As the chief director of your family’s universe, you’re the pulse-point of the home.
But if that means you’re struggling under the mantle of an unforgiving schedule, now is the time to re-evaluate. Your health depends on it. Just ask Nefertari Williams.
When nine-months pregnant with her fifth child, Williams suffered a life-threatening heart attack that forced her to reassess her chaotic lifestyle.
Like many moms, 34-year-old Williams’s daily routine included getting her children ready for school before heading to her full-time job working with cognitively and physically disabled preschoolers.
After slogging through a 45-minute commute home from work, she quickly made dinner, helped her children with homework and then taxied them to dance, karate, swimming and singing practices.
“I made sure my children were not only involved in many activities–they had to be the best,” says Williams, who was also a stage mom to her oldest daughter, a talented singer.
In addition, she sold cosmetics and her handmade jewelry. Squeezed into her schedule were visits to the nursing home to see her mother, who had suffered a massive stroke. Her husband, who worked nights, managed the family’s laundry.
Williams blames her exhausting schedule for contributing to her heart attack, which was caused by a spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD).
According to the American Heart Association, SCAD typically affects young women who are otherwise healthy. Thirty percent of the time, the condition, which is a spontaneous tearing in the coronary artery wall, occurs among women who have recently had a child. SCAD does not have any warning signs, making it hard to diagnose prior to a heart attack.
Although doctors aren’t sure why SCAD occurs, Williams says, “after reaching out to other SCAD survivors, we had one thing in common–hyperactive lifestyles.”
Overcommitment health risks
“Wanting to please, wanting to be everything to everybody, women just keep extending themselves, until their minds and bodies cannot cope,” says Rosalie Moscoe, RHN, RNCP, and author of Frazzled Hurried Woman! Your Stress Relief Guide to Thriving.
Besides heart disease, chronic stress can lengthen the recovery time from illness and fuel other long-term health problems, like obesity, irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure, insomnia, headaches, depression and even infertility.
A hectic lifestyle could also make conception more difficult, says Elle Griffin, a natural fertility expert and feminine vitality coach.
Exercise in moderation can help relieve stress, but Griffin warns that overtaxing an already stressed body with too much strenuous exercise can increase the stress hormone cortisol.
“High levels of circulating stress hormones can impair adrenal function, resulting in brain fog, lethargy and the dreaded ‘pregnant belly’ even if you are not with child,” she says. “Some women even start losing their hair.”
How can you better manage your busy lifestyle?
Prioritize. Make a list of everything you do. Decide which items can be eliminated, pared down or delegated to others. Can you organize a carpool with another parent? Can you limit your kids’ activities to one per season? Are there volunteer activities that you no longer find meaningful? Can your kids fold and put away laundry?
“Dissect one of your most stressful commitments,” Moscoe says. “Your own thoughts and feelings about what is expected of you will determine how much stress you will feel. If you have elder care, get your teenage kids or other family members to visit your folks and do errands. It doesn’t have to be you all of the time.”
Williams, who is in congestive heart failure, says she now mostly manages her home and family from her bed.
“After nearly losing my life, I have learned what’s important which is my love of my higher power and my family,” she says. “My family is happy because I am here with them. They don’t miss the hyperactive lifestyle at all.”
Pursue pleasure. Integrate activities into your day that bring you personal joy.
“That doesn’t mean you have to go to yoga or pilates,” Griffin says. “Whether it’s eating cake for dinner or having drinks with girlfriends, doing things just for yourself can have a huge effect on your endocrine health and fertility.”
Try out a new recipe, engage in a favorite craft, read a book or take a nap. Or plan to do nothing at all. Schedule “me time” in your calendar if necessary.
Practice saying no. Avoid adding any new commitments to your schedule. If an opening appears on the calendar, try not to fill the space by obliging someone else.
Think you can afford to wait to rein in your hyperactive lifestyle?
“Sit down and look into your loved ones eyes. Then, picture them looking at you while laying in the critical care unit of a hospital,” Williams says. “Because you love them, take care of you, so you can be here to watch them grow up.”
Christa Melnyk Hines is a freelance journalist and author of Confidently Connected: A Mom’s Guide to a Satisfying Social Life, a resource for moms seeking a more balanced social life that supports their emotional health.