Women today have a lot of things to get stressed about – kids, work, family, health, money and weight to name but a few.
There’s so many things to do, and so little time to get any of it done!
Then just when you think you have one thing sorted and can relax a little, something else tends to crop up right?
Constant stress is obviously not a good thing, and learning ways to manage and deal with it can make a huge difference to your enjoyment and experience of life. The older we get, the more important this is. In this post I’ll explain more about stress and it’s effects, particularly around menopause age, and give some pointers on how you can change things for the better.
When your body is under stress it releases cortisol. You may have heard of this described as our ‘fight or flight’ hormone, and it basically gets us feeling more on edge and ready run away from danger (or stay and fight it). This was great for our ancestors who needed to be ready for life threatening situations like stumbling across a sabre-toothed tiger. But it doesn’t help us as much when the stress is caused by having too much too do, not enough time to do it, and kids demanding your attention.
Increased cortisol in your body means an increase in sodium too, and this can lead to water retention – one reason why you might struggle to lose weight. More cortisol also tends to lead to cravings for carbs and fats. Because you’re stressed, your body is perceiving that you might be under threat, and may need some extra energy stores to run away from danger. So it craves carbs and fat to give you that energy you might need.
Your body then stores any excess calories around your stomach – double whammy! The main reason it does this is so the fat is close to the liver, where it may need to be broken down quickly to be used in an emergency. So now we are stressed, craving more food, and have more tummy fat.
Cortisol is a super powerful hormone and affects your metabolism, thyroid, and immune system among other things. When stress throws cortisol levels out of whack, some of the most noticeable symptoms are easy weight gain and poor immunity.
These are some other signs of cortisol imbalance:
- Tendency to gain fat around the middle
- Increased appetite
- Cravings for fat and carbs
- Mid afternoon slump – needing coffee / biscuits
- Low immunity to colds and bugs
- Blood sugar swings
- Digestive problems – bloating / flatulence
- Muscle aches and pains, especially in neck and shoulders
- Hair loss
- Difficulty concentrating / forgetfulness
- Irregular / absent periods
- Increased PMS
- Slower metabolism
- Decreased libido
- Feel tired but can’t sleep well
- Get a second wind in the evening / wake up in the night and can’t get back to sleep
If you are experiencing a number of these symptoms, your body is most likely telling you that you need to make some changes to reduce stress in your life. It’s strangely easy to forget or ignore the fact that you only get one body, and you need to treat it well if you want it to last the distance.
Some of the changes the body experiences in menopause are – decreased metabolism, less muscle, increased potential to gain fat, increased risk of cancers and heart disease. None of which is great, but all of which can be VASTLY improved by looking after your body in the right way.
What’s important to remember is that every thought we have produces a neurochemical response. You know how you feel sick and your heart starts racing when you worry or think something bad has happened? When you think about it, only your thoughts created that feeling in your body. If you had thought about things in a different way, you wouldn’t have experienced those feelings. Thoughts are way more powerful than we think, but we do have control over them.
Many women find when they reach their forties, they start to reflect more about how they want life to be. They realise they don’t need to worry so much about what others think, and that can liberate them enough to go out and start living life more on their terms. Could this apply to you?
To make life better, healthier and more enjoyable, essentially what we want to do can be broken down to this:
Start feeding your cells with more serotonin and dopamine (our ‘fun’ and ‘happy’ hormones)
And STOP giving them cortisol and adrenaline (our stress hormones).
Here’s some ways we can do this:
- Do regular exercise that’s enjoyable and reduces stress. This could be anything – walking with nature, zumba, cycling, salsa, boxercise, whatever makes you feel good.
- Lift weights to increase muscle, boost your metabolism, and strengthen your muscles, bones and joints. You’ll very likely find it strengthens your mind, confidence, and sense of achievement too. There are so many benefits to weights, which are summed up here and explained more in other blogs I’ve written. For women, the older we get, the more important and beneficial this activity is.
- Don’t follow restrictive diets. These just cause you physical stress (in that your body is deprived of nutrients) and mental stress (in that you feel hungry and miserable). If you eat healthy foods most of the time, stay mindful when you are eating, and build exercise into your life, you will lose weight naturally over time. It may take longer, but the results will last a lot longer too, and you’ll feel so much better this way.
- Change how you think about food. See it as nourishment for your amazing body. Focus on good things you can add in to your diet, and let them naturally crowd out the bad stuff that makes you feel crap. Plan your day so your body always gets enough of what it needs – protein, vegetables, some fruit, and some healthy fats.
- Prioritise sleep. At this time in your life it becomes more important than ever to get enough sleep. 10.30pm to 6.30am is the optimal time to be getting your zzzz. It can be really tough if you have young kids who are prone to waking you up at ungodly hours with various problems, but do your best. If you have to put your favourite program on record to watch at the weekend so you can get an early night, do that! It might mean you don’t get as much ‘downtime’, but ‘sleeptime’ is more important, and there has to be a sacrifice made somewhere. You will feel so much better for it.
- Get out in nature whenever you can. There’s something special about being in nature and breathing in pure fresh air. It can rejuvenate us, clear our minds, reduce our stress, and make us feel grateful for the simplicity and beauty in the natural world. Go out and enjoy that whenever you can. If you can walk in nature on your own and taking time just for you, even better. You could use this time to think about your life and positive changes you are making, listen to an audiobook or podcast, or just relax and enjoy the peace.
- Practice some kind of mindfulness / relaxation. Yoga and meditation are both AMAZING for lowering stress levels and making you feel so much happier and more relaxed. If you can, doing one or both of these in a class would be great at least at first, so you commit to being there and learn how to do it properly. Once you’ve got a good understanding and built up the habit, its something you could do at home if that suited you better. There’s so many different types of yoga and meditation so it’s well worth exploring to find something that appeals to you. If you really can’t or don’t want to commit to a class, you can download free apps on your phone that give you guided meditations stating at as little as one minute long. Search for ‘Headspace’ or ‘Insight Timer’ and try them out.
- Do something that makes you happy every day. How many times do you do something that’s not for the kids, your partner, your family or your friends? Something that just makes YOU happy? If you’re like most of the women I work with, chances are it’s not very often! YOU deserve to be happy, and by treating yourself well you’ll have much more energy for looking after others too, not to mention more enjoyment in day to day life. This could be something super simple, like playing your favourite song, painting your nails, or sitting down for 10 minutes to read a book. It doesn’t need to be expensive (though of course spending money on yourself now and again, especially for things like a massage or some pampering, is great too). You could run yourself a luxurious hot bath with your favourite bath salts, or meet a friend and treat yourself to a delicious and healthy brunch or lunch.
- Be kind to yourself. As women, we tend to be extremely critical and tough on ourselves. This never helps, and just causes more stress and negative feelings. When you notice yourself being self-critical, either in your head or out loud, question it straight away. Would you say that to your children or your best friend? You deserve to be treated just as well as you treat them. Now is the time to start being YOUR OWN best friend.
- LOVE your body now. Accept yourself as you are and appreciate the body you have. This is the basis for positive change. We all want to improve in some way, but it’s so much better (and more likely we’ll succeed) if we do this from a position of self love rather than self hate. Don’t criticise yourself or your body. It is what it is, and you can’t change how you’ve lived up until this point. What you can change, is everything from now going forwards. Plan how you can improve your health, and feel stronger, fitter and happier in yourself. But keep remembering how great you are now too.
This is part 2 of a series of posts for women who are interested in health, nutrition and exercise around the age of menopause.
You can find the first post, all about food, by clicking HERE.