“Hey friend! It’s been a while since I’ve checked in with you. How are things?”
“Hey! Yeah it has, I’ve been sooo busy! To be honest, my energy has been off lately, I’m always waking up tired and having problems sleeping too. Ughh, it feel very lame saying this, but it seems like life never slows down.”
For women, stress levels across the board have never been higher - four times higher than our male counterparts.
“Sounds like you could use a break, anything I can do for you?”
“Now that you mention it, the one thing I could really use right now is….less stress, please?”
The unfriendly side of stress - wired & tired
Chronic stress elevates our cortisol levels (one’s fight and flight hormones), it also lowers a woman's ability to produce estrogen and progesterone, and the super feel good hormone that we don’t value enough, oxytocin. Stress levels for women have been on the rise, and according to Dr. John Gray, author of "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus,” reports that in response to stress, women's cortisol levels today are four times higher than men. Our heightened stress levels over time have been linked to some pretty unfriendly stuff:
- digestive issues
- chronic inflammation
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- and dare we say it, cancer
Stress and your hormones
While relevant for all stages of life, stress induced hormone fluctuations are particularly difficult for those women in mid-life who are transitioning into menopause. When stress levels are high and frequent, the adrenal glands, very small grape-sized endocrine glands located above the kidneys, work in overdrive, and when pushed too far, can respond by shutting off. Without cortisol, our ability to cope with stress and our health can go downhill fast. Adrenal fatigue is linked with extreme fatigue particularly in the morning, depression, brain fogginess and other menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, dizziness, sleep issues, weight gain around the middle, visible hair thinning and hair loss.
Adrenal fatigue comes in stages, and it's important to understand these signs and to take action sooner than later. The issues you may be experiencing will not get any better by ignoring them, and no you are not crazy -- relief is available to us, but action is required.
While this article is meant to bring awareness to a very complicated issue, it is not meant to diagnose or treat a medical condition, so hear this now: taking time for self-care is critical in dealing with the negative side-effects of stress, to allow our minds and body to fully restore and heal, and bring things back into balance!
Stress and hair loss
My hair too? Yes indeed, your stress levels are taking a toll on that naturally curly head of yours. In the NaturallyCurly writer Janelle Sands explains:
“Stress increases the production of five hormones. Growth hormone from the pituitary gland, thyroxin from the thyroid gland, adrenaline from the adrenal medulla, glucocorticoids from the adrenal cortex, and glucagon from the pancreas. When these hormones increase, blood sugar levels increase taking the body to a diabetic state (hyperglycemia). When stress continues in the body for too long, all these hormones decrease. This takes the body to a hypoglycemic state, also known as low blood sugar. Both hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia cause diffuse hair loss.”
Why is our stress so high?
You would think with our modern conveniences and technology our stress levels as women would be lower than ever. Why are they four times higher than our male counterparts? In essence, we are taking on more responsibility, with a lot less support. Many of us are single parents, commuting and working long hours, we stress and worry about finances, relationships, health, going back to school, you name it, women have it all. With these advances, the best way to combat stress is to enlist and receive support from others, those with whom we can trust, who can listen and understand, not judge, not criticize.
How to make stress your friend
While most think of stress as a very negative “four-letter word,” let’s point out that it actually has five letters. Some well researched health care professionals and psychologists are challenging the ways we as humans think about stress, and believe it or not, stress, just like a good friend, is sending you a message, a very important one which you need to pay attention to. Health Psychologist, Kelly McGonigal proposes in her TED talk, “How to make stress your friend,” [link to: https://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend], that stress is in essence a mind game, and by challenging and re-thinking our “I can’t deal with it” attitudes and negative feelings associated with our physical responses (heart palpitations, stomach issues, anger), stress can actually be used to our advantage. This can be achieved by viewing our stress response as a friend rather than a foe, and including stress reducing strategies to better cope with the bumps and sharp curves that life continually throws us. By making stress our friend, one can avert and even reverse the detrimental health damage that can be associated with it.
Read through these 5 stress-friendly tips and mind tricks that can help you along the way.
1. Start with a HUG!
Here’s a mind trick, Oxytocin or “the cuddle hormone” [link to: http://www.alsearsmd.com/2015/08/the-cuddle-hormone-can-save-your-life/] is released when you hug someone, it’s a feel good neuro-hormone that fine tunes your social instincts, enhances empathy, and allows us to better help and support our friends and family, and guess what, it’s a stress hormone! As part of the stress response, the release of this hormone motivates us to seek support, share with someone, rather than bottling it up, or notice someone else struggling. This stress response is sending women a big positive message, it wants you to be surrounded by those to support you - listen to it!
2. Bench Press those Receiving Muscles
Ladies, just like the “oxygen mask speech” one hears flight attendants routinely recite before take-off, we need to supply ourselves with that life-sustaining air mask before attempting to help anyone else. Women are by nature supreme nurturers, and for some reason, we often forget that receiving is something we may not be good at, or feel worthy of. Asking for support and allowing ourselves to receive self-care has not only a positive effect on stress, it can improve our relationships with others.
Receive this! To pamper and deter any stress-induced hormonal hair loss, how about taking time to give yourself an Indian Scalp Massage?
Combine a few drops of an essential oil into the palm of your hands with a quarter-sized portion of hair nourishing almond, castor or jojoba oil:
- Peppermint oil – increases circulation, a natural cleanser, cooling and invigorating.
- Tea tree oil – antiseptic, soothes a dry, itchy scalp
- Lavender oil – calming, soothes sensitive scalp
- Rosemary oil – treats dryness, stimulates hair growth
Get yourself comfy, dip your fingertips into the oil and massage in a circular pattern around your head, from roots to ends. Be sure to locate and massage the dimples around your skull, the base of the neck and behind the ears. Apply pressure and release, repeat.
3. Connection is Critical
According to Dr. Gray, while women reduce stress by talking things out, men reduce stress by relaxing. I like the relaxing idea too, but as a woman, it just doesn’t happen very often. We are not an island, those who seek out social contact recover faster, and are more able to heal from any stress related damage. Lissa Rankin, MD states that the #1 public health risk is loneliness, and goes as far as to say that, “Loneliness is as dangerous for our health as smoking cigarettes.” [link to: https://youtu.be/s2hLhWSlOl0] In stressful times, sometimes we push others away from us. Dr. Rankin goes on to say that during stressful times if we can take our armor down, we can be courageous and open ourselves to love. Holding hold space for others and sharing promotes healing. Those healing exchanges come as a friend who with compassion says, “Hey girl, I’ve been there as well, you’ve totally got this.”
4. Self-care is not self-ish
Believe that you are loveable enough to make room in your life for some restorative “me-time.” While some responsibilities can’t be avoided nor should they be, asking ourselves what can be eliminated is key. Does our child need such an elaborate birthday party? Why do holidays have to be such a big production? Do we need another pet? A simpler approach may just be as fun. Saying no and challenging our way of being, so that one can make room to participate in something you love, or heaven forbid take a nap, can allow us to re-fuel so that we can better serve others. Self-care is not self-ish.
“A further sign of health is that we don't become undone by fear and trembling, but we take it as a message that it's time to stop struggling and look directly at what's threatening us.” - Pema Chodron
Here’s a one-line tip you can save in your back pocket, for the next time you need to make room for yourself:
“Ohhh, dang. I’d love to do that, I wish I could, but I can’t.”
On our personal journey, as quirky and stressed as you may feel, you are completely normal, and awesome, and you cannot do it alone. Addressing self-love, Kate Taylor takes a humorous view at being normal.
5. Treat Yourself to Boost Your Spirits
We often don’t give ourselves permission to take time for themselves, and even creating emergencies outside of ourselves to focus on, sound familiar? Exhausted and resentful, we can communicate in negative ways which results in more stress. One of the best ways to lowering stress levels and giving yourself some “me” time, the key is to do something you truly enjoy doing.
Getting your hair done, meeting up with a friend for lunch, or for a walk around the park, these are a modern woman’s way to increase oxytocin levels and blow off stress. Giving ourselves permission to go have some fun, go ahead, and create your own self-love girl cave!
On a personal note:
A few years back, my life took a major turn (a divorce, going to work fulltime, big downsizing…). Being a single mom with five daughters with ages ranging from 3 to 15 years old, my stress responses were through the roof. I’d find myself coming home feeling completely overwhelmed and exhausted and was having a very difficult time finding the energy to keep up - my family was suffering. One day a co-worker invited me to a Pilates class after work - it kicked my butt! The exercises were challenging enough to capture my focus and take my mind off life for a moment, and still allowed me to interact and build friendships with the other participants. I loved it.
And, I often felt guilty for going to Pilates classes because it was taking time away my family, but the stress-relieving benefits were indisputable. The days I attended class, rather than driving straight home, I noticed more energy to prepare dinner, help girls with their homework, felt happier, and was better able to deal with all of the demands when I got there. Not only did I become stronger physically, the positive support gained from the interaction with others during this time was immeasurable. I eventually decided to work towards a Pilates Certification, and currently teach 4-6 classes a week, continuing to gain strength from this practice, with the hope of sharing the same stress-relieving benefits with others.
During this time, another ritual I added was receiving a spa pedicure every other week. This little bit of pampering boosted my oxytocin levels by receiving caring and physical touch. A $25 pedicure forced me to sit and let someone else take over, choosing trendy, fun shades that made me feel pretty, and from time to time even splurging on some nail art.
Like a dear friend, by realizing that our stress responses are sending us valuable messages for self-care, we are then better able to access our hearts, which we rely on for our strength and energy. Kelly McGonigal concludes that, “When you choose to view stress in this way, you're not just getting better at stress, you're actually making a pretty profound statement. You're saying that you can trust yourself to handle life's challenges. And you're remembering that you don't have to face them alone.”
So the next time a friend, or even your own self starts asking you, “Is there anything I can do for you?
You might respond with:
- a hug!
- maybe a walk around the park?
- would you be down for a pedicure?
That’s right -- you’ve totally got this!