“I Have been Struggling with Fatigue, Irritability, Brain Fog and Heavy Periods”
This is a direct quote from one of my incoming clients. I always want to know the exact reasons someone has for reaching out to me, and these are some common ones.
Fatigue is a huge problem in the lives of many women. When you’re exhausted, you tend to be a little…irritable. And when you’re exhausted, it’s pretty normal for your brain to feel fuzzy.
Heavy #periods are just the icing on the metabolically chaotic cake. Yay!
The cool thing about this cluster of symptoms is that they are all related. Your heavy periods come from the same root issues as your brain fog and your fatigue. That’s good news. Because when you bring the body back from Metabolic Chaos (as we always say in #FDN), your frustrating symptoms start to disappear.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that it can take a long, long time for this #balance to occur. And we aren’t really a culture that likes to wait for things. It’s tempting to throw healthy #habits out the window when you’re not “fixed” super quickly, but I would encourage you to press on.
The effects of #stress on #hormones cannot be overemphasized. At the beginning of all of this Quarantine2020 mess, I found a study that showed that it took 4-6 months for the #menstrual cycles of wild-caught female baboons to normalize once said baboons were forced into captivity- #quarantine, as the research article says.
Four to six months for baboons to get their hormones back on track. Last I checked, baboons have very little higher cognitive functioning- as in, “I can’t believe I had lettuce in my teeth during that entire board meeting!” or “Why am I here? Why are any of us here?” in the existential sort of sense.
This means that for us women, who have a constant monologue of #anxiety and worry and #guilt and shame running the narrative in our higher functioning brains, it could take significantly longer for that hormonal balance to reoccur.
In another study done on female primates (PS- these studies can be more reliable than human studies as there is less room for human error/ misreporting), it was found that high levels of #cortisol, our main stress hormone, was associated with lower levels of Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH).
And- dash it all!- that elevated cortisol is also associated with higher levels of belly fat (common complaint #5 from women).
Let’s break down the initial complaints one by one and show why stress is a culprit in all 4 symptoms.
I guess it’s somewhat obvious, but chronically high levels of stress can lead to fatigue. In one study, participants rated to be ‘abnormal’ in their daily cortisol pattern self-reported higher mean levels of fatigue. When your cortisol levels stay elevated due to chronic and unrelenting stress, it’s like you’re pushing down on a gas pedal all balls-to-the-wall. Eventually, you’re desperately pumping a gas pedal in a car that has no fuel in the tank. And your body does the same thing. Chronically elevated cortisol levels become chronically depleted cortisol levels.
Check out my hormone test from 2017.
Decades of punishing my body through restrictive dieting, overexercising, the pursuit of perfectionism, and having 4 children in 6 years had first elevated my cortisol, and then completely tanked it. Le gas tank was empty.
I see this pattern in most of my clients, too. When I hear the word “fatigued”, I automatically think “cortisol”. And I want to test it.
There are lots of ways to raise cortisol. You can eat more protein. You can eat more leafy greens. You can drink more water and get more fresh air. But if you’re not dealing with your stress response, you may be a little S.O.L.
If I had a nickel for every time a woman told me that she felt like she was endangering her marriage because of her sporadic and intense irritability, I would have a crap ton of nickels.
Irritability can be associated with altered hormone levels, to be sure. Namely, an altered cortisol response.
But is this the chicken? Or the egg?
Why are the altered hormone levels there to begin with?
Berkowitz describes irritability as the following: excessive reactivity to negative emotional stimuli.
Caprara says this: irritable people are overly angry or aggressive in response to provocations.
From a motivational perspective, emotions are often divided according to whether they are associated with “approach” or “avoid” behavior. Simply put, if one cannot get what she wants, she may become angry and try harder to achieve her goal (approach), or she may become sad and give up (failure to approach).
In this formulation, the adaptive function of anger is that its presence is associated with increased effort toward goals that are difficult to achieve.
When you think about about the reasons for developing irritability with this framework in mind, the actual manifestation of irritability starts to make sense.
If you’re a women struggling with irritability and you’re like most other women, you may be exhibiting “increased effort toward goals that are difficult to achieve”.
Any of the following sound familiar?
- attempting every new diet that creeps onto Facebook? (increased effort >> difficult to achieve)
- protecting your kids from COVID, cyberstalkers, apathy, over-gaming, and gluten? (increased effort >> difficult to achieve)
- increasing workout time and duration to fit into Lululemon pants from 10 years ago? (increased effort >> difficult to achieve)
- making decisions and setting goals based on the fake lives of social media influencers? (increased effort >> difficult to achieve)
Well, yeah. You just may wake up one morning to find yourself irritable AF. The increased feelings of irritability raises cortisol for sure. And vice versa.
I have a really, really cool client. We will call her “Darah”. Darah struggles with intense brain fog. Darah works full time, cares for her family, and is currently pursuing her PhD in education. She is pretty much the opposite of a dummy. Darah told me she would regularly forget simple words at work and would be embarrassed to the point of tears as she could not create the connection between thought and word and thereby thought she appeared slow. This was a major problem for her, and she broke down with me while confessing her pain over this matter.
Darah went on vacation. We had a session while she was on said vacation, and we ran through her litany of symptoms, checking for progress. I asked how her brain fog had been on vacation.
Yup, brain fog. How has it been?
“I haven’t had any brain fog”.
And there you have it, folks.
If your symptoms disappear on vacation, your problem lies not with your body. Your problem is stress. It’s all in the brain.
Take away the stress and you take away the overwhelm, the burnout, and the brain fog.
Last, we have heavy periods.
You won’t be surprised to read that I think heavy periods can be caused by stress. The literature backs me up.
In a study of 738 high achieving (health science students at University) young women age 18-25 , 91% were experiencing menstrual issues.
Again. 91% of stressed, overachieving women had period problems.
Thirty nine percent (39%) of these women reported “high perceived stress” (HPS). You can take this stress test yourself here.
Students with HPS had 4 times, 2 times, and 2.8 times increased odds ratio for experiencing amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, and premenstrual syndrome (p<0.05)
The researchers concluded “The most prevalent menstrual problems (dysmenorrhea and premenstrual symptoms) in the target population were strongly associated with stress.” (source).
If your periods are heavy, or scant, or clot-ty, or irregular, look to manage your stress before you do anything else. It’s ludicrous to put women (and children!) on birth control and antidepressants and IUDs and hormone shots for a problem that is at its core, stress.
I’m not saying that you should get rid of all stress in your life. Stress is actually good for us. It builds resilience, and is a normal part of healthy mitochondria. Mitochondria are what actually produce energy in the body.
I am saying that you should reframe how you think of stress, or stop being so addicted to stress in the first place. We worship at the altar of the Cult of Busyness. Busyness is seen as a feather in one’s cap. If you’re not busy, you’re not worthy.
We all struggle with this. I have numerous clients and friends who feel guilty for taking a bath or watching a 30 minute television show. (Ironically, these same clients and friends and also this blog writer think nothing of wasting 30 minutes on Instagram, Facebook, or Amazon…).
Too busy for a bath? Too busy for a 10 pm bedtime? Too busy to read a book with your kids?
Non, non, non.
Not only is our addiction to stress robbing our bodies of hormones, it’s also robbing our life of joy.
So here is your checklist of ways to decreases stress and increase joy:
- epsom salt bath
- cloud watching
- storybook reading by the pool
- slow cooking, with the Chocolat soundtrack
- neighborhood hockey games
- long, slow evenings with great food and excellent company
- leisurely walks with a furry friend and a soothing podcast
- massages, facials, pedicures (trade with a friend or daughter if need be!)
- driving to nowhere with your favorite people and some great music
- Ultimate Frisbee
This is my happy list. What’s yours? This is where the magic begins, friends. Diets and supplements won’t fix you. Lab results won’t fix you.
Creating a balanced stress response in yourself and in those who depend on you will absolutely make you feel better, though.
Here’s what Randi had to say at the end of our time working together:
“I remember things now. It’s so weird. I was thinking, before, if i would not have put it in my phone, I would have forgotten. I feel like I am clear. I used to forget to pick up my kids from school. And even now, I remember just basic things that I was starting to forget before. I have no brain fog.
I told someone the other day that I was so skeptical about coming to you at first. I almost called and cancelled our first appointment because it was too much money. I don’t do that stuff. I don’t like to spend a lot of money on myself. But I realized that this does affect everyone. Everybody is better if I am better. It is the best money I have ever spent! I feel like I did when I was in my 20s. Before, I felt like a 50 year old with my hot flashes and my night sweats. To reverse and go back to how I felt in my 20s is amazing. I know now the importance of taking care of myself. I am so thankful that I did not let it scare me.”
I would like to take credit, but honestly, she did all of the work. And it takes a lot of work to balance out a body that has been imbalanced for so long. She is incredible.
You can feel like this, too. Really. And sooner, rather than later.
You have a few options:
1) Run yourself through Nourished. It’s 28 Days of meal plans, recipes, shopping list, self-care work, introspection, journaling, and videos. It is a hormone rebalancing in a box.
Here’s what Amanda has to say about it:
“So just checking in and giving you a mini report. So far (starting day 3) I have lost 4 lbs, my gut has visibly shrunk, and I am definitely finding myself with more energy than on my days with many cups of coffee! I was able to make my 10,000 steps by 10am today! Never mind that on day 1 I literally fell asleep on my kitchen counter :D.”
2) Get on the pre-launch list for the next 28 Day Reset, coming September 2020. We do this together in a Facebook group, and it is ridiculously fun. Here’s a bit about what we do.
I’m booked out for the next two months with private clients, so look for more group coaching options coming soon. I am excited to be able to work with more of you!
To your stress-managed health,