Fa­tigued 40s

Fight­ing back against midlife tired­ness

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Front Page -

BE­TWEEN 2011 and 2015 Chris­tine Hef­fer­nan had three ba­bies one af­ter the other, over­saw the build­ing of the fam­ily home, and broke her hand in a bad fall.

Life at the time, re­calls the 40-some­thing, was ex­haust­ing and noth­ing short of chaotic.

Af­ter each baby, she re­turned to work a four-day week as a busi­ness ad­viser with the Lo­cal En­ter­prise Of­fice near her home in Clon­akilty, Co Cork. “It was work, baby, work, baby,” she re­calls.

Added to that was the fact that one of the ba­bies (now aged six, four, and three) didn’t sleep for the best part of three years which, on top of the de­mands of her ful­fill­ing but chal­leng­ing job, added to an over­whelm­ing sense of fa­tigue.

“It’s a very busy job, which en­tails plan­ning, or­gan­is­ing, and sched­ul­ing train­ing pro­grammes for small busi­nesses and ar­rang­ing events for ev­ery­thing from school pro­grammes to busi­ness ini­tia­tives,” she says.

The con­stant jug­gle of home, chil­dren, and work was de­bil­i­tat­ing. “I was com­pletely worn out. By 2015 when I broke my hand, I re­alised I had to do some­thing.”

She didn’t just ‘do some­thing’ — Hef­fer­nan, who doesn’t drink or smoke, es­sen­tially tweaked every as­pect of her life, from ex­er­cise to diet to leisure, even­tu­ally, as of last Jan­uary, re­duc­ing her at­work days from four to three.

To be­gin with, Hef­fer­nan, who had not ex­er­cised in five years, joined a cir­cuits class, and later started to jog at the week­ends. She changed her diet too. “I started cut­ting out wheat and treats,” she says.

“When I was hav­ing the ba­bies I was snack­ing on bread and bis­cuits but I changed to eat­ing a lot more fruit and veg­eta­bles and did all of my own cook­ing, and that has helped enor­mously with my fa­tigue. I felt the bread and pota­toes were wip­ing me out.”

Last Jan­uary, she switched from a four-day work week to three days. “It gives me more time with my chil­dren and I get a lot of work done in the three days at work. I feel bet­ter bal­anced as a re­sult.”

Life is still very busy, and she still gets tired from all that jug­gling, but she man­ages her en­ergy lev­els care­fully, through diet, ex­er­cise, and her beloved Mon­day yoga class, which, she says, “en­er­gises and bal­ances me for the week.

“I also make a point of send­ing my­self pos­i­tive mes­sages dur­ing the day,” says the 41-year-old, who vol­un­teers with Cork Si­mon, for which she is or­gan­is­ing a fundrais­ing event over Women’s Lit­tle Christ­mas.

Modern mums seem to feel wired to de­liver on all fronts, driv­ing them­selves on ever-de­creas­ing bat­ter­ies — and with an ever-re­duc­ing num­ber of sleeps to the stress-fest that is Christ­mas, the pres­sure is build­ing on a daily ba­sis.

It’s a par­tic­u­larly in­sis­tent prob­lem for a large num­ber of Ir­ish moth­ers who are hav­ing first or sec­ond ba­bies later in life, says Laura Ersk­ine of Mum­my­pages.ie.

“Women in Ire­land are hav­ing their first or sec­ond child later in life than they pre­vi­ously would have had,” she says adding that sleep­less nights, tears, and tem­per tantrums can have an added im­pact on an older mother.

On top of that, she points out, mums in their 40s are of­ten part of the sand­wich gen­er­a­tion. Along with child-bear­ing and child-rear­ing, they can find them­selves strug­gling to cope with the needs of age­ing par­ents.

“This is where we see our mums strug­gling the most — try­ing to be all things to all peo­ple,” says Ersk­ine, adding that the down­ward pres­sure on moth­ers from so­cial me­dia to repli­cate a sort of “ideal” fam­ily is another stress.

The kind of food you eat has a lot to do with the fa­tigue you ex­pe­ri­ence, warns

di­eti­tian Orla Walsh. She says caf­feine and cho­co­late snacks may seem like an easy fix for stressed-out mums, but that su­gar ‘high’ in­evitably ends up in a de­bil­i­tat­ing su­gar ‘low’.

“When en­ergy lev­els dip, it’s nat­u­ral to reach for some­thing that will bring your en­ergy lev­els back up again.”

Life can be aw­fully full, she agrees, and when you’re in your 40s with chil­dren and a de­mand­ing job, it’s much bet­ter to take a proac­tive ap­proach to your per­sonal en­ergy store.

“In­stead of reach­ing for su­gar or caf­feine to bring you back up, sim­ply pre­vent dips in en­ergy by en­sur­ing you’re well hy­drated,” she ad­vises, adding that women should aim to con­sume a glass of wa­ter be­fore every meal and a to­tal of about two litres of fluid every day.

“Eat bal­anced meals with whole­grain car­bo­hy­drate, pro­tein or dairy, and fruit or veg­eta­bles,” ad­vises Orla, adding that this keeps your en­ergy sta­ble through­out the day.

GP and herbal­ist Dr Dilis Clare be­lieves that feel­ing fa­tigued at 40 has more to do with di­ges­tion than we of­ten re­alise. “About one third of peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly women, have di­ges­tive prob­lems and th­ese can cause fa­tigue,” she says, adding that in the early 40s in par­tic­u­lar, fa­tigue is of­ten about food, life­style, and the con­di­tion of the thy­roid.

Dr Clare sug­gests in­cor­po­rat­ing sea­weed flakes and turmeric in the diet. Stews, casseroles, and soups are a good place to start.

“As you move into your late 40s, fenu­greek is some­thing you can get as a pow­der or a seed and it’s very good for blood su­gar man­age­ment,” she says.

“This is good at any time but par­tic­u­larly the late 40s when you may be en­ter­ing menopause,” ad­vises Dr Clare, who rec­om­mends rho­di­ola, a herb from north­ern Europe, and Siberian gin­seng for stress.

Herbal­ist Katie Pande be­lieves that a stress­ful life­style is a pri­mary cause of fa­tigue in the early 40s — so first off, have a look at your av­er­age day and see what you can change, she ad­vises.

How­ever, as a woman pro­gresses through the peri-menopause and menopause with the sub­se­quent hor­mone dis­rup­tion, night sweats, heavy pe­ri­ods, and the like, it’s a good idea to source herbs called adap­to­gens, says Pande. Th­ese herbs help mod­ify the pro­duc­tion of stress hor­mones in the body by sup­port­ing the adrenal gland. Pande rec­om­mends shatavari and ash­wa­gandha.

Lack of sleep has a se­ri­ous im­pact on fa­tigue lev­els. Our habit of tak­ing Net­flix to bed or suc­cumb­ing to the temp­ta­tion to scroll through the lat­est news story on a hand­held de­vice will make it even harder to drift off. New Aus­tralian re­search into sleep has found women suf­fer al­most twice as much from neg­a­tive ef­fects of sleep dis­or­ders than men — feel­ing more day­time sleepi­ness (plus mem­ory prob­lems and lack of con­cen­tra­tion) as a re­sult.

A top rec­om­men­da­tion from sleep ex­pert Deirdre McSwiney is to avoid any tech screen, bar the TV, for two hours be­fore bed.

McSwiney, who worked at the renowned Mater Pri­vate Sleep Clinic for 20 years be­fore set­ting up a cog­ni­tive be­havioural ther­apy ser­vice for in­som­nia suf­fer­ers, be­lieves one of the big com­plaints from women in their 40s is tired­ness.

Lack of sleep is a con­trib­u­tor to fa­tigue for over-stressed women try­ing to jug­gle too much — and, says McSwiney, another way to good sleep hy­giene is learn­ing how to “come down” from a stress­ful day.

“It’s im­por­tant to take time out in the early part of the evening to be­gin to wind down, to think about how your day has gone and dump it.”

Next, at­tend to your to-do list: Kids’ school­bags, lunches, and so on. And don’t eat big meals late, she says. This can af­fect your di­ges­tive sys­tem and dis­rupt a night’s sleep. Go to bed when you know it’s time — and, as stated pre­vi­ously, com­bat the ef­fect of ‘blue light’ from hand­held de­vices by avoid­ing them al­to­gether for two hours be­fore bed.

WORK-LIFE BAL­ANCE: Chris­tine Hef­fer­nan, busi­ness ad­viser for the Lo­cal En­ter­prise Of­fice, now works three days a week.

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