Stress and Menopause
Dear Menopausal Girlfriend,
You have been going through a lot lately and you feel like an alien has invaded your body. I wanted to reach out and let you know that you are not alone. There are more of us out there. It is not an alien. It is cortisol.
When you stop producing estrogen (and testosterone), your body compensates by producing cortisol. I am not exactly sure why this happens. In fact, it may be the second question I ask when I get to the pearly gates (the first question being “What ever happened to that Purple Rain DVD that completely disappeared from the house?”)
Regardless of the evolutionary reasons, we women in perimenopause and menopause release more cortisol because of decreased sex hormones. Cortisol is the stress hormone (I am sure you know that already). It is not all bad. It has some beneficial qualities. It helps you get out of bed in the morning (maybe you didn’t know that). But when it is excessive (as it is in menopause), it causes all sorts of alien-like symptoms.
The extra cortisol you are carrying around with you my dear girlfriend is why you have more inflammation in your body. Nope. Those mysterious aches and pains are not all in your head.
Cortisol is why a little spilled milk sends you into a volcano of anger and rage. Nope. It’s not your teenager nor your husband who are to blame. Well, maybe a little.
Cortisol is why your metabolism seems to have left you for another woman. Meet your new lover - Pre-Diabetes. Yes. Sadly, the menopausal increases in cortisol (stress) causes insulin insensitivity, an unhappy gut microbiome, food cravings, and tendency to store more fat. Good times my friend.
Cortisol is why you can’t sleep and have no desire to have sex. Your body thinks it is time to run away from a tiger. Sleep and sex aren’t important when you are being chased by a dangerous animal. If only the tiger was real. Maybe that would make things easier.
Your brain is now bathed in cortisol Darling. That brain fog, forgetfulness, and lack of focus are not a sign of burnout. Not in your case. You, my dear, are experiencing a “brain on Pause”.
SO, IS THERE ANY GOOD NEWS (you should be asking yourself in caps at this point)????????????????????????
Yes, my dear menopausal girlfriend. There is hope. First of all, there are ways to increase your sex hormone production. Some of these ways involve medications and some are more natural. When you rebalance your estrogen and testosterone back to more “normal” levels, the cortisol will subside.
Secondly, as my friend Janae Elizabeth (aka The Trauma Geek) has pointed out to me, the stress relief tools that used to work for you may now be too much and unintentionally pushing you into more stress. She suggests focusing on tools that are more restful, comforting, slower, and encourage stillness and connection. That connection doesn’t necessarily have to be with others. It can be a connection with yourself or a higher power.
It is getting late, and I must sign off now. I promise to write you again soon and we can get into more juicy details about ways to increase estrogen and about stress reduction tools that are appropriate for someone with a cortisol embalmed brain and body. Say goodbye to the alien my friend. Say hello to a calm, creative, and joyful second half.