You can make all the right moves in your career, meet all the right people, and say all the right things, but if you're not making your own physical and mental health a priority then you risk holding yourself back from your full potential. Not just in your personal and social life, but in your career, as well.
To help explain the ways in which unhealthy habits and stress affect your wellbeing and hold you back in various aspects of your life, we consulted Dr. Jennifer Stagg, a biochemist turned naturopathic physician who specializes in genomic testing. Through these genetic tests and one-on-one health counseling, she helps people clean up their lives from the inside out so they can better navigate the path to happiness and success.
The Unhealthy Habits Affecting Your World
“Some of the worst habits I see in working women are not getting enough sleep, too much stress that is not managed well, and not enough exercise," Dr. Stagg told SWAAY. “Women also fall into the trap of making poor food choices either because they are stressed or because of the sense of too little time to plan meals. It's a widespread issue among women. We are spread way too thin and have trouble finding our way back to balance until something serious starts happening with our health that often sends us to the doctor's office."
Another unhealthy “habit," which should come as no surprise, is stress. This monster looms in far more places than under the bed, and it can wreak havoc on your personal, social, and work life.
“I often call stress the elephant in the room," said Dr. Stagg. “I see so many women who are exercising – sometimes to the point of excess – and are eating very clean diets who can't understand why they are having health problems. I always ask how they are managing the stressors in their life, and often find significant concerns that need to be addressed."
For many, stress becomes so “normal" that we may not notice it anymore. Some “hidden" signs that you're over your limit include persistent moodiness, exhaustion despite adequate sleep, and an uptick in everyday tasks falling through the cracks. Stress can also manifest physically by causing headaches, an aching jaw (from clenching your teeth), painful period cramps (from imbalanced hormones), and worsened allergies (also from hormone imbalance).
Whether a “silent" symptom or an obvious one, though, these poor habits can ultimately impact your ability to perform daily tasks, and can inhibit your desire and physical ability to push yourself ahead of the work pack, complete tasks to your full potential, and even network. Who wants to go to a mixer when you're 12-hours deep into a migraine and all you want to do is sleep? And who wants to network with someone who's clearly depleted of energy and a little moody, to boot?
Believe it or not, stress can affect you at a DNA-level, too. “Chronic stress left unchecked impacts how your genes get expressed," said Dr. Stagg. “Quite simply, stressful and negative thought patterns can impact your body at the level of your DNA and affect your health."
It's a somewhat complicated process to explain, and it's still being heavily studied, but scientists believe that persistent stress triggers cortisol, which inhibits the production of an enzyme called telomerase. This enzyme is important because it works to replenish telomeres, “a protective casing at the end of a strand of DNA," writes Stacy Lu for the American Physiological Association (APA).
Telomeres are lost every time a cell divides, and without it being replenished by the enzyme, your supply decreases. When this supply decreases enough, “the cell often dies or becomes pro-inflammatory," which triggers aging (now the whole aging president thing makes more sense, yeah?) and other potential health risks such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Making Positive Changes
Fixing the problem is easier said than done, and it requires a deliberate deviation from our current norm. You can start by writing down your priorities and sidelining less important tasks while letting important, previously neglected tasks, rise to the top.
“Controlling stress in your life can be as simple as figuring out what really makes you happy and putting more of that into your daily life," noted Dr. Stagg.
Fueling your body and mind with the proper nutrients is another important step to take, as are regular workouts. Dr. Stagg recommended getting genomic testing to discover what type of diet and exercise are ideal for you. She said that just because something worked for a friend or a celebrity, that doesn't mean it's the answer to your issues.
Finally, get enough sleep – at least seven and a half hours – and don't underestimate the power of meditation. Even a five to 10-minute session can help you ground yourself. At the end of the day, one of the most empowering things you can do for yourself is to take full control over your health and, consequently, your success.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.