The big life changes that women undergo can be full-on experiences – working in women’s health for 38 years as a midwife, coach and trainer have taught me that! From both guiding women through these transitions or experiencing them myself, I’ve come to understand many things.
When we go through major transitions from one stage of our lives to the next, it can play havoc with our hormones and lead to … Well, you only have to look at the accusations levelled against us at such times: that we’re crazy, hormonal, tearful, that’ we’re overreacting and overemotional. We’re dumped into stereotypical categories like these and struggle to be taken seriously.
And this struggle can be especially challenging at a time when we’re experiencing real symptoms and topsy-turvy emotions. Symptoms like mood swings and irritation are often stigmatised, so we try to keep them hidden. Yet they are genuine women’s health issues, and should be discussed openly, alongside physical symptoms like low energy, headaches, sweating and sleeplessness, which tend to become more pronounced at times of big life changes.
Puberty, pregnancy and perimenopause are significant transitions in a woman’s life and have a big impact on the individual and those around her. Yet far from acknowledging the implications for women’s health, everyone just pretends that nothing is happening.
We need to start off by looking at women’s health holistically, and acknowledging that mind and body are interdependent parts of a vital equation. Though these transitions are bodily experiences, I can confirm that the passage through them often leaves you feeling as if you are going crazy.
Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, identified five elements that are important for everyday happiness for everyone, but I see them as essential for women’s health.
Experiencing positive emotions comes from doing pleasurable and interesting things, such as watching a funny movie, going for a walk in nature, having a massage, eating a meal with friends or singing in the shower. Never underestimate the power of singing, by the way: I’ve found research that shows that if you sing for ten minutes every day – it doesn’t matter where or when – it helps to guard against feeling low and depression.
The mind has incredible power, and we often don’t realise the degree to which how we think governs how we feel. Experiencing positive emotions neutralises negative emotions, helping to increase our productivity at work, boosting our health and generally having a beneficial impact on all areas of our lives. And the good news is that you can train to your brain to think positively. Learning how to increase the happiness factor in this way can definitely improve women’s health.
Working in women’s health has revealed to me all too clearly how often women tend to think negatively about themselves, which certainly doesn’t help when fluctuating hormone levels may be making you feel low.
I speak from personal experience. In general I’m a happy person who enjoys life, takes part in lots of physical activities, and so on. Completely unexpectedly, from one month to the next, I entered my perimenopause. Coming at the age of 45, this hit me for six. The worst part was that all of a sudden I felt so low, physically and emotionally so weak… It was as if I was falling into a dark hole; on top of this I couldn’t sleep and my mind was going round in circles. I didn’t have a clue what was going on. I was supposed to be an expert on women’s health, yet what was happening to me felt out of my control.
Time to change that.
Your positive power exercise
Make a contract with yourself that for thirty days you will
Every morning read what you wrote the day before. This is how you can power up your self-esteem, bit by bit – and self-esteem can work miracles on women’s health.
Flow is when you are so engaged in what you are doing that you lose all sense of time. It can happen at work or in any other area of our lives, especially when we are doing something that we’re good at. The best way to achieve flow is to identify your strengths, talents and the things you really enjoy doing. They could be creative or challenging, but they could equally be those moments when you you simply let go: music, dancing, teaching, walking swimming, painting, sewing, gardening, a coffee with a friend – all have the potential to make us forget our immediate surroundings and connect deeply with an activity, or another person or people.
Such moments help us feel valuable and confident, and boost positive feelings about ourselves. Children slip into flow easily, so sometimes we should just allow ourselves to slip back into the stream and daydream.
Your flow exercise
Let’s do a bit of breath work – guaranteed to work wonders for women’s health!
Do at least three to five rounds of this as many times as you like, whenever you feel like it.
There is no doubt that human beings are social animals. Having satisfying relationships is a huge component of the happiness factor, and a key indicator for women’s health. It’s essential at times of transition to have the support of family, friends and our community. In fact, it can be especially important to find a community that understands these transitions and the challenges they represent. Not only can you share experiences, but you will also know that you are not alone. We know that women often feel isolated and unsupported when they are at home with a new baby, or when they are confronted with the ‘empty nest’ – these are different transitions yet they often result in similar experiences, and ones that can take their toll on women’s health.
Being part of a community online as well as offline can make a big difference. It’s through relationships that we give and receive support, share our joy and our pain, and gain a broader perspective on the world. Every transition in life is an opportunity to grow and to move forwards.
Too often women’s health seems to be reduced to a narrow focus on appearance, and if you need anything further, just keep taking the hormones and you’ll be fine. That’s just not good enough. Women’s health is more than a matter of the right skin cream and dropping a dress size. It’s vital to join groups to meet women who are going through experiences similar to your own, and with whom you can share tricks and tips, and mutual support.
Your relationships exercises
Strike up some new friendships and get back in touch with some old friends to practise these exercises. They are based giving three compliments a day. You may well ask, how is that supposed to benefit women’s health? Well, read on.
A compliment to yourself: when you see yourself in the mirror, smile and give yourself a compliment. It might be the hardest thing in the world to do, but tell yourself that you are beautiful, kind, funny, wonderful, strong, lovable – even if you don’t always feel like it. As you’re doing this, swing swing your left knee and right elbow together so they meet, and then repeat with the right knee and left elbow. Eventually all you will need to do is make the movement, and you will experience the positive feelings from complimenting yourself all over again.
Last but not least, just get in touch with people: surprise them with a phone call or send them a card or a letter. You’ll be amazed at the positive effect all this can have.
Working in women’s health for 38 years has taught me many things, not least that working towards our goals, and living in a way that supports that, is vitally important, especially at times when we might be feeling vulnerable and unsure of ourselves. We want to be able to look back on our lives and feel that we had a positive impact on other people’s lives, on our children, our families and the planet.
In the context of women’s health, meaning in life lies in dedicating ourselves to something that is greater than we are. This could be our faith or a social or political movement, or working directly with people in need: refugees, the elderly, groups who are economically disadvantaged – all of this creates a deeper sense of why we are here.
Your meaning exercise
Even if you have never done meditation before, give this loving kindness meditation a go:
May you be held in loving kindness
May you be healthy in body and mind
May you always have enough
May your heart know peace
Once you have done this, you could extend it by shifting your focus:
Dedicate ten minutes a day to this practice. Empathy is a great healer for people, and meditation even changes our brain chemistry. You can find a lot of guided meditation both online and offline. Depending on where you live, you may be able to find a Buddhist centre that offers free, non-religious meditation classes. Peace of mind helps both mind and body to mend, so is a must for women’s health.
What exactly do we mean by success? It could be professional success or it could be personal success – something as simple as joining a new group, learning a new language, or even managing to go to a class every week. Success looks different for every woman.
Setting goals and achieving them is the path to a greater sense of accomplishment, and nothing boosts women’s health like the sense of reaching a goal. Women tend to underestimate all the successes that they have already achieved in their lives, which does them a disservice. We need to be able to look at our lives and feel good about them, proud of what we have accomplished in the past and how far we have already come. All of this helps us to create a positive outlook for the future and propels us forward.
Your sense of achievement exercise
This exercise is very simple:
Bringing all this together will really put into perspective how much you’ve done with your life, that it, how successful you’ve been!
Last, but not least
After I went through a bit of a crazy, roller-coaster period, it took me a while to figure out what to do. To be honest, I felt lost and wanted to have the old me back. This is what spurred me to create my own map of activities – mindset activities, physical activities, diet and exercises – to help myself and others to negotiate the changes and transitions in women’s lives effortlessly. My goal in life has always been to promote women’s health by empowering women to take control and to feel good about themselves.