This month for the lifestyle suggestions when it comes to nourishing your endocrine system and the hormones that they produce, I want to heavily emphasize the power of reducing stress. Why? Because the truth is, when we are in a state of stress it is next to impossible to have healthy hormones overall.
When your body is overly stressed (read being in a stress state for more than a few minutes a few times a year), your adrenal glands are going to be producing high amounts of cortisol and adrenaline. This overproduction of stress hormones is no small issue when we look at the wide range of effects that come from being in this situation.
Stress And Overall Hormone Imbalance:
When in a state of stress, the adrenaline and cortisol will cause the following reactions in the body:
- Moving blood from the organs to the extremities to give you the power to fight or flee - which decreases your digestive capacity and cellular repair capacities.
- All digestive processes are slowed, slowing saliva production, digestive juice production and peristalsis. This can lead to a whole host of digestive and systemic issues.
- Mental function is skewed. You will briefly feel more focused and alert, but over time your mind will become foggy and you will end up feeling overwhelmed and listless due to fatigue.
- Inflammation is spiked as these hormones cause a kind of panic reaction in the tissues.
- The production of your other hormones like your sex and thyroid hormones will be decreased to make up for the over production of your stress hormones.
- Sleep and waking cycles are disturbed causing imbalances in the hormones produced in your brain.
With all this, we see a cascading effect on the way the rest of your hormones and physiology work.
These effects include:
- Causing the body to dump stored glucose into your bloodstream (to give you the power to fight or flee) when you are not actually in need of the physical energy (most of our stress is mental) which will cause blood sugar imbalances. This taxes the pancreas and over time can lead to insulin sensitivity issues.
- Decreasing your bodies production of sex hormones which can lead to imbalances long term.
- The added pressure to produce stress hormones can suppress your bodies natural production of thyroid hormones.
- There are only so many receptor sites in the body for the hormones to act upon. Meaning if your body is prioritizing your stress hormones (which it will always do, believing that those stress hormones are more important in the moment due to the fact that they are supposed to only be produced in situations of acute physical stress) even if you are producing adequate levels of other hormones, they won’t be able to act the way they are meant to, causing imbalances in the body.
- This pressure of creating stress hormones all the time taxes the liver and kidneys to a large degree. This means your liver will not be able to adequately do its job - leading to toxic buildup in the body and hormones that are not properly filtered. The kidneys will start to weaken leading to fluid imbalances in the body.
- The stress hormones are a ‘calculated risk’ on behalf of your body. They are great when you need to run from a lion, but when produced in large quantities over time, they will lead to excess inflammation in the body which will serve to damage your tissues.
- You can run into mental and emotional issues from all the stress hormones, as those hormones have a dramatic impact on the brain and the way we are filtering information. Again this is with the intention of keeping us alive in acute situations - giving us the ability to be very sensitive to perceived threats and focused in our mental state - but over time this leads to mental exhaustion and brain fog, as well as feeling listless and depressed.
As you can see, if the stress hormones are out of whack, chances are many other endocrine issues are going to start to arise for you.
What You Can Do About Stress:
This is why focusing on managing stress and reducing stress hormone production is so key in healing ALL hormone issues. Any and all endocrine system disruption can be guided back to balance with the inclusion of stress reduction. This may not be the ONLY thing you need to do to serve your healing, but it will always be an important step in the process. Without getting stress to a manageable state, we are fighting an uphill battle with our hormones.
Remember, your body WANTS to be in balance. We just have to give it the conditions in which it can actually find and maintain that balance. Reducing stress and allowing the other hormones to come into balance, as well as allowing the organs to relax and repair will go a long way to serving the re-creation of this balance.
So let’s look at some practical ways you can start to reduce stress in your system, so that balance can start to be restored.
DON’T start a meditation practice (unless you *really* want to): As we look at reducing stress in the day, one of the worst things we can do is attempt to add something to our lives that feels like another thing on the ‘to do’ list. That feels like another task that must be done in order to be a ‘good’ person. This is not the goal at all! What we are looking for here are ways to take things off of your plate, rather than adding things to it. Also, when we are overly stressed out, trying to sit and still your mind will often times bring up even MORE uncomfortable emotions and make you feel even more restless than ever. Now, if you are up for learning some emotional mastery - how to sit with your uncomfortable emotions and learn to listen to the messages they have for you - then meditation is your best friend. But if you are simply in need of something to help take you down a few notches there are better ways. A few things to try:
- Taking a few deep breaths before and after you eat.
- Getting outside for 5-10 minutes a few times a day.
- Making a ‘do to’ list before you go to bed to get it all out on paper, signalling to your brain that it can relax.
- Choosing to listen to soothing music in your car or at work rather than the news or stimulating music.
- Turning off your phone and computer 30 minutes before bed.
- Making a list of the things you are proud of yourself for before going to bed each night.
- Making a little tea ritual before you go to bed - having a warm cup of herbal tea simply sitting and drinking without distractions for a few minutes.
Let yourself find moments of peace in the life you are already living. See where you can eliminate excess stimulation and notice how that feels. Bring slowness to a few aspects of your day. This is a MASSIVE start that can lead to a really positive snowball effect over time.
DO start a food journal. This is one of the best tips for anyone who is struggling with hormone issues and really looking for ‘root causes’ in diet and health. This is also a great tip for anyone who is feeling that their hormones are out of whack and are simultaneously experiencing digestive issues. Now, this journal will include:
What you ate:
When you ate it:
How you felt while you ate it:
The stories you are telling yourself about this food:
That last point is the MOST VITAL out of all of them. Getting to the roots of what you are telling yourself about the foods you are consuming, and noticing the extra stress that is coming from any and all diet rules or expectations you have of yourself around food - or the stress you have around eating is incredibly healing work. This will help you to take your power back around food. Once you start to notice your cyclical stories, you can start to empower yourself to questioning if what you believe is really true.
The food police you most likely have running around in your head may be totally unnoticed - or may simply seem ‘normal’ or ‘right’ to you. It may really feel like this part of you has good intentions - and it does - but it needs to be moderated to actually serve you rather than being another thing that is stressing you out due to high expectations of who and what you should be around food and eating.
Become aware of your food stories, and see if you can relax yourself a little. Have compassion for that voice, and then see if you can allow yourself to sink into being where you are with food right now. See if you can simply notice the effects of your foods - without making a judgement about whether eating this or that makes you a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ person. As we reduce this food drama through awareness of it, combined with compassion for ourselves within it, the food maze will get less confusing and your life will be less stressful - I promise.
DO start talking to someone. Finally, finding someone who can be a safe space for you to share your deepest, ‘darkest,’ most raw and unfiltered thoughts is massive for moving through your stress to a more balanced place. The truth is, we often get stuck in really painful mental ruts when we don’t allow ourselves to fully express and articulate what is going on for us in any given moment. Most of us need to process our thoughts, feelings and emotions in some kind of verbal way before we are going to feel clear enough to take action in our lives. Of course the true root ‘fix’ for stress is adjusting yourself and your life to fit your needs. But if you don’t even know what those needs are, if you are not taking the time to really go in and look at your thoughts and feelings - you will never get clear on what actions to take to start bringing your life into balance. Clarity is key, and clarity comes from processing. Meaning do not try to have it all figured out BEFORE you talk to someone - share the raw stuff. This is HOW we figure things out.
For this point, it is incredibly important that you find someone to talk to who is not a close family member or friend. Using someone like a romantic partner or family member who can’t be totally unconditionally present with you due to their own emotional attachments in your life won’t serve here. You want someone who can hold space to let you rant, rave, be mad, sad, emotional and complete irrational if you need to be. If this is not something you can find in another person, a journal or word document works just as well. Set a timer for 20-30 minutes, put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and simply write write write for the whole time. Let it all come out. Whatever comes to mind, express is. Do this over and over again and you will be amazed at the solutions you already have sitting within you waiting to be released.
Let your mission become reduction of stress, and see how the rest of your hormonal/endocrine issues start to become clearer and less complicated. It’s all connected my friend and you do have the power to heal. One step at a time.