Stress can lead to all sorts of diseases and take away your physical ability to do the things you love. It can also challenge your inner calmness, and take away your perception of reality. Take it from me, it's not worth it. Your family needs you more than you know, and so do your friends and colleagues etc. The good news is you can lessen your daily stressors. Here's how to start...
KERRIE'S SELF-CARE TIP #1:
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY AND SEE A DOCTOR
Add these words to your daily life: "Be aware, implement self-care." It's so important at any age. Whether you write them on the bathroom mirror, in a journal, or on a sticky note and post on your dashboard of the car.
I remember back in 2013 when I ignored the warning signs and what my body was telling me. I chalked it up to normal holiday stress and every day living. You too may think that those aches and pains are normal monthly or daily trivial results of life, however if you experience a massive migraine for two weeks straight, you've got to realize that's not normal.
Of course I'm not a doctor, but I can speak about what happened to me and how I ended up having a heart procedure at the age of 39. I know all too well that nagging pressure on my chest and around to my back, and my constant headaches were sure signs something was up.
Four years later, I finally understand why I should have gone to the doctor immediately.
But life got in the way. Who has time for a heart attack?
So my advice is if you feel anything unusual or long-lasting, or you're overwhelmed at work or home, see a professional. Perhaps taking a personal day from work could be the best thing you do to refresh and catch up on some "me" time.
Please know that asking for help or admitting you need some time to yourself is not a sign of weakness. It's a sign of strength.
In fact, we have to start thinking differently. We could be young, in shape, in great spirits, or maybe even just young at heart; but this doesn't always stop our bodies from deciding to take the lead in a health trauma situation. If it can happen to me, it can happen to you.
Ever since my book My Heart, My Self was released in October, I've received many messages from women I don't know telling me how much they appreciate the advice to seek help. Some were even inspired enough to make an appointment with their GP or talk to their teen daughters about the detrimental impact that stress can have on the body. Take it from me, listening to your body and being aware at all times is critical to your health. And health leads to lifestyle happiness.
Remember, if you do talk to a doctor and it ends up being nothing, and they give you the "all clear", those very words might at the very least alleviate some weight on your shoulders. And you might even feel better.
Three days ago I had a Cardiac Ablation or RFA (Radiofrequency Ablation) to rectify my heart’s short circuit. Basically, without getting too technical, an electrophysiologist conducted an Electrophysiology Study (EPS) to test my heart’s electrical system and how it works, and once he figured out the areas that weren't working, he destroyed (ablated) the "dead spots". It's called an "AV Node Ablation due to a Slow Pathway."
Turns out I had an unusual dual-pathway where the blood flowed and this is what was giving me problems when pumping blood to my heart. So one of the pathways was eliminated. The procedure was quite invasive. Four catheters were inserted into my blood vessels (veins) on both sides of my groin and moved along until they reached my heart. Radio frequency energy traveled through the catheters in order to “silence” the cells where the abnormal rhythm was coming from.
I remember laying on the operating table anxiously watching the numbers on the screen. The surgeon instructed the “heart pace” technician to elevate my heartbeat to 250 bpm into a state of tachycardia, and then slow it down to normal, and then up again to 300 bpm, and so on. This went on for two hours so you can imagine how uncomfortable it was.
Even though I knew I was in good hands, and in a controlled environment in the hospital, I had no control over what my heart was doing and felt very overwhelmed and constricted; not knowing if my heart would stop at any time. But the deal was that they had to emulate the irregular heart episodes I'd been having because they've been interrupting my normal way of life. And at 40, with two small kids, this wasn't ideal. So when they finally found the faulty circuits, an electrical surge was sent down the tubes -- and I felt the burning sensation (heat) as they burned the dead areas in my heart.
After it was all over, and I was back in my bed, I had a panic attack when two nurses were putting pressure on my incisions. They were pressing so hard on the four tubes to stop the bleeding that I instantly felt faint. They called two more nurses in to help and immediately dosed me with Gravol to calm me down. I remember the exact same symptoms when I had a panic attack a year ago in the cafeteria at work -- cold sweats, feeling sick, and not knowing whether to fight or flight the scene. Then I cried uncontrollably. The nurses at the Trillium Cardiac Health Centre were amazing and knew exactly how to get me through it. A half an hour later, I fell asleep.
After I woke up, the doctor came to speak to my husband and I about how the procedure was a success. Then I was allowed to get up and take a few steps. But when I did, a pool of blood gushed from the top of my right leg. The blood did not clot at one of my incisions and there was blood all over the hospital floor. The nurses rushed me back to the bed and applied more pressure in order to avoid losing too much blood. They said it could have been a result of me not going to the washroom and my full bladder was putting pressure on my groin. But finally, after more pressure, I was able to get up and go to the washroom (I couldn’t even force myself to go on the bed pan).
The next day, I was instructed to take it easy and move slowly. I had to hold my incisions every time I sat up or down or used the stairs, but I could have a shower and take the bandages off. I felt some periodic shooting pains in my chest and an aching pain in my groin where it was starting to bruise. I also felt a pressure on my left side that went through to my shoulder blade – similar to how I felt last January (2013) when I had my initial heart scare. (Read my full story in Chatelaine magazine.)
Today I am walking more, but still slowly, and feel much better. The doctor told me not to go back on my heart meds and wait to see how I feel at our next follow up appointment in 8 weeks. I am hopeful that my fast heart beat does not come back, and so far, it's looking good. I am so thankful for my family and friends who are here to help me.
I hope to (in some small way) help others who may have noticed some irregularities in their heartbeat, unusual shortness of breath, or panic attacks, and alert those who are under a lot of stress. Don't sit back and think it's nothing, because it could lead to further complications down the road. Believe me, if there's one thing I've learned from my heart journey over the past 13 months, it's to listen to my body. Please call your doctor today and be heart aware. Stay well.
Just over a year ago, after wearing a Mobile Cardiac Arrhythmia Diagnostic System (loop monitor) for two weeks, I was diagnosed with Paroxysmal Supraventricular Tachycardia (PSVT). The doctors had been doing a bunch of different tests on my heart at the time because my heart was not beating regularly, and I had a frightening health scare several weeks prior.
This explained the sudden rapid heartbeats that were causing my unusual shortness in breath, and why my heart often jumped from 70 bpm to 230 bpm in a matter of seconds. My heart would literally shift into overdrive without warning, and I felt like I was running a marathon even at rest. (And anyone around me could physically see my heart pumping through my clothes. Scary!)
Although I remember these episodes in high school, they were never as frequent as they had become in my late thirties. I am told they only get worse with age and my lifestyle most likely did not have anything to do with it because I am a non-smoker, eat healthy, and not overweight. It is a mechanical "short circuit" problem.
But surprising to some, I was actually relieved when I found out that I had PSVT because to treat this, cardiologists are able to locate and remove this alternate pathway and prevent this bypass from occurring. I was getting more and more out of breath going up and down stairs and this was very unusual for me, as I was only 39 at the time. Needless to say, I had to get to the bottom of my condition and figure out next steps so I could feel normal again...
What I've learned:
PSVT means there is a short circuit in the heart that bypasses the desired pathway to make blood flow occur normally, which enables the heart to beat excessively fast. Since PSVT results in a significant increase in heart rate beyond what the heart is really designed to do, frequent and prolonged attacks can also cause damage to the heart muscle. In a typical heart attack, there isn't enough blood flow to the heart (supply) due to blockage of the arteries; but in the PSVT heart attack scenario, there is excess demand due to the rapid heart rate, and the body can't supply enough blood flow to meet it. Depending on the amount of damage, this could lead to poor functioning of the heart and eventually heart failure.
Stay tuned for more on my heart journey,
On this last day of Heart Health Month, February 2014, I wanted to share a little bit about why it means so much to me.
It all started on Christmas morning in 2012. I felt a heavy tightness across my chest that I had never felt before. It felt like someone was tightening a belt around my breasts and holding on for dear life. The feeling lasted for two weeks and was so foreign, but I just shrugged it off as normal holiday stress.
After our family returned from a trip to Florida a few weeks later, I started having scary heart-racing episodes 3 to 4 times a week. They would start and stop suddenly for no apparent reason – and it felt like I was running a marathon even at rest. I was also having more headaches than usual, aches and pains in my upper body, shortness of breath going up and down the stairs, and was tired all the time. One morning at work, I even had a panic attack standing in line at the cafeteria. These events were not usual for me because I’m not a smoker and not overweight and have always considered myself a healthy person.
But the next night, as I was putting my kids to bed, I had the most horrific feeling. I got a sharp pain in my right shoulder that shot all the way down my arm. It felt as though someone hit me hard with a baseball bat. Then pain started to trickle around my back so I ran downstairs to where my husband was standing in the kitchen. My arm started to go limp.
Panic-stricken, he asked if he should call an ambulance. But I screamed “No!” because it was my right arm. (Needless to say since then I’ve learned that women can experience different symptoms like pain in their right arms, a feeling of indigestion, or back aches during an attack – but you seldom hear of it.) Then, I had an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion. It was only 8 o'clock but if I had of stood there any longer, I would have fallen to the floor.
Looking back I know I should have gone to the hospital that night, but I was in denial. After all, I was only 39 and I had to get the kids to bed, right?!
This is a typical reaction of moms, and women in general, which I've since coined "Supermom Syndrome." It's when we simply do not think about ourselves in times of need.
This was the beginning of my heart health journey and now 13 months later I am happy to report that I am feeling better than ever (except for a torn meniscus in my left knee but that was my own fault during an intense workout. Ouch!).
The biggest lesson I’ve learned about my heart health is that if it can happen to me, then it can happen to anyone. I wasn’t leading a bad life before. I don’t smoke. I'm not obese. I have no history of heart disease in my immediate family, and I don’t have high blood pressure. But I was stressed – and I didn’t realize how much. My body was ready to shut down and I wasn’t ready to listen, until I had to.
This past month I’ve been fortunate to tell my story on various radio and television shows and I hope that my story will inspire others to think about their heart health and take note when their body is telling them to slow down. It’s not easy to do, but it’s very important.
According to a recent Leger survey commissioned by Jamieson Vitamins, only 25 percent of those surveyed between the ages of 25-44 believe they are at risk of heart disease, which is so not the case! In fact, the CANHEART Health Index states that 90 percent of Canadians in this age group are actually in poor cardiovascular health. That's 1 in 5.
It's not just an older person's issue. I'm proof of that.
So there you go, my friends. This is just a snippet of my tale and the self love and healing continues. When I reflect, I truly feel my health scare was a catalyst for what I am doing now: Helping spread the word about being heart aware. After all, the universe does work in mysterious ways and perhaps this is what I was meant to do.
I hope you'll check back for more on what I’m doing to stay on track with my eating, exercise and supplement program; as well as tips on how to lessen the stressors in your life. These are the things that I took for granted before my wake-up call last January and I really want to make sure you think about them in your own lives.
Stay heart aware,
This past year has taught me so much about myself as a career person, mom and wife. I have realized that my health is more important than any job, connection or promotion - and that happiness can only come when your true passions are being honoured. My family being my number one priority with my health leading the way.
I have learned first and foremost that without your health you can't be there for your children. So I have changed my way of living and thinking.
TODAY I am recharged and look forward to an exciting year. I no longer think of my career as a means to an end, but rather, an end to a means. I love what I do and share my elation with friends and family, but not because I feel I need to.
TODAY I no longer feel the need to climb for the sake of climbing or impressing anyone.
TODAY I reach for new heights in my heart and soul because it inspires others.
TODAY I am more myself than ever before, and I love it. The world is now my stage and my efforts to help others achieve their goals and aspirations is the reward.
What do you reach for in your heart? Are you following your dreams? Are you fulfilled? Think about these questions on a daily basis and try to take small steps to reach your goals. Even the smallest change can make a big difference.
Why do we always equate New Year's resolutions with things we have to change or improve upon? Why can't we just celebrate what we've accomplished and look forward to what's to come?
I prefer to look at this time of year as an outlet for inspiration to soar. For us to appreciate all that we have and who we have in our lives. To reflect on the last 12 months and not revel in what went wrong, but rather what went absolutely right!
Last night I saw my favourite girls at Life Class and we did just that. WE SOARED! We’ve been getting together for almost two years now. But it seems like we’ve known each other forever (maybe we have in a past life).
At first I wasn’t sure how close our little group would become given that I only knew one of the ladies in the beginning. But the very first time we met there was a special connection between us that I know will last a lifetime. Not to toot our own horns, but all of the women are talented, motivated, intelligent and extremely ambitious both personally and professionally – so as you can imagine, I was honoured when asked to join.
Every time we get together, the originators Jen and Janey lead us through meditations, reflections and some of their stellar coaching techniques where we share and inspire one another. I love the fact that we are all equals and no one is left to feel alone. Being able to connect, really connect, with other like-minded women is truly a gift – and I will always thank them for how they have inspired me to pursue similar great things (stay tuned!). I couldn’t feel more comfortable and at ease with myself each time we are brought together. And I can’t believe how much I’ve grown just knowing them.
Do you have a group of friends that make you feel like you can do anything when you get together? If it's been a while, call up a friend and grab a coffee or a bite and catch up. There's no better reinforcement in life than a great convo with a BFF!
I've been thinking a lot about life lately and how we deal with so much unhappiness in the world. The problem is that we don't deal. No wonder we're all stressed. We're constantly bombarded with news stories that tug at our heart strings and we feel we can't do anything to change it. It eats at us and we fall victim within our own society. A society in which we've created. It's hard to believe there's any goodness in the world anymore. BUT THERE IS...
I've met some fabulous people lately through social media circles that have truly made a difference in my life. From women who have opened up their hearts to strangers and shared their personal, transformational stories to help young girls with self-esteem issues — to caring, compassionate professionals who realize their next step in life is mentoring and befriending others during a friendly chat over coffee. To people who are so determined to raise awareness for a meaningful cause that they live, sleep and breathe their selfless acts of kindness, literally. They are to be honoured for their effort and praised for their patience, love and humility. Yes, there is SO MUCH goodness in the world, but we need to be reminded every once in a while.
Sometimes when I feel like a pick-me-up, I change my hair. This may seem menial, but it's something I know I can control. And it changes my perspective on life (at least for a little while). This time I decided to add some colour to my life to break out of this desolate state we (society) has found itself in. With so much crime, terror, and natural disasters at every corner — we can only hope that human kindness will prevail in the end. It's the only way to think. To survive. So in honour of positive thinking, I've added a touch of purple to my newly cropped lid.
It's interesting to see how people react to my out-of-the-box hair choice, especially when some people may think I'm the last person on earth who would do something crazy. Little do they know. But the truth is, we should all be proud to live in a place where freedom of expression is celebrated. I know first-hand that showing your true colours can be liberating no matter how you do it — so I urge you, don't let anyone tell you how to think, feel, look or love — because it's you who has to live with the outcome, not them. Stay positive and add some colour to your life. Because it feels good and no one in this world can tell you otherwise.
How do you show your true colours? How do you celebrate your uniqueness? Take a moment to write down what makes you different and how beautiful you are.
Showing my true colours today and always,
Kerrie Lee xo
P.S. By the way, you can take my hair post as literal or metaphorical as you want. I just want you to live it up and smile.
My Dad has always been an inspiration to me. He is strong, confident, smart, funny, talented, and has always encouraged me to do what I wanted in life.
But over the last few years, I've realized how much I really want to be like him. Really.
He's a lot more relaxed than I ever remember him being when I was growing up. He also sees things in a different way. In a good way. He tells me that everything happens for a reason and that he, too, believes we all have a purpose in life. "Everything will fall into place naturally," he reassures me.
My Dad is thoroughly enjoying life; and he doesn't care in the slightest what other people think (which is an amazing attribute). He's always the life of the party, and makes the best of every situation. I'm trying hard to instill these values into my sons. No matter what, he's always ready to cheer me up with a song or two on his guitar when I need it most.
My Dad also believes in relaxation and being as stress-free as possible. In fact, since retirement, he has pursued his life-long dream of traveling to South America every Winter for a couple months. Even in his 60's, he stayed with a Nicaraguan family so he could attend Spanish classes at a local school. He now knows how to speak Spanish. I admire him for following his passions.
I remember my Dad saying he wanted to travel to South America when we were growing up but never had the time or money. But now he does and I'm so happy for him. All he packs is one small backpack of clothes and his Blackberry so he can call home to my Mom and his grandchildren. He is still following his dream today. He has met many people along the way, and even managed to find the only Irish pub on a small Island where he says he feels the most relaxed: Ometepe, Nicaragua. I adore his adventurous side and determination to do his thing.
So in the spirit of Father's Day, I'd like to thank my Dad for all the wonderful things he has taught me, and ultimately, all the things my kids will learn from their Papa. I think you're awesome, Dad. Happy Father's day!
Kerrie Lee Brown is a sought-after health and lifestyle expert. She writes books, blogs and articles and is published all over the world. Kerrie Lee is also a heart-health survivor and has appeared on numerous radio and television shows sharing life-saving tips for women on how to listen to their bodies and slow down. Kerrie Lee is a mom and proud Canadian living in Denver, Colorado.