Healthy Friends, Healthy Hearts
By Ashley Sigrest
For fifteen years the American Heart Association has focused on women’s heart health, and while most women understand the need for better nutrition and exercise, there are more studies being done on how the mind can affect the heart. While cholesterol and blood pressure also play a vital role in heart disease, another risk factor is mental stress and depression. Most moms can attest to feeling mentally stressed and worn out, but the greater threat of stress comes not from your children, but from loneliness.
While signs of heart disease typically begin to show in women over age 50, the risks begin much earlier. New moms often struggle with feelings of loneliness due to the physical needs they have to give to their babies and the lack of social interaction with other adults. Even while babies become toddlers and may eventually go off to daycare or school, motherhood can still produce stressors from loneliness to anxiety and depression. So how does this affect your heart health?
Depression is on the rise and is predicted by the World Health Organization to become the second leading cause of disability just behind cardiovascular disease by next year. When you think of heart disease you may think of clogged arteries caused by fatty foods, but inflammation in the body from other sources is a big factor in how your arteries become unhealthy. Dr. Marlene Williams, MD of John Hopkins Medicine has been researching the connection of depression and heart disease. Stressors in your brain that lead to loneliness or depression create inflammation of your blood vessels, which make them more susceptible to clotting. The studies are also indicating that those without a support system are less likely to care for their overall health.
Part of fighting heart disease is fighting against loneliness. Being a mom your life tends to focus on the wellbeing of your children and their happiness. You may find yourself stuck in a bubble of mom guilt, fear you’re messing up your child, comparing yourself to other moms on social media, and neglecting your own needs. It’s time to burst that bubble!
Tia McArthur, a single homeschool mom, says having other mom friends is an important sanity saver, “You don’t even have to always agree on things. Sometimes it’s encouraging to hear a different perspective and gain insight.” She admits that sometimes her only adult interaction is at the checkout at the grocery store and that being an introvert makes it hard to connect with others. “It’s important for me to make sure I’m putting myself out there to create friendships with other women. It’s good to know I am not alone with what I deal with as a mother.”
Loneliness doesn’t just attack those who are isolated, but even greatly affects those who are always surrounded by others. In the age of busyness, it seems impossible to find time to get together with friends, let alone make real connections. It takes time and vulnerability. If heart disease is taking the lives of 1 in 3 women and loneliness is a contributing factor and on the rise with depression as a debilitating illness, then it is imperative for moms to be proactive in fighting it now. Being vulnerable with other women and creating friendships is worth the risk. Social Scientist Bella DePaulo, PhD has researched the psychology of single people and friendships and has found in many studies that friendship often has a greater effect on health than even a spouse or family.
Combating loneliness by strengthening friendships will help keep your heart healthy and is worth putting your heart on the line in making new mom friends.
Ashley Sigrest is a married mom of four who enjoys working out and eating tacos, though not at the same time. She’s grateful for her healthy friendships and loves to encourage women at aLivelyFaith.com.
If you are looking for ways to build relationships with other moms–
- Many local churches offer Bible studies and there are some Facebook groups you can join that offer meet ups and play dates like Southern Moms of Rankin County, Liberty Park Play Group of Madison, Mamaste: Gentle Parenting Group, and Family Yoga with Bliss Baby Yoga.
- Join a group affiliated with your child’s school, like a booster club, sign up for PTO.
- Don’t be shy! Introduce yourself to other moms at your child’s activities like theatre, band, athletics, or other academic groups.