Divorced, middle-aged women are 60 percent more likely to get cardiovascular disease—even when they remarry—than women who remain married, according to a study from the University of Texas at Austin.
"We found that divorced women have the lowest household income and wealth, compared to married women, widows and women who remarry," the article's author, Dr. Mark Hayward, writes. "Divorce clearly leads to a drop in financial resources. Add that to the emotional distress that can stem from a change in residence, loss of social support or the potential of single parenting, and divorced middle-aged women are facing incredible stress that puts them at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to their cardiovascular health."
When I read this study, my first thought was, "damned if that doesn't give new meaning to the term ‘broken heart'."
I received an email from a girlfriend the other day. In it, she described herself as "the man of the house". I'm sure there are quite a few reading this article who have taken on the role of both mom and dad. You've become the person who worries about keeping a roof over your family's head and keeping up with all your financial obligations. You may have elderly parents who require help or teenage and college-age children who come with their own set of issues to deal with.
If you have become the "man of the house", you are one person dealing with stress that is normally dealt with by two people. You've got one heart that is doing double duty. The good news is there are techniques you can use to manage stress and reduce its negative effects on your heart:
- Assert yourself. You do not have to meet others' expectations or demands. It's OK to say "no". Remember, being assertive allows you to stand up for your rights and beliefs while respecting those of others.
- Exercise regularly. Choose non-competitive exercise and set reasonable goals. Aerobic exercise has been shown to release endorphins, natural substances that help you feel better and maintain a positive attitude.
- Relax every day. Make sure you have some alone time daily. Practice deep breathing exercises or just put your feet up and escape into a good book or movie.
- Take responsibility. Control what you can and leave behind what you cannot control. If you don't want it in your life, don't allow it in. You are ultimately responsible and have full control over what stressors you allow into your life.
- Examine your values and live by them. The more your actions reflect your beliefs, the better you will feel, no matter how busy your life is.
- Sell yourself to yourself. When you are feeling overwhelmed, remind yourself of what you do well. Have a healthy sense of self-esteem. The most productive affirmations we receive are the ones we give ourselves.
- Get enough rest. Even with proper diet and exercise, you can't fight stress effectively without rest. You need time to recover from stressful events. The time you spend resting should be long enough to relax your mind as well as your body. Some people find that taking a nap in the middle of the day helps them reduce stress.
- See your doctor regularly. Heart disease is the "silent killer." The symptoms of a heart attack are different for women. Play it safe by seeing your doctor for a complete check-up and become aware of the signs and symptoms of cardiovascular problems.