Superwoman is the new catchphrase of today – used to describe the incredible number of mothers running around, trying to achieve more than any other generation of women before them. But what is the ultimate cost of this ‘Superwomen’ mentality? There is the inclination to feel like your life is on fast-forward, or autopilot, and the days just roll by in a whirl of tiredness and overwhelm.
On the surface, everything seems fine. The kids are getting dropped at school, the groceries are purchased, the meals are cooked and everyone has clean clothes to wear. But underneath all this running around is a mother who is struggling to find the time to breathe. She is stressed, anxious, and barely able to get out of bed in the morning from pure exhaustion. Symptoms of stress, overwhelm, irritability, disrupted sleep, anxiety, low libido, or weight gain can easily become the norm. But hold up, there is hope. Many of these symptoms are reversible or can be vastly improved.
The key to making any life change is to start small, then build from there. If you try to overhaul your life in one week, you will find yourself exhausted from just trying. Choose one area of your life to focus on first and see how much better you feel. Then keep that change going while you start with another. Below are some key areas that mothers can tweak in order to start to feel better.
Prioritise sleep quality
Many of us are tired. We are busy, stressed, exhausted, and we don’t get anywhere near enough sleep. If you feel fatigued every day, then sleep is something you simply must address. “But my child wakes throughout the night” – we hear you. It’s time to carefully consider why they are waking, and reach out for some help. There are a number of natural approaches that may help a restless child to be more settled at night.
Did you know? Research by the Sleep Health Foundation has revealed that between 33 and 45 per cent of Australians have inadequate sleep of either duration or quality, which impacts their daytime productivity, heightens feelings of irritability, negatively affects mental health, and can even be linked to weight gain.
Poor sleep has a direct correlation with blood sugar problems, as blood sugar rises with the less sleep we get. This then has a spiraling effect on weight gain by the constant need to keep snacking throughout the day to boost energy, which keeps insulin levels spiked. If you find yourself continually reaching for a carb-hit throughout the day, either focus on complex carbohydrates (ie not processed foods) or try and swap the carbs for some healthy fats, but most importantly, address your lack of sleep if it is a contributing factor.
Create a calm bedroom – A quarter of all adults use the internet most or every night of the week just before bed. Remove all TVs, computers, smartphones, and don’t spend time scrolling electronic devices at least two hours before sleep time. Artificial light from the screens overstimulates the brain and can block melatonin production. If you’re not able to avoid screens at night time, or simply must be on your computer in the evening for work, consider installing an app such as f.lux which makes the colour of your screen’s display adapt to the time of day, lessening the impact of artificial light from screens in the evening.
No caffeine before bed – caffeine is a stimulant and should be avoided in the late afternoon and evenings. Be aware that some tea contains caffeine also, such as green tea, black tea, and white tea, all derived from the plant Camellia sinensis. It’s best to stick to a calming tea such as chamomile or passionflower in the evenings.
If you are having issues with either falling asleep or staying asleep at night, see your naturopath who can assist with a treatment plan for the specific problem. Sleep onset insomnia and sleep maintenance insomnia may both be treated quite differently.
Improve antioxidant intake.
Busy mothers often eat on the run. We spend a great deal of time making sure our kids are eating nutritious meals, but run out of time to make healthy food choices for ourselves. Eating too quickly can contribute to weight gain, and all kinds of digestive problems, as well as increasing stress on an already fatigued body.
Food that is not digested properly will cause more fatigue. Remember mindful and calm eating practices which support good assimilation of nutrients and is also great role modelling for our children. Oxidative stress (and aging) is reduced by eating colourful vegetables and fruits that naturally contain antioxidants that have also been shown to help regulate blood sugar.
Did you know? We should all be aiming to eat the rainbow at each and every meal, knowing that different vitamins and nutrients come from different coloured natural foods. Antioxidants are measured on their ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity), or their ability to fight free radicals.
Antioxidants such as quercetin found in apples, resveratrol in grapes, L-sulforaphane in broccoli, alpha lipoic acid found in dark green leafy vegetables, and EGCG in green tea can help to counter balance the damage caused by stress, toxicity, and poor food choices by protecting healthy cells from damage associated with inflammation. Antioxidants can halt the growth of these damaged cells that may otherwise lead to a more serious health condition.
Regularly consume foods that are high in antioxidant compounds such as prunes, raisins, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, plums, oranges, grapes, kale, alfalfa, beetroot, broccoli, kidney beans, corn, red capsicum, pecans, elderberries, cranberries, and herbs such as basil, thyme, and parsley.
Preparation is the key to a nutritious intake. Plan out your meals for the week. Know what nutritious options you have available to you for breakfast, pre-prepare healthy snack options for throughout the day in order to avoid reaching for the processed carbs when hungry, hangry, or rushed.
Simple ideas for mothers to have healthy and sustaining snacks throughout the day are smoothies packed full of antioxidants, nuts, raisins/sultanas, GFDF bliss balls, fruit-particularly berries, yoghurt or coconut yoghurt, cheese, organic turkey, cured salmon, seeded crackers, carrot/celery/cucumber sticks and hummus, gluten free seeded loaf or paleo banana bread, roasted seaweed, dark chocolate (80%+, no/minimal sugar).
Turkey in particular contains the amino acid tryptophan which is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin, so it assists in making you feel calm, content, and better equipped to handle your day.
Increase water intake Sometimes the simple act of increasing water intake over the day has a huge effect on fatigue levels. It’s simple advice, but it really works as many of us are not adequately hydrated. We should be aiming for 30mL/kilo of body weight, and even more if we have been exercising, drinking alcohol or coffee.
Check vitamin intake
B vitamins are water-soluble and essential for various metabolic processes, and as most of these vitamins are not stored in the body then they need to be consumed regularly. Without sufficient intake of these vitamins the body will lack energy, particularly B12 and folate.
Did you know? B vitamins help convert dietary intake to ATP which is a form of energy that is used by the body. They support methylation, which is a biochemical process involved in almost all bodily functions from how your body makes energy from food, to how you handle stress.
The methylation process can be supported by supplementing with activated B vitamins, however it’s important to not to self-diagnose a vitamin deficiency because some vitamins can be toxic if taken when not needed, so get labs done to check your nutrient levels.
Obtaining B vitamins from food intake is important, and B’s can be found in fish, shellfish, poultry, meat, eggs, leafy green vegetables, broccoli, avocado, lentils, almonds, asparagus, and potatoes.
Low iron levels will also cause fatigue. Iron is crucial for transfer of oxygen and nutrients to the tissues and is involved in numerous enzymatic processes. Low iron levels results in reduced oxygen carrying capacity of the blood and tissue hypoxia, causing fatigue, coldness, pallor, and shortness of breath.
Due to the low bioavailability of inorganic iron, the iron requirement in a vegetarian diet is higher. Be aware that calcium and zinc can hinder the absorption of iron, so ensure any iron supplementation is taken away from the intake of those nutrients or supplements.
Remove harmful foods
Food is medicine. If you haven’t already guessed, diet is a huge factor in addressing fatigue and overwhelm. Eating foods that are ‘warming’ and easily digested are a good place to start – less raw foods and more replenishing winter casseroles – so that the body requires less energy for digestion. Equally important, is the removal of foods that will increase fatigue and toxicity in the body, and that are taxing on the adrenals.
Foods to avoid are caffeine (although it will give you a short-lived boost, it interferes with your sleep cycle and your body’s ability to self-regulate), sugars/sweeteners (will have the same effect as caffeine in providing a hit of energy however it will be followed by a slump afterwards which then requires another hit of sugar in order to keep going, and so the cycle continues, whilst at the same time exasperating any inflammation within the body which also contributes to fatigue), refined carbohydrates and processed foods such as breads, cakes, biscuits (will also contribute to inflammation and provide momentary satisfaction but cause problems for the body trying to regulate energy), and energy drinks are a big no (they have been linked to heart attacks, increased anxiety, headaches and migraines, insomnia, neurological effects, and insulin resistance).
Correct hormonal imbalances
Underlying hormonal imbalances can most definitely contribute to feelings of fatigue. Hormonal dysfunction may be linked to adrenal, thyroid, and cortisol imbalances, as well as oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone imbalances, particularly for women nearing menopause.
Did you know? If you suffer from daily feelings of stress and overwhelm, irritability and anxiety, or have disrupted sleep, slow/difficulty to wake in the morning, unexplained weight gain, hair loss, or feel ‘wired but tired’ in the evenings, then the chances are you have a hormonal imbalance.
If you suspect you have a hormonal imbalance, the first step is to see a qualified practitioner to run functional lab testing and determine your levels. Each type of hormonal dysfunction will require a different approach to healing, and often it’s not just one hormone which is out of balance but a combination. The root cause of the dysfunction will also need to be considered, for example thyroid imbalances may be due to conversion dysfunction, thyroid resistance, or autoimmunity, and they will each require a different approach for healing.
Heal your gut
Leaky gut is a term used to describe a permeable and damaged gut lining that allows certain food proteins and endotoxins to pass through into the bloodstream. This may cause a variety of issues in the body, such as heightened immune response and ongoing sub clinical inflammation – which are likely to cause fatigue and altered mood. Labs can test the permeability of your digestive tract as well as the level of inflammatory proteins.
Did you know? The neurotransmitter serotonin is made and stored in the digestive tract by enterochromaffin (EC) cells. This mass of neurotissue in the gut plays a key role in our mental state and emotions.
Serotonin helps regulate mood and social behaviour, appetite and digestion, sleep and memory, and significantly contributes to health and wellbeing. If your gut is not functioning optimally, you will have low absorption of nutrients and low conversion of serotonin, with low levels being linked to depression and mood disorders.
Mindfulness and meditation
Stress has an overwhelming effect on your health. The superwoman mentality heavily impacts the stress response. As mothers we are pulled in many directions all at once. If stress is not managed, we experience burn-out.
Starting and/or ending your day with a simple meditation or breathing practice can have an extremely positive effect. There are many good meditation apps such as Headspace, Smiling Mind, 1GiantMind, and Calm that are very easy to use and support good practice, or simply finding a good daily yoga practice online can positively impact your wellbeing.
By introducing a simple mindfulness practice into your day, even if it’s just 5 minutes, you can start to create a calmer state of mind for yourself and release stress that is running your life.
Did you know? According to Psychology Today, mindfulness is an incredible tool to help people understand, tolerate, and deal with their emotions in healthy ways. It helps us to alter our habitual responses by taking pause and choosing how we act.
As mothers, we spend all day making sure that everyone else in the family is okay – has enough food, water, clothes, playtime, exercise, and naps, but we also need to create the space in our life to refuel. We are the heart of the home, and if we don’t take care of our health and wellbeing, we can’t take care of everyone else’s.
Sometimes the simple act of dedicating a small part of your day to yourself is enough to keep you going. You deserve it after all.