Our bodies secrete and circulate some 50 different hormones, including our reproductive hormones. And they all have really important and helpful roles.
We've got hormones to help us grow, hormones to help us get nutrients and energy from the foods we eat, hormones to help us reproduce, hormones to impact our mood... the list goes on, babe, but just know this: we've got lots of them, and they need to be there for our bodies to function healthily.
Now, to take this one step further... Yes, our hormones need to be there. But they also need to be one other thing.
Yes, gals, the key to hormonal health = balance.
And one sure-fire thing to throw that balance out? STRESS!
Stress leads to problems in our hormonal arena in a number of ways. Think:
- Irregular periods
- Hair loss
- Acne, eczema and dermatitis
- Weight gain
- Digestive complaints
So, what the flip is stress, exactly?
Well, first up, it's not a diagnosis. The word 'stress' is actually referring to a process: our body’s reaction (known as the stress response) to a situation or change in our environment. That change or situation could be perceived by different people quite differently – for some, it will trigger a stress response
The stress response impacts our health and functioning on, legit, all levels - physical, mental and emotional. It's also known as the ‘fight or flight response’.
It’s a cascade of physiological changes – like a racing heart, rapid breathing, tensed muscles – that kick into action when we face a perceived threat or life-or-death situation.
Now, the keyword here, babe, is perceived.
All of these things that might make us feel ‘stressed’ (and remember, babe, that what makes you feel stress might not make the chika next to you feel stress) are not, in fact, life-or-death or emergency situations – our risk of dying from not paying a bill, for example, is pretty low (ahem, non-existent. Unless your bill is to the mafia, and it's been unpaid for a pretty long time. We've seen the TV shows, we know what's gonna happen next 😬).
But our bodies don’t know that – they get the hint that we’re stressed, and so they do their gosh darn best to try and save us. Our bodies are our knights in shining armour. They are so there for us, it's amazing. Thank you, body!
And so, the fight or flight response is literally a survival mechanism.
A quick summary of our stress response
Now, this stress response also impacts our reproductive hormones. And it does this by preventing ovulation.
REWIND: ovulation is super important, as mentioned in the previous posts in this series, here and here.
Very basically, if your body is going through the stress response in an attempt to SAVE YOUR LIFE, just about the last thing it’s going to worry about is helping you make an actual human baby – which, again, is ultimately what ovulation is for (and why contraceptives prevent it - they say "heck no" to actual human babies as well as to our human right/ability to ovulate).
But stress alsooooo prevents ovulation by way of chronic cortisol activation.
When our cortisol levels are high, because our bodies think we’re in a life-or-death situation, the rest of our body operates at a kind of sub-par level...
- Our immune system is weakened
- Our muscles are robbed of their protein supplies – and protein is key to not just hormone health, but also to our skin health (because if we don’t have enough protein, our liver can’t function to process what our body does need and eliminate what it doesn’t)
- Even the hippocampus in our brain is damaged!
- And, as I said above, ovulation is totally, completely, 200% obstructed
Now, while we want those cortisol levels to be way up high while you and that bod of yours are saving you from the life-or-death scenarios of the world (like when that hitman employed by the mafia shows up at your door, with torture instruments), we do not want your body operating at any kinda sub-par levels on an ongoing, normal day type basis.
So what the flipping flip do we do about stress?
*"For the love of gawd Emily, just tell us!", yells the gal at the back of the room*
As you can see from the little diagram above, our SNS (sympathetic nervous system) acts as the accelerator for our stress response. But our nervous system is actually made up of two systems in itself, and the other is our parasympathetic nervous system (or PNS).
Our PNS acts like the brake to the SNS's accelerator, dampening our stress response and calming the farm.
So what we really want to do to counteract stress is activate that PNS. And as often and as regularly as we possibly can!
1. B R E A T H E
Inhale and exhale, babe.
Breathing deeply and comfortably into the belly is the cheapest, quickest, easiest way to turn off the fight or flight response, and tell our bodies that we are safe. It’s a form of meditating in itself.
Practice deep belly breathing as much as you possibly can, throughout your day. Every day. In the shower, in the car, at work, while you’re washing your hands or the dishes, or just whenever you notice your breath.
2. S E E K J O Y
Spend time with your loved ones, go see a movie or that band you love, laugh, sing or hum along to your fave song. All those things that make you smile and feel that immenseness of joy? Bloody well do 'em!
I tell my clients to date themselves, every single week. I'm sure we all know how to organise a cute little date with someone else, so why not organise one for y o u - the real MVP here.
3. R E S T
Meditate, practice yoga, practice mindfulness, book a massage or facial, take a bath, read a book, take a nap, or spend half an hour doing absolutely nothing. Just you and some peace + quiet (and maybe a cup of tea, because, hey, go wild).
Rest: book it in. Right now. And then actually do it.
4. A S K F O R H E L P
I highly highly highly recommend counselling or psychology for anyone experiencing stress commonly - not just those of us who really struggle to manage the stress we experience.
As a naturopath, I also have a toolbox full of herbs and nutrients to combat stress too. So if you think that you need some extra TLC alongside seeking joy and rest, please get in touch, and we’ll get you booked in for a really comprehensive personalised one-on-one consult with me.