The title of Dr. Libby Weaver’s book, “Rushing Woman Syndrome,“ says it all. Dr. Weaver is a nutritional biochemist dedicated to helping women stay healthy. How many women can you picture right now (and that includes you) who are always going, going, going? Blame it on technology, the intensity of 24/7 accessibility, work, our families, our commitments, among many other things. We’re busy women! And, some of us love being busy! However, busy can quickly become stressed-out, and then turn into burnout.
When we feel that familiar sense of urgency, hormones from our brain tell our adrenal glands to start pumping more cortisol. The two main reasons for this are:
- blood pressure goes up, so that you have plenty of oxygen that can get to your brain and you can think clearly.
- blood supply for the digestive system is diverted into the periphery — to our arms and legs — and puts glucose into our muscles so that we “fight” or “run.” (But that also means sluggish digestion.)
According to the American Institute of Stress, 75-90% of visits to healthcare providers are caused by stress. No, it’s not the bear in the woods chasing us, it’s just the “to-do” list of our lives. We stop prioritizing and feel a sense of urgency for all things. On a deeper level, this tells our sympathetic nervous system (which regulates our bodies unconscious actions like breathing, etc.) to keep going. If the stress and urgency are in full swing then our stress response is in full swing. That’s a lot of cortisol. Our bodies are desperate to have our parasympathetic nervous system kick in, the system that calms us and is responsible for us to enjoy deep sleep and cell repair.
Another effect of constant cortisol pumping through our system is that our adrenal glands can’t fully do their job. Our adrenals also produce the hormone progesterone, which is a powerful anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, and diuretic — it allows us to get rid of excess fluid. So what this means is that if our adrenals are too busy producing stress hormones, then not a lot of progesterone is happening. This can lead to anxiety, depression, and excess fluid.
I recently listened to a great interview with Dr. Weaver on FoodMattersTV and want to share her take on stress and women.
She describes three stages of the stress response:
- Alarm stage – adrenaline!
- Cortisol (chronic stress hormone) phase, which tries to tamp down adrenaline, but you get muscle degradation and slowed digestion.
- Adrenal fatigue (burn out) cortisol levels go low. constant fatigue.
Don’t despair! She has four suggestions to help out:
- Breathwork – by becoming breath aware we help restore our parasympathetic nervous system. Deep breathing from you diaphragm does wonders. Try 20 long breaths.
- Kick the caffeine – When we consume it it can break through the blood brain barrier and binds to adenosine receptors in our brain. When that happens, it sends a message to our adrenals to produce more adrenaline.
- Explore our perception of urgency and pressure — a key thing here is to switch from saying “I have to…,” to “I get to…”. This simple switch gets you back into appreciation mode.
- Joy and Gratitude – Let ourselves have what we already have. The nervous system can’t do gratitude and stress at once. Feel aware of the privilege of your life. Life happen for you … not to you.