I am deep into my endocrine intensive class. I have about 3 weeks left and then I’ll start my next class. I LOVE this class. I LOVE hormones and all that they do. The hot mess that the body becomes due to hormone imbalance is beyond fascinating.
Hormones are everything. There’s so much information I want to share. I’ve been trying to figure out a blog post based on the information I’m learning in my endocrine class. It’s really hard to pull out just one piece because there really isn’t just one piece. All hormones work synergistically so it’s hard to talk about just one thing.
So, with all the back and forth (in my head) I’ve decided to settle on stress. Stress appears to be the trigger that sets off a cascade of hormonal imbalance. Chronic stress over works the adrenal glands by forcing the body to constantly produce cortisol. In order for the body to continually produce cortisol it has to push the production of other important hormones to the side. At this point you aren’t feeling great but you may be able to ignore symptoms and carry on. Eventually, the adrenal glands get worn out from constantly producing cortisol so even production of that hormone stops. This is when you get to that hormonal hot mess and all your troublesome symptoms like, fatigue, weight gain, joint pain, headaches, digestive distress and more aggressive disease states become to obvious to ignore. You DO NOT want to get to this place.
You may think you live a stress free life or that the stress you have isn’t chronic. Unfortunately, in this day and age it’s nearly impossible to live a stress free life. Multitasking is stressful, carpooling is stressful, work is stressful, traveling is stressful. Anything that causes internal inflammation is stressful. Things like sugar, allergies, food intolerance, extra weight, eating an unhealthy diet, infections, all stressful. The list goes on and on.
Now you’re thinking great, this post is a huge bummer. I’m stressing my body and throwing my hormones off and I didn’t even know it. Now I know and there’s nothing I can do about it – I still have to drive carpool! The first thing we all need to do to keep our stress in check is recognize the stress. The only way to diffuse or control stress is to know when you are stressed.
Pay attention to when you are feeling overwhelmed or just amped up. You can do some simple things to calm down and reduce your cortisol levels. Believe it or not breathing exercises work really well. If you have been thinking about meditating you’re on the right track. Meditation is a huge way to manage stress. Yoga is another great way to manage stress. Light to moderate exercise is also beneficial.
I’m going to share two things that I like to do to manage my stress. These are simple things you can do anywhere at anytime. The first is a breathing exercise. This is great when you’re sitting in traffic or on an airplane or even in the dreaded carpool line.
Pranayam, an ancient practice concerned with breath control.
Research has shown that practicing Pranayama can relieve symptoms of asthma. It is also beneficial in treating stress related disorders, such as anxiety and depression.
Here is a great website on how to do Pranayam: http://www.wikihow.com/Do-Pranayam
I’ll outline one of the methods here but be sure to follow the link. I particularly like the Alternate Nostril Breath.
Here is the first method they outline:
- Breathe in deeply through your nostrils. First, feel the diaphragm move down, allowing the lungs to expand and forcing the abdomen out; then feel your chest expand with your collar bones rising last.
- Breath out quickly through your nostrils. Feel the collar bones dropping, chest deflating, and abdomen shrinking as the lungs collapse. This process of exhaling should be much faster than the process of inhaling – almost like a rapid deflation.
- Repeat. When done correctly your chest will expand when you breathe in and deflate when you breathe out. Continue for a couple of minutes if you have the time.
- With practice, speed up your breathing. Beginners should always start slowly to avoid hyperventilating, but over time, it will be possible to turn this into a rapid breathing technique.
I find deep breathing really calms me. I like to breath in and hold for about 4 or 5 seconds then breath out and hold for 4 or 5 seconds.
The other fun thing I wanted to share is actually an app. I love gadgets. It just occurred to me that the “gadgets” of the 21 century are apps. Anyway, this app measures stress. It’s called GPS4Soul
Here’s a link to the ITunes page: GPS for the Soul
This app measures your heart rate and heart rate variability. The combination of those two things is supposed to approximate stress levels. The neat thing about the app is, if it tells you that you appear to be stressed it supplies “guides” that are supposed to help you de-stress. The guides might be music, or pictures or some other slide show. The best part is you can create your own guides. You can make a slide show of pictures that you love or music that you love. Things that you know make you happy.
The thing I like about the app is that it’s a somewhat tangible way to check in and see where my stress level is. I especially like to do it when I think I’m not stressed. Most of the time I’m right but sometimes it will surprise me and tell me I am stressed. I don’t think it’s 100% right all the time but it definitely forces me to check-in and be mindful/present for at least a minute. That’s a start, right?
You can read more about Heart Rate Variability (the measure of beat-to-beat changes in heart rate) at heartmath.org
Here are a few bullet points from Heartmath.org about how heart-rate variability and our autonomic nervous system intersect.
- Thoughts and even subtle emotions influence the activity and balance of the autonomic nervous system (ANS).
- The ANS interacts with our digestive, cardiovascular, immune and hormonal systems.
- Negative reactions create disorder and imbalance in the ANS.
- Positive feelings such as appreciation create increased order and balance in the ANS, resulting in increased hormonal and immune system balance and more efficient brain function.
… heart-rate variability patterns are extremely responsive to emotions, and heart rhythms tend to become more ordered or coherent during positive emotional states.
On HeartMath.orgs Emotional Balance and Health page they state that “75 to 90% of all visits to primary care physicians result from stress-related disorders.”
We are living in a stressful world. Take control and manage your stress before your whole body wears down. The two things I’ve suggested for stress relief are helpful for emotional stress. Internal stress due to chronic inflammation will need to be addressed in other ways. Controlling your emotional stress is one way to reduce the overall stress load on your body. Baby steps. Anything we can do to keep moving in a positive healthy direction is a good thing.
Quick note: A friend was at the airport the other day and ended up missing her flight. STRESS! She called to let me know that she decided to use GPS4Soul to see how stressed she was and it told her she was feeling balanced. As I mentioned, I don’t think it is always 100% right, even so, it did what it was supposed to do, it diffused her stress. She stopped thinking about her rotten circumstances for a minute and focused on how she was feeling. She knew she was stressed but when GPS4Soul told her she was feeling balanced, it made her laugh and actually feel better. In a very round-about-way it help. Whatever works ; )
Amy White MS HNC
I am a holistic nutrition counselor and believe real food is the true path to wellness. If you are interested in learning more about me and how I can help you, please see my story.
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