Its Mother’s Day and we are surrounded by marketing material that applaud motherhood and sell an image of the happy content mother. As many mothers know motherhood comes with its challenges and increasing demands. Women are often expected to juggle family, career and home. If that is not enough we have to present ourselves to be flawless and martyrs to the domestic cause. If you were to ask a woman on Mother’s Day what she would really want, and it cannot be purchased, I am sure she would say; “peace of mind”. To be free of the worry of dropping of kids and battling to get to work on time. To not stress how to make ends meet in a city where the cost of living is becoming unrealistic. Ultimately all women deserve the right to be free of anxiety and stress that ravages their minds and steals the ideal image of a happy mum.
Recently I consulted a mother who was 26 weeks pregnant and complaining of fatigue. I asked the general questions around her pathology and sleep patterns. She then informed me that she has two other little ones and works full time. If that wasn’t enough they were moving interstate in 2 weeks time. I honestly told her that I could give her a range of supplements to support her pregnancy and wellbeing but the real solution is that she needed a break. A pregnancy is a massive load on the female body and mind without all the extra demands on top of it. This woman’s story is of course not unique I am sure that every reader has a story to tell. However, the enormity of the individuals’ situation is not the point, it’s the fact that there is no reprieve for many mums. You just need to get on with it “it is what it is!” is the common catch phrase you hear.
When women cannot find a solution and after a period of time of not coping more than often they may need to seek medical advice. Without any remedy to be able to change the given situation women are often prescribed medication to deal with their anxiety and depression. Women are the highest users of antidepressants (9.9% of women compared to 5.6% of men). This difference widens with age. At the age of 75 it is more than 50% of women.
Women are often told or read that they suffer with low serotonin. Medically anti-depressants in the form of SSRI’s are prescribed to correct this. Does raise the question; is depression a symptom or a disease? I am not by any measure simplifying the condition of anxiety depression. I just want to open the discussion that if we could give women support and the tools to cope with stress? It needs to be considered if we treated the symptoms of stress before it resulted in depression we could almost certainly reduce the need for anti-depressants.
HOW STRESS EFFECTS WOMEN’S HORMONES:
Stress effects women’s health in numerous negative ways. How stress effects women’s hormones is really profound.
Stress and autoimmunity: Stress reduces levels of oestrogen which reduces the regulatory hormones that effect the immune system. This leads to auto-immune diseases. Women are far more likely to suffer autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lupis.
Stress and fertility: stress reduces fertility in males and females. In women it reduces their levels of ovarian function and estradiol (active oestrogen hormone). Reducing levels of stress in fertility treatments is vital in order for the woman to conceive successfully. Stress not surprisingly reduces libido drastically in women which doesn’t help the fertility cause.
Stress and weight gain: women will often complain about weight gain in times of stress. This is quite a simple explanation. As they are in a constant state of stress, high cortisol levels signal that weight needs to be retained for the battle. However, there is no battle, it’s just everyday life. High cortisol levels cause spikes in insulin, leading to metabolic dysfunction and eventually diabetes.
SUPPORTING STRESS IN WOMEN:
Adrenal support: By supporting the adrenals and hormone profiles in women stress can be measurably reduced.
The adrenal glands sit above the kidneys, they are responsible for secreting stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. We need these hormones to respond appropriately to stress, however over time as our body stays in a constant state of stress our adrenals basically just give up. This is what is commonly coined adrenal fatigue or exhaustion.
Supporting adrenal stress requires the right combination of B group vitamins, magnesium and zinc. These nutrients help with keeping the nervous system in the yoga retreat state rather than trying to catch the train on time state of mind.
Improving diet: Supplements are one solution to adrenal stress in women but diet is the most important treatment solution. It is not uncommon that I ask women about their diet and it is often a cocktail of sugar, caffeine and wine to keep it merry. A diet that balances the blood sugars, calms the nervous system and heals the gut will support women’s stress long term more than any tonic or vitamin complex. It is a reality that many women will require more than just diet to manage their stress.
It seems almost archaic that women will make sure that everyone else is nourished but more than often put their own nutritional needs last. The best habit is to try and make everyone eat what Mum needs, which usually will benefit everyone.
Communication: Before Mother’s Day comes I would like women to sit with their partners and talk. Sometimes open communication can give us so much peace of mind. It doesn’t change the demands that exist and drive us into a heap. Communication can make us feel less alone and help us build solutions.
For all the single mothers out there doing double time, this piece of advice is harder to deliver and they are the mothers who do not fit the advertising type cast. Single parents need our support as a community.
Rest and recovery: yes, I know it is easier said than done. Stress is exhausting and to avoid falling into a heap, you need to find a way of getting some rest. Finding time for restorative exercise such as yoga, cycling or tai chi are highly recommended.
Counselling Support: anyone who feels that they are not coping emotionally may under the Mental Health Plan receive subsidised counselling. This may help women develop the emotional tools to cope with stress.
If you feel that your stress levels need nutritional support please make an appointment with Holy Mackerel Health.
Assad S, Khan HH, Ghazanfar H, et al. Role of Sex Hormone Levels and Psychological Stress in the Pathogenesis of Autoimmune Diseases. Muacevic A, Adler JR, eds. Cureus. 2017;9(6):e1315. doi:10.7759/cureus.1315.