We all live in a stressful world. To deny it is to add more stress. Learning to identify our stressors and then dealing with them is more reasonable. Natural hormones are a wonderful, gentle way of balancing your hormones, but they cannot work in a vacuum. No treatment can work if your life style is counterproductive and destructive to your body and mind. Very often complaints that bring symptoms of hormone imbalance to the surface are precipitated by major life changes. To ensure success of a treatment plan, you cannot ignore your lifestyle.
Unrelenting stress is the greatest energy zapper, and a large impediment to the successful treatment of medical and mental conditions. The only solution is to de-stress. Of course that is easier said than done. Everything we do stresses our systems. Whether it is mental stress from family issues; personal issues; work-related challenges; or physical stress in terms of eating, rest, and exercise patterns, the result is wear and tear on the whole system. This wear and tear cannot be eliminated, but it can be delayed and minimized. Hormone balance plays an enormous role in our ability to tolerate stress. But even when that balance has been achieved, we must identify the stressors to which we are particularly vulnerable as individuals and figure out if we can do something about them.
When you feel under significant pressure, get a diary and write the events that precipitated your feelings. My young women patients find out very quickly that before they get their periods they feel stressed. School, work, family ties become unbearable and they feel ready to snap. While progesterone cream certainly abates the snapping feeling, dealing with the reality of the difficulties of being a teen still exists and must be dealt with. The same thing goes for the 47 year olds who cannot juggle work, family and friends any longer. Hormones help, but dealing with the problems and making them less stressful is an absolute must.
- Put it in an imaginary drawer and shut it! Face your biggest problem. If you can not do anything about it, just put it into an imaginary drawer and shut it. We are accustomed to working out every problem, struggling with it until we find a solution. Some problems do not have solutions, at least for a while, and rather than stressing yourself when there is no answer to be found, give yourself a break.
- Take a deep breath out! A good friend of mine once gave me a great tape by an eastern master. I listened to it a few times. I knew I would never become a yoga person, but I learned an important piece of advice form the tape. When I feel overwhelmed, I stop and take a deep breath OUT! Somehow when you breathe in, you are bringing into your body all the stress and worry from the outside world. When you breathe out, all the stuff you held in, just dissipated into the outside. It may not make my problems go away, but my load becomes much lighter.
- Pause, even for a second! In tennis, the difference between an average and a good tennis player is timing. A split second delay allows you to focus better and see where the ball is going, how to better hit it and how to direct your shot. Take the split second delay concept and apply it to your life. Before reacting in a stressful situation, after you took a deep breath out, stop for a split second. In this split second you can consider if your reaction is worth having or if there are better ways to deal with the situation. The split second delay allows you to become aware of yourself and your surroundings. The message is: don’t react blindly. I’m not recommending you start intellectualizing everything and lose the spontaneity that makes you unique, just stop for a split second, and think about what you really want to do.
- Stop feeling stuck in the past! Linda’s story is a perfect example of this type of stressor. When something happens that you have no control over, let go of it! You can be sad, you can mourn the situation, but holding on to it and trying to make believe it did not happen will only make your stress level go up. I find many male patients who invariably stay stuck in their youth. They believe their best days are behind them- high school football, college swimming, their 20s. If you believe the best is in your past, than that will be true. Instead, look at what you’ve got going for you now and how you can make the present even better. Get the most out of today instead of wasting your precious energy on yesterday.
- Take one step at a time! I think my life is overwhelming most of the time because I find myself biting off more than I can chew. I don’t know how to say no. Unfortunately, I found out the hard way that if I do less, I accomplish more and leave a lot less disappointment behind. Start saying no once in a while. You’ll stay focused and move ahead faster. Give up on doing 20 things at once.
- Communicate! Clearing up misunderstandings is probably one of the least addressed life-style issues. We are all so afraid of confrontation, of being perceived as a bully, that we allow miscommunications to ruin our lives. Do you find yourself in the same discussions and arguments over and over again with certain people in your life? Do you leave meetings and conversations feeling you were not heard or understood? How often do you wonder what the other person you were talking to was trying to say? Poor communications skills are at the root of this problem. Often when people talk they really Parallel Talk or Ping Pong. People are so busy preparing their answer and wanting to get their point across they don’t listen to the other person. The result is a stressed and frustrated human on both sides of the conversation. So, don’t waste precious energy, take the time to listen and relax enough to allow another point of view to filter through. The result, you will be carrying less on your shoulders and the world will be an easier place to be in.
- Have reasonable expectations! When patients come to see me for the first time I always wonder what their expectation level is. It’s a very important barometer of the type of person I am dealing with and a strong indicator of how they will respond to the therapy. The one extreme is the woman who wants to walk out of the office with hormone creams in hand ( even though they have to be prepared in a lab away from the office) and start treatment today. The other extreme is the woman who after spending time and money on an extensive consultation with me, laboratory testing, formulation of the hormones, reading of the educational materials, spends two months thinking about when to stop her Premarin and when to start the new regimen. Fortunately for all, most people fit somewhere in the middle. For those extremists, I fear they will be disappointed because their expectations are not reasonable. Be realistic. I tell my new hormone patients- let’s give it three months. Let’s balance, change the dosing and talk about it once a month or more often if necessary. But begin with the premise that it will take three months to get to a good balance. I know most people take less, but I cut myself and the patients some slack. I don’t feel overly pressured and the patients are invariably pleasantly surprised. The same is true for the rest of your life.
- Get a new attitude! The most important de-stressor may be simply changing your own outlook. Take the attitude that life is as good as it gets. Rather than always looking to improve the future or blaming yourself for the past, learn to treat yourself kindly now, in this moment. I’m not referring to getting the obligatory manicure, the massage and facial or the trip to the mall, I mean something simpler. Give yourself permission to be you, to be who you really are. Give yourself permission to age, but not to give in. If you are 50, don’t try to be 30, just be the best 50 you could be for yourself. Don’t use anyone else’s standards: define yourself as the unique person you are. Take responsibility for your life and either accept it as it is, or change it for the better with your new attitude.
- Engage! I get very nervous when I see aging women who are depressed. Hormones will make them feel better, but to what end? The kids grown, the husband not present either, women who are isolated are at risk. Boredom is a dangerous mindset. Get out of the house, join a club, a church, a charity, or get a job. Boredom is a place we go to hide from our feelings and our problems. Your mind knows that if you address the reality of your situation you have to do something about it, so it shuts down. Don’t let it! Use a diary to see what is really going on in your life. The entries will show you where you are and if you are hiding from troublesome reality spots.
- Retirement is a danger spot for most active people. Andrew, a construction worker patient of mine, became more and more of a couch potato over a period of six months after his retirement. His wife brought him to me for testosterone supplementation because she thought he was depressed. Testosterone improved his libido, but did not get him off the couch. I suggested he start walking every day. He said his arthritis was bothering him too much. I suggested he go to church with his wife on Sunday. He couldn’t. The service conflicted with his favorite Sunday morning news show. I told him to tape the show and just go to church. He reluctantly agreed. The minister must have heard my prayers because he asked Andrew to help supervise a construction project at the church. Andrew got off the couch, went back to work, and even walks to church and bought a treadmill for his basement. See what a little engaging can do?
- Sleep! We have addressed the relationship between sleep disorders and hormone imbalance in Chapter 3, but I want to reinforce its significance. Sleep is sacred. If you don’t get it, you get cranky, your focus is off, you get sick and your hormones become confused and out of sync. Sleep is so critical for hormone production it cannot be overstated. When the hormones are in balance and we can sleep, we must insure that other factors do not deter us from sleeping, because sleep is equivalent to youth. You sleep well, you live longer. Here are some tips to help improve your chances for a good night’s sleep with the understanding that your hormones are in good balance:
- Clear your bedroom of things that don’t belong there: all work papers must go. Draw the shades, keep the room cozy and uncluttered.
- Eliminate the TV- Either remove the TV set from your bedroom or just make sure it is off when you go to sleep. Do not leave the TV on. The sounds and light from it will continue to enter your brain and the quality of your sleep will be diminished. Television is the single most common deterrent to sound sleep.
- Watch the timing of your last meal. Eating a heavy dinner late will interfere with good sleep. Go to sleep lighter, you’ll sleep sounder. Alcohol does not help with better sleep quality. It may help you fall asleep faster, but it will wake you up earlier and your sleep will be restless and unsatisfying.
- Don’t exercise too close to bedtime. Those wonderful hormones that make us feel good- endorphins- when we exercise, are also going to stop us from getting the deep sleep we need to renew ourselves. So, do not exercise within two hours of going to sleep.
And for my final advice: a little at a time will change your whole life in no time. Be nice to yourself. You are unique, celebrate your uniqueness, don’t hide it. If you are tired, sleep. Things will wait. If you are sad, cry. You’ll feel better. When you are happy, enjoy it. Others will enjoy it with you.