Your hormones affect the way you feel emotionally and mentally. They are neurotransmitters that play a significant role on how you function, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. We know this as women….HELLO PMS!
What I want to talk about today is stress, but not external stress, because we cannot control external circumstances, but what will keep your stress from becoming chronic, which is taking care of your inner world.
Over the past year I’ve talked a lot about the emotional and mental impact of stress, and ways you can strengthen your emotional and mental muscles. In this share I want to shift gears a little and give you some practices to take care of your inner world, but from a hormonal level.
Stress interferes with your hormones that are there to help you feel balanced, energized, happy, fulfilled and “normal.”
Before we balance our hormones, let’s see what our nervous system does to prepare us for external stressors.
The sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for the “fight or flight” response during any potential danger. On the other hand, the parasympathetic nervous system inhibits the body from overworking and restores the body to a calm and composed state. This is what needs to happen and what our bodies are so naturally designed to do. It is a brilliant system. However, our bodies are not designed to carry the heavy burden of being in a constant state of high stress, high adrenaline, high fight or flight all the time.
For example, let’s say a gazelle is being chased by a lion, and her sympathetic nervous kicks into high gear, turning on and off all necessary systems, including hormones, so that she is able to run to safety. When she’s safe, her sympathetic nervous system goes off, and her parasympathetic nervous system turns on, turning on and off all necessary systems again. This allows her hormones to go back into balance. She doesn’t go to bed in fear of this lion because the external stressor is over. The cycle has ended.
Our system is the same, BUT…and this is so important, most of us don’t act like the gazelle. Our human nature is to hang on tightly to worry, stressors, anxiety and fear, taking it everywhere we go, including to bed with us, so in stressful situations, we don’t do things that turn on our parasympathetic nervous systems. Our body thinks that we are still not safe because the neurotransmitters are passing signals from one area of the brain to the other that keeps those alarms bells ringing. We may not be in fight or flight, but as you will learn, we are not back to a balanced state.
How can you sleep well while these alarms bells are ringing? How can you eat properly while these alarms bells are ringing? How can you think, act, react and make supportive decisions while these alarm bells are ringing?
It is a challenge because the signals are communicating that you are not safe. We can function like this for a while, but not long.
So let’s look at what we can do naturally, from a hormonal level, to change what signals your neurotransmitters are passing from one area of your brain to another.
Serotonin & Dopamine
I’m combing these two together because they act so similarly.
Serotonin is an neurotransmitter for mental health. Consider this your hormone that promotes calmness. It regulates your mood and plays a role on your memory, libido, appetite and sleep.
Sleep is one area that affects many of us under stress, and of course lack of sleep affects our mood. It is all connected.
Stress can create an imbalance in serotonin because people under stress often experience insomnia, restless sleep, or extreme fatigue because the sleep isn’t productive and your body isn’t able to rest, digest and reset fully. We all know what little sleep does to us mentally and emotionally.
Dopamine is linked to the release of endorphins in your brain. Consider this your pleasure hormone. Dopamine helps you feel happy and excited to do things that you enjoy, and it is released when you are doing things that you enjoy.
Too much stress, lowers the level of dopamine, and you no longer enjoy doing those things anymore. Nothing seems fun or exciting. You start to feel flat and depressed.
Practices To Increase Serotonin & Dopamine Levels
There are many natural ways to increase your serotonin and dopamine.
Being out in nature
Journalling about happy times in your life
Getting a massage
Fatty fish like salmon, tuna
Taking a good quality Omega-3 supplement
What I suggest is combining a few of the practices. Put on some comfy clothes and shoes, head to your favourite place in nature, and mentally go through all the happiest of memories that you have. Triple dose!
Doing this just 30-minutes a day will increase your serotonin and dopamine levels and boost your mood. Even a temporary break from your daily stressors is enough to signal to your brain that you are safe and that even though you can’t control the external circumstances happening around you, there are things you can do.
This hormone isn’t talked about often. In fact, I didn’t even know anything about it until I was doing research about how stress affects the body. As little as it is talked about, it is mighty and important. Noradrenaline is produced by your adrenal glands, related to the adrenaline that your body releases in times of stress to give you the fight or flight response. It gives you the energy you might need to survive. When you need to run to safety, all the energy flows into your muscles so you can run.
Too much stress can disrupt your body’s production of noradrenaline, leaving you with depleted energy and little motivation to do anything. It also affects your attention, and responses.
Considering the year we have been experiencing and all the stress that has tagged along with us, is it any wonder why you feel the way you feel. It isn’t because you haven’t been trying, it is your hormones, the neurotransmitters passing signals back and forth. This is what I mean when I say programming your brain to work for you, not against you. The practices, even these simple practices that I’m share each week MATTER. Especially if they balance your hormones.
Practices To Balance Noradrenaline Levels
The practices are very similar to increasing your dopamine and serotonin levels, but these are all about calming, relaxing, and restoring. You cannot live in a constant state of stress and fight or flight.
Completing small tasks
Continuing to combine the practices so that you are not adding more stress by trying to do all these new things, what I suggest is bringing relaxing music on your nature walks. Search for music that has a calming affect. On my Spotify, I listen to Steven Halpern.
You can also meditate to this music. If you have never meditated before, that is okay, simply begin by laying down, listening to relaxing meditation music and if you fall asleep, that is okay.
As for completing small tasks. Make a list of all the things you can complete with ease and will take very little time to do. Begin to compete these items, crossing them out as you go and this will signal the reward neurons in your brain.
The more simplistic the practices, the more benefits you will experience because you can do them with ease. You can be driving in your car, or cooking dinner, and remembering all your happiest of memories (increasing your serotonin). You can listen to calming music anytime, anywhere, even at bedtime (increasing all these hormones).
We will always experience external stressors that trigger our stress response, but we don’t have to take up permanent residence in that state. There are things that you can do. It may not always be easy, but it is always worth putting an effort into the practices. It won’t make challenges just disappear, and you will still feel all the feels because you are a human being, but you will begin to trust that you can and will get through this.
If there is any additional support you need, I’m here for you. My new digital course Emotional Management is a deep dive into managing stress, and I’m here anytime you just need to chat. You can message me anytime.