By: Barbara Schwartz
I have had a headache. For two months. It wasn’t a migraine. Didn’t seem to be caused by allergies as anti-histamines didn’t help. It wasn’t crippling and usually wasn’t there first thing in the morning. But by noon, every day for two months, there it was—a slight ache, enough to aggravate me but not enough to stop me from doing anything.
As a medical professional, I know not to let these things go. But as a busy woman, it didn’t even dawn on me that this headache was becoming chronic until about 4 weeks in. I know my body and even though I was beginning to get a little concerned, there were no big alarm bells. There was, however, a lot going on:
- I’m living somewhere in divorce/reconciliation limbo.
- I work full time and was just completing a master’s thesis in public health after two years of working and going to school full time.
- My only child was graduating from college and preparing to move home for the summer and then move out for graduate school.
- I was planning a graduation cookout for my son that involved some gentle navigation of former spouses, current significant others, and in-laws all around (it was fine!)
- My son and I were planning an epic mother/son graduation road trip and I would be away from work for over two weeks.
There was nothing inherently horrible happening, but it was a lot happening at once. I decided that if the headache persisted after vacation, I would see my physician. And a funny thing happened. Three days into vacation, I realized that I hadn’t had a headache for three days!
My takeaway, especially as the newly minted Barbara Schwartz Cornell, MPH: Stress affects our bodies, it affects how we feel and in the long term can affect our function, mood, and even bigger issues like inflammatory response, heart rate, blood pressure, sleep, and weight.
One of my reasons for studying public health was to help people prevent preventable diseases. Many of those are stress related.
So it’s time for this graduate to walk the talk:
- Daily meditation.
- Cardio for 150 minutes per week as prescribed by my friend, a cardiologist.
- Weight bearing exercise for bone strength.
- Fewer processed foods.
- Less screen time!
- Having designated work time and designated not work time!
I thought I needed to be Wonder Woman. What I really needed was a vacation! And my new vow is to make sure I have a mini vacation every day. If there is one pair of clean underwear in the house, the laundry can wait a day. If I hit the food store every Friday after work, my weekends are much more free. If I do a little meal prep on Sunday, my weeknights are less hectic. And if I stop answering emails when my workday is over, the world does not end. And if I do these things, I feel better, which makes me a better mother, daughter, friend, coworker, and educator!
Take care of yourselves!