As we saw in Part 1 of our series, once we’ve overhauled our diet and replaced the naughty list of food with the nice list, we’re ready for step two.
2) Eliminate Stress
Next to our diets, stress is one of the most common contributors to health problems in the 21st century. In her wonderful book, The Hormone Diet, Dr. Natasha Turner says:
“Our nervous system drives our immediate stress response, while our chronic stress response is handled by our endocrine system.” (64) In other words, when we’re faced with sudden danger (i.e. we swerve from hitting another car on the road), our stress response to that event is driven by the nervous system. But our day-in, day-out stresses (i.e. sitting in traffic, tension in relationships, etc.) are handled by our endocrine system (our hormones!). So every time we let these day-to-day issues stress us out, our stress becomes chronic, and our hormones suffer the consequences. The main glands that are affected during times of stress are our adrenal glands, which are responsible for the output of cortisol, or our stress hormone. Cortisol, like insulin, is needed by our bodies to function properly. Too much, however, can start to cause problems. Dr. Turner states:
“The stress hormone cortisol, in particular, activates a strong response in the brain to match our perceived stress with a desire to eat comfort foods – the tasty treats we associate with pleasant experiences, often from childhood. Unfortunately, consuming comfort foods, which are typically high in carbohydrates and fat [the bad kind], can cause a resulting spike in our insulin level, leading to the accumulation of belly fat.” (17) So, basically, when we are chronically stressed out, cortisol is released continually causing an imbalance in our other hormones (like thyroid, estrogen, and insulin). This imbalance creates cravings for junk food, which when eaten causes more imbalances, and a vicious cycle has begun.
When we learn to de-stress, however, it keeps too much cortisol from continually being excreted from our adrenal glands. Our cortisol levels should naturally be highest in the morning and lowest at night. When we are overstressed, however, they are reversed. Cortisol is very low in the morning (making it hard to wake up) and high at night (making it hard to wind down and fall asleep). And poor sleep leads to more problems with our cortisol and insulin levels, and again, more vicious cycles are created. When we focus on relaxing, de-stressing, having a balanced diet, and getting good quality sleep, our adrenals can be nourished and strengthened, and cortisol levels can return to optimum levels with energy and hormonal balance being restored.
There are numerous ways to de-stress! Here are just a few ideas:
- Pray – This is number one on my list, because I can take all my stresses and concerns to the One who made me, loves me, and can do something about them.
- Exercise – To read more about this one, check out 3 Reasons to Get Moving.
- Listen to Calming Music – Choose a relaxing station on Pandora or some other music device and play throughout the day.
- Take a Hot Bubble Bath – Pour in some Epsom Salts (which are rich in Magnesium, a calming mineral) and 10 drops of an essential oil like lavender.
- Practice Deep Breathing – This may not seem like much, but taking a break to inhale deeply for 5 seconds and exhale deeply for another 5 seconds can do wonders to slow the heart rate and calm you down. Repeat this breathing pattern 5 times.
- Do something you love each day – whether it’s reading, knitting, cooking, or gardening, find something you really enjoy, and then work it into your schedule regularly.
- Memorize Scripture – There’s no better way to calm your heart and gain perspective than meditating on the truths of God’s Word.
Remember, when stress gets out of control in our lives, our hormones are one of the first things to suffer. If we learn to deal with that stress in positive ways, we’ll protect our hormones and our health from becoming imbalanced.
If you are struggling with imbalanced hormones and stress seems to be an issue, I highly recommend the book, The Hormone Cure, by Dr. Sara Gottfried. She talks in depth about the stress/hormone connection, and she offers valuable help, particularly with regards to specific supplement recommendations.
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