I am off to Kripalu this week to present my Positive Psychology project: The RHYTHM of Feminine Success- Peak Performance and the Menstrual Cycle. I am pretty excited about this, it takes a look at how psychoneuroendocrinology can be irrefutably influenced with Positive Psychology interventions.
I draw my conclusions from the ample research showing that stress deeply impacts the hormonal health of women and the evidence based methods of Positive Psychology proven to reduce stress.
As Marcelle Pick, founder of the Woman to Woman clinic in Yarmouth Maine and my personal hormone guru writes in her recent book Is It Me or My Hormones, “Your hormones work together in an intricate dynamic, not unlike a symphony… If your stress hormones or insulin go out of balance, that’s likely to cause significant problems elsewhere in your system, including your sex hormones: estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and DHEA. These hormones regulate fertility, your menstrual cycle, and your transition into perimenopause, as well as your sex drive and your overall sense of sensuality…”
On page 29 of Pick’s latest book she shows a diagram that explains what happens when we do not have ample recovery from stress. She calls this STRESS and the VICIOUS CYCLE explaining that excess stress prompts our adrenal glands to produce more cortisol, throwing our sex hormones out of whack causing symptoms of PMS, cramps, brain fog, hot flashes as well as others, creating more stress. When we deprive ourselves the ability to recover we stay stuck in this cycle which overtime has extremely detrimental consequences.
Some of the most common sources of stress are lifestyle related while others stem from the environment, relationships, more complex areas of life like psychological history, as well as typical changes in life.
As I touched upon in a previous blog post, one of the most sure fire ways to inoculate toxic stress that I’ve witnessed is to do as my Positive Psychology teacher Dr. Tal Ben Shahar suggests- give yourself permission to be human and let go of perfectionism. Once we understand that we are not perfect, and that we are worthy no matter what- we have made major progress on the path to reducing stress and optimizing our health, hormones and productivity.
Getting this on a core level was one of my biggest accomplishments.
However, while we know that toxic stress is definitely detrimental to our health- it’s important to note that not all stress is the enemy- and rather lack of recovery is!
One of the most valuable books I ever encountered on Peak Performance is The power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr + Tony Schwartz. This book does a fantastic job of discussing why we need stress, stating Sstress is not the enemy in our lives, paradoxically it’s the key to growth… Any form of stress that prompts discomfort has the potential to expand our capacity-physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually- so long as it is followed by adequate recovery.”
When I encountered this book, I devoured it, falling head over heals in love with their message. To summarize this book at a high level, Loehr and Schwartz talk about living life RHYTHMICALLY. This means living and working in a way that engages stress, while simultaneously honoring key personal values from which you derive your purpose, and taking excellent care of your physical body by eating a low glycemic diet, exercising regularly, sleeping consistently, and balancing stress with sufficient recovery. They talk quite a bit about honoring ultradian RHYTHMS by taking regular recovery breaks every 90-120 minutes through out the day, and circadian RHYTHMS by engaging at least 7 hours of sleep on a daily basis.
They say, “When we live highly linear lives- spending far more energy than we recover or recovering more than we spend- the eventual consequence is that we breakdown, burnout, atrophy, lose our passion, get sick and even die prematurely.”
Bleak, I know, but they also give a remedy. And say, “to maintain a powerful pulse in our lives we must learn how to RHYTHMICALLY spend & renew energy.”
I TOTALLY agree:)
According to Loehr + Schwartz, “Full engagement requires cultivating a dynamic balance between the expenditure of energy (stress) and the renewal of energy (recovery) in all dimensions. We call this RHYTHMIC wave oscillation, and it represents the fundamental pulse of life.”
I’ve learned that if we take the principals of the Power of Full Engagement and apply them to the female body women can further increase their productivity by learning how to work cyclically with their natural hormonal rhythms, while simultaneously amplifying their hormonal health.
Women’s health expert and author Alisa Vitti’s recently wrote a Huffington post blog titled Lean into your Hormones where she eloquently stated, “We have to look at the way we expect our bodies to perform exactly the same way, day after day, week after week, despite the biological fact that we have a dynamic cycle of hormones that influence the way we interact with our life. The only way I have seen women “have it all” not at the expense of their health is by way of hormonal partnership and cyclical living.”
(If you still haven’t picked up your copy of WomanCode: Perfect your Cycle, Amplify Your Fertility, Supercharge your Sex Drive, and Become a Power Source yet I highly recommend it. It’s full of tons of science-based advice on how to amplify your rhythm and rock you life!)
Life is a RHYTHM. We are meant to oscillate. There will be times in our day, and throughout our lives in general, when we exert more than we recover, and this is natural. But it is so important to not forget the other half of the equation and give ourselves time to recover too.
We can use hormone cycles strategically while letting the RHYTHMICITY of our bodies do their jobs. I have so much more information on this topic to come. Stay tuned and be well!