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A new cancer diagnosis can be incredibly stressful. CBS reported on a recent study of 200 cancer patients, which showed that 20 percent of them had PTSD a month after their diagnosis. Even if you don’t have PTSD, you are probably dealing with some very challenging emotional turmoil.
How to Manage Your Self-Care
Your doctors will primarily focus on medical interventions, so it’s up to you to take care of your mental health. Getting “stuck” in traumatic memories and recurring nightmares are two of the symptoms of PTSD. If you find that anxiety, depression, or other issues are crippling your ability to function, it’s time to get help. Learn more in this article from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Even if you do not have a clinical mental health issue, the trauma of your experience can cause undue stress. You should seek out a therapist or a support group to help you weather your treatment.
When you are dealing with your mental health problems, daily self-care can support your recovery. Here are four tips that can help:
1. Good Nutrition and Exercise
Eating a healthy diet is important; however, your treatment can cause eating problems. Appetite loss, nausea and other issues are not uncommon, so you might need to work with your doctor to formulate a plan to ensure you get proper nutrition. This booklet from the National Cancer Institute has recommendations on what to do if you are struggling to eat.
If you have a healthy appetite, follow these tips:
● Ask your doctor if there are any foods you should be avoiding, or if there are any foods or supplements that can support your treatment.
● Reduce your intake of red meat, sugar, and highly-processed foods.
● Add nutritious foods to your diet, including fresh produce, fatty fish and healthy grains.
● Drink six to eight glasses of water a day to keep hydrated.
Additionally, it’s important to add a little activity to your day. That can be tough, of course, especially if your chemotherapy or medication are making you feel weak or ill. If you don’t have the strength for low-impact exercises like taking a walk around the block or playing with your kids, add some basic stretches to your day. As a bonus, they’ll help relieve stress. This helpful infographic demonstrates nine simple stretches, most of which can be done from a seated position, and offers a stress-relieving breathing exercise as well. Be sure to get your oncologist’s clearance before attempting to do any strenuous activity.
2. Take Time for Yourself
In 2008, People Magazine interviewed Robin Roberts about her cancer treatment. Chemo had become an “emotional drain,” but after taking three relaxing weeks off, she rebounded.
While many of us don’t have the luxury of that much time off, if you are exhausted, try to take a few days off with nothing or little to do. If you can’t free yourself for a whole day, work some alone time into your daily schedule. Learn to say “no” to requests that you can delegate to someone else. Don’t feel guilty; you need the recovery time to get your strength back. Once your treatments are over, you can add more things back into your schedule.
After you free up time, spend it doing relaxing activities, such as reading or enjoying nature. If allowed by your doctor, consider getting a massage to relax your body.
3. A Good Night’s Sleep
In addition to making sure you get enough time to relax, you should try to get a good night’s sleep regularly. According to research from the National Sleep Foundation, most adults should be getting at least seven hours of sleep per night. As you work on reducing your stress and anxiety, your sleep habits should improve. However, other factors, such as medication, may interfere with them. Consult your doctor if you can’t fall asleep or if you wake up frequently during the night.
4. Care For Your Spirit
Did you know that prayer can improve your mental health? Jeff Levin, Ph.D., M.P.H., author of God, Faith and Health, states, “Frequent prayer, whether public or private, is associated with better health and emotional well-being and lower levels of psychological distress.” Connect with your local faith group or, if you are not religious, use daily meditation and deep breathing exercises to bring peace and calm into your life.
Combat the stress that comes with a cancer diagnosis by taking care of both your body and your inner being. Learn more about coping with cancer in this resource from the American Cancer Society.