Stress and fatigue are, by far, the most common health complaints for women over 50. There may be a myriad of other issues on the complaint list, however, stress and fatigue are almost always somewhere in the mix. Stress has been a daily buzz word in our lives ever since Dr. Hans Selye’s published his “General Adaptation Syndrome” and coined the term “stress.” Stress has become something we think we all should be free of, something to avoid at all costs, the boogey man of modern life, lurking in the shadows at home, on the job, in the car, and affecting everything from relationships to career success, finances, and health. Indeed, it affects all areas of our lives.
“I was a little excited but mostly blorft. “Blorft” is an adjective I just made up that means ‘completely overwhelmed but proceeding as if everything is fine and reacting to the stress with the torpor of a possum.’ I have been blorft every day for the past seven years.”
-Tina Fey, Bossypants
The healthy human stress response has always been necessary for survival. Thankfully, our species has always had the ability to respond appropriately to a perceived danger of a life or death situation. Going back to the caveman days, if you were being chased by a buck-toothed giant rodent that had visions of you as its main meal, your primary means of survival may have been your body’s ability to initiate the fight-or-flight stress response.
Most of today’s stresses come from the physical and emotional traumas of everyday life. Instead of being chased by a wild animal, stress can come from our jobs, businesses, finances, traffic, spouses, parents, and kids. Stress has many negative health consequences, and for women they include chronic fatigue, hypothyroidism, depression, lowered sex drive, sleep loss, weight gain, diabetes, early menopause, panic attacks, heart palpitations, cardiovascular events, and digestive issues.
“Pain is a relatively objective, physical phenomenon; suffering is our psychological resistance to what happens. Events may create physical pain, but they do not in themselves create suffering. Resistance creates suffering. Stress happens when your mind resists what is… The only problem in your life is your mind’s resistance to life as it unfolds.”
The brain has different types of receptors for the various female hormones making women much more exposed to the many dangers of the stress response. Women are much more likely to develop auto-immune conditions as they age, also due to their unique biology. The stress response involves the adrenal glands, along with the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, collectively known as the HPA axis. When a stressor is perceived, whether real or imagined, the hypothalamus releases a hormone, (corticotrophin), which tells the pituitary to release another hormone (adrenocorticotrophic hormone) which then signals the adrenal gland to produce cortisol (and DHEA). The cortisol then sends a message back to the pituitary and hypothalamus to inform the HPA axis that the cortisol has been made and there is no need to keep making more of it. That is the simplified version. However, when one is continuously and chronically stressed, that natural feedback system can be altered and more cortisol keeps being produced. Unchecked, the cortisol can then lead to the many health consequences listed above.
Living in the chronic state of exhaustion, along with other stress related symptoms, is not what women had in mind for life after 50. This is the time meant for enjoying the fruits of a lifetime of work and accomplishments, time for travel, family, grandchildren, culture, new interest, and personal growth.
“Each moment of worry, anxiety or stress represents lack of faith in miracles, for they never cease.”
-T.F. Hodge, From Within I Rise: Spiritual Triumph Over Death and Conscious Encounters with “The Divine Presence”
The solutions to chronic stress response and its accompanying health issues are as individual as each person. In today’s world we must get to the specific underlying causes of hormonal imbalances, which may include nervous system interference, lifestyle issues, nutritional deficiencies, environmental toxins, digestive issues including food intolerances and leaky gut syndrome, immune challenges, as well as underlying emotional patterns.
“It was after I first began to uplift my thoughts a bit that my cravings for junk food started to dissipate. I did not connect the two at the time. First, I simply noticed that I didn’t need to sleep so much. It took a while before I realized that in addition to my improved energy level, there was a direct correlation between chewing on mental garbage and putting garbage in my mouth.”
You may not be able to remove all the stresses from your life but there are some steps to help minimize their impact on you:
-First and foremost: make a decision to do whatever is necessary to correct this. It all starts with you. -Eat a healthy, whole foods diet. -Keep your carb count between 70 and 100 grams per day, even if you are vegan or vegetarian. Most women thrive at this level. -Increase your intake of healthy fats: flax oil, coconut oil, hemp seed oil, olive oil, olives, full-fat plain yogurt, raw dairy, raw cheeses, avocados, butter, eggs, cod liver oil, almond butter, canned sardines, grass-fed butter. -Avoid excess coffee and alcohol. -Avoid/decrease sugar consumption… it will sabotage all your other efforts. Become an expert on reading labels. -Avoid genetically modified foods. -Get plenty of quality sleep. -Exercise regularly. Even going for a walk around the block helps. -Relaxation techniques (visualizations, meditation, prayer, yoga, tai chi, chi gong, etc.) -Spend time in nature. -Spend time with family and friends. -Neutralize or minimize electromagnetic frequency exposure. -Speak your truth, live your truth (find and do what interests you). -Get professional help when needed.
“I am a very old man and have suffered a great many misfortunes, most of which never happen.”
Unlike our ancient ancestors, we can’t run away from the threats we face today, therefore we must take charge of our own health and that of our families. Not only can we overcome the effects of chronic stress, we can even thrive in a life of unlimited possibilities.
Dr. Donald Piccoli is a chiropractor certified in advanced Nutrition Response Testing and is the director of Holistic Solutions in Kensington, CT.