It’s Women’s Health Week, and I’m thinking about what that means – as a certified integrative life and wellness coach and as woman in the prime of her mid-life. In my professional capacity, I enjoy a sense of clarity and alignment and purpose. I help clients identify unhealthy behaviors and thought patterns and replace them with a healthy mindset and habits that enhance mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual wellness all year round. There are action graphs and progress markers. I coach through setbacks and cheerlead to the finish line. Doing my best work at all times is my North Star.
And. On a personal level, it’s more complicated and less empirical. I meditate and do yoga and I consume a lot of wine – like, a lot of wine. I have a growth mindset about my work, lifelong learning, and cultivating expansiveness and opportunity and I have a few limiting beliefs about aging. I know that being financially healthy is an important measure of freedom and wellness and oh, heyyyyy there Facebook ad, I do need that gold Athena signet ring for the warrior goddess in me. I’ve never felt so seen. Most days I vibe at my absolute highest, feel attuned and like I’m infusing every space I enter with energy and light and some days I feel blocked and funky and out of my flow and just. so. tired.
And I know I’m not the only one.
Just because we know something intellectually or have the abilities and resources to do all the things we know will lead to healthier outcomes, doesn’t mean we actually do all the things. Or some of them. Or any of them. Zoom/pandemic/momming/caregiving/social commitments fatigue rears its Hydra head; shoulda/woulda/coulda susceptibility kicks in; a buzzy new show drops on Netflix; and our go-to pizza joint makes us an offer we can’t refuse. Before we know it it’s 11pm, and we’re three Chardonnays, two slices, and five episodes into The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window. Healthing is hard. (opens Amazon cart while the next episode loads) We’ll try again tomorrow.
(tilts head, squints) Will we, though?
Magic 8 Ball says… Ask again later. According to Gretchen Rubin, I’m a Rebel Tendency. That means I won’t even follow my own rules, let alone someone else’s.
But. Here’s the thing – if someone makes a snap or generalized judgment about me, this rebellious woman loves nothing more than proving them wrong. For example, for all the -isms we’ve come to recognize as harmful, ageism is still alive and well. Even in the workplace, people still find it totally acceptable to make comments about getting older like 50 is some kind of universal expiration date on human potential. Dolly Parton, Gabrielle Reece, Halle Berry, and Jennifer Aniston beg to differ. It’s gratifying to confound narrowminded expectations.
I’ve compiled four of the most insidious mid-life myths that harm women's health. To combat the misinformation, I’m prescribing a dose of rebel reading to flip the script, bust the myths about women of a certain age – and take back our health.
Harmful Myth: Drinking is chic, harmless, and a super fun girl time bonding activity.
How It Affects Our Health: By encouraging and cultivating a risky relationship with alcohol.
Rebel Read: Quit Like a Woman by Holly Whitaker
I put this one first because it’s what I struggle with most – and too many of us don’t even recognize the problem. Learning about the internal physical impact of just one glass of wine floored me. Just because we can’t feel it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. And. Take a look around at the way alcohol is marketed to women. Recognizing and resisting Madison Avenue manipulation and making the informed, conscious choice to imbibe is half the battle. Self-awareness is key – even if we don’t give up drinking wine or the occasional cocktail – understanding why we drink, how much we drink, and what we feel like we get from it will enable us to come to terms with our consumption and reframe our relationship with alcohol.
Harmful Myth: Getting older just sucks.
How It Affects Our Health: By leading us to accept that physical and mental decline are a given.
Rebel Reads: Breaking the Age Code by Becca Levy, PhD, The Upgrade by Louann Brizendine, MD, and Genius Foods by Max Lugavere with Paul Grewal, MD
Every single day my 86-year-old mother who suffers from dementia and frequent falls will say some version of “Don’t get old.” (as though the alternative of dying young is somehow preferable) or “Just wait ‘til you’re my age.” (insinuating the inevitability that my life will have a similar trajectory) I know that how much I move my body, what I put into it, and how I feel and think about it have far more significant impacts on my health than the number of candles on my Birthday cake. Research has shown that what we eat affects our brain health. Building cardiovascular capacity, maintaining joint flexibility, and strength training directly correlate to preventing illness and injury as we get older. And, our own mindset about aging may matter most of all.
Harmful Myths: You can’t take it with you. Buy the shoes! and Flexibility is freedom.
How It Affects Our Health: By creating financial insecurity.
Rebel Read: Unshakeable by Tony Robbins
Yes, financial insecurity – fueled by undisciplined spending, forgoing saving and long-term planning, and the new fallacy of workplace flexibility – is a very real health challenge. In my mother’s situation – and its impact on my and Scott’s own freedom – I see and feel daily the consequences and harmful ripple effects of ignoring the necessity of future-proofing one’s financial position. And yet. I know I shop online more than I should, replacing lost opportunities and experiences with things – amassing a collection of stuff at the potential expense of future security. It’s like the scene in Sex and the City when Carrie realizes she could have bought her condo with the money spent on Manolos.
Quality healthcare, or sick care, is costly in the United States, and nonexistent is the insurance plan with full coverage and zero deductibles. A lack of financial resources can have devastating effects on our actual physical health; preventive practices; and ability to seek treatment, heal, and fully recover from an illness or accident. Oh, and in 2020, the median yearly cost of nursing home care was $105,850 for a private room, and Medicare does not cover residential long-term care. Insurance and smart investments are essential for financial well-being as we age.
Furthermore, the illusion that flexibility is freedom has fueled the great resignation, gig economy, and the same-hamster-different-wheel cycle, triggering a unique circumstance of financial insecurity. No longer constrained by corporate “golden handcuffs,” workers also no longer have the same level of job security or health and retirement benefits, while assuming a greater tax burden through self-employment. Without short- and long-term financial planning, flexibility does not equate to freedom, and yet women – in particular, moms and those caregiving for elderly parents – are leaving the workforce in droves, drawn in by the allure of girlboss culture or MLM “entrepreneurship.” The dream is often in stark contrast to the realities of commission-based or low-wage contract work with no benefits or paid leave. Knowing and planning for the pitfalls can hedge the risks and heap true rewards.
Harmful Myth: Everyone is stressed. The strong just woman up and push through.
How It Affects Our Health: By prolonging and exacerbating stress.
Rebel Read: Everyday Vitality: Turning Stress Into Strength by Samantha Boardman, MD
There is a quote meme attributed to Cate Blanchett that admonishes, “Never pick a fight with a woman over 40. They are full of rage and sick of everyone’s shit.” Even Anton Chekhov recognized, “… it’s the day-to-day living that wears you out.” Stress feels like an evitable part of life – and perhaps it is, but pressing pause and practicing regular coping strategies can mitigate its harmful effects on our health.
Bonus Recommendation: megsmenopause.com, an open source of information and advice dedicated to empowering women through an honest discussion of all things Menopause, created by Meg Mathews, an icon of the nineties Brit-pop scene, former music industry executive, and ex-wife of Oasis frontman Noel Gallagher. In 2017, she launched the website Megs Menopause to break the stigma around menopause, and the following year held her first annual conference for menopause information and discussion. That same year, she was awarded the Inspiring Public Figure Award by the Inspiring Leadership Trust and later authored menopause manifesto The New Hot. Consider her your meno-mentor.
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