4 Ways to Avoid Stress and Maintain Hormonal Balance

Post by Parsley Health 

Research and anecdotal evidence has shown that stress is the greatest threat to pregnancy, but also the prenatal period, the postpartum period, menarche and menopause.  It’s much more prevalent than the Zika virus or fetal alcohol syndrome. More importantly, stress is ubiquitous. No one is entirely free of it. And, like any toxin, it’s potency is directly related to the dose.  

Stress is complex and has many forms.  It encompasses much more than the emotional pressure of the work hanging over our heads or a strained relationship in our lives.  Our body can experience stress from the food that we eat, not getting enough sleep or exercising too much or too little.  Stress is an oversimplified term for the many pathophysiologic effects on our minds, our organ systems, and all the way down to the microscopic level of our cells.  

Stress and Hormones

Stress is a phenomenon that is driven by hormones, the body’s most potent chemical messengers.  The brain and nervous system are connected to all of our organs, but are more intimately tied the adrenal glands and the gut. Things that are interpreted by our brains as stressful stimulate the adrenal glands to produce cortisol and adrenaline, stress hormones which signal the rest of the body to be alert.  In moderation, this helps the body to build its defenses or to grow and develop in a beneficial way.  But when experienced in excess, the overt stimulation can cause significant problems like excessive weight gain, high blood pressure, mood swings or changes in one’s skin or hair.  

Cortisol, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and DHEA all come from the same core building block, cholesterol.  When the adrenal glands are overstimulated to produce more and more cortisol, not enough cholesterol remains to build the other hormones.  The levels of these hormones become unbalanced and even deficient leading to a number of unpleasant symptoms.  The longer and more severe the underlying stressors, the more dramatic the effect.  This may be why some pregnancies are experienced as healthier than others or why some suffer from perimenopause so much more than others.

 

How to avoid stress to your body

Clearly not all stressors are avoidable.  But you can promote a healthier hormonal balance while transitioning throughout these otherwise extreme phases of life by carefully modifying those factors over which you do have control.  

  • You are what you eat.  Organic, farm-raised, free-range, grass-fed is not just a trendy new fad or a clever marketing campaign. It’s healthier for you.  Processed and refined foods contain toxins that require the body to expend extra energy to digest and subsequently detoxify.  In addition, your immune system is programmed to recognize and defend against anything that it identifies as foreign, toxic or potentially harmful.  Food allergies and sensitivities are reactions of your body’s immune system.  This is stressful.  But rather than focus on eating less of “the bad stuff” (i.e. gluten, dairy, sugar, etc.), concentrate on coloring your plate with new vegetables and, to a more limited extent, fruits (no more than 2-3 servings of fruit per day due to their sugar content).  Eat more plants, and a great variety of them.  They are filled with nutrients, vitamins and  minerals and help to detoxify your system and boost your immune system.
  • Sleep your troubles away.  Get more sleep.  Seven hours seems to be the magic number although you may need more in pregnancy. As a rule of thumb, it takes about three nights of adequate sleep to make up for one night of poor sleep.  So not getting enough or quality sleep on a nightly basis causes stress in the form of a “sleep deficit”.  Often during hormonal transitions, the hormonal imbalances themselves can disrupt sleep. Then the cycle is perpetuated by poor sleep adversely affecting hormone balance.  Knowledgeable doctors that understand hormones such as those at Parsley Health can help you to diagnose the underlying problem and correct it rather than merely treating the symptom with sleeping pills.
  • Keep moving.  “Sitting is the new smoking” say doctors describing the ill effect of a sedentary lifestyle. But over-exercising can be stressful too. Discuss with your doctor appropriate activities and levels of exercise for your condition and fitness level.  More than any drug or medical treatment, routine exercise has been consistently shown to have the most robust and diverse benefits ranging from better thinking to better sex. Exercise especially in pregnancy is associated with less unhealthy weight gain and less postpartum depression amongst numerous other improved pregnancy outcomes.  “No pain, no gain” does not apply.  It’s best to pick an activity that you enjoy like hiking with a friend, yoga or walking on the beach.  The key to making exercise sustainable is to make it fun.
  • Stop the madness.  Too often the madness exists more so in our heads than in reality.  It’s a common human condition to exaggerate or ruminate upon our worries.  The scientific body of evidence supporting the many benefits of meditation, both psychological and physical, is astounding and ever-growing.  It’s the most important “exercise” to do each day.  Even 10 minutes can reset your day.  Reversing your thinking can literally reverse stressful processes in action even at the level of your cells.  If you’ve never meditated, it’s not easy to stop your brain so don’t be discouraged.  It takes practice.  Start with a minute or two and work your way up.  An experienced mentor such as a Parsley Health health coach may be needed to help guide you initially.

A happy and healthy pregnancy as well as transition through the many other stages of life can be navigated more easily with balanced hormones through balanced living.  

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