With Christmas just around the corner, life gets busy and a bit over-whelming for many women in mid-life. Busy days, work pressures often increasing and lots of juggling at home as well. It’s stressful. But if the sleepless nights have arrived, so too do the hot flushes and night sweats. Our anxiety gets worse too. I had no idea all of this menopause mayhem was connected – so, if this is you, then here’s what’s really going on.
When I went into peri-menopause, the time of our lives when our ovaries gradually stop producing oestrogen and our progesterone declines, I had no idea that not sleeping all night was connected to my night sweats, hot flushes and mounting feelings of daily stress, anxiety, brain-fog and fatigue. Like thousands of women going through menopause, I felt emotionally and physically exhausted but boxed-on as we do when there is so much to be done.
Stress and anxiety are interesting phenomena. I’ve studied them both for decades, but not in the context of menopause. But rather in the context of sport and exercise science and the accumulation of physical stress in the athlete who is competing. Some is good, too much is bad. When athlete’s train and compete, their muscles, tendons, ligaments, cardiovascular system and gut undergo considerable ‘stress’. For athletes, this is the basis of performance adaptation.
In other words, athlete’s need to ‘over-stress’ the body in their training to then allow them to make the physiological adaptations to become faster, fitter and stronger. But when athletes don’t get their training and recovery cycles sorted (especially female athletes who have also got their hormonal health to take into consideration), then they begin to see a drop in performance.
The game-changer’ for me, was that the symptoms of an over-trained, exhausted female athlete doing large volumes of training, are pretty similar to the symptoms we experience in peri-menopause too.
- Changing thyroid function which can lead to glandular fever
- Sore and aching muscles which can lead to fibromyalgia
- Hot flushes
- Stiffer tendons
- Anxiety and brain fog.
Gradually, there is an accumulation of inflammation and an increase in the chronic stress hormone, called cortisol. Some cortisol is good, but too much leads to more injuries. As the thyroid and adrenal hormones work harder to re-balance the body, motivation to train takes a dive, and many then begin to experience immune system health changes. Any one of you with teenage athletes in the house will know how hard it is to keep them healthy if they are doing large volumes of training and not sleeping. The technical term for this is ‘over-training‘ and it is a well-researched phenomenon in athlete conditioning and optimal training adaptation.
But here’s the thing.
It’s happening to women in menopause as well. You don’t need to be an athlete for your body to go into ‘distress’. We already know this from health and medical research. When we aren’t sleeping, we aren’t recovering. And if we aren’t recovering, we start to feel wired and tired, stressed and anxious and it’s not long before we experience ‘Burn-out’.
For decades women have had to thrive on stress – busy with home commitments, building their careers and busy being active with exercise as well. You could say that it was our generation that invented this little word as we wrapped it around our day-to-day lives.
The accumulation of stress affects every organ in our body and makes our menopause symptoms worse. For many of us, it leads to worsening menopause weight gain too.
Menopause-related insomnia combined with our busy lives, often looking after ageing parents and young families all at the same time, accumulates fatigue and exhaustion. For years we have coped, but the difference is, that other organs in your body are now changing as you move through menopause too. Declining levels of oestrogen in blood vessels, muscles and joints, means that our joints can become sore, our legs can become restless at night and if we are still exercising more vigorously, then the over-load on the body combined with not sleeping, causes more hot flushes, anxiety, night sweats, weight gain, and low libido too.
There is not much escape from our stressful lives these days. I’m not just referring to emotional stress either. The heat-waves in Australia impact on physiological stress in our cells. When it’s hot outside, our body heats up inside as many of my Australian ladies discover. This added heat creates extra ‘stress’ on our cells too.
As we transition through menopause, the accumulation of all the various sources of stress can impact hugely on our symptoms.
From hot flushes, to night sweats, to insomnia to palpitations, anxiety and feeling bloated, we generally arrive at the Dr’s offices and then get placed on HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) or anti-depressants or other medications. Sure, these can help to alleviate the immediacy of the symptoms in many women and they are often a last resort for many caring Doctors to prescribe, but what if there was another way to manage our symptoms in menopause?
What if the first step to take, was to better understand the powerful impact of the accumulation of the various sources of stress on our hormones and symptoms during our menopause transition?
Emotional and physical stress are accumulative – and it’s not just the ‘here and now’ stress. I’m also talking about the decades-long build-up of oxidative or physical stress that manifests as inflammation and metabolic chaos in our body. If your muscles are sore, if you have fibromyalgia, if your gut health has changed, if you have put on weight, and if you are feeling hot and bothered all the time, and you aren’t sleeping, then yes, these are all signs that your body is ‘stressed’.
During menopause, these problems can hang-around for years if you don’t reduce the sources of inflammation and stress. It’s why I hear from women every week, who are in post-menopause and they are still experiencing worsening hot flushes, night sweats, anxiety and sleepless nights.
Managing or reducing ALL of the sources of stress in your life (physical and emotional), helps to reduce your menopause symptoms.
I love the Seattle Midlife Women’s Health Study. When I was so confused about what was going on during peri-menopause and I was putting on weight and not sleeping, I did what I’ve done for years and that was to turn to intense exercise which made me ‘feel good’. I took advice from diets that were the popularised through Keto and Paleo approaches. My pantry looked like a health supplement shop full of the wonders of menopause supplements too. But when I discovered the Seattle Midlife Women’s Health Study.* I learnt that various sources of stress impact on our symptoms, including our weight and sleep. [Refer image below from the Study, p. 4]
This study made me sit up and take stock of the stress in my life and why nothing I was doing was working for me. It enabled me to put together the stress-hot-flush-sleep connection for us in menopause.
Spanning over 23 years, the Seattle Midlife Women’s Health Study, reported on thousands of women between the ages of 45-60 years who had shared aspects of their daily lives and health changes with researchers. One area of investigation was the meanings they attached to midlife and participants described experiencing a diverse array of stressful events from their changing health in menopause to family problems, work-related issues, deaths, frustrated goal attainment and financial concerns. All areas that I’m sure many of us might relate to as well.
But herein lies the problem – whilst all of these very real sources of psychological stress were reported by women in this study, what’s missing are all the other sources of stress that women in their menopause transition experience too.
The research doesn’t take consideration of the various sources of physical stress inside our body as we reach our menopause years. This is known as oxidative stress or cellular inflammation and invariably, for women in their late 40’s and mid-to -late 50’s who are in menopause, oxidative stress has been building up for years. These hormonal changes during menopause then become the catalyst for worsening inflammation, especially in our muscles (including cardiac muscle), joints and gut. It’s why so many women find that their health begins to change and they get placed on all sorts of medications and supplements in mid-life.
Oxidative or cellular stress is becoming well recognised as a cause of age-related diseases. It is a term that refers to chronic inflammation building up deep inside our cells and tissues. It arrives in our gut, liver, heart and kidneys as well as muscles and joints as we age, and yes, the brain doesn’t escape the effects of damaged and inflamed cells and tissues either.
When I began to understand how our cells and tissues become ‘stressed’ and added this physical stress to the psychological stress that I felt, not only from not sleeping, but from my busy, active life as well, suddenly, there appeared to be a multitude of sources of stress in my life!
It’s the same for so many women who join me on my 12 week programmes. What about you? What are all the sources of stress in your life?
If we don’t ‘break the circuit’ on all this stress and inflammation, then from insomnia to hot flushes, to bone and joint problems, aching muscles, gut health problems, fibro-myalgia and more – the symptoms can keep piling up.
That’s why I love helping women to turn this menopause-chaos around. When we understand how to help our body reduce inflammation and we sleep all night again and we change our diet and exercise to suit our age and stage of life, then we also reduce hot flushes, night sweats, anxiety, and weight. Being overweight and/or sedentary in menopause is another form of added stress for the body to cope with, especially as we age.
In addition to the food and environmental changes, is the knowledge that we are also the first generation to have come through all the emphasis on various training routines in both sport and exercise – especially for women like me, who have enjoyed the wonderful opportunities to stay active in the modern fitness industry. But this also means that our muscles and joints have had to do a lot of work over the years too.
All of the various sources of stress, both emotional and physical, leads me to introducing you to a term you may not have heard of – ALLOSTATIC LOAD.
I remembered this term from teaching physiology and from my former nursing days. It is a term which describes the accumulation of stress over time that affects our health leading to pre-clinical signs of disease. If we don’t get our sleep and other symptoms sorted in menopause, then as many of us have already felt, or have seen with our mother’s generation, menopause can be the gateway to more health problems as we age.
From a physiological basis, when the allostatic load increases then it contributes to allostasis. This refers to the body’s ability to try to re-balance itself. It’s why, if we aren’t sleeping and our body isn’t coping, our thyroid, adrenal and pituitary glands are working harder to re-balance up the internal environment too.
When our body is in ‘distress’ e.g. not sleeping, accumulation of inflammation, feeling over-whelmed by our emotional stress; always feeling time poor and busy and when we aren’t eating well, then the allostatic load increases.
But here’s the problem.
From insomnia to hot flushes, to night sweats to sore joints, to palpitations and tendon injuries, our symptoms begin to impact on our day-to-day life. When this happens our body is under even greater stress – in other words, when the allostatic load increases during menopause our symptoms become worse.
If we don’t resolve our symptoms and inflammation, then it’s like a ticking time bomb for our health as we age, because our adrenal glands (where our stress hormones are made) produce too much cortisol.
When cortisol is high during our menopause transition then our pain receptors are more senstive, our sleep becomes worse, our blood sugar levels become erratic, our muscles become sore (restless legs anyone?), our blood pressure and heart rate increase and our anxiety levels go up a notch too.
Just like over-trained female athlete, when our body is under stress, then we produce more of our chronic stress hormone called cortisol. This extra production depletes even further, our lovely calming hormone called progesterone. Progesterone normally balances out oestrogen in the body and when progesterone is crashing down too quickly, our symptoms become worse. How to turn this around is some of what I teach you in my 12 week online learning programmes.
Stress management from all sources, during our menopause transition is crucial to the reduction of your symptoms.
I can’t reinforce this enough. When you come on board with me and let me share your menopause journey with you, then I help you to turn this chaos around. And yes, your journey starts with re-discovering how to sleep all night.
When you put my strategies into action over the 12 weeks, then your body reduces its allostatic load and your cortisol levels re-balance. This allows progesterone levels to re-balance in relation to your changing oestrogen levels, so you feel calmer and your menopause symptoms resolve too. Oh, and for those of you who are overweight, you lose weight too. Busy, stressed Daily Mail Journalist, Claudia Connell, found this too.
I can’t wait for you to experience everything I have to offer in both of my programmes. Which programme is right for you?
Both programmes are ON SALE from now until the end of January, 2020, so please use the promo code JANUARY20 to access your NZ$50 saving on either programme. This makes either programme NZ$88 / AUS$79/UK£44 /US$57 per month for 3 months which includes my personal coaching too. This price will nver be repeated.
Through my research, I’ve learnt myself that menopause is not an illness to be treated and with the right lifestyle strategies that better suit our changing hormones in menopause, you can:
- Sleep through the night
- Reduce hot flushes and night sweats
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Restore joint health and remove aching muscles
- Feel like your old-self again!
Thousands of women around the world call the programme “life-changing.” I can’t wait to help you too.
Egger, G. & Dixon, J. (2014). Beyond Obesity and Lifestyle: A Review of 21st Century Chronic Disease Determinants. BioMed Research International, Article ID 731685, 1-12.
Woods, N. & Mitchell, E. (2016). The Seattle Midlife Women’s Health Study: a longitudinal prospective study of women during the menopausal transition and early postmenopause. Women’s Midlife Health, 2(6), 1-16.