I’ve met so many women lately who want, have, or need it all. These women feel the need to be perfect employees, perfect business owners, perfect parents, perfect daughters/sisters/spouses. What these hard-working women don’t realize is that this desire for perfection, and the ensuing stress in getting there, is wreaking havoc on their hormonal health. Most of the time, this driving need for perfection is unsustainable and downright exhausting, although different people have various mental and physical capacities to handle this sort of stress long-term. Yet we’re constantly reaching for more and it’s costing your body more than you think.
When we constantly worry or stress, many things happen in our bodies that we can neither see nor appreciate–until it is too late. Our stress hormone, cortisol, is not supposed to be elevated for long periods of time. It is useful for fleeing danger, but not for the upcoming performance appraisal or meeting monthly quotas or whatever it is that stresses you out long-term. When cortisol levels are elevated, it causes many detrimental effects in the body.
Excess cortisol is responsible for raising blood sugar, lowering the immune system, delaying wound healing, and causing inflammation throughout the body. Chronically elevated cortisol can also slowly erode the cells in the hippocampus – the part of your brain responsible for memories. Since all of your hormones are in constant communication with each other, high stress levels can also lower your thyroid function which can in turn mess with your metabolism. High stress levels contribute to higher levels of abdominal fat and increased risk of cardiovascular disease – the signs of which are difficult to detect in women.
Learning to let some of the perfectionist behaviour go, will not cause the world to collapse. Children will still get picked up from school, reports will still get done, money will still be made. We just need to scale our expectations accordingly. What this paradigm shift will do is save your hormones.
So, for the sake of your hormones, I’d like to welcome you to Type-A Rehab.
While the mere prospect of trying to lower your stress levels may raise your cortisol, I urge you to take to heart the following suggestions to reduce the effects of stress on your body before they cause lasting damage. The following are a few strategies to help your mind and your body cope with stress.
Ask for some help, or outsource when you can. Powerful career women and entrepreneurs may have trouble admitting when they need some help, but when pride gets in the way and prevents you from asking for assistance, small problems can turn into much bigger ones and compound stress. If you can, ask a friend, a relative, a partner, or a colleague for a helping hand; although delegating and relinquishing some control can feel a little unnerving at first, the extra help is worth it in the long run.
Use some herbs or nutrients if you need them. Sometimes, life throws some really hard punches. While meditation and mindfulness are incredibly powerful tools for happiness, pain reduction and stress management, they take time to cultivate. During the hardest of times, herbal support for your stress glands can help minimize the damage of going through a stressful time and help rebuild after a time of high stress. An herbalist or a Naturopathic Doctor can help pick the best herbs for you.
Fix your sleep. Sleep is correlated to healthier…everything. Decreased sleep means decreased immunity, healing, mood, metabolism, athletic recovery, and increased chronic pain. Chances are if you’re trying to be super-woman, you are going to bed too late and waking up too early. Even though you set it to wake up every morning, set your alarm to go to sleep on time, too, so that you make sure you get the 7-8 hours you need. If you struggle with insomnia, complimentary medicine offers many gentle and effective solutions – don’t be afraid to enlist professional help!
Nix the caffeine and other stimulants. Caffeine throws off your stress hormones and your blood sugar, and often causes inflammation in other parts of your body (if you have joint pain or hormone issues, caffeine should not be a part of your routine). While there is research to support the many health benefits of coffee, if you are stressed out or anxious, coffee can make that problem worse and increase the probability of burnout. Not everyone processes coffee at the same rate, and caffeine can stay in your system for up to 18 hours. So much for that morning latte not affecting your sleep!
Eat for better mood. Some foods, such as gluten and dairy, contain compounds that have an effect on the brain and mood. These compounds can over-stimulate the nervous system and decrease your ability deal with stress. Eat a whole-foods diet as much as you can and focus on getting good sources of protein, fat and carbohydrates at every meal. Fats are especially important–many different types of fat have positive effects on brain function. Since your body under stress has additional requirements for many nutrients, including B vitamins and vitamin C, each meal should include vegetables. Eat as many brightly colored foods as you can to help bulletproof your body against stress.
Schedule some fun. Fun sounds like is should be spontaneous, but in today’s world with constant communication expected 24/7 in business, sometimes you just have to make it happen. Now that I work for myself, I find work time tends to creep into leisure time very easily – one moment I’m out to dinner with a friend on Saturday night, the next minute I’m home at my computer writing a blog or researching a treatment plan for a patient. Yikes. Be firm with your time boundaries for work to make sure you have balance in your life.
Put on your own oxygen mask before you put it on for others. You’re only as good for your loved ones as you are good to yourself. If you run yourself ragged caring for your family and friends without taking steps for self-care, burn-out is inevitable. Be nice to yourself, above all, and channel some of that incredible determination and drive that you have as a business woman into taking good care of yourself, too, so that you may have a long, happy, and healthy career.