Living in Fight or Flight: (A little) Physiology on Stress

I know too many women running themselves ragged. As one mom put it, “I have a YES problem.” She’s trying to work on this by adding more playtime in her life. But first, she had to learn and address where her physiology was really compromised, and how stress was impacting her life. 

The mom I’m speaking of is one of many I’ve talked to recently who explained to me that they felt like they were living in a “flight or fight” mode, and they couldn’t get out of it no matter what they did. Another momma said she kept tripping over things (including her kids) and had very limited patience with her girls. After this went on for too long, she knew something was out-of-wack in her body and instead of blaming herself for her behavior she went to get checked out. As she put it, "I felt insane and I couldn't get a handle on it." Finally, she booked an appointment with her care provider. The Dx: momma was skirting an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto's Thyroiditis. 

For instance, let’s look at Hashimoto’s. This disorder results from the immune system mistakenly attacking the thyroid gland and causing your thyroid to act in a hypothyroid state. Symptoms can present in all sorts of different ways, and they’re especially confusing when you are in the postpartum period. Often, symptoms are similar to basically feeling a lot like a mom: exhausted, depleted, a “foggy” brain, feeling overwhelmed (often), scattered, quickly irritated, and wondering if you feel sh*tty because of hormones, sleep deprivation, stress, breastfeeding, parenting, your diet, lack of consistency, or because there’s something bigger going on in your body.  

To understand further, there are three systems involved with the physiology of stress: the nervous system, endocrine system, and immune system. The physiology is complex and if I lay it out for you here, I would put you to sleep in a heartbeat. In a nutshell, when one of these three systems begins to malfunction due to stress in your life there is a cascade of physiologic events that can lead to all three not functioning or benefitting your health.  

My main concerns overall: your nervous system health, your thyroid and adrenal health, and how strong your immune system functions. If I were building a postpartum health care system:

  • All moms would be seen at 3-12 months postpartum for evaluation and thyroid screening- whether an Endocrinologist, Naturopath, Integrative MD, or NP/GP who is very familiar with postpartum thyroid and adrenal health.
  • Each mom would be seen, evaluated and screened for overall thyroid function, including lab values for TSH, T3, rT3, and T4.
  • If you are diagnosed with thyroid disorder, you’d be given options for treatment that meet your healthcare needs and help you feel supported: whether allopathic or integrative treatment.
  • If lab results are normal, each mother would still go through a basic screening to evaluate overall mental, emotional, and physical stress between 3-12 months postpartum to ensure we (the system) were not missing cases of late-onset postpartum depression.

This just sets a tone. There are many ways we could take better care of moms and women in the early postpartum years, especially when it comes to stress levels in women. It’s not the answer, just one answer. 

Leaves me wondering, Mother Lovers, what doesn’t feel good or right in your body today? Like something is physically off and no matter what you do with your diet or exercise, you still feel sh*tty? Leave your comments below, then book an appointment with your provider to be evaluated or feel free to ask me a question in the comments below. 

As we keep stoking the fire this month, I hope you have a fantastic week filled with sand, sun, warmth and adventure. Soak up what makes you feel healthy and strong. Thanks for coming around and share this with a friend if you think it will benefit her.