We have all seen a tampon or pad commercial at some point in our lives, and yes, I’m talking to you too, guys. No one can disagree that they do a great job portraying women in a positive light; fierce, bold, sporty, fun with rocking music in the background to give it just the right amount of pizazz. They take something as simple as a cotton feminine hygiene product and make entire campaigns around it, promoting female empowerment and a message that screams: you can in fact get through even those toughest weeks. 

What we don’t see, however, are all the weeks and days in between the ‘red carpet week’. The not so great moments that maybe don’t make us feel like superheroes or strong, bold athletes. I’m not just talking about the obvious, like cramps, headaches, bloating, back pain and the rest. That comes with the title of being a woman, I more so want to put an emphasis on women’s hormonal health as a whole and all the not-so-talked-about topics that many women and girls struggle with both on a daily basis and over long periods of time.

You may be wondering, where did my interest in such a topic come from? And no, I am not a health major. This one hits home for me on a more personal level. I have had quite the hormonal journey, one that continues to pervade my life and interfere in my physical as well as mental health. Since that day, that monumental time where we go from girl to woman, I have never had the run of the mill, once a month flo, cycle, whatever you want to call it. I would miss periods, and, even if I did get lucky in a month, it would always be a devilish surprise when I was least expecting it. I truly had no way of tracking it or regulating it. People told me “oh don’t worry, your body just needs some time to adjust to this new way of life” or “sometimes this happens in the first year of having your period”, and more. But my friends had regular periods so why didn’t I? It soon became a worry that dragged like a ball and chain on my ankle. Things took a turn for the worst when I was 18 years old when I developed disordered eating and an exercise addiction. Quickly and surely, my body stopped signalling to me all together that I would be equipped to carry a child one day. I even stopped having PMS symptoms altogether. This is formally known as amenorrhea: the absence of menstruation. While there are a couple variations of the term, being primary and secondary, I had something that is called functional hypothalamic amenorrhea, falling into secondary amenorrhea, which is the most common cause of anovulation, often associated with stress, weight loss, poor nutrition and strenuous exercise. 

I am certainly not a professional in this area and cannot explain the science from end to end, but through my own research over the years, one thing specifically managed to stand out to me clear as day: hormonal imbalance.

Alas, the lovely hormones, a term used in mainstream society that usually brings our minds directly to girls’ or women’s emotional responses. But, my friends, this is only scratching the surface – hormones are the body’s chemical messengers that travel around your entire bloodstream and which are responsible for saying: “hey you, organs and tissues, let’s get to work”. In other words, they are the gatekeepers of the body’s major processes that kind of define the way we operate day-to-day. When these vital chemicals are slightly out of whack, where there is too much or too little of a certain hormone, known as hormonal imbalance, all the sudden your body is left without proper direction. It freaks out and goes, well what the heck do we do know, resulting in many adverse effects such as fatigue, weight gain, disrupted digestion, anxiety, acne, dry skin, headaches, and of course the kicker: missed or the absence of periods. 

Hormonal imbalances have become increasingly common with today’s fast-paced lifestyle, so let’s look at a few of the things that can trigger this very unwelcome phenomenon that I would not wish upon anyone. Other than the inevitable aging and changes that occur throughout puberty or menopause in older women, the other main culprits here are, number one: stress. Whether that be physical or mental stressors, they can trigger a stress response, and when the body falls into that state, its innate reaction is to produce more of the hormone, cortisol – and here we have it folks, hormonal imbalance caught red handed. Long-term cortisol levels can lead to all sorts of not-so-good effects such as weight gain, high blood pressure, skin changes, mood swings such as anxiety, depression and irritability. This is why it is so crucial that we continue to reinforce stress management tactics and be kind to your mind especially. From my experience, I have lived as a somewhat chronically stressed, worried and anxious girl from the time I was little, to the period of menstruation (no pun intended) and onwards. I had my struggles with energy levels, fatigue, proper sleep and of course, Mrs. Flo. through my ups and downs of stress in my life, whether that be family, friends, school or personally related. Now, during the years where I was not fueling my body with enough food and working it into overtime with high intensity exercise, I had successfully unlocked an entirely new level of stress; physical, emotional and mental stress. My body and hormones were not happy with me and honestly, I was not happy either. 

This is exactly why I am here writing about this today. Not enough girls and women know the importance of hormonal health and the impact it can have on our lives; it can truly make or break the life you lead. When I was completely imbalanced so to speak, I had no idea what that even meant, and had no knowledge about hormones to even catch what I had fallen into. When I began my recovery and was committed to rebuilding my relationship with food, exercise and my body image, I had, at the same time, stumbled upon influencers and social media pages devoted to hormone health. It became my goal to do everything I could if that meant getting my period back. So, on that note, let’s jump into some of the steps you can take to balance your hormones and become the healthiest, happiest version of yourself to the point where people notice a glow about you. Who doesn’t want that? Hormonal health is the new cool thing for girls to do. 

First off, do your research if you are interested in learning more about ways in which you can optimize your hormonal health! There are so many resources and professionals made readily available, and it’s all in the palm of your hand. Second, minimize stress in your life, as I have mentioned. This may seem like a daunting and impossible task, but this can be catered to your needs as you wish. Whether that be creating a morning or nighttime routine to wind down, putting away electronics and cozying up with a good book, exercise practiced in a healthy manner, colouring, deep breathing or meditation, the sky’s the limit and it is all up to you to take the leap. Small habits create a ripple effect and can be so helpful in the long run. Next, eat well-balanced, healthy meals. This might come as an obvious one but as I previously stated, bodies that are under-fueled will not function at their highest level and a lot of the time, people, especially girls, are not eating nearly enough to sustain the kind of jobs are bodies need to perform. Moreover, there are some hormone-healing foods that have been known to regulate our friendly hormones. These include cruciferous vegetables, healthy fats like salmon, avocado, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices, whole grains and carbs like sweet potatoes (yum) and protein! If there is one tip I could give to the people that helped me immensely on my journey was including a source of protein in each meal which helps to keep you satiated longer and stabilize blood sugar levels – balanced blood sugar levels = happy hormones. So, naturally you can understand why it might be worthwhile to also limit your sugar intake. However, I am a great believer of everything in moderation, so I am all for the chocolate indulgences, especially when the PMS rolls around. AND, for the love of all things bright and beautiful, please SLEEP! Sleep is one of the most underrated things we can do for not only our hormonal health but our overall well being. Remember that thing called cortisol I talked about earlier? Well you’d never guess but sleep is the main regulator of that bad boy. And vice versa, if your hormones are not in tip top shape, your sleep will be affected, and the vicious cycle begins. 

Flash forward and I have reached the most balanced I have ever been! With a lot of hard work, it is possible. I never thought I would go from years without a period, worrying that I might seriously risk being infertile in the future, to actually sort of expecting when I would start needing to think about having a tampon in my purse at the ready. Along with this, I found myself thoroughly balanced overall with my sleep, stress, anxiety, skin, digestion and appetite. It’s amazing what happens when you treat your body with the love and attention it deserves. 

I am still learning and expanding my knowledge on such a complex phenomenon; the female hormone system and mind is not like looking into a fishbowl. It’s a dark and twisty maze that could change at any given moment. I want to shine light into this maze, promoting its place in society and empowering women to seek resources, help and practice ways in which they can optimize their hormonal health and in turn manage their stress and happiness. Conversation is the first step we can take to normalizing hormonal health – trust me, with a little patience and consistency, you can and will start to feel like a super woman from a tampon commercial. 

 

Resources and people to check out: 

Header Image Source: Pinterest

Sources used for article:

https://www.healthline.com/health/hormonal-imbalance 

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/hypothalamic-amenorrhea

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/balance-hormones#TOC_TITLE_HDR_14 

https://www.hormone.org/what-is-endocrinology/factors-that-affect-endocrine-function 

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