My dad always told me if you love what you do, you’ll never have to work a day in your life. Expand this concept to the people you’re with, hobbies and overall health routines, and we realize we’re only as strong as our weakest link. We only have a finite amount of physical energy throughout the day, and if that’s expended with daily stressors and physical concerns (also need resources for healing), then while our desire to change may be present to varying degrees, we may find this increasingly difficult. Fortunately, there are many natural ways through lifestyle and supplements that promote aligning our life in such a way that we can devote efforts to decreasing stress and improving our life in many ways.
We need stress to survive, and without cortisol (our stress hormone) or adrenaline, we’d be dead—amongst a number of other reasons, too. Even in ancient times, it was adrenaline and epinephrine that mobilized us to run from a bear, and cortisol that kept us going (literally keeping us alive). When we weren’t in fight or flight mode, these levels could decrease to a place where proper amounts of digestive and reproductive hormones can become present. Where once cortisol/our stress response was meant to rise in times of need or survival, the problem is now we are perceiving so much as “times of need” that ongoing release of cortisol has literally thrown our system off balance, a great example of how the mind can affect the body. In turn, ailments and not feeling good can prompt a perspective of feeling “less than” or depressed, a source itself of inflammation, another term for stress on the body. Many people know they’re stressed, both from their mindset in being reactive or internalizing conflict, or that they really just don’t feel “good” (even in the midst of bloodwork with values in range), so you can ask them to rate stress on a scale from 1-10, for example, to monitor therapies. On the other hand, people may be immune to their own stress, where they don’t even realize it.
Stress can manifest many ways physically through poor sleep quality or generally going to bed too late, as cortisol wakes us up in the morning, and declines throughout the day. If we don’t sleep well, the cortisol curve can become disrupted, and over time can lead to chronic stress. Other factors include poor diet, a lack of exercise or too much, unhealthy relationships (e.g. manipulation, emotional and/or physical abuse, isolation or obsession), discontent at work (e.g. job itself, people), underlying medical issues, pharmaceuticals and living in a metropolis (versus rural environment or being able to be part of nature). Emotions also get stored in our tissues, such as evidenced by an emotional release if massaging out a tight spot. All of these will vary for everyone, but this accumulation can sometimes make even a simple change seem really hard because there may not be much capacity or energy readily available. And willpower takes even more effort and energy (and commonly a breaking point to where people may at some point give up, or wonder why they can only do a cleanse or program).
Further, stress and poor sleep, for example, can increase the hunger hormone ghrelin and decrease leptin (keeps us satiated), increase blood sugar (creating insulin resistance), reduce active thyroid hormone (responsible for metabolism), and alter hormones, to name a few ongoing feedback cycles. The abdomen is also four times more sensitive to cortisol than anywhere else in the body, so ongoing release of cortisol can add on weight, which can add on more weight as the fat cell can also disrupt hormone balance, thyroid health and promote additional weight gain (or inability to lose weight). Elevated or disrupted cortisol can also loosen tight junctions of the gut, therefore affecting proper digestion, so it’s not so much “we are what we eat,” but “we are what we absorb.”
We all have a daily routine, but it’s more a matter of training ourselves to be conscious and mindful in everything we’re doing, even in that routine (which is sometimes the hardest). However, imagine being so conscious of every action and interaction that you begin to live your life by what is fulfilling, from what you eat, to people you’re with, to where you have don’t have any qualms with your situation or being able to shift your mindset. Such as two people can be presented with the same situation, but can react very differently.
Mindfulness helps us discern what gives us a type of energy that brings a sense of fulfillment, outside of the situation itself, but perhaps adjusting our mindset if needed. Think of something you truly enjoy doing, or someone who you truly enjoy being with—how can you live your life to emulate that fulfilling feeling? This feeling is your life force, vitality or will to live, and what you nourish in food, exercise, who you’re with and mindset to continuously align to what you’re meant to do in the world. Journaling or finding time in nature can promote both stress release and perhaps provide insight into your life.1
Going to bed before 11 p.m. can help prevent that second wind, as many of our hormones are made shortly after midnight into the early morning, at a time for our body to regenerate. In fact, sleeping has been shown to bring up new ideas and insights. Even cutting down 15 minutes every week or so to lessen the shock and keep consistent can be helpful.
Nutritionally, a rainbow of vegetables (especially greens), protein sources (animal or vegetarian) and healthy fats (e.g. avocado, nuts, seeds), are great places to start. Berries can make a great snack as they are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory. Complex carbohydrates and root vegetables can be grounding and filling, further promoting a whole foods diet. However, be mindful of signs like bloating, energy crashes and “inhaling food,” as those can be indications that they’re not the best choices for you.
Intermittent fasting helps rest the body from digestion to promote resources to overall healing, as well as helping balance blood sugar, both main factors in weight gain and related concerns. Consider starting with at least 12 or 14 hours between dinner and breakfast, with at least four hours between each meal (a good indicator if you’ve had a nutritious, satisfying meal).
Supplements can help supplement, not replace, an unhealthful lifestyle. Vitamin D is a precursor to hormones and associated with many concerns if not in a good range, with optimal levels around 40-50 ng/mL, though best to get levels checked first. Other great supplements include magnesium (known as “nature’s relaxer”), even in the form of an Epsom salt bath where you can also add to its stress reducing effects with a journal or meditative session in letting thoughts flow. Lavender is a wonderful herb to help reduce anxiety and promote good sleep—common causes of stress.2 Please speak to a knowledgeable practitioner about any herb, drug, nutrient interaction and quality of supplements.
This can bring up times in our life where perhaps we haven’t been as “healthy,” however compassion and forgiveness are imperative for being able to heal, as then they become integrated. Not good nor bad, as where you were then was where you were meant to be. The time is only right now, as consistency is also important for creating sustainable changes to the millions of pathways in our body responsible for functioning on many levels. Wherever you are in your journey, these strategies can be part of your groundwork as you embark on further understanding of what you need for ongoing healing, as your trust and intuition in your own mind and body continues to elevate.
1. Ewart A. & Chang, Y. Levels of nature and stress response. Behavioral Sciences. 2018. 8(5):49. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5981243/.
2 Koulivand, P., Ghadiri, M., & Gorji, A. Lavender and the nervous system. Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2013. 2013;681304. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3612440/.
Dr. Serena Goldstein is a naturopathic doctor in New York, NY who helps people lose weight and sustainably keep it off, with a special focus on hormones and endocrinology related concerns. Dr. Goldstein has appeared on MindBodyGreen, Better Nutrition, the Hearty Soul, Shape, Well + Good, Sirius XM Radio, presented research about hormones during a poster session at the Integrative Healthcare Symposium, spoken at places like the American Cancer Society, Lehman College and the Endocrinology/Autoimmunity Conference at National University of Natural Medicine. Dr. Goldstein also lends her expertise to fellow doctors at NYU-Hospital Poison Control Center.