Massage + Menopause: How Feeling Good Is Good For You

Massage for Menopause in Boulder

Do you have whispered conversations in the corner of parties about your menopause symptoms? Do you wear a fan around your neck for those incessant hot flashes? Are you struggling with insomnia, stress or migraines? Regular massage could help ease your symptoms! With the National Institutes of Health suggesting that up to 76% of women are seeking Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) solutions to menopause through acupuncture, diet, yoga, herbs and exercise, we deserve to know more about the positive benefits of massage therapy. Well Woman Acupuncture specializes in massage for menopause in Boulder. 

 

Despite the increase of women seeking solutions from CAM, there are virtually no evidence-based studies on massage for menopause. Perhaps this is because of the general confusion on how to best approach menopause in general? Menopause symptoms range in complexity: you might not have the same symptoms as your mother, sister or friend; you may start experiencing changes anywhere from age 35-50; you may have other health concerns that get added to the mix. It makes sense that there are not a lot of universal answers. Even in the 1940’s, in some of the earliest published articles about treatment of “The Menopause” as doctors called it, they were unclear in their approach to menopause—Are there possible dangers of long-term hormone therapy? Are medications that help regulate the nervous system better when paired with psychotherapy? 1However, one symptom noted in many studies as significantly debilitating is insomnia…and up to two-thirds of aging women experience insomnia.

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Curing Postpartum Depression Safely and Naturally

 

by Julie Johnson, L.Ac.

If you find the joy of motherhood eluding you in the months postpartum, you are not alone. Mild feelings of sadness and depression are so common they have earned the nickname “the baby blues.” However, an unfortunately large number of women endure the more serious mood disorder known as postpartum depression (PPD). According to the American Psychological Association, 1 out of 7 women experience PPD after childbirth. And the other unfortunate truth is that these feelings of depression and anxiety don’t always clear up on their own, but instead have a nasty habit of lingering or even worsening over time. The bottom line is this: if you are experiencing waves of dark feelings or anxiety, SEEK HELP. Now is a time to lean on your support network of friends and family, and it is also a time to get help from healthcare professionals. In terms of healthcare, in this article I will be specifically focusing on a valuable resource that many women may not think of for PPD, which is Traditional Chinese Medicine.

What are the signs and symptoms of Postpartum Despression?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression are as follows:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, empty, or overwhelmed
  • Crying more often than usual or for no apparent reason
  • Worrying or feeling overly anxious
  • Feeling moody, irritable, or restless
  • Oversleeping, or being unable to sleep even when your baby is asleep
  • Having trouble concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Experiencing anger or rage
  • Losing interest in activities that are usually enjoyable
  • Suffering from physical aches and pains, including frequent headaches, stomach problems, and muscle pain
  • Eating too little or too much
  • Withdrawing from or avoiding friends and family
  • Having trouble bonding or forming an emotional attachment with your baby
  • Persistently doubting your ability to care for your baby
  • Thinking about harming yourself or your baby

If you are having thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, you can reach the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby may also be a sign that you are experiencing postpartum psychosis, which can present with racing thoughts, mania, hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia. Postpartum psychosis is a very serious condition that warrants emergency medical care.

Why does postpartum depression occur?

 Physiologically, there are a number of compounding factors that can predispose women to a state of depression after childbirth, including hormone fluctuations, physical exhaustion, sleep deprivation, and trauma surrounding childbirth. First of all, there is a significant rebalancing of hormone levels that occurs as the body adjusts back to a non-pregnant state. During pregnancy the body is awash with elevated levels of both estrogen and progesterone, for example, which are secreted by the placenta. After delivery, the abrupt drop in these and other hormone levels can cause a sudden, unexpected crash in mood at the very moment when women have anticipated feeling overjoyed and blissfully happy. The stark contrast between women’s expectations of bliss and the bleak reality of their sadness or despair only serves to heighten the distress caused by the situation and can furthermore trigger feelings of shame and inadequacy.

Another contributing factor to postpartum depression is physical exhaustion. Even with the best possible nutrition, nurturing a child in utero taps the body’s resources, and the already taxing experience of pregnancy then culminates in the further taxing experience of childbirth. A range of elements can contribute to physical exhaustion after labor and delivery including protracted labor, high physical exertion coupled with low caloric intake, sleep deprivation, major blood loss, and surgical intervention. Even after the smoothest of deliveries, a woman’s physical resources will be low, and this state of vulnerability is her starting point for the marathon of caring for a newborn. Without deliberate care and rest, women are at risk of becoming further depleted as the weeks and months pass.

Communities in many cultures around the world honor the necessity of proper postpartum care, lavishing mothers with support, vitality-boosting meals, and ample opportunities to rest. According to Heng Ou of The First Forty Days, this rest period typically spans the first 3 to 6 weeks postpartum, and it plays an essential role in ensuring a mom’s return to physical strength and mental wellbeing. However, many of us are not so lucky to have this built-in culture of family and community support. We may instead find ourselves more or less alone, possibly harboring a belief system that we should be able to do it all without much outside input. And the result is overwhelming.

What should I do if I am experiencing PPD?

 If you are experiencing postpartum depression, self-care is essential, and it starts with reaching out for help. Engaging a support network of loved ones, caregivers, and medical professionals is a vital step toward ensuring that your basic needs are met for sleep, sustenance, emotional support, and mental wellbeing. Any expectation that you can or should be able to take care of yourself and your infant without help and not deplete your emotional and physical resources is unrealistic.

Enlisting family and friends to bring home-cooked meals, wash your dishes, and cradle your infant for 30 minutes (or a few hours) may seem difficult if you are unaccustomed to asking for help, but it is a powerful acknowledgement to yourself that you deserve support, and, ideally, it reduces the obstacles to daily self-care. Initiating self-care activities can be a huge challenge when you are feeling depressed, not to mention the fact that there is little time for self-care when you are responsible for a newborn. So getting some outside support may at least open the door for you to get back to neglected necessities like napping and showering, or even to indulge in luxuries like listening to a guided relaxation or soaking in the tub with your favorite essential oils.

Another resource to consider is a postpartum doula. Hiring this type of caregiver is an excellent way to lighten your load as a parent while easing the inevitable anxieties surrounding infant care, especially if it is your first child. Doulas can coach you through breastfeeding issues, assist with childcare, run errands, and even help with household chores. They can also help talk you through any parenting worries or concerns that you have and point you toward other community resources that you may need.

Finally, you will absolutely want to engage the support of medical professionals. This may mean reaching out to your obstetrician or midwife, your primary care provider, a clinical psychologist, a psychiatrist, and/or a Chinese Medicine practitioner. Given that the causative factors in postpartum depression are varied and each woman’s situation is unique, I am a proponent of an individualized approach to care. Pharmaceutical antidepressants and psychotherapy may be appropriate initial treatments for women experiencing PPD who have a history of mood disorders or a family history of mental illness. If you fall into these categories or are experiencing a severe case of PPD, it is important to alert your physician and therapist right away. Moreover, as previously stated, any symptoms suggestive of postpartum psychosis warrant emergency medical care. However, in a large number of cases, Chinese Medicine is an appropriate first line of defense that delivers a satisfying resolution of symptoms. It is a non-invasive, holistic approach to wellness that is designed to restore balance to the body.

Why is Chinese Medicine + Acupuncture so successful in treating and preventing Postpartum Depression (PPD)?

Whether being used to alleviate acute Postpartum Depression, treat chronic PPD, or prevent the development of PPD, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are effective treatments due to their unique ability to target the root cause of the disorder. Practitioners are trained to perceive subtle changes in a patient’s physiology and symptom presentation which reveal the underlying physical imbalances responsible for postpartum mood changes.

This ability to treat the root cause also explains why Chinese Medicine is such effective preventative care for PPD. Small imbalances can be caught and corrected before they have the chance to magnify to the point of manifesting as serious symptoms (e.g. full-fledged postpartum depression). Indeed, herbal medicine—in addition to proper rest and nutrition—is widely used in China as an integral element of care during postpartum convalescence to ensure that women stay mentally and physically healthy after childbirth. Postpartum herbal formulas are made of synergistic combinations of herbs that produce strongly restorative physiological effects by replenishing micronutrients, promoting tissue repair, enhancing circulation, and boosting cellular metabolism.

Recommended treatment plans typically include daily herbal medicine coupled with weekly acupuncture visits. Your full course of treatment may range from a few weeks to a few months depending upon the severity of your presentation and duration of symptoms. In any case, you should begin to see positive changes within the first few weeks of your treatment. If your condition is not responsive to treatment with Chinese medicine, your practitioner may refer you to your physician or therapist to explore other treatment options, one of the most common being selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor medication (SSRIs).

Cultivating Patience & Compassion

 Have patience and compassion for yourself if you are going through postpartum depression. It can be an incredibly disorienting and frightening experience, and it is all too often compounded with feelings of isolation, shame, and guilt. Know that PPD is a genuine medical condition with distinct physiological causes. It deserves prompt medical treatment and it often signals a need for increased community support and self-care. Many women also benefit from joining postpartum support groups, which provide a safe space to share experiences and connect with other mothers.

For more help navigating PPD, including a list of resources in your area, check out Postpartum Support International. To schedule an appointment at Well Woman Acupuncture in either our Boulder or Longmont office, call us 303-499-1965 or schedule online. If you would like to work with us but don’t live in Colorado, we also offer herbal consultations by phone and we will mail your custom herbal formulas right to your doorstep. Finally, if you are uncertain if Chinese Medicine is a good fit for you, we would be happy to answer your questions during a free 15-minute phone consultation.

 

References:

National Institute of Mental Health

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/postpartum-depression-facts/index.shtml

American Psychological Association

http://www.apa.org/pi/women/resources/reports/postpartum-depression.aspx

 

Pathway to Pregnancy, Part III: Postpartum & the 4th Trimester

by Julie Johnson, L.Ac.

 

In this final installment of our series, The Path to Parenthood, we will discuss the POSTPARTUM period with a focus on self-care for mamas.

So. You are having a baby!

Your approaching due date brings with it much anticipation and excitement. The to-do list is bursting with supplies to buy (Diapers! Breast pump! Baby Bjorn!) and tasks to complete (Paint nursery! Hang mobile! Decorate with butterflies/dinosaurs/giraffes/something adorable!)

For many new parents, the nesting instinct comes on strong: Let’s make sure that we have everything we need to meet our little one’s needs and welcome him/her into the world. It’s fun and easy to focus on these details, because the fun part of having a baby is, well, the baby!

 What may not make it on to your to-do list, however, are preparations for postpartum self-care that go beyond enlisting Grandma for baby-sitting help or asking your best friend to bring over a few meals in the early weeks.

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Acupuncture & Seasonal Affective Disorder

In Boulder nearly 17% of the population is at risk for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and winter depression (1). Sitting just north of the 40-degree latitude, we experience the significant changes in daylight hours over the course of the year. In the summer, we can play outside until 9:30 at night and wake at 6 to begin all over again. However, in the winter, the shortened day light hours can have a significant impact on not only our activities but our brains and our body rhythm. Seasonal Affective Disorder causes a form of depression that doesn’t look the way we expect it to, many people don’t even feel sad. Most people who suffer from SAD report increased food cravings for sweets and carbohydrates, a desire to sleep more, and a general lack of motivation to do things without notable changes to their mood (1). Along with winter time depression many SAD sufferers also experience mild hyperactivity in the summer months as the increase in light also creates changes within our bodies.

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Seasonal affective disorder can be treated no matter the seasonRegulating your mood at any time of the year has been shown to alleviate those winter blues. In western medicine, light boxes are often used and SAD sufferers are often prescribed year round antidepressants and mood stabilizers to prevent the ups and downs that come with the seasons and the change of light (1).

Acupuncture can be a very effective alternative for treating these psychological conditions. In randomized control trials, acupuncture proved at least as effective as several different types of prescription antidepressants (2), while also working more quickly and reducing symptoms more powerfully (3). Acupuncture also has significantly fewer side effects than the medications and it can help moderate some of the less than desirable side effects of pharmaceutical antidepressants including decreased libido (3). Chinese herbal medicine is commonly used in conjunction with acupuncture to enhance the long term benefits of treatment. There are also some important things you can do at home such as, take midday walks when the sun is at its peak, open the shades in your house and leave them open so you get the maximum light possible in the mornings, and leave the sunglasses at home when you can (1).
Article by Stephanie Duininck, L.Ac, WWA Patient Education Outreach

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Woman On The Verge

I am incredibly lucky. And I feel humbled and grateful for that fortuitousness, for being blessed with work that I love. Every day I go to the office and help women find themselves. I’m not saying that I do the finding. I simply shine the light. And often what they find shimmering in that space is fearsome in its power. I see women in the process of becoming.

You see, my practice is devoted to helping women find balance. Hormonal balance, emotional balance, the balance between work and rest, between self and family. Often what brings women through my doors is that they are off kilter. The teeter-totter has swung too far in one direction and they are either dangling in mid-air or stuck on the ground, unsure of how to proceed.

When I reflect on who these women are, I find a pattern emerging. Each and every one of them—in this state of imbalance—is a woman on the verge of deep, inner change. They are the adolescent women, struggling with PMS; the women moving into motherhood, seeking hormonal support for fertility challenges; new mothers whose bodies have become vessels for birth and sustenance; and aging women who are neither new mothers nor menopausal, but somewhere in between, grappling with their changing hormones and the milieu of physical and emotional symptoms that accompany that transitional time period.

These women are all on the precipice of leaving what is known and moving into the waiting arms of the void. They are in the process of becoming the maiden, or changing from maiden to mother, from mother to crone. They are on the verge of utter transformation as they embrace new rhythms in their bodies and newly defined roles for living and being in the world.

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When women find themselves at this precipice, it can cause deep unrest, inner turmoil and maybe even the occasional desire to run screaming out of her own skin. But why is transformation so painful for us? I believe it is because, as women, we are inherently rhythmic creatures and any disruption to our internal rhythms can feel like seismic activity on a grand scale. We spend the large majority of our lives in a rhythmic coming and going of hormones. After adolescence, we become a living cycle, at one with the moon, always in a state of waxing or waning, that becomes our very state of existence. It is not even that we identify with our rhythms—we become them. And so when they are in this state of transformation, the balance is lost and it leaves us feeling unsure of who we are and where we fit within our own bodies. It can leave us feeling as though we inhabit an alien body, our internal compass broken and spinning wildly out of control.

Add to this that we are already out of balance with our human rhythms: we no longer rise and sleep with the sun, nor do we follow the dictates of the seasons as our predecessors did. We are a world of do-ers and workers and the very pace of our existence has sped up exponentially in an alarmingly short period of time. Our world is fast, fast, fast and we are in a constant battle to keep up. But it is more than our bodies were designed to do and our inner rhythms simply cannot keep the pace. We have forgotten how to BE. And this skews our ability to come into a new way of being.

What is there to do?

Chinese medicine can help, as restoring internal balance is the very premise of our practice. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs are a valuable resource throughout a woman’s life, helping with countless maladies from the common cold to digestive upset. But during times of transition, Chinese medicine is an indispensible ally, smoothing the edges and bringing a renewed sense of structure to one’s changing hormones and emotions. I can personally attest to its power during my own feminine transitions, both as I struggled with fertility and during my transition into menopause. Each time, I found that regular treatment with acupuncture and herbs brought an inner shift that I did not experience with other health modalities.

tree pose on beach at sunset

But equally, if not more, important is the need to honor one’s own rhythms and reach for balance. Sensing that resting point on one’s own teeter-totter is key; and when you find yourself flailing or falling, seek within yourself for what will bring balance to that moment. Ask yourself the following questions (and be willing to hear the answers):

  • Are you tired? If so, how can you bring more rest to your life? I strongly recommend being to bed by 10:30 pm at the latest, as many hormonal functions occur during sleep and begin after 11 pm.
  • Are you overextended or working too many hours? If so, what would prioritizing your time look like? Consider scheduling time in your day that is just for you, or time spent with your children or spouse. When you look back on your life, those will be the moments that count, not the hours spent glued to your computer monitor or hunched over financial reports.
  • Are you depressed or apathetic? If so, how can foster joy in this moment? One exercise is to practice gratitude. List 10 things you are grateful for right now and say “Thank You” after each one.
  • Are you anxious or scattered? If so, how can you tap into your inner well of calm? The breath is an excellent way to get in the here and now. Music is also nice. I like to combine the two, listening to calming music while also watching my breath—this helps me breathe more deeply (it should extend your diaphragm, not your chest), which always helps me let go of anxious, fearful or worrisome thoughts.

To tap deeply into your human rhythms, I highly recommend the book, Rhythms of Change. It is concisely written, poignant in its message and relevant to our busy lives. The author helps us learn practical ways of regulating our own internal rhythms in accord with those of nature so that we can come back to an aligned sense of self. It is powerful in its simplicity and is a modern-day must read. I love this book! Rhythms of Change Mary Saunders

Finally, in the midst of a busy, work-centered, “yang” world, be willing to acknowledge your “yin” feminine self, along with the waxing and waning of your own rhythms. Embracing the coming and going of your own tides will help you leap through life’s transitions occur more gracefully.

~Kandace Cahill, DAOM, L.Ac., FABORM