In today’s busy world, stress is a fact of life. While no one can prevent high levels of stress from popping up on occasion, if high stress becomes a chronic day-to-day issue for long periods of time, it can begin to change the way hormones work in the body.
What happens in the body during high levels of stress? The body’s response to stressful situations is to release a number of hormones from two organs located just above the kidneys, called the adrenal glands. In response to prolonged stress, the adrenal glands produce cortisol, which helps to maintain energy levels for longer periods of time. In normal functioning of the body, this is an important hormone, but in excess and over time, too much cortisol can be hard on the body.
How can stress affect testosterone levels? Hormones are made from cholesterol produced in the liver, and hormones have the same basic building block. When high levels of stress affect the body on a regular basis, it gives the body a priority of creating cortisol over testosterone. In this way, high stress and high cortisol levels are associated with low testosterone.
Low testosterone is associated with many health symptoms in men. The most common are low libido, difficulty with erections, low energy, increased weight gain, and poor mood or irritability. Low testosterone is also correlated with poor blood sugar control, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels.
The best way to improve testosterone levels in the face of chronic stress is to treat not only the low testosterone, but the adrenal glands as well. Temporary hormone replacement therapy, or treatments aimed at increasing your body’s natural production of testosterone can help bring your testosterone levels back up. In addition, it is helpful to take a natural medicine that will help to strengthen the adrenal glands, reduce stress, and maintain healthy cortisol levels throughout the day. By approaching the issue from these two angles, you will achieve faster and longer lasting benefits than from just using testosterone replacement alone.
Finally, it helps to recognize when chronic stress has become too much of a factor in your life, and recognize the symptoms of low testosterone if you are having them. If this means you, what can you do to reduce the amount of stress in your life? Getting a good enough amount of sleep and taking some time to relax are two very powerful and simple ways to boost your testosterone and your health in general.
Is it that chocolate you ate, or the mocha latte, or the dairy or gluten that caused that last acne break-out? These thoughts are common to many who deal with acne, and unfortunately the body doesn’t make it very clear which outside influences have a direct effect on those pesky pimples. Eventually, every food can become scary to eat, and everything you put on your face or body can make you wonder whether the ingredients will alter the physiology needed to keep your skin clear. It is challenging to live with acne, and even more so when the fear of acne flares exists alongside that. The good news is, many times your hormone levels can give you insights on why acne is happening and how to effectively heal from it. The hormones will probably have more to teach you than your chocolate bar.
Hormones that can lead to acne include cortisol (the body’s stress hormone), female hormones like estrogen and progesterone, and androgens such as testosterone. The hormones in and of themselves don’t cause acne, but when prolonged periods of stress disrupt the balance of hormones, the body is more susceptible to chronic health issues such as acne. Stress also puts a burden on many lifestyle factors that are necessary for healthy skin, such as restful sleep habits and balanced diet. We tend to take less care of ourselves during times of extreme stress. The mainstream messages of today that anything you eat might lead to acne makes the problem even worse. Fearing the food you eat can bring on more stress, more hormone imbalance, and more acne. It can become a cycle.
Instead of focusing on how the environment is an assault to the skin, it’s best to take a moderate approach to outside influences and look inward instead. Sure, it’s true that external factors such as food sensitivities and unclean air can affect the body, especially in excess. However, chances are that the food you’ve been eating since childhood is not the sole cause of acne into adulthood. What is clear is that stress can exert intense effects on the body the longer it lasts. So it can be helpful to ask yourself, “How have I been feeling lately?” and “What types of stress have I been going through for a while?”
In addition to asking these check-in questions, it can also be helpful to see a naturopathic or medical doctor who specializes in natural hormone balancing. The doctor can help you rule in or out any effects of hormone disruptions on your skin, and the treatments they use to balance hormones can help with other areas of health too, such as sleep, stress reduction, healthy appetite, weight management, and better energy overall.
Hormones perform many important functions that affect how the body works, including the health of your skin. Next time you’re eying your chocolate or latte with suspicion, ask yourself whether it makes more sense that stress and hormone imbalance might be leading to acne more than your favorite treat.
When it comes to healing acne, relying on specific treatments alone seldom does the trick. Those who deal with acne symptoms know the frustration of trying product after product, treatment after treatment (whether they are natural or conventional in nature). After a while, it can start to feel like nothing will work and then the desire to give up can set in.
Don’t give up! You can dig deep and get the results you want with your skin. Marissa Nevel, a second-year U.C. Berkeley student studying Nutritional Science-Physiology and Metabolism, talks about how to approach acne-prone skin in a balanced way from both physical and emotional angles. Read her insightful skin care article titled “What’s Missing in Treating Acne” at the link below:
Unwanted or excess belly weight can be frustrating to get rid of, even with healthy eating habits and exercise. Why is this?
The truth is that belly fat can be a product of more than just what we eat and how how many calories we burn. Factors such as stress, hormone imbalances, digestive issues, and poor sleep are all related to the belly area and can block efforts when it comes to a healthy midsection.
Instead of isolating the belly area in your mind and just thinking of it as “excess weight,” try and recognize the role this area plays in the body as a whole. The belly houses the digestion, part of the immune system, part of the nervous system, and a lot of circulation. Taking care of the belly’s health, in addition to diet and exercise efforts, will give you more bang for your buck in keeping belly weight off. Here are some healthy lifestyle tips that can help you do just that.
Investigate Lifestyle Habits Other than diet and exercise, think about which lifestyle habits may be contributing to weight gain around the midsection. In order for belly weight to be healthy, the energy running through the midsection has to be flowing too. Common factors that can block energy flow include chronic stress, poor sleep, lack of water (and circulation) to the area, unexplored hormone imbalances, and extreme or unsupportive eating habits. A little detective work can shine light on why your belly may not be feeling its best. We’ll talk more possible factors in the next several sections.
Avoid a Sluggish Digestion Are meals energizing your belly and your body, or do they make you feel sluggish? Heavy meals with portions that are beyond what your body can handle don’t get processed smoothly. They can also lead to constipation and bloating, making belly weight more pronounced. Limiting meal sizes based on your actual hunger, and paying attention to how you feel after meals, can help bring balance back to your digestion. Don’t let digestion get too sluggish. Food should provide more energy, not a heavy feeling.
Pay Attention to When You Eat Do your hunger growls usually get out of control? You may be waiting too long to eat, which places stress on the body and releases more of the stress hormone called cortisol. While cortisol is able to bring you the fuel you need in between meals, it also predisposes your belly to weight gain. Waiting too long to eat also increases the chance of overeating during the next meal. Try to support your cortisol curve and lower stress by eating meals when you’re hungry and not depriving the body of its needed energy, when it needs it.
Try Not to Neglect Stress and Emotions The digestive system houses an important part of the nervous system, and that is why sometimes you actually do feel emotions “in your gut.” Anxiety, anger, stress, and any emotion can be felt in the gut and when these emotions aren’t processed, they can actually affect how your digestion runs. A stressed belly can lead to chronic constipation and bloating and can also affect how the belly stores fat. Chronic cortisol release happens as part of this cycle. Sometimes when it’s time to get “stuff off your chest,” it can be helpful for getting stuff “off your belly” too in terms of chronic stress and stuck emotions. It can be helpful to start an adrenal support formula that suits you for additional support in stress management.
Strengthen the Core A strong core isn’t just for appearances. While it’s not necessary to strive for a 6-pack, general core strength helps reduce stress on the low back and also helps the body’s balance and overall energy flow. Core exercises can be simple and easy to perform, even enjoyable and relaxing. Light yoga, pilates, dance, and balance poses just a couple times a week can help your midsection feel stronger. A stronger midsection promotes healthier circulation to the belly, supports the digestion, and helps you stand taller. All of these benefits discourage a pouching out of the midsection.
Keep Sugar Away From the Belly Sugar is fun to enjoy once in a while, but too much of it invites belly fat. Excessive sugar creates large spikes in blood glucose. The blood glucose can enter cells or be stored for later, but the leftover can easily get stored in the belly area. These spikes along with an increase in belly fat can also lead to insulin resistance over time, leading to even more weight gain. It’s fine to enjoy sugar as a treat, but try to avoid making it a prominent food group in your diet.
Look at Potential Hormone Imbalances Hormones can play a big part in creating belly fat without us even realizing it. Hormone balance is important for healthy metabolism and when their levels are disrupted from stress and other lifestyle factors, the scales can become tipped toward weight gain (usually around the belly) instead of balanced weight. Other signs of hormone imbalances can include P.M.S., mood swings, irritability, bloating, low libido, increased hot flashes, and low energy. If belly fat continues to be stubborn and hard to lose, it may be time to explore where hormone levels are at and consider natural hormone balancing. You can get levels easily checked through a lab’s salivary testing (examples: Labrix or ZRT labs) and by visiting a health care provider who specializes in hormone balancing for women or men.
Sleep Off Belly Weight You can’t literally sleep off belly weight, but your sleep habits can definitely promote or hinder a fitter midsection. Hormones that are essential to healthy weight and stress management are replenished during sleep hours at night. For those who don’t experience regular or restful sleep, these hormones can become disrupted and lead not only to more belly fat, but also to habits that encourage weight gain around the midsection.
Sugar and carbohydrate cravings can go up, attachment to caffeine often increases, and portion control can go out the window. Poor sleep puts the body in stress mode, and as we talked about earlier, a stressed body tends to store more weight around the belly. Try working on a regular sleep schedule that gives you a decent amount of sleep so you can feel rested in the morning. If sleep continues to be a challenge, seek help from a health provider. An integrative health provider can take a look at your whole health profile and suggest natural therapies to try for more balanced sleep.
What’s more enjoyable: doing something because you want to do it, or doing something because you’re forced into it?
For many of us, it’s more satisfying to do things when we feel like doing them. Yet, in life and in health it’s easy to develop a militant mindset in which we become overly strict and focused on rules that we impose on ourselves. Not only does a militant frame of mind make us overly critical of ourselves and our lifestyle, it also takes us farther away from what we truly want. A lot of times, this mindset can block you from asking yourself what you want altogether.
Being healthy in life doesn’t have to involve pain and suffering. The image comes to mind of clocking five days a week at the gym, drinking green-colored smoothies every morning, tolerating handfuls of supplements, keeping up with fear-based research on what food is healthy versus not, and nervously eying the weight scale. Is this a picture of health in your mind, and is this how you want to live?
Ask yourself where in your life you’re excessively militant toward yourself. We can all benefit by easing back from rigid and forceful approaches in life. Let yourself have some leeway throughout your days, and see what you can learn about yourself and your health in the process. You may find that the militant approach is stemming from your fears rather than your true inclinations. This mindset often gives us the false impression that we’re in control of everything when we’re actually nervous about uncertainties in life. Fears and worries still bubble underneath the militant mindset, no matter how much we’re convinced we’re doing everything “right.”
It’s easy to spring to the “have to’s” and “musts” first thing in the morning. Try a different approach once in a while so you can practice avoiding the militant mindset. Ask yourself what you want to do for a change. Doing things when you feel like doing them, whenever possible, sparks real energy behind your actions and puts a natural spring in your step. This practice also helps you to be less critical and judgmental toward yourself, as well as less punishing about “not doing the right thing.” Consider that if you’re doing what you want, then it is the right thing and perhaps the best thing for your health.
This week, challenge yourself to step away from the militant mindset, and see how much more you can enjoy yourself and health in the process.
We all have “those moments” come up. The moments that seem to paralyze our bodies and minds, shake up all notions of who we are, and to suggest that we don’t have what it takes. FEAR. Whatever form it takes and however daunting it appears, fear actually isn’t a bad four-letter word. When fear comes up in life, it presents a unique opportunity for us to learn and to grow. We all have fears, and whether they stop us in our tracks or propel us forward toward what we want—depends on what we do with them.
There is a tendency to want to ignore fears, fix them, and hope they’ll go away on their own without the attention they’re asking for. We can start to believe that the messages the fears seem to be sending us are true, and we seek to avoid them even further. On top of that, there are often internally- and externally-sparked messages that if we feel fear, that we’re weak and lacking in courage.
The truth is, there can be no courage in life without fear. There also can’t be real excitement, determination, enjoyment, and pride. Squashing out the natural emotion of fear in life tends to squash out life in general and limits how we express ourselves as unique individuals. When fear is knocking loudly on the door, it’s asking us to open up to something new in life, and it’s often something that we’re ready to handle at that point. If we ignore the fear, it keeps knocking anyway while waiting to be noticed. Eventually, we can start to feel scared of even being afraid and this suppression takes up much of our time and energy.
There is no solution to fear, and there doesn’t need to be. Fear is a natural and potentially energizing part of life, and its source in the body is closely tied to the same place excitement comes from too. Both the feelings of fear and excitement release similar hormones and neurotransmitters in the body. Instead of letting fears take us over and rule how we live, we can learn to take more charge of them. Acknowledging fears as part of reality allows us to take pressure off of ourselves and the need to be perfect. Instead, we can learn our way through the scary experiences. If we let ourselves face fears and process them, we can use the energy that is contained within them to live life how we want.
Luckily, there’s no magic trick to facing fears. They’re actually right in front of our faces and waiting to be noticed, if we allow space in our lives for them. Start by opening the door that fear is knocking on and saying, “I feel scared of _____________.”
Homeopathy can be helpful for treating symptoms of anxiety and other ailments that tend to cluster with it, including hormone imbalances, skin symptoms, allergies, and digestive symptoms. While certain treatments target anxiety specifically, they can miss the mark in treating the whole picture of anxiety which is both physical as well as mental-emotional.
Homeopathy is a therapeutic and energy-based medicine that is effective at treating not only specific symptoms, but also the whole person who is experiencing symptoms. For example, a homeopathic remedy recommended for one person’s eczema symptoms may differ from a remedy suggested to someone else. Why? The word “eczema” is a label, while the quality of the actual symptoms experienced vary from person to person.
During an intake, Dr. Patel asks detailed questions about the anxiety, what triggers it, what makes it feel better or worse, and how long it’s been occurring. The intake itself can feel therapeutic, because questions are asked in an open-ended manner. This style of intake allows the patient to speak freely and direct his/her own description of the symptom(s) without being interrupted.
Homeopathic practitioners also ask about any related symptoms the person is experiencing alongside anxiety. Common symptoms that can piggy-back with anxiety include fatigue, skin conditions and sensitivities (such as acne, eczema, and rosacea), digestive issues, sleep problems, P.M.S. symptoms, worsening of menopause symptoms, irregular cycles, and a host of other chronic complaints. As the patient realizes the connections between anxiety and these other symptoms, they gain more tools to help improve not only the anxiety, but also the whole body’s health.
Questions also explore unique preferences, personality, pet peeves, food cravings, and anything else that describes the individual. Using the thorough intake, the provider picks a remedy that best fits with the overall health and symptom picture of the patient. Each remedy is made from diluted amounts of natural plant or mineral substances, and it acts by sparking the body’s own innate vitality and healing ability.
After a month, there is a follow-up visit to check in on symptoms. Because homeopathy is gentle, it can be taken alongside other integrative (both natural and conventional) treatments. As part of a complete treatment plan, homeopathy can be a valuable tool in helping relieve symptoms of anxiety, and other related symptoms, in a personalized way that treats the whole person.
Stress can reach a whole new level when we become chronically stressed about: being stressed. Stress is a natural occurrence in life. When it comes up, it’s felt on both a mental and physical level. Often, we let the mental aspect of stress take over and we may even ignore the physical signals that the body is sending.
Have you ever had a stressful day where all you do is think about it over and over again? The body may be tired and want rest, the digestive system may protest, and sleep can get disrupted. Still, the thoughts about stress can remain dominant. Eventually, thoughts about stress can become the norm, no matter what actually happens during each day and week.
The body acts through homeostasis, which means that it tries to keep its internal environment stable and the same each day. It gets accustomed to keeping around damaging influences on the body as much as it does beneficial ones. Why? It resists change. Your body can keep stress around beyond naturally existing levels if your mind spurs it on that way.
Stressing about stress is like a positive feedback loop, egging itself on unless something is done about it. This habit can affect the body both short- and long-term as it leads to greater physical stress and encourages us to neglect how we’re feeling. Dealing with this stress loop can be challenging, but paying attention when it’s happening is half the battle. Here are a handful of other tips on working through the stress loop:
- Don’t forget the body! Try to come back to it and attend to physical signs of stress that you notice, which can include chronic fatigue, sleep issues, indigestion, mood swings, irritability, and other chronic (daily) symptoms.
- When you feel stuck thinking about a stressful situation over and over again, ask yourself how much the thoughts are actually helping you through the situation.
- Are there favorite activities you’re no longer doing because the stress loop is taking up your time? Re-evaluate whether your time feels best spent this way.
- Do the stressful thoughts sound like a recording that has been playing for a long time, without any change? Push pause for a moment and ask yourself honestly what you’re feeling right now.
- Picture yourself dealing with this same stress loop months from now. Can you picture things differently, and what might it take to get there?
What is worth your time?
There is so much out there in the world today, and there isn’t enough time to do or see it all. Supporting health involves picking and choosing which pursuits are worth spending your time on. It might seem urgent to attend to everything all at once, and it’s also a subliminal message of the fast-paced world we live in. Being stretched in many different directions has its limits, however, and can ultimately lead to more stress than you need. It can also hamper enjoyment in what you ultimately spend your time doing.
Being busy is okay, but it’s helpful to prioritize what’s worth busying yourself over. Are there certain areas of life where you’ve been craving more action, versus other areas where you’d like to feel more calm and less stress? No need to whip out a big To-Do list to prioritize what you want: it’s helpful to feel it first. Relax and try to picture what types of pursuits you’d like to bring more of your energy to. Leave the doubts and worries out of it for now. Let it be a simple exercise that helps you consider the possibilities of how to spend more of your time, your way.
Time may feel like it’s against us sometimes, but often it’s asking us to make choices regarding what matters to each of us the most. Time is more than just a number. So, what’s worth your time?
What is patience?
Patience is valuable in many aspects of life, including health, and it can take practice. Even though it involves waiting, it isn’t passive. Even though it can take take time, and often more time than trying to force an outcome to happen, it’s not made up of empty time. Patience involves the ability to accept that while not everything is within your control, there are things within reach that you can do to help you get what you want.
Impatience can often set in from the fear that things won’t work out, and that if you hurry things up or control situations you can increase the chances. It can be challenging to relax the feeling that everything has to be under control at all times. Fears may arise that it will all fall apart and head in a direction you don’t want. Outside of control, life is happening and there’s a natural flow to it. That natural flow is more accessible when you invite patience to take part in what’s important to you. Will you always know the outcome? No, but the outcome may turn out to be more your style than if you’d decided beforehand how things should turn out.
Patience isn’t always the most comfortable feeling in the moment, but in the long run it can help set a healthy pace and rhythm to life and opportunities. It can also give you a chance to clearly picture what you want in life. What areas of life have you felt rushed or impatient about, and how can you breathe more patience into them?