By Kelly LeGendre
Yeah, I already know what you're thinking... ANOTHER article telling me how stress is ruining my life? I mean, that's all well and good, but between deadlines, a never ending to-do list, and an overbearing mother-in-law who just decided to drop in for the weekend, what exactly is a girl supposed to do?
I know it can be easy to gloss over stress-reduction recommendations when you're thinking of stress as something that might/maybe someday impact your health in a negative way. What I think a lot of women don't realize is that stress can have huge impact on your hormonal health and quality of life in the here and now.
In my day-to-day life, I work with women who want to naturally increase their fertility. And most of them are totally clueless when it comes to all the ways stress is keeping them from getting pregnant. But when you take a look at the physiology, it's not surprising that so many busy, professional women are having trouble conceiving these days.
In fact, while I know it might sound crazy at first blush, the effect stress has on your hormones is so far-reaching that it might even be derailing your efforts to sustain and grow your business. Seriously.
When you experience stress, whether it be mental, emotional, or physical, your body starts pumping out three hormones: cortisol, epinephrine (also known as adrenaline), and norepinephrine. Cortisol is the one we're concerned with here, and since most of us are living lives where stress is pretty much a constant in one form or another, our bodies are continually manufacturing cortisol.
This means trouble on two fronts.
First, it can be difficult for your body to keep up with the demand. Cortisol is made from a precursor hormone called pregnenolone, which is also used to manufacture progesterone. Cortisol is more essential to your immediate survival when you're facing a potential life-threatening emergency (say, running for your life), so when your body starts running low it begins to shunt all available pregnenolone away from making progesterone and into manufacturing more cortisol. The end result? You end up low on progesterone and other critical sex hormones.
Next, while epinephrine and norepinephrine dissipate rather quickly, cortisol tends to linger in your body and cause all sorts of problems, even after the immediate stress is resolved. One of the side effects of elevated cortisol is insulin resistance—an attempt by your body to keep quickly useable fuel in circulation for when the whole running-for-your-life thing starts.
This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint, but since stress these days is much more likely to come from a looming deadline than a looming predator (and unfortunately, your body doesn't know the difference), cortisol induced insulin resistance just further whacks out your hormones and sends you on your way toward metabolic syndrome and, eventually, type II diabetes.
I'm sure you're wondering what all of this has to do with running your business...
Well, in addition to a lot of the symptoms normally associated with wonky hormone levels (rough periods, infertility, etc) low progesterone levels can also be responsible for things like anxiety, insomnia, and difficulty concentrating. And cortisol is even worse. If you ever find yourself feeling distracted, overcome with negativity, thinking everything feels harder than it should be, worrying about things out of your control, or crying for no reason, it's likely that unbalanced cortisol is to blame. High cortisol can also decimate your memory and make you feel like you're constantly fighting an uphill battle to get things done.
Basically, unbalanced hormones make life (not to mention running a business) feel a million times harder than it needs to.
So what's the solution? You obviously can't completely eliminate stress from your life, so it's all about minimizing what you can and finding better ways to deal with what's left.
The first step is offloading. Make a list of all the tasks you deal with in your business and your home life in a typical week—is there anything you can delegate? So much of the work we do is just busy work and when push comes to shove there are always things that can be eliminated or consolidated.
If you find you're getting overloaded with menial business tasks, maybe it's time to hire a VA. If you're spending too much time on domestic work, consider hiring a housekeeper a couple times a month. Anything that can free up some extra time and brainpower is a worthy expense.
Once you've eliminated what you can, the next step is finding a way to reduce the remaining stress you can't avoid. When we work for ourselves, it's all too easy to let our other interests fall to the wayside. Take some time everyday to do something (non-business related!) just for yourself. Block out a half an hour to read a book, take a walk, or do whatever it is that makes you feel more you.
Then of course, there are the two things that every single article ever written on stress reduction wants you take up—yoga and meditation.
I wish I could disagree, but the truth is that there's a reason they've become cliches. One of the reasons they're so effective is that they can not only help you de-stress while you're practicing, but both actually train you deal with stress more effectively in your day-to-day life as well.
By slowing down and forcing yourself to sit and just chill with your crazy thoughts (or even physical discomfort) without distractions, you become more familiar with the way your mind reacts to stressful situations. And once you're able to recognize those reactions during your practice, it becomes a million times easier to spot and calmly defuse them in the wild.
Mindfulness meditation is the gold standard for learning to calm your mind, but if you've a true beginner, guided meditations are a really accessible entry into the practice. In most, a speaker leads you through progressively relaxing your entire body and then usually gives suggestions for releasing stressful thoughts.
Try googling “guided meditation for stress” or “progressive relaxation” and listen to a few to find one or two that you like. Make time each day to practice each day—I personally like to listen to guided meditations while relaxing in bed before falling asleep. When you start to fall in love with meditation (and I promise you will if you start with this type), then try taking it up a notch with a mindfulness or mantra-based practice. There's a ton of info to be found online about both.
Finally, herbal support can be a godsend when it comes to managing stress. Adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha, eleuthero, rhodiola rosea, holy basil, and astragalus can help moderate your body's stress response and regulate cortisol production. I recommend supplements that include a blend of adaptogenic herbs, with my personal favorite being one called Adrenal Response, made by Innate Response.
So eliminate as much stress as possible first, find ways to deal with the rest, and then consider an herbal formula if necessary. If you learn make stress-management a priority, I promise you'll not only feel a million times better, but you'll finally be ready to take your business to the next level as well.
Kelly LeGendre is a licensed acupuncturist and holistic fertility consultant who has been helping women overcome their fertility challenges and grow their families for over a decade. She created The Fertility Fix program in 2012 to teach women to take control of their own hormonal health through a combination of functional nutrition, herbal medicine, and lifestyle modification—and conceived her own son on the program! Click here to get her free ebook, The Fertility Fix Guide to Supercharging your Fertility.
By Kelly LeGendre