Hormones are like chemical messengers and govern nearly every cellular action in our body.
As healthcare professionals stress is a fact of life. We work long hours; we work under impossible demands and with high volumes of patients. We also absorb our patient’s emotional pains and often reflect those symptoms physically.
While important, our sex hormones like estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, are actually not essential for our survival.
They are responsible for sexual functioning and fertility, as well as in more of a “beauty” capacity – keeping our skin, hair & nails vital and youthful looking.
On the other hand, stress hormones (like cortisol & epinephrine, also known as adrenaline) are critical to our survival because they synthesize proteins, maintain cellular electrolyte balance, regulate heartbeat and blood pressure, and transport glucose into our cells – essentially feeding our brain.
These hormones are so crucial, that in times of chronic stress, cortisol (the “hormone of stress”) will be made at the expense of sex hormones. No wonder we can start feeling whacked out at certain stages of life!
So what happens when hormones stop playing well together?
We can often experience a ripple effect, even when there is a slight hiccup in hormone function.
Also, due to the interconnected nature of your endocrine system, one hormonal imbalance can lead to an additional one, causing multiple symptoms and overlapping health issues.
The 10 most common signs that you probably have a hormonal imbalance
- Poor sleep – not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep
- Fatigue that’s not alleviated by sleep
- Night sweats and hot flashes
- Resistant excess weight and body fat, especially around the belly
- Low libido or sexual dysfunction
- Acne or other skin issues
- PMS symptoms
- Foggy thinking (brain fog!) and difficulty concentrating
- Mental health issues – depression and anxiety in particular
- Mood changes like irritability and anger
Stress and hormonal imbalance affect so much, so what can we do about it?
Simple ways to support and rebalance your hormones naturally
Eat whole foods: processed, packaged foods offering little to no nutritive value will also offer little to no fuel for your hormones.
Be sure to eat fresh over packaged foods, including plenty of vegetables, fruits, and quality sources of free range and grass-fed meats and eggs. Also, if tolerated – nuts, seeds, and legumes in moderation.
Grains and dairy may cause or exacerbate hormonal problems for some people.
Eat more good fats: Good fats are essential for hormonal health because sex hormones need fat as a building block – and your body can only use the ones you give it.
Opt for sources of good fats from whole foods, such as avocados, raw nuts & seeds, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, real butter or ghee (grass fed preferable), wild-caught salmon, and free range eggs – yes, you can eat the yolks!
Exercise daily: Working out on a regular basis and engaging in resistance (or strength) training has been proven to be especially beneficial for keeping our bodies AND our hormones fit. For those who work in high-stress environments- such as healthcare workers- it is important that we not workout in a manner that increases our cortisol production. High intensity workouts such as intense and prolonged cardiovascular activity, HIIT workouts, and high-paced group courses all will lend to higher cortisol production. Those in a high-stress field better benefit from moderate-intensity workouts. Think 60-80% of your maximum efforts. A few times a week you want to exercise at an intensity that makes you winded, but yet you can still have a conversation.
Better sleep: getting deeper, more restorative sleep can be the key to supporting your hormones, above all other measures (but that doesn’t mean you should ignore the other ones!)
Stress management & self-care: the truth is – stress can be devastating for hormonal health.
We need to equip ourselves to manage the stress and “business” of everyday life through the actions that bring back balance and wellbeing to our bodies AND our minds – like good nutrition, exercise, and sleep!
Learn better coping mechanisms (like breathing techniques), practice mindfulness and be sure to engage in daily self-care.