Why it's SO CRUCIAL to better manage stress in your 40s, for healthy hormones + more happiness!
Updated: May 14, 2021
It's important to know that as we approach our late 30s but ESPECIALLY our 40s, our hormones start to change quite significantly, and it's all to do with the communication between your brain and your ovaries, which in your 40s can go a little haywire (sigh).
The diagram below shows the typical ebb and flow of oestrogen and progesterone throughout an average 28 day (natural) cycle. It's perfectly normal for these two hormones to fluctuate all month and dance their delicate dance, but trouble occurs when one (or both) of these hormones doesn't show up when it's supposed to, creating an imbalance that brings on the symptoms we all know but DO NOT love!
Throughout the month your brain communicates with your ovaries to produce oestrogen & progesterone at various times to bring about the necessary changes to stimulate ovulation and the preparation to hold a pregnancy. This is a normal and necessary element of healthy periods, whether we want to become pregnant or not.
Why? Because we make progesterone each month ONLY as a result of ovulating that month. The more cycles we have where we don't ovulate the more months we have where we don't make progesterone and the solid pink line in the diagram is no longer nice and high just after ovulation and instead it remains low like it was in the first half of your cycle.
This is bad news for the overall balance of oestrogen and progesterone and our day to day sense of wellbeing. Not only is this bad news because progesterone is such an important hormone, but it also puts us in an 'oestrogen dominant' state - which basically means oestrogen starts to become the dominating hormone.
Why does that matter? Because symptoms and issues that come with being oestrogen dominant include:
Heavy, painful periods
Tender, painful breasts
Bloating (water retention)
Weight gain and trouble losing it
Increased PMS (mood, anxiety, sleep, headaches, migraines)
Growth of fibroids encouraged
[Just a little note on oestrogen dominance - We can be 'oestrogen dominant' due to having low progesterone in relation to their ideal balance/ratio, as described above, but we can also be oestrogen dominant if we are making too much oestrogen in the body, or if we are taking in too much oestrogen from external sources such as various environmental toxins that have been shown to mimic oestrogen once inside the body, adding to the total load of oestrogen, or because we're not clearing oestrogen out of our body effectively and efficiently enough, which causes the body to hold onto oestrogen that should have been cleared out of the body (via the liver & gut).]
Healthy progesterone levels (as per the diagram) aren't only important to prevent oestrogen domination, but because progesterone is such a key hormone for our health (both current and future) and for our overall sense of wellbeing. Losing progesterone is something we want to actively avoid in our 40s.
Let’s look at why progesterone is SO important..
It’s the yin to oestrogen's yang and so it prevents ‘oestrogen dominance’ and the typical symptoms that come with that (see above)
It’s vital for our overall sense of wellbeing & for good sleep
It’s our anti-anxiety, calming hormone because it boosts GABA, our chill-pill brain chemical, and therefore increases our capacity to deal with stress
It boosts your metabolism & lean muscle mass (KEY for keeping body fat in check)
It supports a healthy thyroid gland
It’s a natural diuretic (e.g. prevents water-retention and ‘puffiness’ around the body)
In your 40s your hormones are way more impacted by stress because your brain is always communicating down to your endocrine (hormone) system telling them whether you are calm and safe or that something is wrong and that you're under threat.
Your body's stress response can't tell the difference between being stuck in traffic or being overloaded at work (not life threatening) and being chased by a tiger (life threatening!). And this is how how hormones are impacted by stress - it's the brain telling your ovaries not to produce your sex hormones as per the diagram above because it's not a safe time to hold a pregnancy.
Today's stress isn't genuinely life-threatening like it was for our ancestors who were out looking for food and coming face to face with tigers who wanted to kill them! Modern day stress is mostly emotional and mental such as relationship issues, family issues, too many obligations, being too busy, having a high pressured job or career, stressful commutes to and from work, pandemics, lockdowns, working from home when you don't want to, missing loved ones, any worries, anxieties, lack of sleep, any sadness or upset. PLUS this sort of stress is more prominent in our 40s compared to our 20s, and it's chronic! Unless you can run away and live on a remote paradise island stress is going to continue to feature in your life in some way!
If only we could yell at our brain and say "I don't want to get pregnant so please just let me ovulate and make progesterone!" oh how I WISH we could!
So, simply put, managing stress, prioritising self care and good sleep are CRUCIAL NOW more than ever - because these 3 things tell your brain that all is well and it's safe to allow you to have a healthy menstrual cycle that month!
So, this is my nudge to you to start cultivating MORE self care, better sleep, and more joy and happiness in your life.
Create your stress management + self care toolbox!
I always encourage my clients to create their own Restore + Recharge ‘toolbox’, and I have a whole module dedicated to this inside my Rebalance + Thrive group programme. It’s basically a tool box of habits and practices they can tap into each day to help them better deal with their day to day stressors. Of course look to reduce or eliminate stress wherever possible, and then use the tools below (and come up with your own) on a regular basis to help your brain and body better cope, so you can start to experience life in a more positive and healthy way.
Some of my favourite tools include:
Going for a walk in nature (nature tells your brain all is well!). Do this every single day if you can, preferably morning and/or around lunchtime.
10-20 minutes of Qi Gong. This is something I’ve started recently and I WISH I’d started years ago! I find some great short practices on YouTube and I also pay a monthly subscription to Movement for Modern Life which is an online platform for on demand yoga & wellbeing classes, including Qi Gong, yin, & restorative yoga.
10-60 minutes of a gentle hatha yoga or vinyasa style class.
10-60 minutes of Yin yoga.
5 minutes just sitting in silence with my eyes closed and focusing on my breath.
10-30 mins doing a guided meditation lying down on my bed. I either do a Yoga Nidra body scan meditation (highly recommended!) or other guided meditation I like the sound of, on the Insight Timer app. Some of my favourite Yoga Nidra and relaxing meditations on the app are by the teacher Laura McDonald.
A 60-90 minute restorative yoga class once or twice a week.
10-60 mins on the sofa reading fiction, watching some comedy, or just chilling!
Listening to music from my childhood/teenage years...this one always manages to shift my mood! For me that’s 90s RnB.
A warm bath in epsom salts for 20 minutes, with candles and relaxing music.
What do you like the sound of from this list? Can you create your own toolbox?
I hope this blog has been helpful for you in some way! Enjoy organising your stress management toolbox and implementing into your days. Trust me it’s a real game changer for hormone health!
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