By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
In my practice, the discussion of stress comes up with almost every patient. As a Naturopathic doctor, the aim is to uncover and treat the root causes of illness, and in most cases this investigation leads to stress. When I started practicing approximately 13 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, because our hormonal systems are all interconnected and 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.
A recent book called “Woman Code” by Alisa Vitti maps out the female menstrual cycle in the following way:
- The Menstrual Phase: (the first days of your cycle when you are menstruating): During this phase, your energy may be lower, but this is the phase where the communication between the right and left hemispheres of your brain is most powerful. What this means is that you may be prone to more life evaluation at this time of the month. Many women feel more restless and dissatisfied during this phase, but instead of letting these feelings overwhelm you, use them as a way to identify areas of your life that need attention.
- Follicular Phase (duration 7-10 days – from the end of menstruation to before ovulation): Physical energy increases now, and creativity and new beginnings characterize this phase. This is the time to plan brainstorming sessions, and do your most mentally challenging tasks as you will be more readily able to problem solve. Emotionally you are most outgoing during this phase, and have the most energy to be out and active.
- Ovulatory Phase (duration 3-4 days – mid-cycle): During this phase, your communication skills are heightened, and you will be able to communicate your thoughts and opinions more clearly. You will also feel more connected with the community during this phase.
- Luteal Phase (duration 10-14 days – after ovulation, before your next period starts): Your physical energy gradually declines during this phase, as your energy softens and turns inward. You may have the desire to nest, take care of domestic chores, and deal with the administrative details of life. Internally, during this phase you will need to pay attention to your self-care and downtime – try slowing down social events and commitments.
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.
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!