In my early forties, plagued by the stress of being a business woman, raising 2 teens, and facing my own health issues, I came face to face with the reality of being at a serious low point in my life. Nothing was working right. I was in physical pain, emotional trauma, and unrelenting stress with demands on me from all directions. I struggled to understand how I got myself into that predicament, and then began to act on the conclusion that things had to change radically. It was very clear that what I had been doing was not working! This was very difficult to admit as a practitioner in holistic and preventive health … for other people!
One of my initial and profound steps was to come to grips with how much stress was driving my life out of control. It was sapping my energy and my ability to think clearly and make good decisions. It was depressing my immune system, causing me to be more prone to physical symptoms of aches and pains, digestive upsets (to the point of a serious medical diagnosis), insomnia, weight gain, and moodiness/ depression.
I had become one of the 75-80% of women who suffer from impaired function of their adrenal glands, ranging in various patterns from mild to serious.
Mine was the “more serious”. And it was due to stress! My adrenal glands were at times putting out too much stress hormone and then too little to support me, eventually causing my troublesome symptoms.
Whether we are in “fight or flight,” stressed constantly by the go, go, go that life can present, or just stressed by joy or terror – the body is rallied into an emergency state with increased production of adrenaline and cortisol. Each and every challenge to the mind and body makes demands on the adrenal glands.
Cortisol, the most common hormone produced in response to these challenges, helps us deal with stress when it is secreted in appropriate amounts and when the adrenal glands are given a chance to relax after the stressful event so that the cortisol level is allowed to normalize. But if the adrenal glands perceive the stress to be continuous, they will burn out over time. If that happens at mid-life, it will cause the body to have particular difficulty in producing the sex hormones that are required for healthy balance in our bodies. This becomes especially problematic as women enter into peri-menopause and menopause, when they need to prevent extreme sex hormone fluctuations. This is simply not possible when the adrenal glands are all stressed out!
One of the first things I addressed was my eating habits.
Was I eating at the right times of the day to support my adrenals? Was I eating the right kinds of foods? Was I getting mostly low glucose response foods and avoiding the foods I knew I was sensitive to – gluten and dairy? Was I eating a healthy breakfast with protein and not going long periods without eating? Avoiding sugars?
Not surprisingly, the answers to those questions showed me that I needed to make drastic changes – not just for the short term but as real life-style changes that would become my new way of life, my new “normal”. I took cooking classes and nutrition courses that focused on the findings in the latest research. And, I really started practicing what I preached!!
My lifestyle changes did not stop with my eating habits, though. I knew that it was vital for me to face the stress in my life if I was to regain the joy of life I once had. That was when I learned the real benefits of yoga, meditation, and many other practices that supported my learning new methods to respond to what was happening around me. Exercise and deep breathing practices took on a new importance as I learned to use my body to help me redirect my energy into more effective and less destructive ways of responding.
With the personal help I received in private sessions from various healing practitioners, I learned to set better boundaries, heal my past traumas, and resolve lingering emotional experiences – all of which are potential stressors in our lives and have been shown to have a negative impact on our health and well-being.
Progress was slow at times, but with the healing support from my deepest self, the gifted healers I frequented, my family and friends, and certainly the divine, I was able to move out of the depleted and dysfunctional place I had gone into and regain a foundation of balanced health and vitality. It’s not a static place by any means!!! There are times when I fall off the wagon even now, but I don’t wait as long to get myself back into sanity and to take concrete steps toward balance again. One reason is that the effects of those misadventures are immediate and make a big impact on how I feel and function – not a place I want to be in!
Even when I first started working with women on balancing their hormones at mid-life, I knew that sex hormones were just a part of what we need to balance and heal at this dynamic time in our lives. You may have wondered at times why we need all the areas I focus on in treatment.
Remember, we are like an orchestra where the complete potential sound is never experienced by hearing only one instrument play perfectly. Everything in our body is linked together.
If we follow good nutrition principles, it benefits our whole body/mind system. If we practice balanced response to stress, it also affects our whole being. The sex hormones we use affect everything else.
That is why, as my practice has gotten more and more busy, I have chosen to invite respected and qualified professionals to join me so that you can utilize their skills too as you make the changes in your life that support your good health now and in the future. I hope you will join Lizzie and Marsha for their cutting-edge informational series of 3 talks in January, February, and March. You’ll get practical information and tools that you can use immediately to create transformative changes for your health and life enjoyment.
At this happy and joyful holiday season, give yourself the gift of self-care and self-love.
Not in a narcissistic way, but in a way that makes you a better person, makes you a healthier and happier individual who is better able to share your gifts with the world! More empowered to give and receive love.
Blessings to us all!
Jane Kennedy, CFNP, MN, MPH