How Stress Reduction Influences Menopause
Menopause can be challenging for many women, especially when symptoms coincide with significant life events, like caring for aging parents, children leaving home, or working at a high-stress job. Emotional stress, combined with the physical stress our bodies experience during the menopause journey, can cause an increase in cortisol levels, which (you guessed it) can further exacerbate menopausal symptoms and leave us exhausted and overwhelmed.
Stress management and self-care can significantly impact the menopause journey and how the body responds both physically and emotionally. Regulating our cortisol levels as much as possible during menopause can help alleviate many symptoms, helping us to enjoy this time in our lives rather than living with sleepless nights and fatigue.
On a physical level, as we go through menopause, our bodies undergo many changes, including how our adrenal glands produce cortisol. Cortisol can significantly impact the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis, which is crucial in regulating the body's stress response and hormone balance. While cortisol is an important hormone that helps us manage stress, prolonged or chronic stress can lead to dysregulation of the HPA axis, resulting in imbalances in cortisol production. High cortisol levels can cause anxiety, irritability, and sleep disturbances. High cortisol levels can also impact our metabolism, causing weight gain, especially around the midsection.
Furthermore, when cortisol levels are too low during menopause, it can lead to various symptoms that can also impact our well-being. Some common symptoms of low cortisol levels during menopause include fatigue, weakness, dizziness, and low blood pressure. Women may also experience mood changes, including irritability, anxiety, or depression. Low cortisol levels can sometimes lead to adrenal insufficiency, which can cause muscle and joint pain, weight loss, and digestive issues.
Lifestyle medicine practices, including a healthy diet, exercise, sleep hygiene, and stress reduction, are foundational in helping manage stress and regulate cortisol levels. Taking time to rest and relax with mindfulness practices and stress reduction exercises can be life-changing during this time.
Here are some natural ways to reduce cortisol:
Exercise regularly: Regular exercise has been shown to reduce cortisol levels. Exercise can help to reduce stress and promote feelings of well-being.
Practice stress-reducing techniques: Techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can help to reduce cortisol levels by promoting relaxation and reducing stress.
Get adequate sleep: Lack of sleep can lead to elevated cortisol levels. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night to promote healthy cortisol levels.
Eat a healthy diet: Eating a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains can help to regulate cortisol levels.
Limit caffeine and alcohol intake: Caffeine and alcohol can increase cortisol levels. Limiting these substances can help to regulate cortisol levels.
Spend time in nature: Spending time in nature has been shown to reduce cortisol levels and promote feelings of well-being.
Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques can help to reduce cortisol levels by promoting relaxation and reducing stress.
Stress reduction techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and Qigong have been shown to reduce cortisol levels and promote relaxation and the relaxation response, helping the body move into a natural state of healing.
Qigong has been shown to reduce cortisol levels in several ways:
Relaxation: Qigong involves slow, gentle movements and deep breathing, which can help to promote relaxation and reduce stress. When the body is relaxed, cortisol levels decrease.
Improved sleep: Qigong can improve the quality of sleep, which is essential for regulating cortisol levels. When we get enough sleep, cortisol levels are more likely to stay within healthy ranges.
Mind-body connection: Qigong involves focusing the mind on the movements and breathing techniques. This helps to improve the mind-body connection and reduce stress levels, which in turn can lower cortisol levels.
Exercise: Qigong is a form of exercise that can help to reduce cortisol levels. Exercise has been shown to decrease cortisol levels, and Qigong is a low-impact form of exercise that can be suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels.
Checking in with your physician is essential if stress is unmanageable or cortisol levels become problematic. But lifestyle changes, including stress management techniques, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and supplements or medications, can support healthy cortisol levels and help your body regulate.
Our health and wellness coaching sessions can get you back on track with your energy and health as you journey through menopause. As integrative health coaches, we can work with you and your health providers to ensure your lifestyle practices support your overall well-being. Try joining one of our Qigong or meditative movement classes for extra support. Book a complimentary 30-minute discovery call with us here.