As I finished writing my previous post, 10 Common Symptoms of Hormone Imbalance, I found myself empathizing with the reader and wondering about a feeling of overwhelm that can creep up when you start to recognize and identify with such an obscure label as "hormone imbalance." What does that mean, anyway? And how can you begin to make positive changes in your life that go beyond seeing an endocrinologist or stocking up on all the latest vitamins and supplements?
Aside from creating all of the less than fun symptoms discussed in my previous post, hormone imbalances stem from the hypothalamus and pitiutary, glands that are located in your brain. These "master glands" communicate in a beautifully orchestrated triangle with your thyroid, adrenals and ovaries (if you are female), or testes (if you are male). When does this orchestra start playing a little off key? Usually extreme or constant chronic stress creates those spikes of cortisol throughout our day that lead to a change in our physiology.
Personally, I have always preferred to do as much on my own outside of a medical practitioner's office. When I was diagnosed with a hormone imbalance I read all the books and internet articles I could find. In the end, I came up with a list of things I could do for myself, trying each one and noting how I felt in response. What follows is a list of things you can try when you don't feel well.
I often recommend this list to my patients as a way of balancing their lives and dealing with stress because of the great benefits that are seen, sometimes with lightening speed. Not to mention, all of the following will enrich your quality of being and living on this planet. In truth, some of the smallest, simplest (and often times free) things are the best ways to care for yourself and alleviate symptoms. In fact, I'm always suprised at how underrated simply taking better care of yourself can be.
1. SLEEP MORE
I just can't say enough about the importance of sleep. Increasing volumes of studies have been published recently linking sleep deprivation and insomnia to mood instability, poor cardiovascular and circulatory function, and even premature death. One of the easiest way to get more sleep is to go to bed an hour earlier each night. Create a bedtime routine to have deeper and better quality sleep. In Traditional Chinese Medicine each couple of hours has an organ pathway association. Being in bed and asleep by 11pm gives your gallbladder organ and meridian a chance to rest so you can make decisions with courage ("it takes gall to do that!") and secrete enough bile for healthy digestion and elimination. Our internal clocks are regulated by the transition from daylight to darkness, and often staring at a screen at night (which emits blue light, the same light spectrum recieved during daylight), confuses our poor pineal glands! You may find that cutting out screen time and getting to bed early increases the quality of your sleep greatly. Another way I like to get in some extra snoozes harks back to the wisdom of preschool. Yes, naps! Recent studies show a strong correlation between napping in the afternoon and cardiovascular health. Refresh yourself in the middle of your day during that natural low with a short nap. You'll be surprised at how much better you'll feel.
Every time you laugh or break into a huge grin hormones flood your system and affect your physiology. Your adrenal glands stop pumping adrenaline and take a break from relating to constant stress or worry. Basically, you (yes, you!) become a really fun party. Sometimes I'll do anything to get a good laugh for its amazing, stress relieving benefits! Try renting a funny movie, listening to some stand up comedy, or playing a silly game. Have a friend who likes to trade jokes? Call them up!
Give your cells that juiciness that that they crave! You are made of 90% water, and it is essential to keep well hydrated to maintain a normal hormone balance. Often dry lips, audibly crackly joints (called "crepitus"), dizziness when standing up suddenly, and the classic "tenting test" are tell tale signs of dehydration. Drinking more water (preferably filtered) helps you to flush out environmental toxins, avoid dehydration and boost your immune system. Grab a water bottle when you leave the house to make sure you can hydrate on the go.
You may have heard about the myriad of scientifically proven medical benefits of meditation. It takes some effort and intention to sustain a daily meditation practice, but the results can be life changing. If you can't find the time or discipline to meditate, try simply taking a couple of small breaks of 5-10 minutes during the day where you consciously take yourself away from a work environment and do nothing. Breathe, reoxygenating your whole body. Go outside and admire the flowers or sit and pet your dog or cat.
5. GIVE THANKS
Emotions affect your physiology and can often build, or spiral off of one another. Did you know that your thoughts are actually things? In order to make something happen in your life you have to think of it first. Similarly, these thoughts are like mini directions for the way your body functions at a cellular level. If you find yourself going down a path of constant and generl negativity with emotions of anxiety, worry, grief, etc. one of the best ways of shifting your thoughts is through a practice of gratitude. Gratitude helps us focus on the positive and decreases stress levels. One of the simplest practices of gratitude I can suggest is making a list of five things you are greatful for each day. Write them down, or better yet, keep a "gratitude journal." That way you can look back on your days and cultivate a positive, life affirming path.
6. CLEANSE YOUR DIET OF PROCESSED FOODS
To quote the old phrase, "Garbage in, garbage out." A diet high in processed and chemically enhanced foods doesn't give your body much to work with when activating endogenous healing processes. You literally become what you eat as the nutrients from your food are broken down and made into your tissues. Here are some tips that I follow when going to the grocery store: Shop the end of the aisles in the super market, especially the fresh produce area. Think of what your grandmother ate when she was growing up and processed foods were not as readily available. One of the best ways to eat naturally is to make your food from scratch using fresh vegetables, fruits and hormone/antibiotic free meat. Take a look at the back of your food packages. Are there any words you can't pronounce? Eating well can often require some forethought. For example prepping food ahead of time to take with you to work and play. Michael Pollan is one my favorite authors on simple principals for healthy eating.
There are so many great and widely known benefits of exercise. For example, it helps to detox the body, increases endorphins (those "happy" feelings), can help you to sleep better and feel more relaxed, and of course lose weight. Our bodies were designed to move around during the day! One of the most common misperceptions about exercise is that it has to be "hard core" to be beneficial. Actually, this is simply not true. Gentle exercise, such as walking, is very healthy and just as good for you (and certainly easier on the joints) as running! One of the ways you can tell if your exercise routine is right for you is if you feel invigorated or very tired after a workout. If you feel overly depleted then it is time to ease up and try shorter workouts, decreased frequency or a lighter way of exercising.
In many spiritual practices there is the idea that the feeling and organization of your home actually reflects the internal state of your mind and body. In Chinese traditions it is called feng shui. Often I wish I could have a sneak peak into the homes of my patients - the mood, styles and layout often say a lot about someone. However, one of the most basic ways of fostering a more peaceful and balanced life is by decluttering. There are many resources on the web to help you let go of unwanted materials. For example, take the 33 days to declutter challenge. Utlimately, a place that is simple, beautiful and functional will help you cleanse your life from extra and unneccessary stressors and focus on what's important and meaningful.
9. DO SOMETHING THAT BRINGS YOU JOY
Oh, this is so essential! It is my belief that we were each born with a kind of unique "internal design." If we all did what really satisfied us and brought a sense of wholeness and depth of being we would be much healthier. Do something that brings you joy each and every day. What fills you up? I'm not talking about surface fixes like retail therapy or addictive behaviours. Even if it's just hugging someone, try doing at least one thing every day that makes you glow.
10. GET ACUPUNCTURE
Acupuncture subtley readjusts your body to homeostatic hormone levels following the internal and self healing directions that you were born with. The needles and techniques I use in my practice facilitate an internal process to return your body to alignment, often giving an immediate sense of peace, relaxation and well being. I also find that the trust and safe space created in my clinic makes a sort of "home base" for healing. It is good to have a designated place to go where you can talk about your symptoms while receiving no judgement, work on improving your health through acupuncture, fall apart if you need to (even cry), and come away feeling heard and refreshed.
Needless to say, it is extremely important to work with your medical pracitioner to come up with a treatment plan that is uniquely tailored and right for you. Medications, vitamins, and supplements are all essential parts of the big picture in what it takes to get better and stop experiencing the symptoms of imbalance.
However, unraveling and addressing your stressors by creating peaceful spaces in and outside of your body is at the core of creating a healthier lifestyle. Practicing self care by using some of the suggestions above will be important to keep you healthy and happy in the long term.
Hopefully a few of the things I covered resonate with you. Try one out and let me know how it goes! Feel free to comment with questions, follow my blog on Bloglovin', or share with friends.
Peace, love and light,
Monica Walters, L.Ac.