Updated: Nov 3
For this post, I am wearing my “holistic hat” and would like to talk a little bit about alternative ways to help manage things like depression, anxiety, anger, weight gain, etc. These are things that a lot of women are dealing with, particularly on a cyclical basis. We understand that at certain times of the month, things can really fluctuate, and that is due in large part to the fluctuation in hormones we experience throughout our cycle. Let's dive in.
The Medication Movement
A lot of women reach out to their OB/GYN about concerns such as feeling anxious, having difficulty managing stress, and being angry all of the time. Unfortunately, all too often, our providers will immediately go to prescribing an antidepressant or SSRI medication. Statistics show that somewhere around 1 in 4 women who go to their doctor about these symptoms will immediately be prescribed one of these medications.
In most cases, providers are not testing to see what the patient's hormone levels are or addressing how those could be playing a factor into the patient’s symptoms.
You Know Your Body Best
In my practice, the clients who come talk to me about these issues, more often than not, have had these discussions with their doctors about getting their hormones tested. We as women have been dealing with these cycles for a long time. Most understand the ebb and flow of things and what things to look for, as well as instinctively know when something is not right with their body. At that point, things have started to change, or their bodies are really becoming pretty dysfunctional, so we as women innately know that it must be something to do with our hormones.
Unfortunately, these women who have asked to have their hormones tested are receiving a common response from their medical providers: "We don’t normally test hormones because of the fluctuation in levels throughout the month.” While this is true, there is supposed to be a fluctuation in our cycles. During these different stages, we have normative values for these timeframes and we know what we should be expecting at different times of the month. With this knowledge, we can plan for doing blood draws on certain days at certain times of the month and get a really good idea what may or may not be happening with our hormone levels.
Let me take a step back and just say that antidepressants and SSRIs can be beneficial under the right circumstances. In my opinion though, they should not be our first line of defense. I would never recommend my clients stop taking their medications, but I do encourage them to discuss alternatives with their physician and ask questions.
Our Due Diligence As Providers
As a pelvic health physical therapist and advocate for holistic wellness, my concern with these common symptoms is that they are happening because of hormonal imbalance. If physicians are prescribing antidepressants to have their patients “just deal with" their symptoms (which could be rather happening due to hormonal imbalances), then that may be risky on the provider’s part and could, in my opinion, be considered malpractice under worst case scenario.
I think it’s important that we encourage each other as clinicians and medical providers, no matter where you fall on the spectrum. It is our duty to do our due diligence and get to the root cause of the problem with our patients. By masking or numbing those symptoms with antidepressants and SSRIs, we aren’t addressing the root cause of the problem, especially if we are not looking at the female body holistically.
Walking Through Life Numb
As a patient, I also think it’s important to mention that if you feel depressed, anxious, angry, or any of those things, and you choose to numb yourself with medications, there’s no physical way to have a healthy awareness of your body. In our bodies, there are physiological things that should be happening that allow us to intuitively know if our systems are doing okay.
Another negative thing I have seen is clients decide they are ready to get off of their medications due to “bad stigma” surrounding these drugs, or for whatever reason. Unfortunately, they become more interested in taking themselves off of their medication resulting in negative consequences such as discontinuation syndrome. This syndrome can really be quite debilitating resulting in flu-like symptoms, body aches, insomnia, or sensory disturbances. With that information in mind, it is very important, and I recommend to all of my clients that are ready to discontinue their medications, to speak with their primary care provider about a safe plan of action for doing so.
We Take a Holistic Approach
Let’s move onto some of the ways I try to help treat these concerns with more of a holistic approach. Here in my practice, under the heading of Mercier services, we certainly try to be very holistic and look at the whole person. I recommend to these clients testing hormone levels to see where they are at and determine if this may be the main cause of their issue. We can help you to do these things by recommending tests to order and taking the time to discuss the findings with you.
Hormone Creams & Supplements
If these hormone values end up being abnormal, then we can discuss natural ways for you to support your body to help balance them back out. Interventions for hormone imbalance can be something as simple as adding in a bioidentical hormone cream like progesterone. There is also another cream called Bi-Est that is a combination of estriol and estradiol. If struggling with hormonal imbalance, you would want to utilize both of these creams to sort of “mimic” a natural cycle. For example, you would focus on utilizing an estriol cream at the beginning of your cycle, because this is the hormone we should be naturally producing during this phase.
If we have tried the bioidentical hormone creams, retested your levels, and find out they are not balancing out, then that’s when we can transition to supplements. For example, a client would emphasize taking progesterone supplements during the second phase of their cycle following ovulation because this is naturally when progesterone starts to peak within our cycle.
Balance: Diet, Sleep, & Exercise
Not everyone is going to respond exactly the same to these interventions because everyone’s body and cycle is just a little bit different. With that being said, we can also discuss ways to balance your hormones with diet and exercise.
Supplementing your diet with organic sourced foods can do a lot for supporting your hormones. Making sure you get enough sleep, exercise, and water intake can also help to benefit your hormone levels. There’s never just one change that fixes things, but my point is that there are things we can start to do to address these problems in a more natural manner rather than masking the symptoms with medication.
Interested in learning more? Check out my post here to learn about 1 simple food that can help balance your hormones naturally.
Small Changes, Big Impact
This topic has been on my mind because I have seen this influx of people calling me to talk about concerns of depression and anxiety. Others are actually coming into my clinic asking for help with balancing their hormones because they’re not getting the support to do so with their other medical practitioners.
I always look at each person individually and never recommend a “blanket” protocol because none of us are the same and we are all dealing with different things at different points in our biological cycles. Some clients come to me pre-bragnant (or never have had children), some have had 2-3 children, and others have reached that premenopausal or even menopausal state.
My main goal is to help my clients know that there are resources available to them and help them to learn their bodies. This can be empowering for them once they understand what the correct hormone levels are, how to tell when things are a little bit off, and what they can tweak to set themselves back on track. And oftentimes, tiny tweaks in diet, exercise, and sleep can make the biggest impact.
Ready to get moving? Follow along with this video linked here where I take you through a gentle series of movements to support your menstrual cycle.
No one wants to feel numb to what’s going on around them. My clients want to be able to interact with their kids, their spouse, and be able to live life fully. One way we can make sure this happens is by looking at your body and its function holistically, figure out what’s off and what your body is trying to tell you, and make the necessary changes.
Let's Work With Our Bodies
Just to wrap things up, I really wanted to address alternatives for treating common problems like depression, anxiety, and irritability. I wanted to talk about what we can do to benefit those concerns, thinking outside of the mainstream box, taking a little bit safer and more holistic approach to support your body and heal it so that you can live a more balanced and happy life.
I hope that this post helps you to experience a mindset shift, moving a little bit outside of the pharmaceutical lens. Just know that there are different ways we can address common symptoms we experience as we move throughout our cyclic phases. Let’s work with our bodies, not against them.
If you'd like to watch the video associated with this blog post, check out the link here.