 slices of turkey bacon, whole grain toast, and a small side of fresh fruit

 

 

9:00 am: Read for pleasure while you digest

Reading for pleasure is largely taken for granted. A lot of people put off reading something enjoyable because it doesn’t feel “productive” (ugh…there’s that pesky word again!). But reading for pleasure has a wide range of benefits including:

  • Mental Stimulation
  • Stress Reduction
  • Knowledge
  • Vocabulary Expansion
  • Memory Improvement
  • Stronger Analytical Thinking Skills
  • Improved Focus and Concentration
  • Better Writing Skills
  • Tranquility

Allow yourself to sink into the depths of a good book that you hand select in advance of your wellness retreat day. Get one from your own bookshelf, local library or a friend’s stack of favorite reads. Take an hour and escape from your day-to-day in its pages!

 

10:00 am: Enjoy your favorite workout or active outdoor excursion

Now that your healthy breakfast has digested and you’ve luxuriated in a slow morning, it’s time to get active and enjoy feel-good benefits from an endorphin boost! Pick your favorite type of movement for exercise and bring along a healthy amount of water to keep the hydration going. Go out for a run, stream your favorite yoga or dance class, hit up the weights in your garage or venture out to your most beloved local spot for hiking, biking, kayaking, climbing, or walking in the fresh air! If you’re planning to be out for a few hours then be sure to wear sunscreen and pack a lunch.

The most important part about this time spent exercising is that it’s enjoyable. There are no “shoulds” on your wellness retreat day. Pick an activity that feels good and makes you happy! Follow up your exercise with 10-15 minutes of gentle stretching and deep breathing to bring yourself back to zen. Unwinding after exercise is important as it allows your parasympathetic nervous system to “turn back on.”

 

12:00 pm: Prep a lunch full of healthy proteins and vegetables

By now it’s probably getting late in the morning or early afternoon and you’ll want to get a meal in before you clean off. A healthy lunch complete with protein and nutritious vegetables will fit the bill. The protein will help you recover and reap benefits from your exercise and will keep you full. The vegetables help with disease prevention, dietary fiber, potassium and essential nutrients. You’ll want to keep breakfast and lunch on the healthier end because here’s a little hint about dinner: You get to indulge!

Some healthy ideas for lunch:

  • Bean and rice burrito wrap with a side salad
  • Greek salad with chicken breast
  • 1-2 sushi rolls with spicy green beans or pickled veggies
  • Poke bowl with plenty of veggie toppings
  • Whole grain avocado toast with fresh sliced veggies (ex: carrots, red bell peppers, cucumbers, celery, broccoli) and dip (ex: light dressing, hummus, tzatziki, Greek yogurt)
  • Chicken or beef kebob with grilled vegetables
  • Roasted red pepper, hummus and veggie wrap
  • Chicken salad on whole grain bread with fresh sliced veggies or side salad
  • Mediterranean chicken and couscous or quinoa bowl with red onion, tomatoes, cucumber and cheese
  • Turkey panini melt with large helping of steamed or baked broccoli

 

 

1:00 pm: Unwind with a Warm Bath or Steamy Shower

After lunch it’s time to relax in some bubbles or a steamy shower. Make sure to have your favorite bath products on hand. Water offers you the chance for physical relief, emotional release, and spiritual cleansing. These are all elements incorporated into pricey wellness retreat getaways, but they’re accessible and free at any time. While you bathe or shower, it can help to burn a soy candle scented with essential oils, add aromatherapy bath salts, or use a scented shower steamer so that you are encouraged to take deep and rejuvenating breaths as you inhale the calming fragrance.

For baths: Focus on deep breathing. Inhale for a count of seven, hold for seven, and exhale for seven. Place attention on your forehead and imagine a bright light radiating from it. Allow your attention to come and go from the rise and fall of your abdomen as you breathe.

For showers: As you inhale imagine breathing in cleansing energy and positive thoughts. You can even repeat a mantra in your head as you inhale, if you like. As you exhale imagine any energy blockages, frustrations, worries, fears, grievances, negative thoughts, etc. leaving your body and flowing off you into the water as it goes down the drain.

2:00 pm: Meditation or Prayer Session

Now that you’ve cleared your mind with breathing and visualization exercises while getting scrubbed off, you’re in a great place to enter into a session of meditation or prayer. Choose what feels most natural to you and allow yourself at least 15-20 minutes to dialogue with God or engage in the meditation of your choice. Even if you don’t consider yourself a very religious person, this is still something that I encourage. Regardless of religious affiliation, we are all spiritual beings with spiritual needs. You can use this time to explore anything you like or simply to engage in a practice of gratitude and reflection.

2:30 pm: Spend time journaling as an outlet for creativity, self expression, dialoging with God, practicing gratitude or dreaming of the future

Kentucky Counseling Center explains that journaling can benefit your mental health by helping you keep things in perspective and explore your emotions and thoughts. Here is a list of different kinds of writing they suggest:

  • Expressive Writing: Talk about the events or your experiences during the day (self-reflect, self-expression, or explore your thoughts and emotions).
  • Personal Planning Journal: This is a goal-setting type of journal. Reflect on your short-term and long-term goals. Formulate a realistic game plan on how to achieve them, and how to keep track of your progress.
  • Gratitude Journal: Write down the good things you’re grateful for and your life’s blessings.
  • Write a letter to yourself: Write down your achievements, address your self-doubt, how you can do better the next time, or how you can take care of your mental health.
  • Stress Management Journal: Write down and describe the stressful moments and emotions you’re going through. Think of the stress management techniques you can use.

These are all great options for journaling. I would also add creative writing to this list as well as writing a letter to God or the universe, or a letter you think God or the universe would write to you. See what happens as you dive deeper within!

 

 

3:30 pm: One hour or more of your activity of choice; music, drawing, more reading, afternoon walk, catching up with a friend on the phone, etc.

There’s no afternoon slump on your luxurious wellness retreat day! Use that tiresome late afternoon hour or so before dinner to enjoy something you seldom make time for but enjoy. Maybe you’re overdue to catch up with your best friend who is long distance or perhaps you love taking your dog for walks but never get the time to in the afternoon. Whatever you choose – music, painting, a puzzle, a nap – just enjoy without any pressure about outcomes.

6:00 pm: Cook or order yourself an INDULGENT dinner

You’ve eaten two healthy meals already so now it’s time to indulge! Cook or order in your favorite meal and toss any guilt you may have about its contents or calories to the side. Emotional eating is a healthy and natural thing, and when you allow yourself to pleasurably eat here and there without self-shaming then you’ll find greater satisfaction with your overall food choices. So, go ahead and get the juicy burger or pizza. Cook your favorite Italian dish or yummy tacos. Whatever sounds mouth watering! Feel free to imbibe in an adult beverage if you desire too, but for the sake of this being a day oriented around wellness, only have 1-2 drinks max so you can continue feeling your best.

 

7:30 pm: Movie Time!

What better way to wrap up your wellness day at home than with a movie? Pick out a fun sounding new flick to watch or curl up to a nostalgic film that’s a long-time favorite. Settle in on the couch and relax! After the movie, get to bed at a decent time so that your body can reap all the wonderful benefits of your day’s efforts while you sleep.

Congratulations for putting yourself first and being intentional with your wellness!


Optional Add-on Products for Your Wellness Retreat

(low to high cost) 

 

 

Dry Brushing Body Brush Set

$17.99

Dry brushing has been getting a lot of attention in the wellness realm over the last couple years and I know of many cancer survivors who do it regularly. According to Healthline, “Dry brushing is a type of Ayurvedic medicine that has been around for centuries. It’s believed to have many health benefits. Some of the benefits may include:

  • stimulating the lymphatic system
  • exfoliating the skin
  • helping the body rid itself of toxins
  • increasing circulation and energy
  • exfoliation
  • helping to break down cellulite”

Many people swear by dry brushing even though there isn’t a lot of data to back up the benefits of it. At the very least, you may find it relaxing and it’s unlikely to cause any harm. People with sensitive skin might want to speak to a doctor before trying it.

 

 

Tension Potion Aromatherapy Soy Candle

$22

Scent is closely linked to memory and mood, so when we stimulate our limbic system with aromatherapy candles and scents then we’re immediately tapping into a part of the brain that regulates emotions and can help us feel good. This Tension Potion Aromatherapy Soy Candle has a specific blend of essential oils to create high, medium and low notes in the fragrance. It’s complex but pleasing smell is sure to elicit a sense of calm on your at-home wellness retreat day.

 

 

KateandBelleCo Spa Care Package

$40

A close friend was the first person to get me a KateandBelleCo Spa Care Package last year when I lost a pregnancy and had emergency surgery. I was touched by the gesture but also surprised by how much I loved the products. Every scent was delightful (especially the bath salts) and I loved trying my first-ever shower steamer. I used the chapstick every day and it helped me take a deep breath each time. I also used the eye pillow at both cool and warm temperatures on my eyes and other aching body parts – to include my incision cite from surgery and extremely tense neck. It was so helpful! I have since gifted various versions of this set to friends. More options are on their Etsy site!

 

 

Pro Facial Steamer

$149 or 4 installments of $37.25

Some people are raving fans of facials. Personally, I don’t crave them quite like I do a good massage or pedicure. Nonetheless, this at-home facial steamer is a steal compared to the price of facials at a spa. Of course it doesn’t come with the scalp massage or face mask, but exfoliation through opening pores is one of the most essential things for clean and smooth skin. For the price of two facials you can have limitless access to this facial steamer in the comfort of your own home.

 

 

Infrared Sauna Blanket

$499 or 4 installments of $124.75

“All the celebrities are doing it!”

It’s true. This high ticket item is catching fire with those who can afford it. The Higher Dose Infrared Sauna Blanket is exactly as it sounds: an at-home sauna. The benefits of the infrared technology in the sauna blankets (think: giant adult sleep sack) include “deep relaxation, glowing skin, a mood boost, and better recovery.” Higher Dose’s clever tagline is “Get high naturally,” and they boast somewhat provocative marketing content on their Instagram handle. Their eye-catching strategy seems to be working because more and more people are slipping into these sacks and claiming they don’t want to return to the real world. If you’re a sauna junkie then this might be the best early birthday splurge ever.

 

Products or not, keep claiming your wellness! True well-being is free and already yours for the taking.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

10 Ways I Have Reduced Environmental Toxins in My Household

Wellness is not defined by products. Whether expensive or inexpensive, products will never capture what the heart of living in wellness is all about. Nonetheless, products can have a helpful or harmful impact on our health. While I understand that paying for certain products is prohibitive for some people, I believe in spreading awareness about them so that consumers can pick and choose what feels important to them (btw – a few things I’ve gotten rid of have saved me money!).

If nothing else, I hope this article plants the seed for some of your own ideas. The included list of things I’ve changed and products I’ve switched to in effort to reduce environmental toxins in my home has taken years of trial and error, and is nowhere “complete.”

My advice as a wellness professional who is very much in the active state of learning about this topic is to stay curious and try not to feel too much pressure. Small changes can happen one day, month or year at a time as you find yourself ready.

 

Why Reducing Environmental Toxins is Crucial  

I found an excellent summary on EarthEasy.com about why household chemicals and toxins are dangerous, poorly regulated, and difficult to understand for the average consumer:

“A 2004 report by the British Medical Journal states ‘it is clear that environmental and lifestyle factors are key determinants of human disease – accounting for perhaps 75% of most cancers.’ And estimates show most Americans have somewhere between 400 and 800 chemicals stored in their bodies, typically in fat cells.

Because effects from exposure to toxins are difficult to identify, it can be years before problems from exposure manifest themselves as a disease or chronic ailment. In the US, the EPA does screen many products for some toxins, but until needed revisions to the Toxic Substances Control Act are enacted by Congress, many loopholes in the system leave the burden of responsibility on the consumer to make informed decisions through reading individual product MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets), following recommendations from agencies like Consumer Reports, or by studying product literature.”

 

My Main Takeaways About Toxins (in plain language)

I’ve browsed literature, studies and mainstream news articles about environmental and household toxins through the years. Here are a few basic things I’ve learned that people can do to reduce their overall toxic load:

  • Change beauty and hygiene products in favor of those that are “cleaner”
  • Use unscented products for household cleaning, laundry, beauty and hygiene whenever possible
  • Lean towards products that include descriptions on their labels such as: Human Safe, Plant & Mineral Based, Fragrance Free, No Harmful Preservatives, Non GMO, Free of Dyes & Perfumes, Phalate & Paraben Free
  • Reduce plastic use when possible, or at least in the kitchen
  • When harsh chemicals must be used for cleaning, treating flooring, painting, etc. turn on fans and overhead vents (even turn on your oven’s hood or downdraft vent), open windows, and anything else to increase circulation, get rid of fumes and/or allow for “off gassing”
  • Keep water and HVAC systems clean with proper filters that are changed on a schedule
  • Eat “cleaner” by going local for ingredients or prioritizing organic fruits and vegetables and naturally-fed and farmed meats and fish. Buying an entire grocery’s list of organic items isn’t feasible for many people. If it’s within your means then try to at least buy organic for fruits/veggies on the “Dirty Dozen” list of produce to avoid heavy pesticide exposure

The 10 Things I’ve Changed in My Household

1) No Dryer Sheets

I started hearing that dryer sheets had a bad reputation years ago but couldn’t wrap my mind around it at the time. I was focused on healthier eating and getting restorative sleep after a few years of dysfunctional insomnia and troubles falling asleep due to anxiety and PTSD. At the time, healthier food and sleep were all I had the brain space and energy for. If you’re in a similar boat right now that’s totally okay! We can only handle so many changes at once.

When I eventually opened myself up to learning more about why dryer sheets are dangerous I discovered a study revealing that dryer sheets emit endocrine disrupting chemicals (ex: chemicals that can mess with estrogen levels) and chemicals associated with triggering asthma. I decided I would order some wool dryer balls but got lazy and did the next week or so of laundry without dryer sheets. I was surprised at what I discovered! There was hardly any difference without them! I personally didn’t notice a major difference in static or softness. From then on, I haven’t used anything in my dryer. The clothes go in, the button is pressed on, and that’s that!

2) Free & Clear Laundry Detergent and Plant-Based Stain Treatment

After realizing how easy it was to get rid of dryer sheets I started to wonder if I could (and should) opt for free and clear laundry detergent. I grew up with the original scent of Tide infusing my clothes, towels and bed sheets. Would it be so hard to disassociate from that scent? Probably not, I decided. And I was right. I’ve tried a variety of brands for Free & Clear detergent over the years and much prefer it now. I’m especially grateful to be scent-free during my pregnancies when a heightened sense of smell assails me.

Quick anecdote: At one month postpartum with my second son I stayed in an Air B&B for a long weekend so that I could be matron of honor for my cousin’s wedding. Despite being perpetually exhausted from nursing my baby around the clock I could hardly sleep the first night in the rental because the sheets smelled SO intense. Whatever detergent or softener had been used on them was completely revolting to me! I think it’s safe to say I will never go back to the using potentially dangerous and scented laundry detergent (not worth risking carcinogen exposure or the extra stink!).

3) Free & Clear Hand Soaps and Dish Soap

You might expect that when I changed all my laundry products around that I also changed other soaps in my home, but I didn’t. I love the smell of vanilla coconut hand soap and the luxurious aroma of various Milton Brown liquid soaps. I wasn’t quite ready to part with them until I noticed that my oldest son’s hands would break out in response to washing them with more heavily perfumed products. My son has eczema and the last thing I want is for him to be uncomfortable in his own skin or grow resistant of hand washing. After making the switch I found that we’re better off as a family. I discovered a gentle foaming hand soap from Target that is especially helpful for getting dirty toddler hands clean!

4) Bye-Bye Perfume!

About seven years ago, I started hearing about women making the switch to wearing essential oils instead of perfumes. I was intrigued but not ready to part with my array of Chanel perfumes. It was my daily joy to spritz myself with one. In retrospect, I’m sure I made some people dizzy by the perfume cloud I walked around in.

When I got pregnant for the first time I started spritzing the perfume on the inside of my sleeve or chest of my shirt instead of directly on to my skin. This felt safer for the baby and allowed me to enjoy the smell. Eventually, once I was breastfeeding, I felt like it was too aggressive for my baby to be pressed up against my smelly fabrics and I gave up perfumes for good. I’m glad I did. Although more research is needed, one study by the Environmental Working Group “estimated that only 34% of stock ingredients often found in fragrances have been tested for toxicity.” Given how chemicals can build up in the body over time, I’m more comfortable living without my Chanel these days – and it has saved me money to invest in cleaner beauty cosmetics!

 

5) Safer Body Lotions & Sunscreens

Both pregnancy and my son’s eczema inspired me to switch to gentle body lotions for daily moisturizing. I prefer Aveeno for a hand cream and Cerave for body lotion, especially for my son’s dry skin. We coat him in Cerave per the dermatologist’s orders a few times a day. As I learned more about why body lotions with fragrances and added color can dry out skin instead of help it, I began to wonder about sunscreen…

Why am I putting a safer sunscreen on my babies than I’m lathering on myself?

My entire family has tried out the following mineral sunscreens over the last few summers: Blue Lizard, Cerave Face Sunscreen, Think Sport. Most mineral sunscreens are oxybenzone free, paraben free, fragrance free and chemical-filter free. Mineral sunscreen is safer for the ocean’s reefs too.

Concerns over ingredients in most commercial, chemical sunscreens prompted an FDA investigation a couple years ago. The FDA found that only two of the 16 active ingredients in these sunscreens was recognized as safe and effective (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide – i.e. the two primary ingredients for many mineral sunscreens). The FDA also found that four of the active sunscreen ingredients are “systemically absorbed” into users’ skin. One has even been found in breast milk, urine and blood plasma samples. The fact that these chemicals are flooding a person’s system and have NOT been proven “safe and effective” is beyond concerning.

6) Safer Shampoo & Conditioner (no color tinting or highlights)

For a while I used a shampoo and conditioner with color tinting included. The products looked neon yellow when squeezed out into my palm and I was convinced they added a little bit of blonde to my naturally brown hair. Not only do I think I was fooling myself but I can’t help but wonder if those products were safe. Apparently, I’m not alone in questioning the safety of various hair dyes.

Results from studies about hair dyes are conflicting. Most recently, researchers at Harvard Medical School found associations between certain cancers and different kinds of hair dyes but were hesitant to declare these causation. They did suggest that the fumes and long-term exposure of working as a hair stylist using coloring products on clients could cause cancer, but that personal use of hair dye products probably doesn’t.

The results of the study are conflicting because on the one hand, the researchers conclude “permanent hair dye does not appear to increase overall cancer risk,” but in the same breath, they admit that there were limitations to the study, especially with regards to gender, race and ethnicity. Additionally, the researchers based their study around the assumption that “hair dye color correlated with natural shades of hair.” This assumption might not capture chemicals involved in stripping naturally darker pigments of hair during coloring treatments. So…to each their own on this topic until further research is conducted. I feel best keeping my natural color for now…but ask me again when I go grey!  😉

7) Investing in Clean Beauty Cosmetic Products

Clean beauty can be expensive but my hope is that more cosmetics companies will make the move towards clean beauty with commercial pressure and perhaps better regulations on ingredients some day (one can dream, right?). I was initially hesitant to pay the higher prices but I don’t wear a lot of make-up so I’ve found that with a few clean beauty products I can cover most of my bases. I currently use Beauty Counter products for face lotion, foundation, concealer and lip stick. I still use my old blush and eye liner for now.

I hosted Beauty Counter Representative and breast cancer survivor Morgan Adams for a Clean Beauty Q&A the other year on the blog. You can check it out to learn more about why she encourages clean cosmetics for clients and friends.

8) Unscented and Plant-Based All-Purpose Spray

For many of the same aforementioned reasons for going fragrance free and aiming for more natural products, I also eventually made the switch with all-purpose cleaning spray. At first, I tried Mrs. Meyer’s lemon scent and used that for a few years because it felt like a move towards fewer chemicals even though it’s scented. Years ago, that was about as close as I could find for a more responsible cleaner off the shelf in grocery stores. It’s organic, paraben free and eco-friendly. Not too bad.

Over the years, I’ve been pleased to see more options including my recent favorite at Wegman’s: Sensitive Home Free & Clear All Purpose Cleaner. I transfer new bottles to my preferred spray bottle under the kitchen sink and recycle the discarded one. The spray is so gentle that is seldom leaves streaks!

9) More Houseplants

According to Swanson Nursery, houseplants have the following main benefits:

    • Improving your mood.
    • Reducing fatigue.
    • Lowering stress and anxiety.
    • Improving office performance and focus.
    • Boosting healing and pain tolerance.
    • Minimizing the occurrence of headaches by improving air quality.
    • Easing dry skin and respiratory ailments due to dry air.

I love a lot of green in my home (both decor and plants), so I’m thrilled by how helpful houseplants can be for filtering air and improving its quality. With all the unknown chemicals floating around in our homes from commonly used products this seems like a big win for just about anyone! While some plants like Monstera and Fiddle Leaf Figs can be quite pricey, others like golden pothos (amazing for air purification) and braided money tree are affordable houseplant options. I’ve tried them all through the years and am proud to say that two of my plant babies are 16 years old!

10) Glass & Silicone Food Storage

Research shows that harmful chemicals can leach out of plastics into food, especially if the plastic is hot. Because of this, I’ve tried hard to use mostly glass food storage containers and silicone storage bags in recent years. I also remove any and all plastic wrap from frozen foods before it’s heated, even if the instructions say to leave the plastic wrap on. I’ve found that a round glass casserole dish with the lid on works just as well to steam vegetables as a plastic steam pouch – I simply add a minute or two to the cook time!

 

At first glance, it can look like a lot of changes. But all of this happened over roughly a decade and is still ongoing. I know I need to get better at being more eco-friendly, probably starting with paper towels (I confess I overuse them in frazzled mom moments), and I could make some more changes to reduce toxins in my home too. As it stands, if I use a harsh cleaning product I usually wear a mask and gloves.

I’m aiming for progress, not perfection. I hope you’ll join me!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

The Healthy Way to Beat Stress with Exercise

Stress of all kinds (ex: exercise, accident, illness, trauma, an argument, generalized anxiety, etc.) can impact our endocrine systems both immediately and over a prolonged period of time. When our bodies sense a stressor they release both epinephrine and norepinephrine right away. These hormones dissipate rather quickly once the body perceives it’s no longer in danger or threatened. The famous “stress hormone” called cortisol is released about 10 minutes after the initial stressor and does not dissipate quickly. Instead, cortisol can circulate in the body for 1-2 hours.

Normal levels of cortisol rise and fall throughout the day with our circadian rhythms. People experiencing prolonged elevation of cortisol might demonstrate “anxiety, agitation, poor sleep, ‘wired but tired’ feeling and a fast pulse.” Over time, the constant release of cortisol causes the hormone to accumulate in the body to the point that the adrenal glands can’t produce any more of it. This is when the “exhaustion phase” begins following chronic stress and anxiety.

 

 

The Exhaustion Phase

During this period of exhaustion, the body’s immune system is vulnerable and small stressors are more difficult to manage. People might experience emotional issues, poor sleep, increased pain, slower wound healing, and other challenges that outwardly reflect the body’s dysregulated state.

I’ve lived for long periods of time in the fatigued state that follows an excess of cortisol. It happened when I over-trained in just about every exercise format while also working full-time as a personal trainer. It happened again after getting hit by a car. I also felt exhaustion rear its ugly head after postpartum anxiety plagued me during the sleep-deprived days of caring for both of my infant sons. And, just when I thought I’d never get burned out again, it happened after I endured a traumatic loss and surgery last fall.

So, take it from me [a health professional] when I say that you can set aside any shame, blame and guilt that you want to put on yourself for your stress getting out of hand. It just happens sometimes. This is life. What matters is that you do your best to learn how to manage stress better as the years pass. You can start by taking the simple steps to manage lifestyle habits that support the healthiest version of you possible. I will talk about how to do that with exercise today but I encourage you to seek a mental health counselor who can address the root of the problem and a naturopath who can help you rebalance hormones.

 

The Stress of Exercise

As many of you already know, exercise is a stressor. Hard exercise can become “too much of a good thing” for someone who is experiencing adrenal fatigue from the prolonged release of cortisol. If you’re currently experiencing a major life change, loss, accident, illness, stressor, or long-term fatigue, then my advice to you is to avoid exercise modalities like high-intensity interval training (HIIT), distance running/biking, competitive events, classes that focus on elevating your heart rate above 70-80% max, boot camps, and other forms of exercise that you might define as intense or very intense. Now isn’t the time! Set aside the long workouts, the twice a day workouts, the intense workouts, and even the everyday workouts. Make sure you have at least two rest days a week.

 

Here are the healthy options for exercise that will help you recover from prolonged stress (and beat stress in general)!

 

 

Exercise that Feels Fun and Uplifting

This is about as straightforward as it can get: HAVE FUN. Exercise formats and routines that you find enjoyable will help you stay committed and lift your mood too. Try a dance class or ballroom dancing lessons if you used to dance when you were younger or have always dreamed of getting better at it. Try walking or jogging a local trail that has a great view or outdoor exercise equipment stations that you can play around on. Go for a gentle bike ride with your kids or sign-up for a family fun run. Whatever sounds exciting – and not too rigorous – is what you should pick first! Challenge yourself in a positive way without overdoing it.

 

 

Get Outside for Exercise

Exercising outdoors is a great way to help boost feel-good hormones. Science shows us that being outside helps to raise both serotonin and dopamine: “Serotonin is responsible for many functions such as memory, sleep, behavior, and appetite. Dopamine affects movement, emotional response, and your ability to feel pleasure.”

As you can see, so-called “outdoor therapy” is real! One of the best ways to get a dose of it is through a walk in nature, a hike with a friend, beachside yoga, a country bike ride, and other soul-soothing physical activities. Just be wary of conditions that make the exercise strenuous such as high heat, heavy humidity, dehydration, inappropriate apparel/gear, planning a route that’s overambitious, etc.

 

 

Do More Stretching

Stretching can help your body release tension and activate a relaxation response. This is helpful when you’re feeling the physical effects of stress such as tense muscles, a tight jaw, a racing pulse, intestinal distress, poor sleep, etc. Stretching is also a great time to focus on deep breathing which can help you calm your mind and progressively relax your muscles. I like to tell people to stretch at the end of a workout for their nervous system’s sake, not just their muscles. Taking a few minutes to stretch can help calm the nervous system down from sympathetic overdrive and can help the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) kick in. Your PNS helps regulate and slow down your heart rate, breathing and mind so that you can reach a more calm and peaceful state.

 

 

Practice Mind/Body Exercise Formats

Just because yoga and Pilates are considered mind/body disciplines doesn’t mean that they’re easy. Pick a class level that’s appropriate for your energy and beneficial for your healing. Personally, I love really gentle hatha yoga classes where I can just melt into comfortable poses and focus on my breathing. I find these experiences to be highly rejuvenating.

Yoga and Pilates instructors will help you pay attention to your body’s alignment, internal cues, breathing, and more. We often take these aspects of the classes for granted, focusing instead on mastering headstand in yoga or getting ab definition in Pilates, but the body awareness and progressive relaxation is the best part – especially for people who are chronically stressed!

 

 

Play More Sports and Do More Recreational Movement

Even if you never made varsity back in high school you can still enjoy sports as an adult. Pickleball courts are sprouting up left and right, and there is always a rec league accessible if you’re willing to be brave and dust off the sneakers. Find an adults league for soccer or a local pool where you can swim laps. Play a round of tennis or golf with a friend, or find a court where there is pick-up basketball happening regularly. If you’re short on sports options then seek out other recreational movements through a climbing gym, martial arts or kickboxing studio, boathouse that rents out kayaks and canoes, or anything that allows you to enjoy movement without the pressure of performing sets and reps all the time at the gym.

 

Choosing any of these options will help you enjoy exercise, sports, mind/body formats, the great outdoors and an active lifestyle for many years to come and without the added toll to your system that comes with other rigorous fitness options.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie