15 Minutes Featuring: Dr. Jennifer Ashton talks about the importance of self-care and protecting your mental health

15 Minutes Featuring: Dr. Jennifer Ashton talks about the importance of self-care and protecting your mental health

Jennifer Ashton, MD, is quite an accomplished woman. She is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who serves as chief medical correspondent for ABC News and co-anchor of Good Morning America 3 (GMA3). She is also a dual board certified physician in OB-GYN and obesity medicine, and holds a master’s degree in nutrition.

Ashton has written six books, including his most recent titles, ‘Life After Suicide’, ‘The Self-Care Solution’ and ‘The New Normal’, maintains his medical practice and recently launched a new magazine, Better, where she candidly discusses women’s health issues, including menopause, mental health, sleep, skincare, and weight management. As a HealthyWomen, Ashton believes in empowering women by sharing the latest information on wellness and nutrition, which is why we sat down with her to discuss the importance of being healthy in mind and body.

Our interview follows, edited for clarity and length.

Healthy women: Why is maintaining good mental health so important for women?

Jennifer Ashton, MD: Study after study has shown that women, especially those over the age of 40, have been disproportionately affected by anxiety and depression by the COVID-19 pandemic. Women need to be proactive about their mental health and have regular conversations with their doctor if they experience symptoms of anxiety and depression, such as trouble sleeping, sleeping too much, feeling anxious or very worried.

We all know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, and we know that we should take steps to reduce the risk of heart disease. Yet the reality is that women too need to be proactive about reducing their risk of depression and anxiety, both very common conditions that are manageable and treatable.

Read: 15 Minutes Featuring: Nieca Goldberg, MD, Talks Heart Health Awareness >>

As a practicing physician, I don’t think I’ve had a single patient in the past three years who hasn’t told me how their mental health has been a source of stress or concern for them.

Healthy women: Do you think there is still a stigma or reluctance for women to talk about mental health?

Jennifer Ashton, MD: If women are hesitant to raise these concerns, it’s important that they realize that taking care of their mental health is just as important as their physical health.

I think one of the big issues in our country is how we view health and well-being. We struggle with moderation and go from one extreme to the other, choosing to take an all-natural remedy or a prescription drug, when we really should be taking a holistic approach to mental health. If women need medication to treat anxiety or depression, I’m OK with that, but in addition they should also talk to a mental health professional, practice some type of mindfulness, and engage in some type of physical activity that can dramatically reduce anxiety and depression. You can’t just tick a box and be instantly cured. We need to address both the root cause of a person’s anxiety and depression and look at different treatment options.

Read: 7 healthy habits to improve your body and mind >>

Healthy women: In your book, “Life After Suicide,” you talk about how you’ve experienced anxiety at different points in your life, including after your ex-husband’s suicide in 2017. How have you managed your anxiety?

Jennifer Ashton, MD: When I lost my ex-husband, I was on a prescription for two weeks. I was literally doing everything I could to keep myself upright for my kids and try my best not to collapse. Today, I manage my stress and anxiety by meditating every weekday morning and try to meditate on the weekend as well. Mediation has truly made a huge difference in my life, but there have been times after losing my ex-husband, and certainly during the pandemic, where I’ve experienced such extreme anxiety that I’ve had to take a one-time prescription medication. I don’t consider it any different than taking Tylenol to treat pain. In terms of physiology, if anxiety and depression are persistent and left untreated, they can lead to a cascade of other physical and psychological health problems.

If someone has severe anxiety that goes on day after day, they are churning out high levels of cortisol, epinephrine, adrenaline and norepinephrine which can damage the brain and vascular system and suppress the immune system. By tackling anxiety and depression symptoms early, women can save themselves from future health problems.

Healthy women: What are some of the most common health questions or concerns women ask you?

Jennifer Ashton, MD: I think by far the most common health issues relate to menopause, hormones, hair loss, and weight/nutrition. In 2013, I went back to college to get a master’s degree in nutrition and earned my obesity health medicine certification because nearly all women have questions related to one of these areas. I’m glad to see more attention being paid to menopause, partly because it’s the social atmosphere of the time, but also because many women today are living longer and aging better, making 50 the new 40 and 60 the new 50.

Watch: The 3 Stages of Menopause >>

For women, talking about menopause has become more acceptable and mainstream, but I think everyone should be talking about menopause, including men. I also believe it is important to get reliable information about menopause from board-certified gynecologists and reputable health experts. Right now, many people are turning to social media for information, and those sources aren’t always credible and legitimate.

Healthy women: What advice would you give to women who want to stay healthy as they get older?

Jennifer Ashton, MD: I think most importantly, and I talk about it in my books and in my new magazine, Better, is something I call “the good health trifecta.” Your body needs three things every day: fuel, which is our food; rest, which is our sleep; and movement, which is our level of fitness and activity. Our bodies are intelligent machines, so they adapt and adapt to our lifestyles. We must constantly make sure that we are giving our body what it needs to keep us healthy. The way I describe it to people when they ask me how I find time to meditate each day is, “I can’t find the time. I make time,” which means waking up 40 minutes early so I can do 20 minutes of meditation before the day slips by. Pick the self-care rituals that are important to you and try to practice them most days.

Read: Self-care on a budget >>

Healthy women: What awaits you?

Jennifer Ashton, MD.: Well, I have some exciting projects lined up in the fields of menopause and nutrition in 2024, and I think my credentials in obesity medicine, nutrition, and women’s health really position me to be especially helpful to women who are going through weight issues, menopause, or hormonal issues. I can’t say much more about the projects right now, but I’ll be releasing more details in the coming months about mine Instagram and on GMA3. Stay tuned!