The Cycle of Stress and Hormonal Imbalance in Perimenopause
During perimenopause and menopause, estrogen and progesterone are the two hormones which always seem to get top billing. Certainly two very powerful, key players in our fertility and menstrual cycles, estrogen and progesterone essentially make a woman’s fertility world go round.
But they are not the only hormones which influence our health and well-being during perimenopause. In fact, estrogen and progesterone are only two hormones in a very complex system of hormones called the endocrine system, which is responsible for carrying out a variety of biological functions.
During perimenopause when estrogen and progesterone are often out of balance, causing most of the unpleasant symptoms many women experience, our adrenal glands, pituitary glands, and hypothalamus are also releasing hormones which can become out of balance as well, making a bad situation feel a lot worse.
For example, women often complain of crashing fatigue during perimenopause, yet they are still unable to sleep. Cortisol, a hormone produced in the adrenal glands, and regulated and released by the hypothalamus during times of stress, is often a contributor to this problem.
In fact, not only do high levels of cortisol contribute to chronic insomnia and feelings of crashing fatigue, but over-exposure to cortisol, along with other stress hormones, such as adrenaline, which is also released by the adrenal glands, can put our bodies at high risk for heart disease, contribute to digestive problems, obesity, and even depression.
What’s worse, hormone imbalance in perimenopause is often a self-perpetuating cycle which can create physical, emotional, and psychological stress; which in turn continues to feed the imbalance in our bodies, making normal day-to-day life stressors feel bigger than they are. This in turn stresses us even more, and well, you get the picture. Stress breeds stress, which can cause hormone imbalance, and hormone imbalance breeds hormone imbalance, and the cycle continues.
Learning to Manage Stress in Our Life
I will be the first one to tell you that stress management is not one of my personal strengths. I am a single mom raising teenagers, going through a divorce, managing a home, attending graduate school, and building a writing and publishing career. I’m stressed. So you don’t have to worry about me chirping sound bite health clichés and slogans at you. I know how hard it can be to manage stress.
However, that doesn’t mean we should just throw up our hands, uncork a bottle of wine, and drown our troubles and stresses in a glass of chardonnay. Though I will confess, every now and then, that’s probably not such a bad idea. But managing stress is like anything else. We have to decide to make it a priority.
For me, that means I don’t have any demanding activities or commitments past 6:00 p.m. It also means that I guard my sleep routine like a Pitbull. I make sure I allow myself time to do things that I love – such as reading, gardening, and taking long walks with my dogs. And every now and then, I go to a movie theatre by myself and watch matinees back to back.
I’ve said before, to get through perimenopause with all of your sanity intact, you need to find something you love. Certainly, when it comes to managing stress, allowing time and giving yourself permission to do those things should be high on your list of self care.
So if you need permission, I will give it to you. Now, take it and take care of yourself too!
Magnolia Miller is a certified healthcare consumer advocate in women’s health and a women’s freelance health writer and blogger at The Perimenopause Blog.