The link between stress and hormonal health
With hectic schedules and demands of our everyday life, many people feel stressed and run-down. Like there isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done. It just seems like part of every day life. But stress can take a heavy toll on our bodies. Especially in this day when women are pushing past their limits to care for their families, careers and trying to just keep all the balls in their air. Stress can not only make us feel tired and cranky, but it has a direct effect on our hormones and can lead to chronic illness if not kept in check. It’s true that the stress response is actually a built-in survival mechanism, and you can’t turn it off. But you can certainly cut down on the stress you encounter daily.
There are many types of stress, and your body is well equipped to handle it short-term. The problem is the constant, unrelenting stress. Think of it like this: A branch on a tree can bend and sway with the force of a storm, but each time it bends, it becomes a little weaker. If the storm continues for days or months, eventually the branch will break. It looses it’s resilience against the storm. And what happens in the body when stress is prolonged? It becomes too weak to function properly. Imbalance is created because the resources are going to those parts necessary to stand against the storm, (surviving) instead of doing what it needs to do to keep things running in balance .
So whats the link between stress and hormones?
Cortisol is a stress hormone. It helps our body determine which functions are most important for survival. When it gets the signal that there is danger, it springs into action and pushes non-essential functions to the background. Blood flow is pushed to your muscles for running, your heart beats faster, and you’re nervous system goes into FIGHT or FLIGHT mode. Ever get an upset tummy when your stressed? Digestion was turned off as it’s not essential to running away from that tiger that wants you for lunch.
In matters of survival, the threat is often short-lived, and when it’s gone, your body returns to dealing with the other functions. But if your body doesn’t understand that the threat has passed and cortisol continues on the job, it throws all those other hormones out of balance that are needed for functions like balancing blood sugar ( Insulin )- Sex hormones ( estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and aldosterone) – Thyroid hormones and our feel good hormone, Serotonin.
As women move into midlife, stress can be at an all time high with caring for kids still at home and aging parents not to mention the demands from career and relationships with our partners. Estrogen production lowers naturally. When under stress, cortisol blocks estrogen, so you end up with even less estrogen getting into your cells. Less estrogen causes low serotonin and low serotonin causes you to not be able to sleep, your feel anxious, irritable and down. Cortisol is also the FAT storage hormone and when cortisol is on, the body holds onto fat around the belly. Another thing happens when serotonin levels drop, norepinephrine is released in the brain and all of a sudden your get a pounding heart, upset stomach, hot flashes and feel even more stress. It’s a vicious cycle.
What we want to do is to build in stress resilience to our day. It’s like a time out from the storm, to recoup and shut off the stress response and get into the REST and DIGEST mode. One of the greatest tools I can recommend for bringing more piece and reducing stress in my life is a mindfulness practice. For the past 2 years I have used the CALM APP and gift it to my coaching clients as part of their program. I even bought a year subscription for my son who LOVES it and uses it often to help calm his anxiety. You can enjoy the peaceful sounds of the rain, or a gentle crackling fire, or my favorite, a mountain stream with birds in the background. And it only takes 10 minutes. It even helps you fall asleep with sleep stories. 🙂
The first way to build more stress resilience into our lives is by getting clear on what our stressors are.
Once we identify our stressors, we can build a stress free buffer zone.
I like to think of it as an eddy. If you have seen whitewater in a river, you know how it thrashes with energy and activity. And eddy is that quiet place right behind that whitewater. It’s a place of calm. When we recognize our stressors and feel the “whitewater” of our lives, it’s time to “eddy out” and take a break. Get quiet and tune into what your body needs and what you have on your plate. Most of what we take on seems like priorities, but many of them can be delegated or are just busy work that keeps us working hard to keep up with unseen expectations we have placed on ourselves. Getting clear on what is actually a priority and what can delegated or let go can be the difference between allowing space ad margin on or day, or trying to push through and continue the stress response.
We don’t make more time to get things done. And we are not victims of too little time. We all have the same amount of time in our day. The choice is in how we choose to use it and what mindset do we bring to the act of being and doing.
Stress management is a non-negotiable if we want to live healthy and happy lives. We have a choice. We can invest in our health care today or we can invest in sick care later. I choose health care. I plan on being the happy old woman wearing a purple hat riding a roller coaster with her grandkids.
What’s 1 thing you can take off your plate today. Just one, that would have big impact on your mood and energy? I’ve love to hear.
And if you have any other way that you use to reduce your stress, I’d love to hear those too. I promise I read every response.
Think you might want some help getting this handled so you can finally overcome that steady weight gain, up and down moods, feeling overly tired and not sleeping well from trying to manage it all? I can help. Go here to schedule a time to talk with me and let’s get you feeling like yourself again (or even better!)