My Motto: Laugh more and worry less….
Easier said than done! How you age is profoundly affected by how you handle stress. Stress is a response to the demands on our bodies and loves and is often a response to crisis or fears.
If stress affects you too much, it creates many imbalances in your body such as mental health problems, emotional exhaustion, a physical illness which can all impact on work, family and all aspect of life.
The Effects of Stress
When we’re stressed, our adrenal glands focus on producing the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol for survival. If stress is short-lived, then these can keep us focused and alert so that we can handle whatever is happening in our environment. Years ago this would have been an attack from an animal or something else. In our modern world, there are far more triggers.
What’s important to note here is that the adrenal glands are essential for women going through menopause. The adrenals produce small amounts of progesterone and oestrogen that are needed to supplement the decreasing production of progesterone and oestrogen in the body in general. When the adrenals can do their job, this additional production can re-balance the body and reduce menopausal symptoms.
What happens when we’re stressed, however, is that your adrenal glands can’t focus on producing progesterone and oestrogen when they need to focus on providing the stress hormones for survival. To be specific, most of the body’s LDL cholesterol is going straight into making cortisol rather than manufacturing oestrogen and progesterone. The stress hormones take precedence, and this can mean that the additional oestrogen and progesterone that we so need don’t get produced and our symptoms can flare. Cortisol also goes one step further and can block your progesterone receptors, and the result can be progesterone resistance.
FACT: Your body cannot tell the difference between physical, emotional stress or nutritional stress.
Stress can also slow down your thyroid and the production of thyroid hormones resulting in issues like feeling cold and having aches and pains and hair loss. If this happens over a long period with the adrenal glands producing buckets of stress hormones to keep you alert the opposite may start to occur, and your body can go into burnout and adrenal fatigue. The adrenals merely get worn out. Adrenal fatigue has similar symptoms to menopause – insomnia, foggy thinking, exhaustion, depression and weight gain. High stress combined with menopause this is what’s called in technical terms, “a double whammy.”
All this is not meant to scare you and make you even more stressed. It’s merely showing you what can happen and just how much stress can impact us in menopause. We want to give our bodies the best possible support during this time, and reducing stress needs to be part of nourishing yourself.
What you can do about Stress
Sometimes it just takes a little bit of information for us to be more aware of imbalances in our life and take action. Sometimes it takes a big kick up the backside. Either way, you now know that stress is stopping your body from doing what it can to counter the effects and the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. Your body wants to help. I could write a whole book on this but let’s get to some practices that are more helpful.
Making Simple Lifestyle Changes
Here are some simple things you can do to reduce your stress levels:
- Limit alcohol as alcohol raises cortisol
- Wean yourself off caffeine as it recreates stress conditions for the body including raising cortisol. Easy does it. Figure out what is the minimum caffeine you need to survive.
- Treat yourself to a massage as often as possible as it relaxes the body and mind.
- Try acupuncture as this has shown to improve the quality of life of menopausal women by reducing hot flashes, night sweats and aches and pains.
- Have sex. Have an orgasm. Stop laughing and have some sex.
- Stay positive, appreciate what you have and not what you lack.
- Get your nutrient levels tested by your GP as menopausal women tend to have some essential nutrient deficiencies.
- Eat omega three rich food such as salmon, sardines, flax seeds or take a supplement of fish oil as this helps to lower cortisol levels and cholesterol levels.
- Eliminate your phone, iPad, tablet, laptop at bedtime, and in bed, these can be very stimulating. Instead, try 10 minutes or so of stretching and relaxation exercises.
- Eat dark chocolate (above 70% or better above 90% cocoa). Just a couple of pieces a day is good. Dark chocolate has been shown to have a positive effect on stress levels, mood and memory.
Get out of the Busy Cycle
There is increasing value in society on being busy. Being busy means we are in demand and we often link that to value. The problem is that being overly busy means we have no time for rest and for our bodies to relax. Your body is always on high alert and pumping out cortisol and adrenaline like there’s no tomorrow.
As your health is essential, see if you can ignore the pressure from society to be busy and instead prioritise space and things to do that will be relaxing and peaceful, so your adrenals get a break.
Giving yourself this gift will also mean that you’ll have time to create and more time for the people who say something to you. Understand that sometimes we keep on being busy as we are scared about what will happen when we stop. Reduce your fast pace gradually so that you don’t necessarily fall in a heap. Start saying no and start to spread that word that being busy isn’t necessary to you anymore. You’ll be surprised by how people react to this. Some won’t understand you and others will question the value they place in being busy.
Going out with friends can help to ease the stresses of life. It may seem like I’m contradicting my last point but some social time is so essential to counteract the rollercoaster and feelings of isolation that we so often go through with perimenopause and menopause. When we have the support of others we feel less stressed and that’s why it’s essential to foster non-toxic friendships and to be part of communities that will support us.
We need to know that we are understood and heard, and we are not alone. Many professionals advocate talking as one of the one form of therapy for stress. Sometimes you don’t even need to speak about the things you’re worried about as focusing on something else helps to reduce repetitive thoughts that often accompany worry.
Exercise and Relaxation
This comes up again and again as it’s one of the critical actions you can take to change the chemicals in your body, so you feel happier and less stressed. Exercise plays a role in lowering cortisol levels, which not only helps to clear brain fog but also helps your adrenals to produce more of the hormones you need to re-balance.
Relaxation exercises are as crucial as pounding the pavement to allow your body to have periods of calm and reduce stress levels. Don’t say you don’t have the time. We women are famous for this statement until we drop, get ill or become frustrated. You owe it to yourself to take time out for you. It benefits everyone in the end. When you have a stressful day see if there’s sometime during the day you can take time to stop and have time out. Walking is excellent for clearing the mind and relaxation in general.
Also, try sitting quietly for 10-20 minutes at a time while paying attention to your breathing. Listen to calming music if your mind wonders. Focus on deep breaths: Breath in slowly for 5 seconds, breath out slowly for 10 seconds. Repeat as much as you can manage.
Yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates are all fantastic for stress. They slow down your body and mind, detox your system and help you to relax completely. Yoga and Pilates are also excellent for building muscle strength and toning your body. If you can’t get out to an exercise class, find some relaxation exercises or classes on YouTube and take time out of your day to do them.
Wind down at night with some gentle stretching exercises. Have a routine and do every night. Try this: While standing up place your legs apart, relax your shoulder and swing your arms around. It’s a beautiful release for both the mind and the body.
Gardening is very therapeutic for some and gets you out into the open air. Reading a book takes your mind elsewhere and helps you to see that there’s more to life than the stress you’re in right now. Sing when you want to and how you want to. Singing is great for mood and breath.
The more you can laugh about all the crazy things you have to go through with others and even when you’re by yourself the more your mood will lift, the less stress you’ll feel and the less overwhelming everything will become.
Menopause is a mighty significant change in your life but try not to fixate. Experiencing anxiety and stress can be a common symptom of perimenopause and menopause due to changing hormone levels. It’s important to seek the right help if stress levels are having negative impact on your life.
Think about and take action on anything that gives you pleasure, think about plans you can make to live a more inspired life, think about exciting adventures you’re going to have. Then do something about it. Action and only action will bring sustained change. Don’t think about the laundry or the dishes, well at least not in the worst times. Think about your dreams and stimulating learning and nature and then immerse yourself these things. Sometimes having menopause feels like you’re at the bottom of a well but it’s more like climbing a mountain – look around – there are fantastic views to be had.