Stress and hormonal health can be thought of as a seesaw. When one goes up (stress), the other goes down (hormones).
Stress is your body’s response to a physical demand. It can be a feeling of emotional or physical tension.
While some stress is necessary in order to help us adapt and grow. Continuous stress without rest can lead to a plethora of issues.
The stress response is the same as it was in the caveman era.
We get a signal of a stressor from our brain, which taps to the adrenals to produce our stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. This leads us to enter the fight or flight response.
The fight or flight response is there to help us run like hell from our stressor OR stick up and fight. It’s the reason why people get that super human strength when a disaster is about to happen.
The problem isn’t the biological reaction to stress. In fact, this response is an eloquent system that shows us just how incredible the human body is.
The problem lies in our inability to implement recovery from this system.
Back in the caveman era we would get into fight or flight, run form our predator, and then RECOVER.
Now, our stressors surround us every day, at all hours of the day.
Stressors today look like:
…. and the list goes on and on…
The worst part is, we don’t take adequate rest and recovery from our stressors.
Here’s the average day of an American:
Wake up to a blaring alarm
Drink 2 cups of coffee
Go to work
Have 2 more cups of coffee
Maybe have a banana for breakfast
Meetings/ deadlines/ sit behind a computer screen for 8 hours
Maybe some exercise
Probably a few glasses of wine or beer
Throw kids, social obligations, family stress, relationships, and negative thoughts on top of that. Chances are this person is also not sleeping because their cortisol rhythms are all over the place, adding on more stress.
(Cortisol has it’s own circadian rhythm, it’s what helps you wake up in the morning and allows you to go to sleep at night. When this is off you will wake up at odd hours and be wired in the evening.)
How does this mess with your sex hormones?
Your adrenals can only do so much. Sex hormones and stress hormones require a lot of energy. When demand is high to help you with stress the body essentially has to choose between stress hormones or sex hormones.
The body will choose stress hormones every time.
Think of it this way… would your body want to put you in the vulnerable state of reproducing and having a baby if it thought you were running from a lion everyday? HELL NO. It wants to get you to safety first.
So you are left with irregular periods, PMS, acne, energy crashes, and potentially fertility issues.
The key to balance: REST.
How to start implementing today:
- Clear your calendar when you can: If you work a standard 9-5 clear out a few hours in the evening to implement a some rest and recovery before bed time. This could look like: meditation, yoga, deep breathing, journaling, reading, laughing at your favorite show with blue light blocking glasses on, or taking a nice long epsom salt bath. This will help you recover mentally, physically, and will allow you to sleep better.
- Start your morning off right: If you are getting up and heading straight to the coffee pot you are making things worse. The body is tremendously dehydrated from 8 hours of no water. It’s important to rehydrate with water first thing. To make this water even better add some lemon and sea salt to further hydrate.
- Lay off on the coffee: Caffeine naturally stimulates the same pathway that activates the stress hormones. While it’s great to have that little burst of energy try having herbal coffee with adaptogenic mushrooms and herbs to help counterbalance the effects.
- Mindset routine: A mindset routine is imperative to overall function and performance. Preferably doing this first thing in the morning, before you get into productivity mode, can help you ease into your morning. This can be 10 minutes devoted to mediation, journaling, and/or gratitude. Don’t overthink it, whatever feels best for you!
- Schedule rest days: If you’re an active individual you NEED rest days in order to function at your best. You need 1-2 rest days integrated into your week to allow your muscles to repair, your hormones to balance, and your body to feel safe. If you are doing multiple high intensity workouts and feeling like crap all the time, switch to lower intensity to let your body heal.
- Exercise appropriately: Lay off the Cross Fit, Orange Theory, and other high intensity modalities during high stress times. In fact, depending on your goals, you don’t necessarily need these high intensity workouts to get you fit. Try an approach that focuses on strengthening, using moderate to heavy weights, and includes rest breaks between sets. This will allow for you to get those sculpted arms and abs without having to worry about your cycle going out of whack.
I covered all of this information and did a live Q&A recently in a TED Talk. If you want the replay make sure to email firstname.lastname@example.org.