I've gone around in a very big circle over the last 6 years... but that's okay. 6 years ago I was destressing from my previous full time career, I'd already been a qualified therapist for 10 or so years but now I was going full-time self-employed; excited, nervous, brave, naive and knackered! I spent the first year setting up my business but being kind to myself, knowing it would take time and that I was going to have fall out of stress from the previous job, plus a horrendous kitchen refit added into the mix that took up 6 months of that year. Then a year on from that I was an emotional mess, but just in the nick of time I found out I was probably menopausal and that this was the cause of all my symptoms. I felt immediately better knowing I wasn't mad, I wasn't depressed and I had the tool kit to resolve this myself. Now at 51 and symptom free I'm still perimenopausal. Why then was I in such a mess 6 years ago, and now I'm not? Were my symptoms caused by stress or perimenopausal? How can you tell the difference? Today I uncover this in my Perimenopause blog: The stress link!
Perimenopause blog: The stress link!
I saw a post on instagram the other week by one of my menopause peer's and she was writing in support of another menopause specialist who'd been shouted down for talking about stress being the underlying cause of symptoms, she was told to go learn about hormones; why was this?
There is one hormone that links perimenopause to stress - it's cortisol - the stress hormone.
When we talk about stress, we have to know what cortisol is doing to your body, and how high cortisol levels suppress progesterone. High cortisol IS stress, which also causes low progesterone which then leaves a high level of oestrogen, making you out of balance. This IS the time period that we now call Perimenopause. You still have periods, they could be longer or heavier than you've ever experienced before, and you have a list of other symptoms that makes you feel like you're going mad and you're certainly not yourself and you don't know how to get back to you.
Do you have any of the following:
I categorise these symptoms as perimenopausal but wait, they can happen post menopausal too! And look - no hot flushes! So how is this in anyway related to menopause, is it stress-related, and why do I say they are cold symptoms?
Why do I call these cold symptoms?
I group symptoms according to my chinese medicine principles (TCM). The very first thing I did when I sat down and looked at the 34 symptoms of the menopause was to sort out the jumbled mess, deciding whether they were hot or cold. This is the first thing you do with any symptom set. I've filtered out the heat symptoms like hot flushes and night sweats; that doesn't mean they can't happen to you but they are less likely at this stage of the perimenopause in my experience.
I call them cold symptoms because in your body the trigger is cold, they all benefit from being warmed up. You may have experienced cold flushes, or you may feel cold all the time. In TCM the kidney energy governs how warm you feel, how energised and lively you are and when the kidney energy is under duress you feel it as anxiety and cold, dull headed and tired. In western terms this is stress in the body, which can be entirely separate from feeling stressed; a state of mind.
This means we need to talk about stress as a physical entity as well an emotional one, how they are linked, how you can have one without the other, and what that has to do with the state of your perimenopause.
Perimenopausal or stressed?
Women are wondering whether they are perimenopausal in their late 30s when their career is at it's peak, women ask me if having a baby can make them perimenopausal, exhausted fitness instructors contact me with this list of symptoms, and when I ask women: have you had a major stress or trauma in the last 18 months? Most say yes. What is the connection?
The connection is stress.
6 years ago when I was destressing (or so I thought) from my previous career I wasn't feeding my body anything that it needed; I didn't know there was such a thing. I thought that resting, having my regular shiatsu, not being in that environment daily and not thinking that way anymore was enough to heal me but it wasn't. It was a start, I was working on mental stress but I had replaced one type of stress for another and not realised it. My body was taking on more and more physical stress, which I didn't know existed.
I stumbled on the thought that I maybe menopausal, (which was weird as I never had a hot flush and my periods were regular), it was a blessing and saved me from myself. It set me on the path to relieving all the symptoms I had. If I hadn't had taken this path I wouldn't have questioned what I could do about it, and I certainly wouldn't have started taking supplements. I dread to think what state I would be in now, I know I would have had to have done something, but in my mind I was slowly destressing and not linking physical symptoms in my body to this.
To answer the question was I perimenopausal or stressed? I would answer now, 6 years later that my body was in extreme stress. I wasn't truly peri because my periods were regular. I was in a hormonal mess though due to the stress my body was in; it was triggering this symptom set under the label Perimenopause. I'm still peri 6 years later but with no symptoms, so it's reversible, but you can see why it can be confusing as to whether it's Peri or Stress.
It is therefore best not to try and split these apart, and other conditions such as Fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, post partum, grief and many more are also difficult to separate. This is because all these conditions, plus any fluctuation in hormones are causing stress AND stress causes the imbalance of hormones. The two go hand-in-hand, they can't be extricated from one another and you can find yourself stuck in a catch 22 situation symptomatically and not have a clue how to get out of the quagmire. This is where I help!
Do you handle stress really well?
Earlier I said there are two states of stress, physical and emotional and that women may feel awful but not feel stressed. That's okay, once you understand that there is physical stress in your body it's good not to feel emotionally stressed, that's really helpful, but you do need to acknowledge that something in your life is creating the stress in your body, and this is then triggering a large symptom set that you are experiencing.
You may not feel stressed but you're crying at everything/everyday (see last months blog). This was me around two years before I really registered that I was in a bad way. I think I only registered it when I found out my best friend had terminal cancer, that caused an almighty stress. She had the same diagnosis as my dad, he lasted 6 months, so I lived in fear that her time was short. She managed an incredible 4 and 1/2 years but in all that time I was waiting for her to die. This was when I registered that on top of my job this was a stress. I was given very clear signs in my life that I was stressed BUT I was from the school of I handle stress really well, and I carried on.
The women that I meet are exactly the same; keep calm and carry on doesn't mean keep quiet and carry on; which is what we tend to do. Women who experience a lot of anxiety may actually resolve their symptoms quicker because they are registering their stress, it is manifesting as anxiety. A woman that has brain fog and achy joints, but doesn't have anxiety will keep pushing on, just thinking it's something you put up with. Can you see the difference?
I think I was in the latter camp and I wonder how far I would have pushed on IF I hadn't had been in a talk that happened to be about menopause (as I wouldn't have gone to it). I found a lot of alarm bells and light bulbs started firing during that talk; I consider that a VERY LUCKY DAY IN MY LIFE!
So the question to you is:
How much longer are you going to keep pushing your body if you now know your symptoms are stress related?
The likelihood is that these symptoms are not going to get better by themselves. Stress in the body requires physical intervention. Nutrition in food and supplementation, herbal supplements and energetic therapies that switch your body into a resting state plus a mindset change are needed. Accumulatively these can switch your body back into a truly resting state; this is the state that you can heal in. This state destresses you, and this in turn relieves perimenopausal symptoms (and allows your hormones to rebalance!)
Deal with stress and you deal with your perimenopause symptoms
I mentioned earlier the stress hormone cortisol, this is one of the primary hormones produced by the adrenals, along with adrenalin. The adrenals also produce sex hormones progesterone and oestrogen when these start to dwindle in your ovaries. However your adrenals are designed to create cortisol before sex hormones so if you're producing a lot of it you're suppressing the production of the hormones you really need as you enter your hormonal transition. Survival before reproduction, it's your body's basic mechanism to live. Have you lost your libido by any chance?
Lower your cortisol levels by feeding it and you start to feel better. Stop your body from always producing cortisol and your progesterone and oestrogen levels will pick up; and you'll have a far healthier menopause. It's the same as that story: give a man a fish he'll eat for a day, teach him to fish and he'll eat for life.
I think stress needs to have a rebranding! It's a negative word, with negative connotations and people are a little bit scared of dealing with it but everyone thinks you need to say / stay stressed because that's the norm for being in your 40s.
Find me a woman who's 40 something that also says: Hey I'm relaxed and have plenty of 'me' time, and I don't have symptoms. They do exist but I bet you they have a fortunate lifestyle, whereas you with your symptoms are the frazzled, always tired, that's just life, mum/daughter, career woman/ home maker, on the go, doesn't get enough sleep type.... am I right?
How do I deal with stress then?
Answer: lots of little tweaks in your life.
It can be done very successfully with just a hint of patience and a pinch of openmindedness! It can be done in small steps; the point of removing stress inch by inch is not to create overwhelm.... or stress.
The first thing to know is that stress requires a LOT OF NUTRITION to help cortisol do its job and then dissipate. If you're just about to say I eat well... hang on!
If you have symptoms like being awake at 4am, crying easily, brain fog, cold flushes, emotional stress, grief, anxiety, easily overwhelmed, you don't have enough nutrition however good your diet is. You'll need nutritional supplements.
The second thing is to reassess your exercise regime. High intensity exercise causes more stress! If you like those adrenal rushes cortisol is released at the same time, you can't have one without the other. Switch in Yoga, QI Gong, Mediation, therapeutic breathing all of these techniques will aid rejuvenation in your body.
Resolve anxiety as it keeps you stuck in a catch 22 cycle. I have a simple guide for this, a 2 part 30 minute videos and guide that will help you reframe what anxiety is and exactly how to combat it. Grab it here!
Self care is the next step, yes it's trickier to know where to start but if you've been pushing in rich nutrition for a couple of weeks you'll be starting to sleep better, feel better and be ready to set some boundaries. Pause and think before saying yes, look at and reprioritise what's going on in your life. Create some me time and get some therapeutic rejuvenation going on. If you only say yes to things you really want to do /care about you can create more time in your day/week; use this time well.
"We have a finite amount of energy to spend every day before becoming exhausted. Mindfulness helps you use your energy wisely. Spending it on situations, people, and causes that bring you the most joy, meaning, and peace."
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Learn to be more selfish - this is selfcare!
An impossible ask for the average woman going through menopausal transition!
Asking you to put yourself first I know is a tough dilemma for most women, however I see it simply - you are the rock in the lives of your family, if you crumble, who will support them?
Investing in yourself means you will be more resilient, robust and energised for the years to come and be able to support your loved ones without being burnt out and ill.
I shouldn't have to justify to you why you should spend some time, money and energy on yourself, but I know you will want to justify it to yourself.
I could try for hours to convince you of your own self worth (for your own health and happiness) but until you've had that chat with yourself about it there is nothing me or anyone else can do to help you. Stress starts within, I know as I spent decades of my life living this way!
It was only when I thought I was menopausal and decided I had enough symptoms that warranted me to take action that I found the answers that I needed to resolve my symptoms. I don't care about labels but I do care about my health now and in the long term.
Get the right help to alleviate your symptoms
Don't put up with stress in your body causing your symptoms, don't let emotional stress pull you under. Don't define yourself as perimenopausal and suffering, don't put up with your debilitating symptoms and don't just try and carry on because that's just what people do.
Do what is right for you.
All your symptoms are resolveable.
Resolve your symptoms and feel far more energised and happier too!
Hey, get your sex life back too! I forgot to mention libido is totally surpressed by stress :(
Discover the multitude of options from Andrea at Cotswold Menopause which can help you through your menopause transition to relieve your symptoms naturally and effectively. Explore the spectrum of choices ranging from budget-friendly self-empowerment resources and immersive programs to tailor-made, exclusive support. Explore and embrace a variety of solutions curated just for you here