Self-Care Tips for Hormone Balance
by Christina O'Brien, DC
Hormonal imbalances can cause a variety of physical and emotional symptoms in women. While some hormonal imbalances may require medical treatment, self-care practices such as proper sleep, nutrition, stress management and relaxation techniques, exercise, and setting personal boundaries have been shown to support hormone balance and improve overall health.
Self-care looks different for everyone, but whatever the reality of self-care is for you, it should be a sustainable part of your daily or weekly routine (not another stressful item on the to-do list) in order to be effective.
One of the biggest challenges women face is learning how to care for themselves while caring for others. Self-sacrifice ultimately leads to health-minimizing emotions such as anger, resentment, guilt, and other emotions linked to high levels of cortisol. Women typically model themselves, both consciously and subconsciously, after the female care givers who raised them, but it is ultimately your responsibility to learn to care for yourself and make it a priority.
You might find you need to re-learn these self-care methods and find what optimally works for you. Self-care is a process that you will refine throughout your life.
Six Tips for Self-Care
Here are a few simple ideas for enhancing your hormones and energy through self-care:
Prepare Your Body for Restful Sleep
Sleep is essential for overall health and well-being, and it can also help support hormone balance. Lack of sleep can disrupt hormone levels, including cortisol and melatonin, which can affect mood and energy levels as well as increase insulin resistance. Aim for at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night and establish a regular sleep routine to support healthy sleep habits.
Sleeping at the same time every day, waking with the sun, and sleeping in a cold, dark room can contribute to better sleep. In addition, reducing caffeine intake and minimizing alcohol intake while considering adding in sleep supportive teas and magnesium supplements can all lead to better sleep. It’s also important to turn off electronics at least two hours before bed and set good boundaries around the phone and your availability to others.
Sleeping according to your genetics and your chronotype is a more detailed approach to adequate sleep, and keeping track of your sleep using tools like the Oura ring, Apple watch, or other sleep-monitoring tools can be helpful for fine-tuning your sleep habits to improve your restfulness. While a sleep routine and discipline is important, acceptance is also important. Go easy on yourself if you don’t get good sleep for one or a few nights in a row because of circumstances out of your control.
Prioritize Your Nutrition
Nutrition plays a vital role in hormone production and balance. Consuming a diet rich in whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, fiber, and healthy fats can help support hormone production and balance, but there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Mindful eating, eating enough but not too much, nurturing your gut and reducing refined sugar intake can be helpful places to start. Meal prepping (cooking once and eating three to four times) and having easy, go-to snacks are some simple ways to take the stress out of nourishing your body.
Listen to your body’s needs, follow fullness and hunger cues, and choose a variety of foods in as many colors as possible. Choose foods that support mental health such as fish. Salmon and sardines are high in omega-3s, are anti-inflammatory, and have been shown to help alleviate depression and anxiety. Dark chocolate is high in magnesium and improves cognition and mood. Also strive for adequate water intake. It’s generally recommended to drink half your body weight in ounces daily.
Intermittent fasting has been shown to decrease DHEA and can dysregulate cortisol. It’s also been reported that frequent, ongoing intermittent fasting can cause problems including sleeplessness, anxiety, adrenal insufficiency, irregular periods, poor bone health, and even temporary infertility. In fact, one study showed that two weeks of intermittent fasting shrank ovaries, disrupted sleep, and shut down menstrual cycles in female rats.
Don’t forget to choose foods that provide joy. What do you crave, what are your comfort foods? Try to incorporate some of those as well. While thinking of food as fuel, using your imagination and getting creative with meals and snacks that make you happy are also an important part of self-care nutrition.
Practice Stress Management and Relaxation Techniques
Stress can have a significant impact on hormone balance and overall health. High levels of stress can lead to imbalanced cortisol levels, which can affect other hormones in the body such as sex hormones and thyroid hormones. Engaging in stress-reducing activities such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises has been shown to help manage stress levels.
Mindfulness practices (such as meditation and prayer) may help regulate cortisol levels and promote relaxation. Incorporating mindfulness practices into your daily routine, such as taking a few deep breaths before a meal or practicing a short meditation or yoga session in the morning/evening may be beneficial. Sigh breathing has been shown to reduce the stress response and be the most effective tool for reducing cortisol in a recent study published in Cell. Nine minutes of meditation can reduce cortisol levels in a few weeks.
In 2013 researchers at UC Davis discovered a very powerful connection between mindfulness and cortisol with results seen in just a few weeks. A study in Art Therapy journal showed that art therapy and freestyle art production for as little as 45 minutes reduced cortisol levels regardless of skill or experience.
Move Your Body Through Joyful Exercise
Regular exercise can help regulate hormones, including insulin and cortisol, and improve mood and energy levels. Exercise can also help support weight management which can affect hormone balance.
Collectively, research findings support the notion that moderate to high intensity exercise promotes increases in circulating cortisol levels. These increases seem to be due to ACTH stimulating the HPA axis. In contrast, low intensity exercise does not result in significant increases in cortisol levels, but actually a reduction in circulating cortisol levels.
What’s the bottom line for exercise? Stress, whether good or bad stress releases cortisol in the body. It’s important not to exceed your metabolic threshold and turn the hermetic stress of exercise into harmful stress on the body. Movement and low-intensity exercise may be better for us through the lens of self-care. General support may include 30 minutes of movement most days of the week.
Learn to Say No
When asked to do something you do not want or have time to do, it is OK to say no. Every time you say yes to something you are saying no to something else. This is an especially important lesson if saying no makes you feel guilty. In many cases this means you are putting others’ needs ahead of your own. Only you can know how much you can handle, so learning this skill can help your overall health.
Epidemiological studies have shown the negative effects of long working hours, for example, on the risks of cardiovascular disease (CVD), chronic fatigue and stress, depressive state, anxiety, sleep quality, all-cause mortality, and self-perceived health, mental health status, and health behaviors.
If you don’t have time or energy to do something, or even don’t want to do it, it’s OK to say no. Practicing this habit can be difficult at first, but your body will thank you in the long run.
Seek Medical Evaluation and Support
In some cases, hormonal imbalances may require medical support, including hormone replacement therapy or other treatments. If you are experiencing symptoms of hormone imbalance such as irregular or heavy periods, mood swings, hot flashes, or sleep disturbances, consult with a healthcare provider for more advanced testing (such as the DUTCH Test) and to determine the best course of treatment.
Getting baseline labs so you can optimize every area of your health can be informative and helpful in monitoring your health progression. Visit our website for a directory of healthcare providers who may be able to assist you: https://dutchtest.com/find-a-dutch-provider/
Find a self-care buddy and agree that each of you will hold the other accountable for extra support. Enjoy the successes each of you has, and make sure to communicate often what things are going well or where you could use additional support on your journey. Having extra accountability has been shown to increase levels of success in forming new habits.
Self-Care Can Help You Thrive
Self-care practices can have a significant impact on hormone balance and overall health in women. Prioritizing sleep, eating a balanced diet, managing stress, exercising regularly, practicing relaxation techniques, learning to say no, and seeking medical support when necessary, may all help support hormone balance and improve overall well-being.
Self-care sustains and enhances the health of all those around you. Pay attention to your body and what makes you feel the most at peace and at ease. Find time to refocus and re-center. You cannot thrive and live a life of abundance if you do not take care of yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically.
Take time to achieve the greatest self-care possible. Your family and your hormones will thank you and you will reap the benefits throughout your lifetime.