Already overwhelmed with family, career and other obligations? Don’t have enough time in the day, but not sure where your time goes? Gladwyne’s Laura Vanderkam advises you to prioritize, organize and be more efficient with your time. Her TED talk has been viewed more than eight million times, and she’s authored several books, including Off the Clock, I Know How She Does It and What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast.
Start by documenting your time. “Work from good data,” says Vanderkam.
Use a spreadsheet, notebook or app to record your activities in half-hour blocks of time for a day, a weekend or a week. Once you see how you spend time, you may want to make changes.
Divide your calendar into three categories: career, relationships and self. Schedule time to do activities in all three. But don’t over-book yourself, Vanderkam cautions. Be judicious with commitments. Say yes only to things that align with your priorities. Vanderkam suggests scheduling open space, too. “Open space allows you to seize opportunities,” she says. “If a project or meeting comes up that you want to take, you can.”
Even small chunks of open time can be put to good use. Waiting for a phone call or the kids to be done with soccer practice? Instead of checking email or social media, listen to a favorite song, get some fresh air or meditate. “Use bits of time to create moments of joy,” Vanderkam says.
Read more about Laura Vanderkam here.
Experts agree that having solid friendships is one of the keys to emotional wellbeing. No matter how many social media friends we have, many of us still feel isolated. That affects mental and physical health. But are we really isolated, or are we thinking about it in the wrong way? “Some women say they don’t have a tribe, but once we talk more, it turns out that they could confide in women around them, but don’t,” says Elizabeth Bland, a social worker and founder of the Main Line Health Women’s Emotional Wellness Center in Newtown Square. “They don’t want to admit any weaknesses or problems to friends who seem to have perfect lives.”
Rather than straining friendships, sharing problems can cement them. “It’s about being vulnerable and honest with the people around us,” Bland says. “Most people respond with, ‘Me, too’ and share part of their lives.”
Removing the façade of perfection is healthy, Bland says, but don’t stay in that bad place. “Our thoughts are fleeting and we can chose not to follow them,” she says. “If I’m feeling bad, I can be mindful of it, sit with it for a minute, hour or day, then reach out to my friends and find support.”
Not everyone qualifies as a confidant. We often ask people to fill roles that they can’t or don’t want to play, says Bland. “Think about other people in your life who do or can provide support and nurture those relationships.”
Positivity isn’t just a mindset—it requires practice. “Make a list of all of your strengths. Write down 10 things in one minute.”
Motivational speaker and business consultant Jen Croneberger issues that challenge to audiences and clients. What seems like a simple task is difficult for many people. “At a young age, we’re taught to be humble and fit in with our peers,” says the Chester Springs-based Croneberger. “We’re not taught to shine.”
Croneberger advocates confidence, not arrogance. “Confidence is internal,” she says. “Arrogance is external.”
Does everyone in your life want you to be confident? Are there people holding you back, taking too much of your energy and not supporting you? “Look at your life like a theater. Who’s in your front row?” Croneberger asks. “They know you the most. They see you at your best and worst. Did they earn those seats? Or did you give them away for free?” If family members, friends and colleagues aren’t “earning” those seats, move them back or out of the theater altogether. Demoting them—mentally, if not physically—reduces their influence on you.
Doing so allows you to focus on what Croneberger calls “personal non-negotiables.” What are the things you won’t compromise for anyone? That list is your values, which you need to function at your best. If that list doesn’t align with where you are in life, it’s time to make changes. “We write our stories every day. We can change those stories any time we want. We own the pens,” Croneberger says.
Reducing exposure to toxic chemicals is just as important as toxic people, says Dr. Jennifer Simmons. The former chief of breast surgery and director of the breast health program at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery, Simmons recently segued into functional medicine and opened a new practice called Real Health. Now based in King of Prussia, Real Health will soon be ensconced in its permanent home in Bala Cynwyd, offering traditional Western medical care, plus holistic treatments like acupuncture.
A lot of Simmons’ work now focuses on preventative care. She believes the key to good health is embracing the “magic six”: good sleep, proper nutrition, exercise, social connections, stress management and reduced exposure to toxins. “If you have the right combination in that magic six, your hormones are balanced, you don’t have inflammation and you lower risk factors for a lot of diseases,” Simmons says.
While most have difficulty with each of the six components, women typically struggle most with reducing their exposure to toxins. “The average woman puts 150 chemicals on her skin before she leaves the house in the morning,” Simmons says.
Toothpaste and body lotions both have ingredients to prevent the development of bacteria, but they can have estrogen-like effects on the body. Inventory what’s in your cabinets, read the labels and investigate ingredients. Buy natural products or create your own. “There are so many places where you can cut back on your chemicals,” Simmons says. “Every little bit helps.”
Women also struggle with nutrition. “The standard American diet is primarily responsible for our nation’s current state of health,” Simmons says.
In addition to reducing the chemicals in our food, we should rethink our diets. “Some people need more or less protein, more or less fat. But colorful, non-starchy vegetables should be everyone’s base,” she says. “There’s no diet that’s beneficial when the base of it is carbohydrates with starches.”
Start with small changes. “Eat better, feel better,” Simmons says. “You’ll see a difference quickly.”
Women’s bodies begin changing approximately 15 years before menopause, says Lynn Feinman, a Paoli-based doctor of naturopathy. “How we rebalance our hormones, starting at age 35, determines how we age, our longevity and overall health quotient,” she says.
Feinman advises increasing your intake of hormone-balancing foods—plants over animals. “Flesh foods and reproductive organs—even eggs—have hormones of those animals,” she says.
Feinman doesn’t insist on vegetarianism. Rather, she wants women to choose their meats wisely. Organic, farm-raised and antibiotic-free meats are best.
And food doesn’t supply all of the nutrients we need, especially as we age. Supplements are a must—just don’t overdo vitamins and minerals, Feinman says.
Experienced consultants can create supplement plans that include antioxidants, minerals, calcium, magnesium and B vitamins. They can also help you to engage in periods of nutritional cleansing to optimize liver function. Most of Feinman’s cleansing programs are a month long. But eating clean for even one day a week does a lot of good. “I believe that if your liver is clean, it can better metabolize the fluctuations of hormones,” she says.
When it comes to underlying systemic issues like insomnia and gastrointestinal disorders, hormonal changes can exacerbate them. That’s one reason people feel like they’re falling apart when they hit their mid-40s. “Hormones are messengers, so whatever is there becomes a louder conversation,” says Feinman.
Finding remedies for your ailments will help you brace yourself for change, Feinman contends. Preventative measures include micronutrient testing, food allergy analysis and supplement plans.
Hormone health is attainable and sustainable. “There’s a switch that gets flipped, and that can create damage, but a lot of it is reversible through making good choices,” says Feinman. “We can rebuild. If you’re clear with intentions and you want to get better, you can heal yourself.”
“Sexual health plays a vital role in the mental, physical and psychological wellbeing of women,” says Dr. Cynelle Kunkle. “Unfortunately, many women ignore problems for years before they seek treatment.”
Sex isn’t just for fun. “The prevalence of depression and anxiety, and sense of self-worth can be tied to a woman’s sexual health,” says Kunkle, a urogynecologist and division head of pelvic medicine for Crozer-Keystone Health System. “If you can’t function sexually, you’re not whole.”
Discomfort during sex is one of the first signs of dysfunction. Causes range from pelvic floor prolapse to vaginal dryness. Urinary incontinence is another common culprit and can severely detract from quality of life. “Seek care as soon as symptoms become bothersome,” Kunkle says.
Pelvic organ prolapse can be alleviated with tampon-like devices that elevate pelvic walls. For patients with overactive bladders, medication—which can take two to four weeks to be effective—is the first line of treatment. Some women may need mid-urethra slings that replace the closure mechanism between the urethra and bladder. “Patients are often wary of them because of the negativity around mesh, but not all of those products were recalled by the FDA,” says Kunkle. “Many are effective and should be at the forefront of praise, not scrutiny.”
Kunkle urges women to consult with their OBGYNs and, if appropriate, seek referrals to urogynocologists. “As we began to understand the prevalence of pelvic floor disorders, we had an influx of women seeking treatment,” she says. “The more we talk about it, the less taboo it becomes.”
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Good sleep is the foundation for good health, high functioning and feeling good about yourself, says Dr. Rochelle Goldberg, medical director for the Paoli Sleep Center and director of sleep medicine services for Main Line Health. Although we know how important sleep is, many of us struggle to get eight hours.
Pharmaceutical sleeping aids and natural sedatives like CBD, melatonin and valerian root may work only sporadically or not at all. “That’s because they don’t train the brain to allow for the natural phenomenon of sleep,” says Goldberg. “You’re not changing the rest of the picture and adopting good sleep habits.”
Those habits begin early, which is why kids shouldn’t sleep with their parents. “Children need to learn to initiate and maintain sleep independently,” Goldberg says. “Children must be put down awake
in their cribs so they have the association of, ‘I’m here in a comfy place and I can
People lose sleep quality as they reach middle age, Goldberg says. Sleep has a built-in controller that becomes less reliable over time. “Any habits we have that aren’t healthy for sleep can become more impactful,” she says.
Sleep centers like Goldberg’s shouldn’t be the first line of treatment. Talk to a primary physician who knows what good sleep is. Reaching into the medicine cabinet doesn’t change bad sleep habits or encourage people to develop better ones. “It’s not about a pill that will help you sleep,” Goldberg says.
Good sleep hygiene begins hours before bed. Don’t nap and limit caffeine. “Create a bedtime routine to tell your brain that it’s time for sleep,” says Goldberg.
Also reduce exposure to all lights, including the blue variety from electronic screens. Read, listen to music, or watch something soothing. “You wouldn’t read a scary monster book to your kid at bedtime, so don’t do that to yourself,” Goldberg says.
Pounding the elliptical machine five days a week and thinking you’re in great shape? Think again. “If you’re stuck in one training mindset, you’re creating an imbalanced body,” says Elissa Rogers, wellness director at the Haverford Area YMCA. “You need various strength-training exercises to work different parts of your body.”
Most of us ignore our arms and our chest muscles. To be truly strong, improve what is weak. “Women find upper-body strength training the hardest,” Rogers says. “We tend to focus on legs—running, elliptical machine, spinning—because we generally want to improve what they’re already good at doing.”
We also ignore balance. Taking a hard fall can break something at any age, but women lose bone density over time, making falls more dangerous. “We take it for granted that we can step up on a curb or a stair and transfer from one level to another. It’s very important to maintain that.”
Rogers suggests yoga and barre classes, plus training with agility ladders and Bosu balls. Work with a professional trainer to create a fitness plan. Even one session can put you on the right path.
Tracy Davidson is an anchor at NBC10, a breast cancer survivor and an advocate for victims of domestic violence. On Nov. 16, Davidson presents “Lifting Your V.O.I.C.E.,” an interactive women’s empowerment workshop at White Manor Country Club. To learn more, visit www.tracydavidson.com.