Yes! I do have PMS. Right now actually (I think). So I was pleased to come across this interview from Well+Good today. Even though we know that diet and lifestyle affect our hormones, being reminded by a health practitioner is, well, reassuring. And it also gives back a bit of a sense of control, which is nice too.
What affects your PMS?
Here’s the interview:
Many women assume that the awful PMS they endure—complete with cramping, headaches, lower back pain, and breakouts—is just par for the course.
But Meg Richichi, MS, LAc, an integrative women’s health practitioner, says that it doesn’t have to be that way. While out-of-wack hormones account for PMS symptoms, the cause of their wackiness could be your diet.
New York women’s hormones are constantly under attack, says Richichi, by a combination of culprits—stress, lack of sleep, and especially unbalanced diets.
Why is diet such a big deal? “Eighty percent of who we are comes through our gut,” says Richichi. “The building blocks of our hormones are what we eat, assimilate, and eliminate.”
Instead of masking the symptoms with Midol, Richichi recommends getting your hormones under control. Here’s where you should start:
1. Stress less.
When you’re super stressed, the nutrients in your body that create healthy levels of estrogen and progesterone are are busy just keeping your body in survival mode. “The signal that tells you to stress is the same one that tells you to ovulate,” says Richichi. If it’s all tied up, you’re going to have issues.
2. Sleep more.
A good night’s sleep will help with stress. But more importantly, sleep is a crucial time for hormone regulation. The longer and sounder you sleep, the more time your hormones will have to reset. And close the blinds—the light from a street lamp can disrupt the process.
Whatever you give your attention to gets bigger.
I can’t remember the first time I heard this. It might have been from my mother, who isn’t one to stew or dwell, or an early yoga teacher, or an old book. I know it was during my teenage years, at a time when I was probably stewing and dwelling a lot on things that maybe—imagine ça?!—didn’t really matter all that much in the grand scheme of things. Stewing is understandable: It’s what teenagers (and the rest of us) do all the time. But I had an early sense that looping thoughts and unproductive lines of mental inquiry could and should somehow be avoided. Easier said than done, obviously. This early lesson was my first clue as to how.
But what exactly are we talking about? The idea is simple, and it doesn’t require flaky hocus-pocus thinking (which is my specialty, obvs) to accept. Simply, whatever you focus on—good, bad, stressful, pleasant, anxiety-provoking, calming, exciting—is amplified in the mind. It takes up space. It grows. Put even more simply: Whatever you’re thinking about, you’re thinking about. If that thing is bad, then you have bad in your head. If that thing is good, you have good in your head.
None of this would matter, of course, if we saw everything as it really is, but we don’t. We have a single sticky thought and then launch a search-and-capture mission in our mind looking for other things that support that original one. As we do this, the idea pile-on grows and the next thing you know it, that silly, fleeting thought has pitched a tent in our mind and won’t budge, Occupy-styles.
Unfortunately we do this more with negative thoughts than positive ones. Let’s call this, gently, a “not very productive way to use our brains.”
But here’s the good news: The process that can make us miserable can also be flipped on its head to cultivate joy, compassion, peace and love if we do it right. We know our thoughts affect our feelings, and our feelings affect our physical body. They can trigger stress hormones, aggravate chronic pain, promote inflammation, disrupt sleep, trigger breakouts—the list goes on. And nothing on that list is awesome.
On the flip side, focusing deliberately and carefully on positive things can have an opposite effect. I was reminded about this recently when I was struggling with looping thoughts. As anyone who’s been there (all of you) knows, you can get exactly nowhere in that state of mind. Of course, anyone who’s been there (again, all of you) knows that when you’re in that state of mind it can be very hard to rip yourself from it and say: OK, stupid thought, I’m not going to think you anymore. Instead I’m going to think about what I want, what I’m happy about, what I’m grateful for.
But as with all good habits, this one is self-perpetuating. The more you force yourself to do it, kicking and screaming, faking it until you make it, the more you see it works, and then the more likely you are to keep doing it.
An important point here: This is not like The Secret, and not about changing the course of events with your brain. We can’t do that, unfortunately. And sometimes bad things do happen! But thinking about them all the time can’t stop that, so this trains your mind to quiet down in the face of things you can’t control (everything!) and cultivate some good feelings while you’re at it.
Whatever you give your attention to gets bigger.
Trust us! It’s true. Now, what to do about it?
There are a million ways to practice visualization, and it has many different applications. Here are five I like.
1. Mentally rehearse positive outcomes. This is big with athletes, and can have a very practical application…or be an example of magical thinking (see below), depending on how you use it. Good yoga teachers will tell you to spend months literally visualizing the steps to get into a headstand—a challenging pose, no question—before you actually try to get upside down in the middle of the room. When I first learned it, my teacher wouldn’t let us practice against the wall because it would set us up with a crutch, she said. Instead, we had to picture a headstand, step by step, until we could do it. Similarly, a University of Chicago study looked at how mental rehearsing, as it’s sometimes called, might help basketball players with their free throws; the results were unequivocal, with visualizers sinking the ball way more than the controls. Professional athletes talk about this, and Olympians too.
The scientific explanation seems to be that repeatedly thinking about doing something creates neural patterns in the brain for that action—a blueprint, if you will. Your brain then trains your body to execute that thing, because it already knows how to. Crazy! And true.
2. Picture what you want. Of course, if the outcome you’re looking for is of the more interpersonal nature—about your career, or your kids, or your husband or wife—it doesn’t work the same way. You can train your brain all you want, but when there are other people involved, all bets are off, right? Well… Sort of. I’m a big believer in creating the conditions for the outcome you want. You can’t make magic happen (mayyyybe), but you can create the right conditions for things to happen, and part of that, for me, is focusing on positive thoughts—what I want as opposed to what I’m scared of. Alexandra and I are both really keen on this. To do it, simply picture what you want. Not just having it, but getting it. Really imagine, with your eyes closed and your mind focused, what it would feel like to have that thing, or what it would feel like not have to worry about that other thing. Put yourself there, and think about what it looks like, feels like, smells like. Set a scene, and give it your attention and then go back to it often.
3. Imagine thoughts shrinking…or growing. When I have a thought that won’t budge and is stressing me out, I like to name it—Oh, hey, mean thought that is telling me I will never be a prima ballerina—and then picture it in a circle in my mind, almost like a sign that’s been tacked up for me to read. I picture the thought I don’t like, and then I picture the circle shrinking slowly until it’s a speck instead of a menacing, pulsating globe of badness. Similarly, if I want to cultivate something positive, like peace of mind, or the feeling that everything is as it should be, then I do the same, only I start small and picture it growing in my mind until it takes up all the space I can imagine. This fills me with a feeling of wellbeing that is indescribable. I’m not sure why, but I trust it.
4. Do the white light thing. We’re getting increasingly weird here! OK so this one is just what it sounds like. Call to mind a thought, a circumstance, a person, an illness—anything that is giving you a little bit of a headache right now—and really hold that person or idea in your mind. Focus on it like you’re studying a map. Look at it, and identify what it looks like. Try as best you can not to THINK about it, but just see it in your mind. Then you get out your magic white-light wand and tap your thought three times (LOL), basking it in white light. If you want to pick another color, feel free. Whatever color signifies peace and healing to you is the color to pick here. Bask that thing in light like your life depends on it. Then when you’re done, do it again.
5. Picture a person you see as an evolved being and stare at them. This can be your grandpa or your guru, your lover of your childhood best friend—anyone who to you represents peace or wisdom or love. Maybe it’s someone who loves you unconditionally or a spiritual guide. I was taught this by one of my teachers, and he recommends picking someone you actually know or have come into contact with, as opposed to someone sort of remote, like Gandhi or the Virgin Mary (unless, of course, you’ve met them). Picture them sitting in front of you at eye level and just give them a gander. Look at the outline of their body, and their eyes, and their face. Smile at them, maybe. Hold them in your mind for a few minutes, and then when you’re done, say thank you.
Has anyone else tried visualization or mental rehearsing? Do you think it could help you stop bad thoughts in their tracks?
Because we’re getting ready to start tackling stress here in earnest—as Alexandra mentioned yesterday—we’d like to know: What stresses you out most? This will help us brainstorm ways to talk about this. If, for instance, your biggest source of stress is your boyfriend or girlfriend, or your job, or your finances, that’ll help us focus on what kind of practical stress-busters we might explore. Because the stress series is not going to be about doling out tips about how to deal with your 401(k) or your deadbeat husband. Sorry ’bout that.
Alrighty then. Have at it: What stresses you the eff out?
It’s Monday, and my new job has been ruining my skin. No kidding. Sure, it’s creatively stimulating and all kinds of fun. But as with most startups, it’s been a high-stress scenario, especially during those few months leading up to the launch. And a few weeks ago, the stress was all over my face, pizza styles.
For about a week I had a constellation of no less than 5 cysts—painful, inflamed, and all kinds of impossible-to-cover (because I picked!) ugly. I have not had that kind of breakout since, well, my last fast-paced job.
It’s kind of funny (not haha) to think that during the time when we were writing the book, and I was between jobs, I came to convince myself that I was actually a low-stress individual. Uh, hello delusion. It’s easy to be low stress when the only person you deal with is your bestie, and you get to spend your days pampering with natural products while researching and writing about something you love. (And if we’re really being truly honest, even then my monkey brain often had its way with me.)
We talked a lot about stress in the book, and the fact that it also comes with benefits: It makes people more thoughtful, more productive, and generally more successful.
But when it comes to my skin, stress—above food and alcohol, and even sleep—is the number one indicator of how mine looks. And it doesn’t just manifest as acne. The entire quality of my skin sallows with it too.
I saw this breakout as a warning siren: Something in me was out of whack, big time. And since then I’ve been on a mission to rebalance. With so much stress and stimulation in the world, at the end of the day the only thing we can control is our reactions—so that’s where I’ve been looking. Do I have boundaries? Do I ever turn off? What happens to my body when something stressful happens? (Clenching, neck pain, stomach upset?) I’m paying attention and my skin is on the road to recovery, but it’s a work in progress (a new cream from Tammy Fender is also helping!).
S and I think this is such an important topic: 1) because it impacts our health, 2) because it impacts our looks, and 3) because with the endless distractions of modern life we’re only getting more anxious. As such, we’re planning to tackle it more regularly in a new series around managing stress.
What happens to your body when stress hits?
A relaxed face is a pretty face, right? Sure, yeah. But that’s easier said than done for a lot of us.
It’s August—a time when people go to the beach, sleep in, and show up late to work—but if my horoscope is any indication (and it usually is), this is not going to be a quiet month for me. With that in mind, I thought it would be nice to share five of my 10 favorite ways to reduce stress naturally and healthily, and I really hope you guys share yours in the comments, too.
(I’ll do another five soon, but I’m too stressed to write them all out now.)
1. Breeeeeeeeeeathe. Blah, blah, blah—but it’s true. When you slow down your breath, your nervous system gets a signal that it’s OK to relax, which then tells the rest of your body to take it down a thousand. Then, as if by magic, your mind quiets down. We all know this is true, and I think it’s just one of those things we need to hear over and over again until it clicks and we start doing it when we need it most.
2. Use the quiet moments to plan for the, um, noisier one. I know I have a hectic month ahead of me, so I’ve been trying to take the calm periods after work and on the weekend to recharge my batteries so that when the sh*t hits the fan, as it inevitably will, I’m better able to deal (or duck, as the case may be). You probably all have different ways of doing this. For me lately it’s been spending time with people who make me feel good and who I love, meditating, hanging out in nature (even when that “nature” is a litter-strewn public park) and—eeks!—making collages. I’ve been making art! The nice thing about collages is at the end, you have a thing. You made it! With your hands! Very calming, somehow.
3. Use aromatherapy. Last week I had a wonderful session with Hope Gillerman (which I will write more about soon) and she taught me about her incredibly concentrated and wonderful line of organic aromatherapy. Her collection has been a cult hit for some time, and I was delighted to finally learn about it. I gravitated naturally to the stress remedy, which smelled nothing like the little janky bottle of lavender I keep by my bed at home. I have found her blends to be incredibly effective at taking the edge off. Alexandra and I also like Hope’s tension remedy, which we find less sedating than the stress one; perfect for when you need to focus on the go but you don’t want to lose your mind.
4. Also, use flower essences. Flower essences are going to have to get their own post, too, because they’re special and widely misunderstood, but the gist is: Certain flowers contain certain properties that, when grown organically and distilled by people who know what they’re doing, can impart certain qualities to the person who ingests them. What I find especially interesting about them is that they are working on root causes. Lavender is great when you’re actually freaking out, and I’ve been using Lotus Wei flower essences to target the deeper things that make peace of mind more challenging. I learned about this just a few weeks ago, when I had a wonderful lunch with Katie Hess of Lotus Wei and Lisa Reinhardt of Wei of Chocolate. Meeting women like this is what makes my job (“job”) worthwhile, no question. I especially like Pure Energy and Infinite Love in chocolate and mist and elixir form. You can go to their sites and see which ones might work best for you, too.
5. Be a little irresponsible (but don’t hurt anyone, and don’t get arrested). This one’s as important as the others, in my opinion. Yes, it’s great to be Buddha on the mountain when things are hard, but sometimes what you really need is to take life a little less seriously and have FUN. Maybe you could lie around in bed with a bodysuit on, a bottle of something brown, and some records? I don’t know. I just liked the picture. I look at it and I think, “That looks awesome.” And very, very relaxing.
What are your favorite ways to beat stress? And have you tried the ones listed here? Your answers will help us, too, so share!