All Posts Tagged: stress

Hot Flashes

Is it Hot in Here? Hot Flashes and You.

I had my first hot flash just after my daughter was born. Actually, it wasn’t so much a “flash,” as a saga—long, drawn out, miserable. Seriously. There should have been morose violin music playing. That flash went on forever. I woke up completely drenched in sweat, had to change my clothes and bedding. And it revisited me the next night, and the next. Ugh!

But that experience let me in on a secret: hot flashes are not just for menopausal women! Younger women get them. And so do men! And sometimes even kids!

What gives?

Hot flashes are related to changes in our physiology. The part of the brain that controls our ability to adapt to shifts in temperature may be affected by fluctuations—in hormone levels, in chemicals such as electrolytes, or in the body’s ability to adapt to stress.

My patients with hot flashes find they might also be triggered by hot weather; by consuming caffeine, hot food or drink, sugar, refined flour, or alcohol; or by smoking cigarettes. Reducing or eliminating these triggers—at least for a while—can decrease the frequency and duration of hot flashes. (And we all know smoking is really bad for our health, so, please, if you quit, make it forever!)

And, as I wrote in a recent post, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone imbalance, as well as adrenal and thyroid health, can all contribute to hot-flash symptoms. But this doesn’t mean we need to take hormones!* In addition to the suggestions above, herbs, like maca can help. Maca (my favorite!) does not introduce hormones into the body, but, instead, supports the brain’s signals regarding hormone production so our hormones “play nice” with one another.

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illustration of neurons and pathways

Nervous System Overload

Stressed? Of course you are. We all are. Our nervous systems are still living in the stone age, when stress was a very different animal. Back in the days before cell phones, mechanized transit, and artificial light at night, our nervous systems evolved to keep us alive. Our fight or flight response was developed to kick in and make us run from threats. When the fight or flight response is triggered, our blood flow is directed to our skeletal muscles so that we can flee the threat. Our digestion halts, our pupils dilate to let in more light, and our body is charged with endorphins that give us extra energy (sympathetic response). This response is very helpful for a quick getaway, and once we are safe, the response dissipates and our resting nervous system takes over (parasympathetic response).

Enter modern life, with constant input to our nervous systems. Driving a car, checking email, answering cell phone calls and messages – all of this combines to give repeated stress to our overtaxed nervous systems, keeping us in sympathetic nervous system mode. When we feel attacked, upset, or simply overwhelmed by these stresses, our nervous system gets stuck in reaction mode. Sometimes, we can’t turn that off, which results in poor sleep, fatigue, anxiety, or depression. Sound familiar?

How to bring balance back to our over-taxed selves? Minimizing nervous system input while eating and before bed is crucial. We do not digest if we are stressed. Sit quietly while eating, enjoy your food, chew well and focus on digestion. 1 hour before bed should be set aside for winding down, and allowing your nervous system to relax into parasympathetic mode. In addition, regular craniosacral therapy can help tonify and re-train your nervous system to maintain a more relaxed state.

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