For most women, it happens slowly.
Sleep starts getting a bit disturbed. Energy nearly imperceptibly dips, week over week. Temper gets slightly shorter. Libido tucks away and starts to hide.
Then the gastrointestinal issues start. Bloating after meals. Aversion to red meat. Indigestion and maybe acid reflux. Frustrating bouts of diarrhea or constipation. Random food sensitivities that seem to come out of nowhere. The accompanying skin issues, exhaustion issues, and mood issues.
Anxiety starts to creep in. Weird. You've never been an anxious person. Then maybe a bout or two of depression. And certainly, always, major PMS. This seems to get worse every month. And frighteningly, you start passing blood clots or losing major amounts of blood each month. Or maybe your flow packs up and leaves the building. You spot between cycles but never have a real period.
You go to your doctor and he runs some bloodwork. A week later, his office calls to tell you that your blood work looks normal. But you've been having symptoms of low thyroid function and you're convinced that if you could just get on the right thyroid medication, all will be right in the world.
And maybe you get a diagnosis. And maybe you don't. It really doesn't matter. You still feel terrible.
Why? You eat pretty well. You exercise when you have the energy (or you go to Orange Theory 5 days a week at 5 am). It's not like you're scarfing down Taco Bell or sitting on your couch with a pint of ice cream every day. You're taking care of the kids, the house, your job, your husband, and a bunch of other random crap no one appreciates you for or even notices.
And the symptoms get worse. And you begin to feel broken.
But I want to tell you that you're not. You're not broken.
Now listen, something's broken. It's the world. If you haven't noticed, this world is fallen. We are sinful. "Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned" (Rom 5:12)
We aren't created for utopia here on this earth. Life is hard and full of struggles. Sometimes health issues are those struggles.
It doesn't mean that you can't feel better though. I am passionate about equipping women with the tools they need to feel strong and nourished so that they can be better wives and mothers. So they can in turn, nourish those who depend on them. You can't take great care of your charges when you feel like you are shell of yourself.
And so I want to reiterate- you're not broken. What you are is overwhelmed. You're pulled in too many directions. You have FOMO. You'll do anything just to get it all done. You think you can be perfect (your conscious brain would never agree to this but your subconscious brain ensures you live life this way on the daily). And since your subconscious brain rules 95% of your thought life, you're SOL on this one unless you learn to retrain your brain.
And that's the subject of today's lesson, my loves.
Retraining your brain.
I work with women daily who are in your shoes. Of course, we work on diet. We go gluten free and dairy free and up the protein and up the calories and up the fruits and veggies and reduce the alcohol and coffee and sugar. You already know you should be doing all of that stuff. It works pretty well, but it's only 20% of the health equation.
We also work on supplementation. I myself have invested a small fortune in supplements over the years. Most of them did nothing, though a few of them were helpful (especially when I was able to start testing and stop guessing!)
But where the rubber meets the road- where real change starts to occur- is when we start working on the stress response.
First, listen to this quote from Dr. Caroline Leaf (the brilliant Christian neuropsychiatrist)-
"Research shows that 75-98 percent of mental, physical, and behavioral illness comes from one's thought life. This staggering and eye-opening statistic means only 2-25% of mental and physical illness come from the environment and genes."
Let that sink in for a moment. More from Dr. Leaf:
"We are not victims of our biology. God leads, but we have to choose to let God lead. We have been designed to create thoughts, and from these we live our our lives (Prov. 23:7)"
So really, it's not your mom's fault or your kindergarten boyfriend's fault or your genes' fault that you are struggling with your health. I know that's tough to hear, but it's true.
Your thought life has gotten lazy because you have gotten overwhelmed. You are pulled in too many directions. You lack the energy to "take every thought captive". And it's showing. In your TPO antibodies. In your cystic ovaries. In your chronic Lyme disease.
Ok, I think you get it. Now, what do we do about it? This is where I can help!
First off, I remind my clients do give themselves plenty of grace. With FOMO and Perfect Girl Syndrome, we start to cut grace off for ourselves. This unfortunately often extends to those around us as well: "My husband never puts his @#%* dishes in the dishwasher!" "My children are so lazy!" "Can you believe my co-worker acted like that?!"
When you are kinder to yourself, you're kinder to others. This is a great first step.
When you choose to focus on "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, (and) whatever is commendable (Phil 4:8), " you're beginning to retrain your brain.
Did you know that by taking this Scripture to heart, you can actually change the structure and function of your brain? Dr. Leaf again:
"Current neuroscientific and quantum physics research confirms that our thoughts change our brains daily. In fact, neurological literature has coined the term "self-directed neuroplasticity" as a general description of the principle that deep thinking changes brain structure and function. This plastic ability of the brain to change in a positive or negative direction depending on our state of mind is called the plastic paradox."
Interestingly enough, it's not just your brain that can change. So can your DNA!
"This study showed that thinking and feeling anger, fear, and frustration caused DNA to change shape according to thoughts and feelings. The DNA responded by tightening up and becoming shorter, switching off DNA codes, which reduced quality expression. So when we feel shut down by negative emotions, our body does too. But here's the great part: the negative shutdown or poor quality of the DNA codes was reversed by feelings of love, joy, appreciation, and gratitude. The researchers also found that HIV positive patients who had positive thoughts and feelings that 300,000 times more resistance to the disease than those without positive feelings."
I'm sorry, what? Not only can DNA damage reverse, but those who suffer from viral illnesses can become more resilient?
Now, my loves, none of us are ignorant enough to think that just by slapping a "positive thought" onto a hurting body or mind will change your DNA. It takes a little more than that. I am also not advocating positive thoughts or positive psychology. A true heart change needs to occur.
How could this heart change happen? If you're not yet in Christ with full assurance of salvation and you want to chat about it, reach out to me. Let's talk .
But if you're already a Christian, why are you still feeling overwhelmed and frustrated both with your thought life and with your body? Haven't you already had this heart change?
You're probably engaging regularly in the practice of Milkshake Multitasking, says Dr. Leaf.
"Every rapid, incomplete, and poor quality shift of thought is like making a milkshake with your brain cells and neurochemicals".
Dr. Leaf says that social media, while beneficial and possibly even necessary for some parts of life, can be a huge source of stress. Social media encourages this Milkshake Multitasking. This can lead to lowered self-control. This is shown in clinical research:
"Greater social media use is associated with a higher body mass index, increased binge eating, a lower credit score, and higher levels of credit card debt for consumers with many friends in their "network"- all caused by a lack of self-control."
Now, girls, I'm not here to bust your ovaries. I promise. I'm just pointing out to you what you already know, deep down.
We all want to be effortlessly in every place at every time in slammin' outfits with slammin' bodies and in perfect control of our children (and let's be honest, our husbands). The time we spend comparing ourselves to everyone else on social media shows the desires of our heart. The more out of control we feel with our own lives, the more we long after someone else's life, and consequently, the worse we feel about our own lives. And the worse our bodies feel.
That's only one part of the equation. Instagram does not cause Lupus. Or PCOS, or arthritis or Epstein Barr. I'm not saying that. I am saying that a body that is already undernourished, overworked, depleted, and overwhelmed (the perfect storm for every autoimmune disease) does not need further depletion and overwhelm by spending time doing anything other than resting well in the Lord, eating well, caring well for others, and fulfilling responsibilities well. Your body may need a break. And for heaven's sake, your Milkshake Mind certainly does as well.
I just see so many women in my practice who eat right and exercise right and supplement right. They are trying so hard to do all of the things. They have read all of the blogs and listened to all of the summits and seen all of the doctors. But their minds are not at rest. Therefore, their bodies cannot rest, either. I understand this because I have been there. And I still daily struggle to take my thoughts captive. Hourly. Second-ly.
Calming of the stress response means you must start to begin to shift your thoughts and retrain your brain. The stresses will not go away. Your kids will still be whiny. They'll fight. Your husband will never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever make the bed the way you want it done. Your co-worker will always be a snarky little asshole, and there will always be traffic when you are late for a dentist appointment.
But if you are building mental resilience instead of letting said resilience slip away, you'll begin to view stress differently. And then your body will begin to respond to stress differently. Here are some of the practices I encourage my clients to do on the daily to build mental resilience to stress:
None of these times involve phones, computers, or tablets.
And you know what? Most of my clients actually do these things. They see value in them early on in their programs. They love the break from being on. Some of my clients don't do these things. And honestly, these sweet dears have a harder time. Diet can only get one so far. The stress axis must be calmed in order for hormones to shift and chronic illness to be reversed.
I do take baths regularly. I get my outside time. But I have been stressed lately more than usual, like many of you. I'll be homeschooling 4 kids in the fall, and I recently started a busy new job.
And my quiet time with the Lord started to suffer. I would sit there with my Bible in the morning, drinking my Herbal Hormone Tonic. I would be reading through Psalms or John, but my brain would be thinking about my next email or webinar.
But in reading Dr. Leaf's book this week, I have started a new practice as a result of thinking about the following:
"Research shows that five to sixteen minutes a day of focused, meditative capturing of thoughts shifts front brain states that are more likely to engage with the world (my note in context: as opposed to experiencing depression). Research also showed that those same five to sixteen minutes of intense, deep thinking activity increased the changes of a happier outlook on life".
I don't really know how to think real intense, deep thoughts.
But I do remember my pastor telling me one time that the Bible is supposed to be read aloud. And I am not really into meditating in the current sense. But I have been sitting and breathing deeply and listening to Scripture read aloud to me with the ESV app on my phone. For somewhere between five and sixteen minutes. When the weather's nice, I will do this outside. I don't have my own deep thoughts, but God's Word is deep and wide and getting to be still and listen and breathe is a better way to start my day than email. Or Facebook.
So our bodies aren't broken. I've seen some women who were suffering deeply for years (palm-sized menstrual blood clots! being bed-ridden due to Crohn's disease! diagnosed (not by me, natch!) PMDD!) completely reverse these conditions by calming down their stress response. It is a joy and a wonder every time.
But you know what's interesting? I have come to expect them to get better. I know a shift will happen. I don't expect them to be perfect, or completed, or feel amazing all of the time. But I do expect improvement because I've seen it about 300 times.
I'm not promising anything, because I don't really do anything. I teach and inform and guide, but it's their amazing selves that do the work. They work, and they work, and they think correct thoughts, and they spend time outside and they start enjoying a bit of painting or reading or sewing and they relax about their food and they start saying no and they stop worrying about being perfect and they feel a little stronger and a little tougher and a little more badass and then they notice that nearly all of the symptoms they used to worry about have lessened or disappeared.
So quit thinking of your body as sick, or bad, or uncooperative. Take time to retrain your thoughts. Take time to relax. Encourage one another. And for heaven's sake, encourage yourself. You've got this sister. Now power down your device and go take a break :)