By Dr. Sara Gottfried, MD
Try to discuss the importance of balance and stress relief with a parent, and the response you’ll likely get is an eye-roll and an, “I’m late for soccer practice!”
I get it.
As the mother of two busy girls, I know that trying to have a successful professional life while being a caring mother and a loving spouse leaves about 30 seconds a day of self care (and that’s on a good day). Unfortunately, this manner of perpetual parenting takes a toll on our health, whether from stress, lack of sleep, poor sex, or — as is usually the case — all three.
But to be the best parent possible, we need to be in the best health possible. That’s why taking control of our hormones and the many important functions they manage (sleep, mood, metabolism, memory, sex drive) is one of the best things we can do, for our children and ourselves.
Below are five things we parents typically do that screw up our hormonal systems. Ultimately, it’s easier to balance our hormones than to live with the misery of hormone imbalance!
1. “I’m tired but wired.”
If you don’t get coffee in the morning, you can’t function. You spend all day feeling sluggish and hazy. But when it’s finally time to go to bed…you find that you can’t fall asleep. Your mind refuses to shut down, and you find yourself worrying about your mortgage, kids’ grades, and laundry.
As a parent, our stress response goes off all the time and as a result, lots of us have high cortisol. Ideally everyone gets a burst of cortisol in the morning to wake up and as the day progresses it fades away, until levels are low enough at bedtime for you to easily nod off. Unfortunately, most of us have a higher-than-ideal amount of stress in our lives, so cortisol goes up. And up. And up. And with it, your blood sugar. Then your metabolism screeches to a halt and you start gaining weight. Sugary foods and caffeine provide a short burst of energy…but you crave them all the time. Clearly, we’re stuck in a vicious cycle.
Get Back on Track:
I have three great strategies for getting cortisol back down to its Goldilocks position. The first one I think you’re really going to like: dark chocolate. There’s also an app for high cortisol: Inner Balance (http://www.heartmath.com/innerbalance/) uses your smartphone’s camera as a sensor to measure HRV (Heart Rate Variability), a marker of stress. After it evaluates your HRV, it shares stress-reducing techniques, such as guided breathing, visualization, or music.
Lastly, my favorite, and sparkliest, solution: Tiara Time (gentlemen, you can put on some plaid and call it a manly moment). Put your tiara on and tell your family that you will be taking 15 minutes of Tiara Time, during which they are not to disturb you. Go for a walk, take some deep breaths, or practice a few yoga moves.
2. “Pour Me Another”
It wasn’t too long ago that I poured myself a glass of wine every night while making dinner. And then enjoyed another one while my family ate. Lots of parents use alcohol to unwind after a long day and in fact, many of my patients tell me “My wine/beer helps me to fall asleep at night!”
Unfortunately, alcohol can wreak havoc on your hormones. It lowers metabolism by up to 70%, it raises cortisol, and 3-6 servings per week have been linked with a high incidence of breast cancer. It may seem like your cocktail is helping you drift off, but in reality alcohol hijacks your sleep quality in the second half of the night, making for poorer overall rest. And as anyone with children knows, every second of shuteye is precious. Here’s how to change all that:
Get Back on Track:
I’m prescribing you a new cocktail. No, no that kind. Instead of nightcap, I want you to try Phosphatidyl Serine (PS), a supplement that has been proven to reduce cortisol and encourage sleep. It’s also possible that you are missing Omega 3s from your diet, which can be added with a fish oil supplement or wild Alaskan salmon. Lastly, see if you have a sticky relationship with alcohol. Try going for more than two weeks without a drink. If you struggle, it may be time to look a little closer at your relationship with alcohol.
3. “I’d Rather Mop the Floor than have Sex with My Husband…”
Don’t listen to the people who tell you that losing interest in sex is “just part of getting older.” Since a flagging sex drive is usually the result of a hormonal imbalance, I’ve got lots of options that will rev up your engine.
An imbalance of testosterone (yep, even for women) and/or estrogen could be the problem. If you’re low in either of these important sex hormones, getting in the mood is a real challenge. Women may also struggle with vaginal dryness if their testosterone and estrogen are off. A good sex life is part of a healthy marriage! Orgasms release all kinds of happy brain chemicals and play an important role in hormone balance. Consider this your sex-scription.
Get Back on Track (and in the Sack):
Please meet one of my favorite supplements: Maca! Maca has consistently been shown to increase sex drive in women. It also helps with insomnia, depression, memory, concentration, energy, hot flashes, and vaginal dryness, as well as improved body-mass index and bone density. Talk about getting some bang (get it?) for your buck!
4. Cranky Pants
Bad mood? No matter how angelic your child may be, if you’ve been battling stress, poor sleep, and not enough toe-curling orgasms, it’s tough to stay positive. It probably also means that you have low thyroid. Thyroid keeps you slim, happy, and energetic. Without it, we turn into irritable couch potatoes. Thyroid is affected by cortisol, estrogen and testosterone, so if you have one hormone imbalance, chances are your thyroid is also sluggish. Your diet can also hijack your thyroid.
Get Back on Track:
Incorporate a potent multivitamin into your daily routine to fill in nutritional gaps. Make it even more potent and eat it with a meal; this encourages absorption of key nutrients. I also recommend an oil change: conjugated lineolic acid and coconut oil have been shown to ramp up thyroid production.
5. “I’ve Aged 10 Years in 10 Minutes”
A major turning point for me was when I looked into the mirror and saw someone who looked shockingly older than my *cough* 30-something years. Although I believe that true health (and beauty) is on the inside, your exterior really is a good indicator of your overall health. Getting insufficient sleep and going to bed too late are both ways that we, as parents, sabotage our health and even our longevity. Poor sleep doesn’t just show itself in baggy eyes and extra wrinkles; it also wreaks havoc on your hormones and their release schedules which, you guessed it, can affect your mood, appetite, sex drive and energy. There are 60 million prescriptions for sleeping pills written every year, but did you know that sleeping pills only add, on average, 20 minutes of sleep…and that sleep quality isn’t any better? Luckily for you, I’ve got a couple of easy fixes that will make bedtime the best time.
Get Back on Track:
You probably tell this to your kids but… an early bedtime is a must! Going to bed before 10:00pm gets you sleeping during the most productive hours of cell repair and rejuvenation. Another important step is getting your circadian rhythm back. A regular sleep schedule helps keeps your hormones consistent and balanced.
Walking the Balance Beam
But if there were a few issues above that sounded a little too familiar, there’s a good chance you have a hormone imbalance. Don’t worry – you’re not alone. For more solutions, please check out my new book, which just hit #5 on the New York Times best-seller list! It’s full of targeted strategies for balancing your hormones and reclaiming health. Do it for your spouse. Do it for your kids. But most of all, do it for you.
Dr. Sara Gottfried M.D. is a Harvard-educated physician, speaker, and author of NY Times best-selling book The Hormone Cure: Reclaim Balance, Sleep, Sex Drive, and Vitality with The Gottfried Protocol (Scribner, March 12, 2013). For the past 20 years, Dr. Gottfried has been dedicated to practicing and helping women feel at home in their bodies.
Bonus! Book Giveaway! Dr. Sara has graciously offered to give a free copy of her new book to one lucky Raising Happiness reader! Complete this entry form for consideration. We’ll pick one person (US-based only, please) at random on March 26 at noon PST. Good luck!