Balancing Hormones - Part 3
ANXIETY & DEPRESSION IN RELATION TO PMS
It's funny because my husband and I talk about this topic quite often - it affects our relationship more than I would like. It's not funny because I tend to always overlook it and treat it as a less important symptom when it is typically a huge factor in my health.
Just to prove that food isn't the only factor in wellness, I was 1.5 weeks late on having my period this past month. My cycle is typically 36 days. But this last cycle was 45. No.. I am not pregnant. I had been cycle syncing with my food, but I have been incredibly cloudy headed and stressed. I didn't want to see people - my home was a mess - and my mind felt like a tumble weed being tossed all throughout a dry dessert. I wasn't nourishing my mental health.
All of that to say : the anxiety and depression you experience before your period (symptom of PMS) is not "normal" and not something you just have to deal with because you're a girl - it is a sign your hormones are imbalanced.
PMS shows it's face in many different ways. Anxiety and depression being a big one. Unfortunately, so many women (and even men) are affected by anxiety and depression because of hormonal imbalances. They are given antidepressants without consideration of the underlying causes on top of adding a list of side effects. I am not saying this is the case for everyone - but it happens more often than you would think.
The luteal phase of your cycle is where we see anxiety, depression and mood swings really spike. In other words, it is that time of the month where we make people around us walk on explosive egg shells. So without further adieu - let's talk about the hormones that can cause disordered moods around your luteal phase!!! So exciting. Truly.
So, estrogen peaks in your ovulatory phase then right after, estrogen drops. This drop is incredibly fast! It can actually happen in hours. That is why sometimes, you can be ovulating and super happy in the morning then all of a sudden, the afternoon hits and you feel yourself lose confidence and energy. You are not crazy - your hormones are just changing!
Right as estrogen drops - another little hormone comes into play : progesterone. This hormone has also been called “the dysphoric hormone” since it works against estrogen, decreasing the number of available estrogen receptors. When you become anxious or depressed, this is because the level of estrogen is not balanced with the amount of progesterone. Estrogen has a calming effect on the brain (hence why ovulatory phase is THE best), but too little or too much can have the opposite effects. If you don't produce enough progesterone to combat the estrogen, you are most likely to experience feelings of anxiety and depression.
I think its pretty funny that people say women are like an emotional roller coaster because if you chart your hormone levels - it literally looks like a roller coaster ride. To put it in perspective : the shift from your ovulatory phase to the luteal is like that big drop that takes your stomach! You eventually have to level out and stop falling - and that is what progesterone is for! Produce the right amount of it and you will be ready for the next curve and twist - but with too little or too much, you'll be worrying about each curve and twist that comes your way. You will have anxiety, depression, mood swings -- you won't be able to "level out" making for a bumpy ride.
Too much?? Probably. But it was a fun little visual!
My Tips for Balancing your Estrogen to Progesterone Levels
Load up on Vitamin B6! Vitamin B helps with Progesterone production so you can be sure you have enough to balance your estrogen! I take a Vitamin B supplement and have seen a huge difference! Chickpeas (Garbanzo beans) also have a high amount of Vitamin B6.
A (raw) carrot a day keeps the hormones at bay! Check Balancing Hormones : Part 2 for more details.
Try to cycle sync your foods and exercise for the best production of estrogen! More details on this coming soon!
In your luteal phase is when you notice your energy levels lowering. It is okay to take it down a notch by taking walks instead of going to cycling.
You have probably heard me mention adrenal fatigue so we will be briefly cover it when talking about PMS and disordered moods.
Fist, let me start off by saying, not all stress is evil. God created these hormones for a purpose! Not that many of us have to worry about being swallowed by a giant whale, we still need stress for those days where our beloved dog takes off in a sprint towards freedom. We need all the energy wen can get to catch up. We need stress, cortisol, and adrenaline.
Nowadays, we have so many stressors that keep us in a heightened "fight or flight" response. This is what we call distress and adrenal fatigue. Over time, we literally fatigue our poor adrenal cortex. Imagine sprinting after your puppy for hours and hours and hours... first of all NOBODY can physically do that and second, you will have fatigued your adrenals and legs and everything else. Then you are not able to go anymore. This is the exact same for your adrenals! Have you ever forced yourself through a workout only to feel like you are declining in progress and just completely defeated after?
I used to walk three miles on incline + walk to and from classes all day + go to cheer practice + possibly walk or job a mile or so after practice + cheer a 4 hour long football game on Saturday and then do it all again the next week! After a while, I noticed my body wouldn't go as far. I physically could not make myself "Just Do It" or "Push through the Pain". Ding ding ding!! Adrenal Fatigue.
Now don't just automatically disqualify yourself from adrenal fatigue just because you've never had a season of intense physical activity. Physical stress is just as cumbersome on your adrenal cortex as emotional stress. Most people actually have a culmination of both!
We may have had a really stressful semester of classes, long hours of rotations, applications that were not accepted, family drama or illness, etc. We all know what a large amount of stress can be like. If we keep these stress levels maintained, we stay in our "fight or flight" state. The most mundane things become stressors to us:
Oh!! I didn't drink enough water today! // Well, shoot, this AD is telling me I need to be eating this superfood or I am not living!! I must be dead // I haven't worked out in a week and I feel gross - ugh // This article is telling me to increase omega-3 fatty acid so I should probably eat salmon every day //The feeling when you get when your house is a mess and you can't focus but you know you should clean - but where is the time? // I wasn't invited to grab dinner with my friends - they must hate me.
The list goes on and I am sure you can think of stressors today that your worried over more than you should.
My Tips for lowering cortisol levels :
Take it easy on the workouts - try to focus on more low intensity workouts when you aren't feeling up for a sprint or cycle class. Listen to your body!
Make a morning routine and make God a priority. Journal and pray to Him - there is a reason for everything. If you think you need to avoid stress at all costs, go read Luke 22:41-45. Jesus took on more stress than we could imagine and rose above it. Our Father in Heaven deserves all the credit - cast your cares on Him.
Get enough sleep and make a consistent routine of it. If you go to bed at 11 pm, you need to be sleeping until 8am. If you go to work at 8am, rethink the time you get in bed! I like to sip on Holy Basil tea when I feel like my mind is doing a running list of to-do's that will keep me up for hours.
Ashwaganda - such an amazing adaptogen if you suffer with anxiety. It is well-researched and respected for its ability to lower cortisol levels and prevent stress.
The third hormone to focus on is:
I have insulin resistance and I am not proud of it. I used to restrict myself from all carbs a few years ago only to find myself bingeing on a load of carby foods. I had it down to a routine.. restrict all week and workout like a maniac - fit in the cheer uniform and have fun during the game! My body and brain had lacked carbs all week and added to my routine. I felt like a completely different person when finishing a whole bag of my roommates chocolate chip cookies (still so sorry, my sweet Mary Mo!)
When your blood sugar soars from eating the wrong kind of or too many carbohydrates (I’m talking white bread, pasta, ice cream, cookies, etc.), then insulin is secreted in high doses by your body to bring that blood sugar level down. This is done so that your brain is protected from the dangerous effects of excess sugar. This is a great backup feature when you don’t get it quite right with eating once in a long while and have a carb slip - God knew we would love our carbs! But when it is chronic, the elevated insulin forces the blood sugar to drop to low levels.
When this happens you’re creating a state of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) which shows in symptoms like the shakes, fatigue, irritability, that “hangry” feeling, and anxiety. Why does hypoglycemia include anxiety as a symptom? When hypoglycemia becomes a chronic pattern, then your body has another cool backup feature that kicks in to protect your brain and heart from too LOW of blood sugar levels (rather than too high blood sugar levels). This is all due to the stress hormone cortisol. So, when your cortisol is too high at the wrong time, you will become anxious.
My Tips for Insulin Resistance and PMS
Sweet potatoes and roasted root veggies support your blood sugar levels in your luteal phase. Try drizzling roasted sweet potatoes with some honey, cinnamon (also a great blood sugar stabilizer) and top with pecans for dessert! Being rich in vitamin A, it helps your liver break down excess estrogen, balance out your blood sugar levels, and balance your mood. If you don't like the orange ones, try a garnet or Japanese sweet potato!
I love taking a 15 minute walk after dinner as much as possible - especially when I do consume more carbs. This helps me burn off that immediate energy so I am not storing it or spiking my blood sugar.
Don't restrict. Enjoy things as they come and learn to balance the "not so good" carbs and sugars.
If you feel yourself having cravings, but you're not necessarily hungry, sip on some peppermint tea!
The last little snippet :
My biggest tip to lessen depression and boost your mood - and the biggest tip I have seen work for me, is good old sunshine. We are in a health crazed world right now where everyone is terrified of 5 minutes in "naked" sun (without sunscreen). My mom has skin cancer and I have had to have spots removed for being potentially pre-cancerous. I understand that sunscreen is vital when getting out in long amounts of strong UV rays! I do think it is important - especially when there is a possibility of a burn. But, there is something so good to be said about sun exposure. That is best and purest form of Vitamin D. If you know me, I absolutely LOVE sunshine. I love the way it feels on my skin and the immediate boost in mood it gives me. When the sun is shining, head outside! Take a little walk. Dig in the dirt and plant a vegetable or pretty flower. Play with your dog or kids! Whatever gets you outside - just get out there! Spend a little amount without sunscreen and enjoy every minute of it! If you need more science behind it - feel free to read this! It is a clinical study on depression and the impact of sunshine and is actually pretty interesting!
As an ending note for now, these are NOT the only reasons for stress, anxiety and depression - just hormonal causes. Therefore, it is important for everyone to be evaluated for the presence of an underlying mood disorder in order to develop the best treatment plan. Before you go down the road of antidepressants and/or anti-anxiety medications, ask your physician to take a complete medical history, assess your symptoms, do a thorough clinical exam, and run comprehensive blood testing to evaluate and diagnose any hormone balances.
Try a few of these tips and see how they help you! I know dealing with mood disorders is not easy for you or the people around you. This are all things I have found that work for me - but they may not all work for you! Always do what is best for your body. If you have any questions or feedback, I would love to hear from you!
Chose to accept a joy that only comes from our Father. Prayer and faith are more powerful than a balance in hormones, medication, and sunshine!
Psalm 40 : 1-3 // I waited patiently for the LORD to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the LORD
My favorite part of the song, Remembrance by Hillsong :
Until I see You face to face
Until at last I've won my race
Remind me You're not finished yet
All my best and love to you