We live in a chronically stressed and sleep-deprived world.
Pushing, forcing, and overworking our way through life will catch up to us eventually and when it does, it often results in hormonal imbalance. Chronic stress in the body is not an isolated condition – it affects all vital systems by elevating heartbeat and blood pressure, inhibiting proper digestion and elimination, raising acidity and inflammation levels, suppressing immune function, and last but not least, causing an imbalance in the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone.
The body prioritizes survival over reproduction, which makes sense at the most basic level according to evolution.
If we don’t survive a certain stressor, we won’t even be alive – so how could we reproduce? On a deeper level, when we’re stressed, we’re unable to function at an optimal level both physically and emotionally, so our hormones essentially ‘save’ us by making it difficult for conception to occur during that time.
Your stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) and your sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone) have an interesting relationship with one another. Both cortisol, estrogen, and progesterone are made out of the same base hormone, pregnenolone, sometimes referred to as the ‘Mother of All Hormones’.
Your body’s stress hormones are secreted by the adrenal glands, two walnut-shaped glands that rest on top of the kidneys on the backside of the body.
When your body is chronically stressed, it sends continuous messages to the adrenal glands to pump out more and more stress hormones.
Eventually, the adrenal glands run out of life-force and we experience what’s called hypoadrenia or adrenal fatigue.
But it doesn’t stop there. Remember, your body loves you SO much and it will do anything to help you survive, and in this case, that means to release more stress hormones into your body so your system stays on high alert to possible danger.
Once stress levels become chronic, the body will transform the hormone pregnenolone into cortisol instead of progesterone. This is classically referred to as ‘progesterone steal’ and can greatly affect the ability to conceive.
But that’s not all.
Progesterone is perhaps most famous for ruling the premenstrual phase by supporting the lining of the uterus in thickening to aid in possible conception. Healthy progesterone levels also reduce mood swings, anxiety, and support the release of excess fluid from the body.
High states of stress and the prioritization of cortisol over progesterone is one of the leading causes of challenging conception, mood swings, and a shortened menstrual cycle as a whole.
When we’re in a state of chronic stress and sleep deprivation, it can often feel like there’s no way out.
But I’m here to tell you, there is – and it all starts with the way you rest.
Most of the women I work with are well aware that they need to rest more, they just don’t know HOW.
When I say rest meaningfully, I don’t mean just plumping yourself down on the couch, scrolling through your phone, and putting yourself into a technologically induced coma.
To rest meaningfully is to give yourself an opportunity to do the most important thing – absolutely nothing.
Ask yourself this – how much of your day is structured?
Within that structure, how much time do you have allotted to just being with your body, your breath, and observing your inner world?
If you’re like me, you might feel anxious when this space to do ‘nothing’ arises. Feeling like we’re useless, not doing enough, or wasting our time when we’re offered the opportunity to relax is a symptom of a patriarchal system that teaches us we are what we do.
Giving yourself permission to turn off the phone, clear your schedules, and prioritize your own well-being is not only imperative for the balance of your hormones, but for your ability to find balance and ease in a system that teaches the opposite.
One of the most profound ways we can add meaning to our relaxation is by structuring it, i.e. going to a class, a retreat, or even setting a timer for ourselves during a period of relaxation.
Here are a few of my favorite practices that will help you balance sex hormones, reduce stress hormones, and return to a state of relaxation:
The practice of Restorative yoga offers us the opportunity to consciously manipulate the nervous system into a state of relaxation using various postures while supported by props like pillows, bolsters, blankets, and cushions. Practicing Restorative yoga regularly can support your body to metabolize hormones, releasing chronic patterns of tension, improve quality of sleep, and lower levels of stress hormones.
Yoga Nidra – often referred to as ‘enlightened sleep’, this practice is traditionally done lying down in a supine position with the eyes closed as a teacher systematically guides you through the body with instruction to relax.
Many of us wake up from sleep without feeling fully rested. As Yoga Nidra is the practice of complete and total relaxation, many teachers of this method share that 1 hour of practice is equal to 4 hours of regular sleep.
Learning how to truly soften, release, and let go is a skill. Be patient with yourself and remember, the more you practice – the faster you’ll feel the results.