By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
Stress comes up in our conversations every day, and is so often linked with our health struggles. When I started practicing approximately 15 years ago, I had no idea that this would be the number one issue I would treat – and yet, we highly undervalue the need for downtime, relaxation, meditation, quiet time, time away from electronics, and time spent at a slower pace.
We live in a culture that is very adrenalin and testosterone driven. Let me explain further:
Adrenalin is what we turn on to fight traffic, to make a deadline, to deal with the constant rushing of life, to get to work on time, to push through a boot camp workout or a spin class, etc. You probably know the feeling of internal overdrive when you’re pushing hard on adrenalin.
Testosterone is hormone associated with being driven, ambitious, competitive, aggressive, and dominant, which is highly valued in most businesses and is seen to be a positive trait for success in life.
But what happens to women’s hormones in a culture that values us to be in this adrenalin / testosterone state? What I observe is that our hormones become out of balance, and because our hormonal systems are all interconnected there is a consequence to pushing on stress to hard. This may manifest as:
- Acne problems (especially jawline and chin)
- Sleep disruption
- Early menopause
- Difficult hormone balance through the 40’s
- Anxiety or depression
- Weight gain
- Thyroid disorders
Female hormone systems are interconnected, so if they are pulled out of balance by chronic stress, other hormonal symptoms will occur. I wonder whether so much of the hormone imbalance that I see day after day is influenced by exposure to a high adrenalin / testosterone state – leading us to be irritable, moody, tired and desire stimulants to keep up with the pace.
Is there a more feminine approach to productivity, career and ambition?
What if there was a way of reaching our goals without pushing through male hormones to get there? Words like allowing, receptive, collaborative, creative and intuitive come to mind.
The other point of interest is that the female hormonal system is cyclical in nature – meaning there are time of the month when we are naturally more introspective, and times when we are more productive or energized. What if instead of expecting ourselves to be on, productive and energized every single day, we took a look at the patterns through the month and were more gentle with ourselves in our expectations.
- The Menstrual Phase: begins on the first day of your period. This is when your hormones are at their lowest. There is typically a drop in energy and mood. This is the time for extra self-care, rest and renewal. Meditation comes easiest during this time. It’s important not to overdo it during the menstrual phase. A couple of days of rest will do you the world of good – enjoy the introspection and self-care time.
- Follicular Phase: comes next with rising estrogen, and testosterone. Most women feel good in this phase with higher estrogen and a steady mood and energy level. You’re productive, physically at your strongest, and full of ideas. This is the time to take on new challenges, move vigorously and tap into your creativity.
- Ovulatory Phase is mid-cycle during and after ovulation, when estrogen peaks, and progesterone starts to rise. This is the time in your cycle where it’s easy to connect with people socially, and is the best time to create and build relationships. Your focus turns from yourself to others, and you’re more confident and charismatic. It is also the time where you can visualize your life, and also your writing is at its best.
- Luteal Phaseis the final week of the cycle, and the one we commonly refer to as PMS. Progesterone and estrogen both peak and then decline, and the dropping hormones are notorious for creating symptoms. You’re more prone to amplified emotions, but on the other side may find that you’re more productive and focused – striving to create order out of chaos. One important note during this phase is that if you’re not in touch with your own needs, the PMS time may amplify. Spending some extra time listening to what you need, and letting go of some responsibilities during this week will help.
You may find that your own phases are slightly different, but I would highly recommend tracking your mood, energy, productivity and insight for a couple of menstrual cycles to see if you can embrace the different phases rather than being hard on yourself when you are not in a power-productive state. You’ll be amazed by how predictable your patterns are.
For those of you who are on oral contraceptives or other hormones, you may still have some cyclical nature, but more subtle. You can still pay attention to monthly variations. And for those of you who are not menstruating due to pregnancy, breastfeeding of menopause, I would invite you to embrace the hormonal state you are in and its gift of stability.
I hope this article has brought up some questions and interest, and would love to hear your comments. Perhaps instead of rushing to your next meeting you will take a slower pace; or instead of grabbing a coffee to turn on the adrenalin, you might enjoy a less adrenalin rushed day!