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What you need to know today...

Let's listen to a quick guide on what's in store for today...

Mental health check-up

We all have ups and downs in life, but how do you know when it’s more than just the regular rollercoaster of life?

Jean Hailes specialist women’s health GP Dr Amanda Newman says the following may be signs that you need some extra support:

  • If someone you respect tells you that you’re being unreasonably angry
  • If you’re on the verge of tears, especially if someone you love asks you how you are
  • If you’re withdrawing from your usual social activities.

Even if these signs don’t apply to you, it’s time to seek help if you feel you’d benefit from additional support. Your doctor can talk over some options to assist. 

You might not feel like you normally do, and you don’t know how to change things for the better. You might find that your mental health is having a negative impact on areas of your daily life and you’re struggling to cope. Despite your efforts to change or improve things, you may find nothing is working and you're feeling worse as time goes on.

Jean Hailes psychologist Gillian Needleman says if you are thinking of hurting yourself, then it’s time to get immediate help.

Life stages and changes

Taking care of your mental and emotional health is important throughout your whole life, but it’s good to be aware that there are particular life stages and changes when mental health issues can commonly happen.

Pregnancy and early parenthood – No one can possibly tell you what it might feel like for you to be pregnant, to give birth to a baby or to become a new parent. These are deeply personal experiences and are different for everyone. It is a time of great change and challenge, often bringing feelings of joy and celebration, as well as feelings of worry and anxiety. For helpful resources to support your mental and emotional wellbeing during this time, visit the online hub, Mumspace.

At midlife – Around menopause, many things are changing – not just your hormones. However, your shifting hormones may have a lot to do with your swinging emotions, which can range from joy to anger to irritability to sadness. For some women, emotional health around menopause may also be influenced by previous experiences, such as past bouts of depression, or even past abuse. Read more about factors that can influence your mental health at menopause.

Chronic illness – Complex health conditions have many layers. Often the focus is on the diagnosis and treatment of a person's physical symptoms, but many complex conditions can also have an impact on a person’s mental and emotional wellbeing. Read more about how to cope with a complex condition.

Major events – Significant life changes such as the death of a loved one or friend, a relationship ending, financial struggles, or traumatic events can all have emotional impacts for which additional support may help. Read more.

Mental healthcare plans

In these tough financial times, it can help to know about mental healthcare plans.

If you’re diagnosed with a mental health problem, such as depression or an anxiety disorder, your doctor may provide you with a mental healthcare plan. This will entitle you to Medicare rebates for up to 10 sessions a year with a psychologist, social worker or occupational therapist.

A Medicare rebate is when the Australian Government covers part of the cost of the health service – so the ‘out-of-pocket expenses’ are reduced and it’s much less expensive for you.

Talk to your doctor to see if a mental healthcare plan is right for you or your loved one.

Today’s top resources

Today’s resources will help you keep mental wellbeing top of mind. Learn the basics of depression, anxiety, stress and grief, plus ways you can support your own mental health.

Staying well as you age - fact sheet

Staying mentally well for women 65+ is important for their overall health. This fact sheet provides tips on how women can stay mentally well as they get older, as well as where to get help and support.

Get the facts

Mental & emotional health - fact sheet

Many factors can affect your mental and emotional health. This fact sheet outlines what you can do to support your mental health, and what to do if you need help right now.

Download

Workplace mental health tips

Printable posters for managers and employees in the workplace, which include helpful tips for identifying and reducing workplace stress and anxiety triggers.

Download here

Living with anxiety

Thanks to support from Liptember, we recently spoke to three women about their experiences of living with anxiety. Watch the videos as Tori, Alanah and Debbie share their stories of anxiety and what they do to manage it. We hope you find them as inspiring as we do.

Tori, 43, Sydney

Anxiety affects Tori as a result of living with chronic pelvic pain. Strategies such as activity pacing and seeing a pain specialist counsellor help to keep her anxiety in check. “You have sovereignty over your body and thoughts, and that’s the interface where you gain control over your whole life.”

 

Debbie, 63, Rosebud

Anxiety has been part of Debbie’s life since she was a child. “I never knew how to deal with it then.” Since first speaking to a doctor about it in her 30s, she now actively manages her anxiety with medication, funny films, singing and dancing, good friends, getting out among nature and her cuddly cat Timmy.

 

Alanah, 23, Canberra

It wasn’t until her late teens that Alanah realised that the tightness she felt across her chest every time she felt a little nervous “wasn’t completely normal”. An eventual chat to her GP put her on the path to managing her anxiety.

R U OK?

Today is R U OK? Day, and it’s all about how a single conversation can change – or even save – a life.

Woman on her balcony

 It’s a chance to reach out to someone you know or care about who might be struggling.

Perhaps they seem out of sorts … more agitated or withdrawn? Or they are just not themselves? Trust your gut instinct and act on it.

Here are the simple steps:

  1. Ask R U OK? Be relaxed, friendly and concerned in your approach.
  2. Listen with an open mind. Take what they say seriously and don't interrupt or rush the conversation.
  3. Encourage action. Ask them: “What’s one little step that could make things a bit better?”, “Has anything helped in the past?”, “There are places that can help even when you don’t think anything can”.
  4. Check in at a later point. You could say: “I’d really like to be here for you. Would it be OK if I see how you are in a day or so?”

Remember, you don't need to be an expert to reach out – just a good friend and a great listener.

In 2020, staying connected is more important than ever. Even if someone appears fine, asking R U OK? can be a lovely touch of human kindness that comes at just the right time.

Get more tips on how to have the conversation and discover great mental health resources.

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Learning to let go and coping with change

It could be missing out on a job, losing a pet, experiencing a miscarriage. Grief is an emotion we feel when we experience loss.

This year, COVID-19 exposed us to a new kind of grief many of us had not experienced before: of the loss of simple life pleasures. Going to concerts, dining out, swimming in pools, visiting family, hugging friends, taking holidays – for many, such activities became longed-for remnants of a pre-pandemic world.

However, the pandemic also affected our ability to grieve, as we usually would, the major losses that came during it – and sometimes because of it – such as funerals for loved ones.

Women's Health Week ambassador Shelley Ware catches up with psychologist Caroline Anderson to share with us some tips for letting go and coping with change.

Sleep quiz: test your knowledge from A to Zzz

We spend about a third of our lives doing it – it’s as essential to our survival as food and water, and closely connected to mental health.
But how much do you really know about sleep?
  1. Getting less than six hours of sleep a night is linked to serious health issues.

    A study from 2019 found that people who sleep less than six hours a night may have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease compared with those who sleep between seven and eight hours.

    According to the research, less than six hours of slumber increases the risk of unhealthy plaque, or fatty deposits, building up in the arteries – a condition called atherosclerosis.

    Previous studies have shown that lack of sleep also increases risk factors for other serious health issues, with links to high blood pressure, obesity and type 2 diabetes.

    How many hours of sleep a person needs varies from person to person, but most healthy adults should aim for between 7-9 hours a night to function at their best.

  2. A warm bath or shower before bed can help you to fall asleep and stay asleep.

    Body temperature is involved in the sleep/wake cycle. At night, your core temperature dips naturally, helping to prepare your body and brain for sleep.

    A warm bath or shower helps this process along, not by warming you up, as you would expect – but by cooling down your core temperature.

    The warm water increases blood supply your hands and feet, taking body heat from deep inside and reducing your core temperature.

    A review of the research found the optimal timing of bathing for cooling down your core body temperature to improve sleep quality is about 90 minutes before going to bed.

  3. Reading an eBook before bed has little to no impact on sleep quality and duration.

    If you have the choice between a book and eBook, research shows it’s better to stick with the printed form for the sake of your sleep.

    A 2014 study revealed that after reading an eBook versus a real book, participants took longer to fall asleep and had reduced levels of feeling sleepy in the evening. Their levels of melatonin (the sleep hormone) were also decreased, and their alertness the next morning was also reduced.

    It’s well known that the blue light emitted by iPads, eReaders and phones can suppress melatonin (the sleepy hormone). Warm-toned ‘night mode’ settings on devices claim to negate any ill effects.

    However, other studies (only done on animals so far) suggest it doesn’t only boil down to the big blue; yellow light, brightness, and how long you’re exposed to the light are also likely to be important factors to consider.

  4. Women have a higher risk of sleep problems than men.

    An American review of dozens of separate studies has confirmed that during times of hormonal change – such as puberty, pregnancy and menopause – women are at increased risk of poor sleep and sleep deprivation, as well as sleep disorders such as restless legs syndrome and insomnia.

  5. Snoring or snorting while you’re asleep is nothing to be concerned about.

    Snoring or snorting mid-snooze is one potential sign of the condition known as sleep apnoea.

    In sleep apnoea, your airway narrows or gets temporarily blocked by the surrounding muscles. This makes breathing difficult, waking you up momentarily mid-sleep.

    These episodes might happen hundreds of times a night, but because you’re asleep while it’s all going on, you may not remember in the morning.

    If you have a sleeping partner, they might tell you that you snore loudly, snort, have pauses in breathing or suddenly gasp for air.

    However, not all snorers have sleep apnoea and not all people with sleep apnoea snore. It is important to be aware of the condition though, as it can increase your risk of heart disease and dementia.

    Read our recent article: Is it tiredness or is it sleep apnoea?

  6. Having a few of glasses of wine at night can help you to sleep better.

    While it may initially help you to feel drowsy and fall asleep, alcohol is a common cause of disrupted sleep, particularly in the second half of the night.

    Research has shown that drinking before bed disturbs sleep cycles, makes you more prone to snoring and sleep apnoea, and it potentially leads to more bathroom trips during the night.

    Even late afternoon ‘happy hour’ drinking – around six hours before bedtime – also disrupts sleep, even though alcohol is no longer in the brain at bedtime.

  7. Most of your dreaming occurs during the sleep phase known as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.

    REM and non-REM sleep are the two main stages of sleep. REM sleep first occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep.

    In REM sleep, breathing becomes faster and irregular, heart rate and blood pressure rise to near waking levels, and brain activity also increases. Your eyes also move rapidly from side to side behind closed eyelids during REM sleep, hence its name.

    Most of your dreaming occurs during REM sleep, but some can also occur in non-REM sleep. Interestingly, your arm and leg muscles become temporarily paralysed during REM sleep, which researchers believe helps us in staying asleep by preventing you from ‘acting out’ your dreams.

  8. Nice work!

    You got out of 7 correct

    Getting the right amount of good sleep plays a big role in your wellbeing on many levels. We hope this quiz has help you know a little bit more about this mental health superpower.

The exercise effect

When you’re in the depths of worry, anxiety or depression, it can be hard to focus on anything else. You can feel stuck inside your head, inside a situation that won’t let up … on a loop with no end in sight.

So how do you break free from the cycle of worrying thoughts? With mindfulness and meditation? With stress-relieving or relaxation techniques?

Today, we’ll tell you about an additional tool for your self-help kit – getting out of your head, into your body and being physically active.

Enter: the exercise effect.

Managing anxiety

Anxiety is part of being human. It’s a feeling of being nervous, worried, uneasy, panicky, or fearful about what might happen.

Everyone experiences anxiety at some stage. However, if these anxious feelings start to disrupt or interfere with your daily life, if you feel fearful most or all the time, or if you notice you are avoiding people, places or activities – then it’s time to do something about it.

One in three women will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. But the good news is, anxiety can be managed and mental health can be improved.

Here, we cover the three main ways to address anxiety:

Read more about them and see what may work for you.

Mental health resources and support

Family violence & COVID

With families having to stay at home to help ‘flatten the curve’ of COVID-19 infection, it has led to a spike in reports of domestic violence. We asked some experts for strategies and advice for families at risk.

Learn more

Lifeline – Call 13 11 14

Lifeline provides compassionate support for people in crisis. No judgement. No conditions. No agenda. Just a human connection to help people get through their darkest moments. Access their 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention services.

Learn more

Support for new parents

Free professional psychological support services are available for pregnant women and new parents suffering anxiety and depression through Gidget House locations in Queensland, NSW and Victoria.

Find out more

Clearing the fog

Finding it hard to concentrate at certain times of the month? Your hormones could be causing brain fog.

In the days leading up to their periods, many premenstrual women have long complained about poor concentration, having trouble remembering things, even struggling to make a decision. It’s called brain fog or ‘brain fatigue’ and has finally become a serious topic in women’s health.

Brain-boosting foods

When you haven't been eating well, you can feel it. Like a car on poor-quality fuel, your performance lags. You feel sluggish, less energetic. Similarly, your brain power can also be dulled.

Discover the nutrients that matter to your ‘grey matter’ and learn about the foods that can give your brain a boost.

Today’s recipe: Calamari al forno

Today’s recipe, created by our naturopath Sandra Villella, is a traditional Italian dish of slow-cooked calamari in a tomato and herb sauce… a perfect example of the brain-healthy Mediterranean diet!

Calamari (also known as squid) is a rich source of omega-3 fats, particularly DHA – the type of omega-3 that’s essential for brain development and brain function.

Cleaned and prepped calamari can be bought frozen, and sometimes in bulk, from supermarkets and seafood providers, making it a more economical and easy option than fresh fish.

What’s more, freezing actually tenderises the calamari (stops it from going rubbery) so you’ll end up with an even more delicious dish!

Time for a time-out

Take a time-out today with Zoe by doing this 5-minute meditation for Day 4 of Women's Health Week 2020. Special thanks to 28 by Sam Wood.

Download the Women's Health Week eCard to share. Don't forget to use the hashtag #WomensHealthWeek.

Illustration by Tonia Composto.

What’s your next step on the journey to better mental health?

Beyond Blue

3 million people in Australia are living with anxiety or depression. Beyond Blue provides information and support to help everyone in Australia achieve their best possible mental health, whatever their age and wherever they live.

Visit website

Hormones and mental health

For Women's Health Week last year, Professor Jayashri Kulkarni AM, director of the Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre and one of Australia’s leading experts on women’s mental health joined us to talk about how hormones impact mental health.

Revisit the video

Unpacking the mental load

Is it time to add the word ‘enough’ to the top of your ever-growing to-do list? Get advice straight from mental health experts on how to tell if you're doing too much – and how to stop.

Read article

Health checks e-Booklet

This illustrated e-Booklet is your personal guide to the different health checks you need at different ages and life stages.

Tell us what you think

We'd love to hear your thoughts on Women's Health Week 2020 - what you liked, what you didn’t, and what you want to see more of next year.