To say stress has been high for most people in 2020 is an understatement in the least. Most of us can guess how additional stress might affect one in some ways – tight muscles, difficulty sleeping or having feelings of anxiety. However, there is an underlying process also occurring in the body, that absolutely impacts the ability to feel well and hormonally balanced.
So if you tend towards being low thyroid (hypothyroid), chronically fatigued, have low fertility, low libido or experience significant hormone fluctuation, this article is for you. Stress unfortunately will negatively impact all of these areas, but the good news is, there are many options to support your mind, body and spirit during this crazy time.
Everyone knows that Naturopathic doctors love a good herbal treatment! And we also love the old adage ‘Treat the Cause.’ In this situation, even though your hormones WILL need to be addressed, you also are going to have to work on your stress. Let me say this again because it is so important to your healing – you WILL need to learn tools to reduce your stress. “But doing one more thing is stressful!” you say! This is why I want you to choose approaches that feel good to you, feel nourishing to you, and to incorporate these approaches into your day.
So let’s begin. Below are techniques that I absolutely love to simply lower stress. Choose one today and set your timer on your phone daily to remind you to do this. Have a friend join you in this endeavor and check in with one another on your experiences.
Stress Relieving Techniques to incorporate into your day:
“There are only two days per year that nothing can be done, yesterday and tomorrow. So today is the right day to love, believe, do and live.” – Dalai Lama
- Have gratitude for the moment: Enjoy your cup of warm coffee. Enjoy a hug from a friend. Enjoy a moment of silence driving in the car with the Fall leaves blowing around. We all have these moments in the day – really cherish them.
- A lovely tip from one of my favorite coaches Brendon Bouchard: Be present for 2 beats longer in your contact with someone you care about or feel connected with – a 2 second longer hug, a 2 second longer handshake, being present in your talk with someone(don’t look at your phone);holding the gaze of someone for 2 seconds longer when saying goodbye and tell them how good it is to see them; take the 2 seconds to say ‘Hey, I appreciate you.’ These are things that most of us feel impacted by when someone extends this courtesy and thought to us. Let’s share that joy and that love.
- Do a deep breathing technique ‘The Boxed Breath.’ This is breathing in for a count of four, hold for four, then breathe out for four. Do this 4 times. I love adding a gentle flower extract like liquid Bach Rescue Remedy when doing the deep breath – it makes if feel even more calming. (Bach Rescue Remedy – one to two dropperfuls in the mouth before deep breathing)
- Add a mantra to a short meditation. Choose a word that resonates with you, such as “Peace,” “Release” or “Calm” and say this over and over while breathing slowly. Set your timer for 5 minutes.
- Drink a calming tea (such as Yogi’s Kava Stress Relief Tea) while listening to a calming sound for 5 minutes. I love the app ‘Insight Timer’ to find free calming tracks and meditations.
Stress and your Cortisol (Adrenal Hormone) Levels
The adrenal glands help us with many things as we age, which includes the release of cortisol to help us with handling stress. While Cortisol has a slight increase during a moment of stress, which ultimately leads to the adrenals being depleted. Adrenal glandular fatigue feels like you don’t have the energy to get out of bed in the morning, or to make it through your day. Some people will have a small spike at night, allowing them to stay up late to finish the day. This unfortunately leads to more fatigue during the day. We call this a ‘reverse curve.’
Where to begin? If you have access to a naturopathic/functional medicine doctor, have your cortisol and dhea levels measured. A great way to see how you sustain (or drop) though the day is to do a 4x salivary cortisol test.
Once this is done, begin a single herb or blend that will help your body maintain its natural level of cortisol, thereby improving your energy. One of my favorites is an extract of Ashwaganda and rhodiola. Ashwaganda is calming to the nervous system, and gently supports energy. Rhodiola is a little more stimulating, better if the fatigue is more significant.
Other herbs to consider: Herbal and nutrient support: combination of ashwaganda, rhodiola, eleuthrococcus, and gotu kola, along with Vitamin C. These herbs will help to balance your cortisol levels, increasing your level of energy and resilience.
At times if the adrenals are measuring extremely low on a consistent basis, we explore the use of prescription adrenal hormone (Cortef).
Stress and your Thyroid Hormone
Research has shown that stress can directly lower levels of your thyroid hormone, as well as TSH, the hormone secreted by the brain to stimulate thyroid hormone release. Symptoms of low thyroid, also known as hypothyroidism, are fatigue, weight gain, sluggishness, tissue swelling, hair loss, amongst other things.
Have your thyroid hormone levels checked – I recommend: TSH, Free T4, Free T3, TPO and TG Antibodies, Iodine and Reverse T3.
Herbal and nutrient support we use for the thyroid: low-level iodine, zinc, selenium, L-tyrosine, Forskohlii extract, Guggul extract, ashwaganda. However, I would not begin these without testing to make sure your symptoms are directly thyroid, and not one of the other glands or other deficiencies.
Stress and your Reproductive Hormones
We know now that stress can negatively impact your sex hormones, leading to reduced ovulation, fertility and sex drive. Stress can decrease levels of estrogen and progesterone in women, and testosterone in men.
The goal is to treat the cause (stress!), and while you’re working on this, it doesn’t hurt to support hormone function in the body. And how you support your hormones will depend on what your goal is, or the symptoms you’re experiencing. If you aren’t sleeping, supporting progesterone can be a wonderful way to improve sleep length and quality. That might be through an actual bio-identical progesterone prescription, or through an OTC supplement like Pregnenelone, which is the bodies precursor to progesterone. We also support progesterone with herbs such as Chaste Tree and Wild Yam.
If you are hoping to become more fertile (as a woman), supporting both estrogen and progesterone can be helpful, typically with bio-identical hormone therapy. Herbs that can support estrogen also are the phytoestrogen rich foods and plants, such as flax, soy, borage oil, evening primrose oil, black cohosh and Maca. Fertility can also at times be a little more complicated, where we need to also analyze and support your liver function, gut function, hormone metabolites, and at times, other inflammatory contributors such as heavy metals and mold. Please reach out to us if this is an area of concern, we would love to help guide you!
And if sex drive is an issue, for women or men, analyzing and supporting testosterone can be amazing. While prescription testosterone therapy can be one of the quicker approaches, starting on a testosterone precursor such as DHEA can work wonders over time. (Note: please consult with your health provider before beginning any hormone therapy, as your personal and family risks also need to be taken into account)
Long-term stress can be difficult, and at times, devastating. The first step is to connect with someone. Reach out to a friend, your social support, family, counselor, or doctor. Research has found that people who connect into some form of social support have less risk of depression, and even less risk of heart disease, along with an overall better feeling of wellness. The second step is to begin with my first tips, of being present and giving gratitude. And then lastly, to begin learning about yourself – what are your hormone levels? What herbs are right for you? Do you have vitamin deficiencies that are impacting you? We would love to help you with this part!
If you or someone you know is struggling with hormone imbalance, or significant stress that is impacting daily life, please reach out to us. We focus on creating an individual, personalized plan for our patients, and would love to help you with yours.
Be well and be safe,
In health and light, Dr. Angila Jaeggli