Chaos to Calm

When resilience fades: the truth about stress and perimenopause

February 23, 2024 Sarah McLachlan Episode 36
When resilience fades: the truth about stress and perimenopause
Chaos to Calm
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Chaos to Calm
When resilience fades: the truth about stress and perimenopause
Feb 23, 2024 Episode 36
Sarah McLachlan

Feeling like you're on an emotional rollercoaster? Noticing you're not coping with your usual stress level anymore? You're not alone. In this eye-opening episode, Sarah, The Perimenopause Naturopath, dives deep into the whirlpool of stress and its intensified impact during perimenopause.

🌿 What's Inside:

  • A personal journey: Sarah shares her own battle with stress, burnout, and how it reshaped her days and health. It's a real eye-opener into the things that you may be doing that are sabotaging your stress resilience and increasing your perimenopause symptoms.
  • The science: Ever wonder why stress feels different now? Why it's harder to juggle your usual workload? There's a hormonal symphony happening behind the scenes, and we're peeling back the curtain.
  • Actionable insights: Discover why your old stress-fighting arsenal needs an upgrade and what strategies truly work in harmony with your changing body.

🎧 Why listen?

  • Gain a fresh perspective on stress and its sneaky effects on your perimenopausal journey.
  • Learn to spot the signs of stress that are unique to perimenopause.
  • Walk away with practical, naturopath-approved tactics to reclaim your calm.

Sarah doesn't just talk the talk; she walks you through understanding the intricate dance between stress, hormones, and mental health, offering hope and a path forward.

Send us a question for the FAQs segment or your feedback, we’d love to hear from you.

FREEBIES:

  • Caught in a hormonal storm? The Perimenopause Decoder is the ultimate guide to understanding if perimenopause hormone fluctuations are behind your changing mood, metabolism and energy after 40, what phase of perimenopause you're in and how much longer you may be on this roller coaster for.
  • Been told your blood test results are "normal" or "fine" while you feel far from your best? It's time to dig deeper and uncover the missing piece of the puzzle. Discover the power of optimal blood test analysis with The Blood Test Decoder: Optimal Ranges for Women Over 40.

To connect with Sarah and learn more about her services, visit her website at www.theperimenopausenaturopath.com.au, follow along on Instagram at @theperimenopausenaturopath.

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Feeling like you're on an emotional rollercoaster? Noticing you're not coping with your usual stress level anymore? You're not alone. In this eye-opening episode, Sarah, The Perimenopause Naturopath, dives deep into the whirlpool of stress and its intensified impact during perimenopause.

🌿 What's Inside:

  • A personal journey: Sarah shares her own battle with stress, burnout, and how it reshaped her days and health. It's a real eye-opener into the things that you may be doing that are sabotaging your stress resilience and increasing your perimenopause symptoms.
  • The science: Ever wonder why stress feels different now? Why it's harder to juggle your usual workload? There's a hormonal symphony happening behind the scenes, and we're peeling back the curtain.
  • Actionable insights: Discover why your old stress-fighting arsenal needs an upgrade and what strategies truly work in harmony with your changing body.

🎧 Why listen?

  • Gain a fresh perspective on stress and its sneaky effects on your perimenopausal journey.
  • Learn to spot the signs of stress that are unique to perimenopause.
  • Walk away with practical, naturopath-approved tactics to reclaim your calm.

Sarah doesn't just talk the talk; she walks you through understanding the intricate dance between stress, hormones, and mental health, offering hope and a path forward.

Send us a question for the FAQs segment or your feedback, we’d love to hear from you.

FREEBIES:

  • Caught in a hormonal storm? The Perimenopause Decoder is the ultimate guide to understanding if perimenopause hormone fluctuations are behind your changing mood, metabolism and energy after 40, what phase of perimenopause you're in and how much longer you may be on this roller coaster for.
  • Been told your blood test results are "normal" or "fine" while you feel far from your best? It's time to dig deeper and uncover the missing piece of the puzzle. Discover the power of optimal blood test analysis with The Blood Test Decoder: Optimal Ranges for Women Over 40.

To connect with Sarah and learn more about her services, visit her website at www.theperimenopausenaturopath.com.au, follow along on Instagram at @theperimenopausenaturopath.

Sarah McLachlan:

Hey there, I'm Sarah McLachlan. Thanks for joining me on the Chaos to Calm podcast, a podcast designed for women over 40 who think that changing hormones might be messing with their mood, metabolism, and energy and want to change that in a healthy, sustainable, and permanent way. Each episode will explore topics related to health and wellness for women in their 40s, like what the heck is happening to your hormones, what to do about it with nutrition, lifestyle, and stress management, and inspiring conversations with guests sharing their insights and tips on how to live your best life in your 40s and beyond. So, if you're feeling like you're in the midst of a hormonal storm and don't want perimenopause to be horrific, then join me on Chaos to Calm as I share with you how to make it to menopause without it wrecking your relationships and life.

Sarah McLachlan:

Hey there, and welcome back to the Chaos to Calm podcast, episode number 36. You're with me, Sarah, the perimenopause naturopath. I feel like I'm your guide, from the chaos of perimenopause and hormone changes to the calm of knowledge and understanding and a supported, nourished body, which is really key to thriving in perimenopause. But today, we're diving into the whirlpool, that murky soup of stress and perimenopause. You know, have you ever felt like your body and your emotions are just on a never- ending rollercoaster ride up and down? Well, I can tell you that you're certainly not alone. But let's today talk about and unravel the ties between stress, your hormones in perimenopause, how to navigate these topical waters, and why it feels like in perimenopause, stress is so much harder to deal with there as well. Now, I'm going to start talking about and thinking about my lowest point. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, my days look something like this: the alarm went off at seven like there was no way to express off on my own. I felt like I'd been hit on the head, brain fog, puffy eyes, sore joints, headache, and exhaustion; I actually wondered sometimes, have I even slept? I feel worse than I did when I went to bed. I'd doze until the kids wouldn't let me anymore, and I still felt the same, maybe even a bit worse, and from what I understand about sleep these days, I know that that was actually making me feel worse. Anyway, I would drag myself out of bed, snuff at the kids, make coffee, and drink at least two cups on an empty stomach. I had no appetite, no surprise because I'd drunk so much coffee. I wouldn't have breakfast, but I would madly cur everyone to go to school. So, this was before were homeschooled. We were always late. I would be so angry about why we were late again, and I would berate them in the car or just come out in silence because my sangha was already overloaded.

Sarah McLachlan:

Once three of those four children were dispensed to school, I'd go home and sit down and have another coffee while I tried to summon the motivation to get on with my chores. I'd finally eat brunch, and it would be something high in carbs like toast with peanut butter. I really needed it to be easy, simple, and fast by then because my head was really dizzy from all that coffee and no food. Then, I felt so exhausted after eating when my youngest was napping, I'd lie down with her too. After that, we'd get up and might have something else to eat. I'd try to be good and make a green smoothie. Maybe. Try to think about dinner and get it started because I know I just wouldn't be up for it later on.

Sarah McLachlan:

Pick up the kids. We'd all be grouchy, you know. We'd talk to each other, really. We'd get home from school; they'd watch their iPads or TV so I could flop about trying to munch on my motivation and energy to get some stuff done. But the kids were reluctant to ask me for anything because the others were always so grouchy. I was so snappy.

Sarah McLachlan:

At 6 pm, I'd be like, oh, I'm so exhausted. I'd have to say, oh, look, it's 8 pm. Then I'd also have to win doing all the things while the kids are trying to get ready for bed and also feeling frustrated and worried about them because they can't do the stuff that I needed to do during the day and didn't do. 10 o'clock, I'm still up. I should go to bed, but I'm super awake. Now, chatting in Chippa with my husband, he's like, what the heck? Here's a tradie.

Sarah McLachlan:

So, let's dive in there and look at the science behind our stress response and why I, like, feel more stressed during perimenopause than when I ask what your symptoms of stress are, what do you think? You know, stress is something I talk about a lot. I think I've mentioned it in almost every episode of Chaos to Calm podcast, but it's a really vague Concept and words, you know. What does it really mean? What does it mean for our bodies, and how do you know what the symptoms of stress might be? So a stress, or is anything that your senses tell your brain, a danger to your health or your happiness? So your brain and body are quite focused on these two things that they're actually really most focused on the primal brain on three things, that is, keeping us safe and Keeping us happy and using the least amount of resources as they can to do those things. So your body's really focused on keeping you safe and avoiding stress, or stress or as there as well.

Sarah McLachlan:

So stress is used to describe the way our body adapts and responds to stress or how we feel during this process. So when there's a perceived stress, a cascade of chemical messages, your transmitters are set in motion from your brain as your body prepares you to move into that sympathetic, dominant nervous system mode fight, flight, or flee. Most notable here is an increase in cortisol and adrenaline. These are literally going to keep you upright and keep you running away from that favor to the tiger that actually, when you know obviously, that's not the stress or forest these days, but that our branches are still quite primal. So cortisol and adrenaline will really quickly alter what's going on in your body, raising your heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels. They are priming your body to be ready to run away from whatever the stress or the perceived danger. So, that part of our brain perceives that there is a danger. That sends out those chemical messages and gets us ready to do something about it.

Sarah McLachlan:

So obviously, what we're doing is that we don't have time for digestion, reproduction, or getting fit, so those things are suppressed or reduced. Our body is just not focused on those things. Now, it just happens to us all day, every day in our modern world, because, you know, our brains are designed for stress or succumb and go reasonably quickly. So it used to be the stress or with something like a wild animal chasing you. But these days, most of us, especially moms, have lots of little stressors right through the day, like 24/7, which all add up to really chronic or long-term stress and chronic activation of our stress response. But as humans, we haven't really evolved to deal with this. So we're still responding to stressors as if it's something really dangerous to our life, and that there's few and far between. So these days, though, it means that we're spending more time in flight mode and less in rest and digest mode.

Sarah McLachlan:

So, your body does try to adapt to the stressors and the level of daily stress. It really does. Our bodies are amazing, but for most people, the level of stress and the never- ending stream of it makes it almost impossible for the body to adapt and cope with these stress levels. And eventually, when this stress continues, there's exhaustion. M odern stress is super intense, and modern diets are not particularly supportive or nourishing in these times of high demand.

Sarah McLachlan:

So, thinking about stressors, I'm not just talking about the physical stress of driving and peak out traffic or maybe getting cut off and thinking, oh, I'm going to crash. It's finances, budget, interest rates, your mortgage. It's all the different tasks that come in and juggle to-do tasks; it's working and mothering and managing a household, and it's walking on eggshells around a teenager or arguing with your partner or messages constantly coming in on the phone. It's physical stressors. We have a lot more wifi and EMF around us than ever before, and we're still working out what all of those things do to us, that their stress is a lot and around us all the time. So, our human bodies are amazing. They do all that they need to every day for us, and there's a really intricate dance between all the organs, the tissues, and the cells to manage our daily energy, nutrient, and hormone needs. Our bodies make strawberries out of poo most days, absolutely. So, let's talk about what spending all this time in fight or flight mode means for your body.

Sarah McLachlan:

But I want you to understand the phases of the stress response before we move into that. So, you really need to understand what that stress response, or the cascade, is in your body. So, it is controlled in your brain and the hypothalamus. When the amygdala fear, a center or danger center of your brain, senses a threat or danger, it triggers the hypothalamus to secrete the bones and neurochemicals or messengers. So this, in turn, triggers the pituitary gland to release more chemical messengers to stimulate your adrenal glands that sit above your kidneys to make cortisol. This is called the HPA axis, and you need to remember that little hypothalamus and pituitary phylata.

Sarah McLachlan:

The initial phase of the stress response is an alarm. So, the HPA axis is ramped up to help support the body in responding to the stress. You know you might be really energized or wired. You're ready to go; you're ready to fight or run away. The second phase is called adaptation, where stress has continued for a longer time. It's chronic. Some people feel tired, agitated, irritated, and really creating stimulants in this phase. So coffee, caffeine, alcohol, sugar, your phone, and all those dopamine hits because your body's trying to make you happy. So, the HPA axis in adaptation is under pressure to regulate and maintain the stress response, and we aren't actually designed to sit in that phase for a long period of time. So when you keep pushing, and the stress continues, the final phase of the stress response is exhaustion, and I bet there's lots of you there right now. At this point, you're going to feel really extreme fatigue. Your HPA axis is actually down-regulated, so your cortisol levels drop because it can't just keep doing it for you at this time, and that can make you feel really lethargic and down.

Sarah McLachlan:

So you might be thinking, well, how long are these phases? Well, that's a really good question, but it depends on you, your body, your genes, your personal capacity, your resources to cope, and your stress loss. So, what are the symptoms of stress you might be confused about? Well, how do I even know if it's stress impacting me? So, just like stress is a really vague term, the symptoms of stress can be really vague, or a lot of them that we might attribute to stress.

Sarah McLachlan:

So it's important to remember that the hypothalamus and pituitary that regulate your stress response in the brain also look after your kidneys, your ovaries, and your thyroid. And so I hope you can see where I'm going with this because things like unexplained weight gain, especially around the belly and the middle, the T changes in your blood pressure, maybe a sudden onset of period pain or intense PMF, shorter or longer or heavier cycles, maybe your thyroid is starting to look a bit different on your blood tests and maybe it's slowing down. Maybe you've got more hair falling out. The skin might be feeling dry, your mood might be changing, and feeling slow, lethargic, and depressed. So when the HPA access is dysregulated, there's also going to be dysregulation in those other organs that it looks after. Your brain is brilliant, it really is, but it just isn't ready for life as we live now.

Sarah McLachlan:

Technology moves quickly. I mean, we only need to look back at using our childhood. Most of us can probably remember when the internet came in, when computers became a thing, when we moved from cassettes to CDs, and now we stream music. So our lives move quickly, and so does technology, but our human body evolves relatively slowly, and it's still trying to get used to things that were introduced to us in the 70s and 80s, like margarine, emulsifiers, additives, preservatives, and other delights, but in industrialisation. So it's a lot for our bodies to adapt. Our bodies can be slow to adapt, but modern life moves very quickly.

Sarah McLachlan:

So there are plenty of symptoms of stress that also come from cortisol, from higher or low cortisol as well, rather than the upregulation or the increased activity in the illness and the treated gland, which increases the stimulation to your ovaries and kidneys and thyroid. As I said, some of the general effects of cortisol include changes to your neurotransmitter levels, especially serotonin, dopamine, and your happiness molecules, and that can increase anxiety. Panic attacks change your mood, make your mood lower, and remember that I said your brain always just wants to keep you safe and happy. So, changes in your neurotransmitter levels can lead to more cravings for things and addiction, obsessive- compulsive disorders, as well as alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and digital technologies. You know, scrolling to get those dopamine hits is a very real side effect in consequence of too much stress and high cortisol levels.

Sarah McLachlan:

So, also chronic long-term increases in cortisol can change your brain and change the size of the things called endrites and neurons in your brain, which do the transmitting of information and form part of your memory, cognitive function, your mood. They can accelerate aging as well. And because there is more metabolic waste, because cortisol increases catabolism and increases your muscle metabolism, it will break down as well to draw resources from it there as well. It's very demanding in nutrients and energy for the stress response. So because there is more metabolic waste, that comes as a side effect. The product of that is more inflammation. Your blood glucose levels are higher, the body becomes more acidic, and minerals like calcium are drawn from your bones to help keep your blood pH balanced. So this means that bone mass is reduced, and there's an even higher risk for osteoporosis than what they normally are in women going through from perimenopause to menopause. So this is serious stuff. We really need to do something about it because it has long-term consequences for our health and well-being.

Sarah McLachlan:

I mentioned that there's reduced digestive function in chronic stress, and I have a couple of blogs about that as well. So, if you want to go, check out Stress and Gut Health and my tips to support digestion during stress. I also mentioned that your immune function can be altered. Cortisol suppresses your immune system because, hey, you don't have time to get sick when you're busy battling those bees. But if that goes on for a while, then actually, it loses that impact, and the immune system kind of strikes back. It's back up and out, and it is quite misguided. So, you might find new allergies and autoimmune diseases developing. They're really the hallmarks of an immune system that's been suppressed too long and has gone a bit wacky. So again, you can read more about my personal experience with stress, allergies, and autoimmune disease in my blog, Autoimmune Disease and Stress. And it's a really common tale. A lot of women might not realise they're in perimenopause or might not realise the impact that stress and perimenopause are having on them and develop a lot of new allergies or autoimmune diseases.

Sarah McLachlan:

Now for pain, menopausal, and menopausal women. When the adrenal glands are flat- out making quarters all in a drawing for you, they're less able to make estrogen, and we need them to do that. As our ovaries flow their production, they make a little, just, you know, just enough to keep ourselves happy. Because the cells in our brain are really addicted to estrogen and really rely on it to function, and that's part of the reason that we get lots of symptoms as we move towards menopause because our cells are really struggling to adapt to the change in hormone levels, and that's, you know, like my job. What I help my clients do is help their bodies, and we support and nourish their bodies so that they can better adjust and get used to that lower estrogen state. Yeah, so with lower estrogen, you're less likely to ovulate and make progesterone, which is your built-in stress- relief hormone. So you're more likely to feel the side effects of meno p ause, with hot flushes, sweats and insomnia, weight gain, all of that sort of thing From the lower estrogen state. But you're also less likely to be able to cope with the stressors in your life because you are in a lower progesterone state.

Sarah McLachlan:

And if you want to know more about estrogen or progesterone, go right back to the start of the podcast, and I've got an episode on each of those hormones individually. So are you thinking like, well, does stress make perimenopause worse, or does perimenopause make stress worse? Wow, a bit of both. So, if you're experiencing all the classic symptoms of menopause but you still have a semi- regular cycle, your symptoms are likely due to your body being more sensitive to stress, and this is what perimenopause can make you more sensitive to stress, but also that high cortisol and adrenaline can change your hormone fluctuations there as well and make more symptoms of Perimenopause for you there as well. So you know what comes first: chicken or the egg. You know your body's got that new management in place, and things are going to be different in there as well.

Sarah McLachlan:

So, I guess my message for you here is that if you've been bearing the mental load for your family, you're carrying your team at work, you're trying to manage everything from grocery shopping to getting the oranges cup for your Saturday sports that this is going to get too much. It's going to be too much for you, and this is something you know. It's going to impact your hormones, all that stress, cortisol, and adrenaline. It's going to increase the fluctuations that naturally happen as part of perimenopause. It's going to impact your period, how you feel, and your symptoms, even if you may not be in perimenopause. You know, in your late 30s or early 40s, maybe you're in very early perimenopause, maybe not quite there yet, but you might feel confused because your cycle is changing. Maybe it's getting longer or scantier or starting to disappear; maybe you're skipping some periods here and there because of the stress levels in your life. So all right, now I know, you want to do something about it, of course. So you understand the symptoms of stress. You understand a bit about what's going on or why life feels more stressful. Now, what are you going to do about it? I want you to think about what symptoms of stress you have and when they start. That's a good place to start.

Sarah McLachlan:

Have you got recent blood tests? Can you compare them to older ones? This will help you get an idea of what's changing in your body and some early warning signs there. Naturopaths, you know, like me, have changed in reading and analyzing your blood test from a functional perspective. So, really using the different markers that we have To see the patterns in your body and what's changing there as well, so we can look at your basic biochemistry and see how well your systems and organs in your body are coping, and then you know, rather than having to wait until your results are out of that very wide normal range that pathology labs use, I use a narrow range that's based around your optimal health and body function, and this gives us the opportunity for preventative care. It also gives us the opportunity to see when things are getting out of range before we have to wait until we're really unwell and feeling really crappy. So, I've got the blood test decoder as a freebie on my website. Download it, look at your blood test results, and see what messages your body is already giving you there.

Sarah McLachlan:

The other thing I want you to do is support and know your body during this time. I've stressed this, so you know the most obvious thing that we can do, the biggest thing that's impacting our bodies, is our lifestyle and adjusting that, and I know it also feels like the hardest thing too, but you've really got to do it Okay, for your happiness and your health, but also your family as well. So I've got lots of blogs about avoiding stress and with tips in there as well, but one of my favourites is actually saying no. So practice. You know, I get my clients to practice and rehearse phrases in their head if they need to so they can say no confidently and without guilt and think about their boundaries. What is it that they can do? Like realistically, what can you do and what do you need to get rid of or delegate or, you know, move out of your life in some way?

Sarah McLachlan:

So I wonder if, in the next two weeks, you can say no to tasks or activities or outings that you don't really want to do because they're going to make more work or stress for you, and let me know how you go. I really want to know that. Yeah, and, like I said, one of the things that I do with my clients is really help them understand the messages from their body, what it's telling them, what it's saying and what it needs, and helping them provide that, because that's what it's all about is helping your body adjust to those changing hormone levels. We can't change the fluctuations, or we can't change that we're going to get to menopause because we are, but we can help our body adjust as it goes so we get less of those symptoms and just feel better and great again there as well. So, I hope you understand now the link between stress and perimenopause and vice versa. You're underlying that in terms of your biochemistry, like what's going on and why it can feel like you can't cope with stress as much.

Sarah McLachlan:

I've given you that challenge there, so do make sure that you let me know how you go with saying no. I'd love to hear about it. And don't forget the free resources and the links in my blogs. I will pop those in the show notes. I do hope that you'll join me again. Next time, we'll be talking about perimenopause and sleep massive. I'm not sure how I'm going to cover that all in one podcast episode. In just being that, I have to do a couple of there as well. For now, though, I really appreciate you tuning in and listening to me on the Chaos to Calm podcast. Thank you so much for sharing your time with me today. I do believe that there, and I hope that you can remember, you're not alone on this journey, and until next time, please keep seeking balance and calm amidst the chaos.

Sarah McLachlan:

It's really common for women over 40 to experience the chaos of changing hormones, mood, metabolism, and energy. But I hope you know now that common doesn't have to equal normal for you or them. You can help others understand they aren't alone in feeling this way. That perimenopause doesn't have to be horrific by subscribing, leaving a review, and sharing this podcast with other women in their 40s and beyond. Thanks so much for listening and sharing your time with me today in this chaos to calm conversation.

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