Are your stress levels killing your hormones?

Stress, the 21st century epidemic. It affects your physical, mental and emotional health and experts say that over 12% is now due to stress related illness.

Stress also plays a big part in our hormonal health and can affect the severity of the symptoms you experience when going through the menopause. Our stress hormones kick in to help keep us safe whenever they detect us feeling stressed. Whether that’s from rushing around juggling kids and work, deadlines to meet or physical stress caused by illness.

Adrenaline triggers the body’s fight or flight response, decreasing our ability to feel pain, sending blood to our major muscle groups and increasing our strength and performance.

Cortisol is the main culprit and plays an important role in helping the body respond to stress. It’s released into the bloodstream when we feel stressed and your body is mobilised and ‘ready for action’. If there then isn’t a physical release of ‘fight or flight’ cortisol levels build up in the blood and that can affect your physical and mental symptoms.

In Palaeolithic times this stress response was essential for keeping us safe, but in today’s world stress is usually mental and emotional and brought on by our lifestyle and environment. Excess levels of cortisol can reduce your memory and concentration, decrease your ability to fight disease, increase weight gain and lower energy levels (and that’s just for starters).

Your body prioritises cortisol over other hormones to help keep you safe and in times of high stress will reduce the production of other hormones to ensure enough cortisol was available to support it. And while that is really clever, it can have a significant effect on your hormonal balance.

When your cortisol levels are high they block your body’s ability to produce oestrogen and progesterone. When these hormones are out of balance it affects your menstrual cycle, can make you feel tired all the time, cause changes in your mood so you feel irritable, anxious or depressed as well as making symptoms of the menopause and PMS more severe.

It also has a knock-on effect on your thyroid health as your thyroid and adrenal glands work very closely together. If your thyroid hormones are not produced in the desired quantities needed by your body it can cause your metabolism to lower, your temperature control to be out of sync (your thyroid is your body’s thermostat) and your mental clarity to be affected.

Overall too much stress in your life can have a significant effect on your hormonal health and by lowering the amount of stress in your life, this can help to balance your hormones and reduce the symptoms.

Yes I know you’re thinking it’s not really that simple, right?

I’m not suggesting that you go all out and completely change your lifestyle. Even making a few small changes can make a real difference.

  • Try introducing a daily meditation or breathing practice. Just 5–10 mins a day can really help you to feel calmer and more grounded
  • Make sure you take regular time out to do something just for you. It doesn’t have to be a spa day or pamper session, it could be a walk in nature, reading a good book or coffee with a friend
  • Ask for help. Something I’m not so great at myself but it’s a work in progress! You don’t have to do everything yourself. Try asking your partner to put the washing on or do the school run or even your parents to pick the kids up from school. Do a swap with a friend to take the kids to their activities….anything that makes your life a little bit easier.
  • Introduce some calming nutrients into your diet. Magnesium, known as nature’s tranquilliser, can be found in beans, pulses, green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds. Tryptophan rich foods such as oats, dried dates, red meat, eggs, fish, poultry, nuts and seeds can help balance moods and promote sleep. I love an almond milk hot choc made with cacao which has good levels of magnesium and tryptophan to help calm you before bed.

If you’re not sure where to start with making changes to your diet and lifestyle to improve symptoms of the perimenopause than download my Hormone Balancing Recipe Guide, which is a great starting point and includes recipes and foods that both you and your family can enjoy. Click here to get your copy.