Can stress be making my menopause symptoms worse?

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Can stress be making my menopause symptoms worse?

What is stress?

Stress is a natural reaction to a challenge or a demand and can be an important factor in enabling our body to respond and react appropriately to triggers. As an example, if we see or sense something that could hurt or harm us, we will run away or move away from that situation. Stress can also come from events that make you feel frustrated, nervous or angry. 

Your brain uses hormones and nerve conductions to trigger the adrenal glands to release a surge of chemicals, including cortisol and adrenaline. Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream. (MayoClinic) 

Cortisol also dampens other functions in the body so that you can deal with the ‘threat’ or ‘trigger’ for the cause of stress. It alters the immune system responses, digestive function, reproductive system and can affect growth. 

When the ‘threat’ or stress factor is removed then everything returns back to normal functioning levels. 

The problem occurs when stress becomes chronic. Chronic stress has a negative impact on our health and this is particularly apparent and significant for women going through menopause. 

Your body is not designed to be subjected to never ending stress, whether that is low level or really intense. The drip drip effect of ongoing, low level stress can be completely undetected by those going through it. Our lives today are riddled with stress and it seems to have become a ‘normal’ way of living. 

Menopause is a stressful time for many women; the emotions that can be linked to this time of change, coping with hot flashes, night sweats, lack or loss of sleep, erractic periods and so many of the other symptoms can all in themselves create stress. 

However something else is also happening which can cause damage to our brain. This is truly a simplified version but in essence when we are stressed our body, or rather the adrenal glands, will use a really important hormone called pregnenolone to produce more cortisol. Once the stress has gone, pregnenolone goes back to being used as it should be, to make progesterone, which can then be used to make oestrogen or testosterone. When we are chronically stressed, our body continues to use pregnenolone to keep up the level of cortisol needed. 

Why is this significant?

Remember those symptoms I mentioned? 

Low pregnenolone makes you irritable, but it also means less progesterone being produced so this affects sleep; less oestrogen which can give you hot flashes; your thyroid is impacted too so a slower digestion. The long term impact is an increased risk of dementia, depression and heart disease.

You can change your trajectory.

  1. Meditation, Mindfulness, Yoga.

These have been proven through research to help reduce stress and even help us to react to potential stress factors differently. 

  1. Exercise and movement.

We were designed to move and our body thrives on movement. It also helps to release ‘feel good’ chemicals and raises our heart rate, getting more oxygen into our blood too. So its great not just for stress but for heart health. 

  1. Spend time outdoors.

This can be combined with number 2. There are so many benefits to being outside, namely that we sleep better because the natural light helps to manage melatonin levels. It also means we are away from our desks or away from work situations. Unless your job involves being outside in which case a change of activity is great.

  1. Avoid highly processed foods.

These can be high in artificial transfats and sugars which can play havoc with our insulin levels and create stress in our body. Eat whole foods and a diet rich in plants and balanced with proteins, fats, fibre and complex carbohydrates. 

  1. Avoid too much caffeine or alcohol.

These can also disturb our sleep pattern and during menopause can really impact many of the symptoms. Drink good quality herbal infusions.

  1. Spend time learning something new or being creative.

This can be a great way of stimulating the brain and also reducing stress. Colouring, drawing, painting, dancing also help us to feel calmer and happier. 

Source: Mayo clinic and The XX Brain by Dr Lisa Mosconi

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