Mary is not sure how long she can continue. She has a lot of responsibility, but it doesn’t seem like more than anyone else. She has two teenagers who actually require more attention than they did when they were younger, and the responsibility of aging parents, one of which is showing early signs of dementia and the other with multiple medical problems. Her marriage is good but she and her husband don’t find the time to do things as a couple like they used to. In addition to this, she works a full-time job with significant stress as she is a manager.
Premenstrual irritability and moodiness are not new, just becoming worse. Despite a reasonable exercise regimen, she continues to gain weight, especially around the middle. She would do anything to get a full night’s sleep instead of the 3AM awakenings that she has almost every night. Despite poor sleep, she feels anxious and nervous and of course fatigued. She is not sure whether her brain fog and memory issues are because she is not sleeping well or because of the stress she feels she is under.
Does that sound like anyone you know? This syndrome we call “wired and tired” affects a significant segment of our population. Women (and men) who have been under so much stress that they feel like they are functioning on the edge are very prevalent in our society. The cause is a very complex imbalance of several of our hormone systems.
Most women in their mid-forties are starting to have hormonal imbalances typical of perimenopause. In addition, women have a greater incidence of thyroid disease often diagnosed (or not) during this stage of life. If that were not enough, the adrenal glands, that are responsible for making Cortisol, one of our stress hormones are either putting out too much or too little Cortisol contributing to the imbalance. Lastly, our neurotransmitters that are involved with mood, sleep and the sense of well-being are also out of kilter. It’s no wonder many of us function every day fatigued, anxious, depressed and feeling like we are at the end of our rope.
The key to feeling better is to regain balance among these systems. With the decline of progesterone that typically occurs, estrogen becomes dominant. As estrogen is in excess, it competes with thyroid hormone for thyroid receptors which will further compromise an already borderline thyroid. Cortisol is involved in stabilizing blood sugar. If too low, it can cause periods of irritability and interfere with sleep patterns. Serotonin that we hear so much about is key in melatonin production, one of the essential hormones involved with sleep. We have two sets of neurotransmitters, excitatory and inhibitory. An imbalance in the system not only interferes with sleep but causes that wired, anxious feeling. And the nuances and interrelationships among hormone systems goes on and on in an astonishingly complex web. Addressing one hormone system (like thyroid only or estrogen and progesterone only) is to ignore the other elements that contribute to this matrix.
So the question becomes how do we investigate and address these potential imbalances?
The first step is to pay attention to your symptoms. This includes when they began, what has made them worse (or better), whether they are influenced by and medication or food and whether they are constant or cyclical. This is information that is integral in beginning to address the problem(s).
Next get tested. Yes, there are tests that can objectively determine levels in all the examples given here. They may not be your typical blood test and they may or may not be covered by insurance but as feeling good and functioning normally is priceless, you cannot make a better investment! There are treatment options available that may make it possible to avoid an antidepressant or go off the one you are presently taking. In addition, there are vitamins and supplements that replace many of the basic elements missing in our diet that can also correct these imbalances.
Lastly, take stock of your lifestyle. Are there stressors that you can eliminate or handle differently (no, you can not kill your children)? Sometimes, we cannot totally eliminate our stressors, but can improve the way we handle them. How is your nutrition? Eating fast food daily (or even more than once a week) is a problem and is setting you up for many chronic illnesses. Are you getting regular exercise? Regular exercise not only contributes to maintaining a healthy weight, but also reduces bad and raises good cholesterol and reduces stress.
If you have had enough of living “wired and tired” make that step to reclaim your life. There are health practitioners who can and will assist in this process.