April is Stress Awareness Month.
Stress is part of life, and it’s incredible how our bodies have built-in mechanisms to deal with it.
This is more or less what happens when our brains perceive a stressful situation:
Initially, the body produces adrenaline (increasing our heart rate), our breathing becomes faster, our muscles tense (prepared to run if needed), our senses (visual, hearing) are heightened, and there’s a rush of glucose to feed the muscles if need – We are ready to fight or run from that lion! 😊
Once the stress passes, the body returns to its normal state.
However, yes, there is a however...
With the modern style of living AND being a woman over 40 years of age, most of us don’t have to confront lions. Instead, we are exposed to constant non-life-threatening stresses (or mini-lions) such as work pressure and responsibilities, family dramas (especially if you have teenagers), business, and maybe even elderly parents that need our attention.
This repeated activation of the stress response impacts your health and well-being. Adrenaline is only designed to be temporary, and so if the stressors continue, the body releases cortisol to ensure the stress response can continue.
Cortisol is a helpful hormone: it’s released to give us energy in the mornings so we can wake up and decreases in the evenings so we can sleep. The problem comes with a constant flow of cortisol: it increases blood pressure, slows metabolism down, increases circulating glucose and abdominal fat storage, it damages arteries and increases the risk of strokes, diabetes, and heart disease. In the long run.
Why is stress an even bigger issue during perimenopause?
With the fluctuation of hormones starting at perimenopause, the body is already under physiological stress, trying to adapt to your change in reproductive status (your ovaries are releasing fewer and fewer eggs as your sex hormones progesterone and estrogen production are decreasing).
You become more sensitive to stress during perimenopause.
This means you’re not as resilient or tolerant to stress as you used to be – not only emotionally but physiologically.
Since you’re going through metabolic stress (due to the change in hormones levels during perimenopause), baseline cortisol levels may be higher throughout this time, and you are likely to have symptoms such as heavier and more painful bleeds, bloating, breast tenderness, worsening PMS symptoms.
Different hormones are affecting your sleep during this time.
Cortisol wakes us up in the morning. Melatonin helps us sleep at night. The problem is that they are antagonists, so if cortisol levels are high at night, it affects the production of melatonin – which may result in trouble falling or staying asleep.
The lack of sleep can create a vicious cycle of increased fatigue, brain fog, and anxiety, all of which exacerbate more cortisol and stress, and so on.