An Anxious Mind
I've Had Lots of Reasons to Feel Anxious Over The Years But This Is Next Level
Hormonal anxiety has become an entirely exhausting exercise in my life and I know for some of you Gals out there, it can be debilitating. I've had many reasons since childhood to experience anxiety and I know I did in fits and starts as a young child but I don't view my younger years as being riddled with it. Maybe I experienced anxiety, you know, during seasons of remarkable life changes, like going through a divorce, or mentally revisiting old traumas, but no one ever suggested it to me nor was I diagnosed with it. Over the last year, however, whoa Nelly! Anxiety (actually, I'm fond of calling her Bellatrix Lastrange, after the infamously cruel character Harry Potter and crew come to know), likes to settle in right beside me on the couch and whisper sweet sadisms in my ear about all the many things I should feel stressed and worried about. She loves encouraging me to focus, with an ample dose of fear, on whatever may come to mind over the course of an entire day, bless her heart. And, while she's at it, she'll carry on through the night, because what's the difference, why ease up at bedtime? If she's feeling especially needy for my attentions, nighttime really is the right time. Anxiety is kind of a jerk and, well, I don't like her a bit.
Certainly, the national and global climate are anxiety producing. So, of course this factor cannot be ignored but really, my anxiety began prior to the last 6 months and I can feel that it's really hormones. Since perimenopause began for me over 5 years ago, I can tell when something is largely hormone related because it comes and goes, swinging high and low and then dipping out of Dodge leaving a wake in it's trail. There's no sustained tension here, I'm just all over the place. Fun, huh?
Here's one thing I know: estrogen and anxiety are connected. If you are estrogen dominant, it's more likely than not that you're also experiencing a good deal of anxiety during these years. Another thing I know for sure: anxiety is a symptom of other things going on inside the body, and although it's easy to point solely toward hormones, there's sure to be more to it. Listen, I'm all about real talk. I don't want to make things more complicated for you. Feeling better should feel supportive and gentle! It's the lack of those two things that helped get us here in the first place, right? So, read on and hopefully these little tidbits of information will provide some gentle, supportive clarity.
One thing to consider: Adrenal chaos. I don't think that's a real term, I just made it up. But your adrenal glands are real and they're sensitive to stress. We all know that fight, flight (or freeze) concept, right? There's a threat, real or perceived, and we react to it in an instant. The problem is that these real or perceived threats take a toll on our hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA). The HPA axis is a complex relationship between two parts of the brain (the hypothalamic and pituitary glands) and the adrenal glands, which sit near the kidneys. Think of this Axis as a kind of regulator for the body's nervous system and hormonal system and when it is off kilter, watch out! Your susceptibility to feel, among other things, run down and excessively nervous goes way up. And, of course, we all know, our exposure to "threats," or stressors, are everywhere in our lives: at work, in our homes, in our relationships, on the news, in our bank accounts, while driving our cars or in trying to meet any number of daily responsibilities. Should our internal regulator to determine threatening situations be taxed over time, well, making even the simplest of decisions can feel overwhelming. When faced with chronic fight or flight responses, the HPA axis throws off the balance of stress hormones like cortisol, DHEA and progesterone, and when these hormones are out of whack, you may find that not only do you feel anxiety, but also be frustrated by belly weight gain, fatigue, joint pain and depression, to name a few.
Here's another thing to think about: Inflammation can also disrupt the delicate function of the HPA axis; and as the system remains in an imbalanced state, inflammation increases, further disrupting the integrity of HPA axis, which then continues to increase inflammation. It's an obnoxious cycle.
And finally, there's my favorite thing to consider: The health of your gut. Man-oh-man, is the gut critical or what?! More and more we learn that just about everything the body and mind goes through can be traced back to the strength and health of the colon! If there's inflammation in the gut, there is no way there is NOT inflammation affecting your brain and all other bodily systems. Leaky gut, food sensitivities, yeast over growth (candida), even parasites can contribute to inflammation and you know what feeds all of these things and makes matters worse? Say it with me now, you've heard it from me so much...crappy food!! Sugar, poor quality fats (like vegetable oils), processed junk food, alcohol, gluten, blah, blah, I know you're sick of me and my constant repetitive droning on this subject. But it's true! I'll never stop my bellyaching about this, ha! You know what happens when the gut and brain are inflamed? You start to feel in the mind as badly as you may feel in the body. You are likely to be more irritable, short-tempered and hostile, depressed and stressed out! In short, anxious.
So here's the thing: in order to get your mind and body into it's healthfully balanced state, all the players need to find their way back onto a level playing field. There's an inside/outside approach that needs to be utilized in order to address both the external stressors (the things of life) and the internal stressors (the things we consume). Hormones (estrogen and progesterone) and the adrenal glands need lots of TLC. Your mind and body need time and support to trust that there is no tiger standing in the way of you and your next step. Like so much else, this means an approach that does not focus on the parts but rather on the whole, simultaneously. Both the mind and the body need to get on the wagon and play nicely together. Here are some things I'm doing lately to get my anxiety tempered and heal my HPA axis:
Exercise: Move those muscles, Girlie. Lift, stretch, dance, walk, skate, swim, squeeze and push your body. Release tension, focus your mind, decrease cortisol, move energy out of yourself. It helps.
Food: I know, you're shocked to hear me bring this up, ha! Real food optimizes every system and bodily function there is. Hormone function, gut integrity and brain chemistry are all up-regulated by real food, not stuff that's most frequently sold in boxes and bags. Shop the perimeter of the market, put lots of colors in your basket, make it organic, grass-fed, wild-caught and pasture-raised as much as possible. Dial up plant consumption.
Yoga/Meditation: I'm re-upping my yoga practice and hoping I don't end up making it a competition with myself! What is that?! I did that years ago and ended up getting hurt. Now, my approach has a different intent. I want to use that time on the mat to get centered, S.T.R.E.T.C.H. my muscles and honestly lay down in Shavasana a few times a week. It cannot be understated that the consumption of food and drink is not all we "take in." We also consume sound, images (take a break from the news!) and the energy of others around us. All of these things can be a lot for an already vulnerable system. Be intentional about removing yourself from those stressors you know heighten your anxiety and, if you can, carve out some time and space to calm the mind, calm the body, decrease inflammation and help balance all systems. I'm still trying to get into meditation...I think I'm too anxious! Ha! I'll keep at it. We should try it together! Yeah, baby.
Gut Focus: Sigh, here we go again, right?! But, I know I'm in need of an overhaul. There are lots of experts, of all kinds, who believe that detoxes, cleanses, whatever you want to call them, are bunk. That is to say, baloney. I'm not one of them, but I've also done several and have reaped the rewards. I'm not looking at balancing hormones and repairing my HPA axis as a detox or cleanse, but rather a time to fine tune. I eat really well, but alcohol is now out for me and that will help a lot. Alcohol is inflammatory and also a depressant. Not helpful when you're trying to temper anxiety. Support the healing of your gut with an array of plant foods, increase fiber, decrease refined sugar and refined foods, consume bone broth and fermented foods like sauerkraut and kombucha. Think anti-inflammatory, good bacteria food. Again, stay away from refined sugar. Start there. Diets high in processed grains and sugars can lead to serious hormonal swings. In addition, diets like this feed yeast, bad bacteria, and pathogens in the gut. If you're a frequent user of pain relievers you may consider taking a break from NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen which can cause damage to the intestinal lining.
Supplements: Find a good probiotic. I'm currently using Mega Sporebiotic which aims to "recondition" the gut; it's like an overhaul rather than a bandaid. Also, consider taking Glutalomine for enhanced gastrointestinal support. This supplement helps to heal the mucosal lining of the colon, closing those fissures that over time have worn away the integrity of the colon and caused what's known as "leaky gut." If you need another reason to stop consuming refined sugar, know that sugar contributes to leaky gut, as do vegetable oils.
Caffeine: Boooooo!!! I'm so not about this one, I can't lie! I love me some caffeine! But, perhaps me love it a bit too much? It's not just coffee for me, it's also a pre-workout supplement that tastes good and makes me feel all zip-a-dee-doo-dah before I get my sweat on. Caffeine consumption has become more than what's reasonable for me and so.......fine, fine, okay, I'll get a grip.
Let me know if you have questions or could use some recommendations for supplements, superfoods or workouts. I'd love to help do what I can to temper your anxieties.