Sleep Archives - Balm Natural Health

Lockdown Stress and Anxiety

Posted by | Anxiety, Balm Blog, Lockdown, Naturopathy, Sleep, Social isolation | No Comments

Just when we thought we were beginning to head back to some sort of new normal, here we are back in lockdown again.  How you dealt with lockdown back in March doesn’t necessarily predict how you will deal with it now. The first time around it was kind of novel and we watched in horrified fascination as we seemed to fare so much better than many other countries around the world. Then restrictions were relaxed and we breathed a sigh of relief as we were able to slowly get back to seeing our loved ones, using the gym and going out for dinner again.

This time people may be feeling a real sense of going backwards and worried that this may become a recurring pattern. Some people were already deeply concerned about their job and financial security. Others were simply hanging out for their winter holiday in the sun which is just not going to happen now.

Stress Tolerance

The ability to tolerate stress varies from person to person. We all have our own coping mechanisms. However, often these are negative behavioural patterns which might numb the feelings for a short time but are usually more harmful in the long term. This includes things like smoking, drinking alcohol and binging snack foods in front of the television. The body will try to deal with some of your stress during sleep. Interestingly there has emerged a phenomenon called COVID-19 dreams. When there is an increase in the complexity of life’s problems there is often an accompanying increase in vividness and clarity of dreams.

Sometimes these coping mechanisms can seem to get you through short term stress, but when the stress level begins to exceed your tolerance level, real problems can arise.  Stress has physical consequences for the body. It disrupts just about every system in the body. It can affect your heart function and blood pressure, lower immunity, increase allergy, decrease digestion producing IBS, cause insomnia and upset your hormonal balance. It also can have a major impact on your mood leading to irritability, angry outbursts, anxiety and depression.

Physical Brain Changes

Interestingly, over time, long term stress and worry can cause physical changes in your brain structure which sets you up for anxiety to become your “go to state”. Have a listen to my 3 minute video on how this phenomenon can impact your brain and your mood.

What Can You Do?

There are so many beautiful herbs, minerals and vitamins which can make a huge difference to the way you feel. They calm and soothe the nervous system, promote more restful sleep and help the body produce those feel good neurotransmitters.  There is also a lot you can do yourself to help the body cope with and combat stress. I challenge you to choose one of the following to do everyday for the next week and see how you feel.

  1. Take 5 minutes to sit quietly with your eyes closed and do some deep breathing, concentrating on making the out breath longer than the in breath.
  2. Download a meditation app (there are so many options available) and try 5 minutes of guided meditation every day. Eg Calm or Smiling Mind
  3. Take a nice long hot relaxing bubble bath
  4. Go for a half an hour walk in a nearby park if you have one and try to get as much exposure to nature and sunshine as you can.
  5. If you are always tired and feel you don’t get enough sleep, go to bed half an hour earlier
  6. Reach out to someone in your life to connect to. Maybe you haven’t spoken to them for a while. Give them a call or set up a Zoom chat to reconnect.

Free Consult during lockdownWhile Melbourne is in lockdown I’m offering anyone who needs help a 25 minute, FREE, Lockdown Stress and Immune Resilience consult. The consult can be held online or in person. I’ll come up with 3 things for you to boost your immune health as well as some particular techniques and exercises you can do to bolster your mindset and help relieve feelings of stress and anxiety. Click here to book yourself in online.

Why do some women breeze through menopause while others suffer?

Posted by | Balm Blog, Blog, Cardiovascular disease, Diet, Digestion, Fat, Health, hormones, Hot Flush, Insomnia, Menopause, Microbiome, Naturopathy, Sleep, Weight Gain, Weight Loss | No Comments

Menopause seems to be a uniquely different experience for every woman. However in my experience as a naturopath helping women through the transition, a few symptoms seem to be more common than others. Hot flushes and weight gain around the middle are of course the main ones. Another common complaint is swinging wildly between anxiety, depression and irritability. Sometimes so bad it almost becomes rage. One lady explained how her rage seemed to be centred on one poor man at her work who hadn’t even done anything in particular to anger her. She would just see him and immediately feel rage at him. It sounds like a script for a comedy but it was actually quite distressing for her as she wasn’t that sort of person and she felt guilty for the way she was thinking. Other common symptoms are fatigue, feeling more highly stressed, insomnia, night sweats, loss of libido, aches and pains and changes in skin and hair condition.

I’m going crazy, why aren’t you?

So why do you feel like you are going crazy and that life is about to end while your friend says “Oh my periods just stopped one day and that was it”. That can be infuriating to hear from someone already suffering bouts of rage and depression. Of course genetics do play a large role in how well your body copes with the transition. Generally, if your mother and older sisters had a hard time of it, chances are it won’t be a breeze for you either. But there are a lot of other factors involved which you do have much more control over.

Stress and body weight

One of the biggest things determining how well you will experience menopause is your stress levels. When you are constantly under stress, your adrenal glands are continuously being stimulated and their production of something called DHEA is affected. DHEA can be converted to a form of oestrogen in your fat cells. When the production of oestrogen from the ovaries is in rapid decline, this source of oestrogen can really help to reduce the symptoms of menopause.

For this same reason, your weight plays a big part too. Thinner women can sometimes experience more symptoms simply because they don’t have the fat reserves needed for this oestrogen conversion to occur.  This is also the reason the body seems to put weight on at this time.

Diet and lifestyle

As you will have guessed, diet and exercise are also extremely important determinants of how well you cope with the transition to menopause. Phyto-estrogen rich foods such as tofu and flaxseeds help raise the body’s perceived level of oestrogen. This can greatly reduce hot flushes and night sweats, not to mention help reduce the later risks of osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.

Consumption of stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol, sugar and spicy foods will be detrimental while good dietary fibre, antioxidant rich foods and good fats will help.

There’s not much exercise isn’t good for and menopause symptoms are no exception. Many studies have found exercise, especially of the short burst HIIT (high intensity interval training) variety, to be most effective in reducing many common symptoms of menopause. Since stress is not helpful, spending gruelling long hours in the gym won’t help and isn’t necessary. Just a couple of short sessions a week (combining both cardio and weight bearing exercises) can make a huge difference.

My specialty area

Menopause and the associated symptoms, especially fatigue, stress, anxiety and depression, is my specialty area. If you think you could use some help, book yourself in online or if you’re not sure, give me a call for a free 10 minute phone chat to explore if it’s the right thing for you. Check out my webpage all about menopause here. I can work with you to design a tailored plan to help you through the transition and beyond with dietary and lifestyle advise as well as TGA approved, highly affective herbal and nutritional supplements.

Want more?

Email me if you’d like a great 3 page handout with diet and lifestyle recommendations for managing menopause. balmnaturalhealth@gmail.com

Keep an eye out for my next blog which will be all about the hot flush. What is happening and why and what to do about it.

Sleep and the modern day body clock

Posted by | Balm Blog, Body clock, changing habits, Circadian rhythm, Health, hormones, Insomnia, Naturopathy, Sleep | No Comments

In our modern day lifestyles, our body’s desire to stick closely to a set sleep/wake time (our body clock or our circadian rhythm) is often overridden, ignored and generally abused. The fact that shift work has now been classed as a carcinogen is surely proof of the importance of working with rather than against our body clock.

There are actually circadian clocks in every organ of the body and never before have we lived so out of tune with these circadian rhythms.  There is even a term for this. It is called social jet-lag and refers to the misalignment between our biological clock and our work and social schedules. One of the main consequences is poor, broken or inadequate sleep. This then causes fatigue and anxiety and can heighten any other underlying conditions such as allergy, hormone imbalance ad weight gain.

The way to manipulate our body back into a regular rhythm and improve sleep is to provide our body systems with the right cues at the right time to encourage the body into a strong, regular rhythm where all organs are in tune.

One of the biggest cues our body clock responds to is light and dark cues.  Because we now expose ourselves to so much unnatural light late into the evening (lights, television, computers, phones etc) we confuse our body clock and force it backwards. These lights inhibit the production of melatonin which is important for sleep initiation. Many people find themselves laying there wide awake when they first get into bed, but then struggle to wake up when the alarm goes off. These people may believe themselves to be natural night owls when in reality they have just confused their body clocks. The best way to combat this is to keep lights turned down and switch televisions, computers and phones off at least an hour before you want to get to sleep. If that’s not possible, you can get devices or glasses to block the stimulating blue light emitted by these devices.

Another strong cue used by the body to set our internal clock is eating and fasting. It is recommended to keep your eating to a 10-12 hour window during the day. There is a close relationship between the gut microbiome and the circadian clock and so eating late at night will confuse our sleep/wake rhythm. This disruption then contributes further to weight gain meaning that the timing of your calorie intake contributes to obesity beyond the simple fact that you consumed extra calories.

Activity and inactivity are also strong cues for circadian rhythms. If you find you have to drag yourself through your morning, exercising first thing on a regular basis can convince the body that early morning is wake up time. Similarly, exercising late into the evening  disrupts the body’s wind down and can make for a poor sleep followed by a tired, sluggish day.

Keep in mind that your body prefers to be in a strong, regular pattern and you can manipulate this by giving your body awake time cues during the morning and day with sunshine, activity and healthy food.  Then use slow down cues at night with lowered light, less activity and stop eating well before bed time.

Body temperature also follows a circadian rhythm and having a warm bath or shower before bed can also help initiate sleep as the drop in body temperature following the warm shower is another trigger for the body to fall asleep.

Contact me if you’d like a copy of my sleep tips handout.