College permits pushing the boundaries of self-care. Or at least, we permit it to permit us. It's so much easier to surrender sleep to the demands of an essay, a presentation, or a night out. And in many cases, this may be worth it (at least, I told myself this).
Feelings of fatigue and general malaise are therefore part and parcel of the college experience—the symptoms of a difficult workload, good times, and late night philosophizing. But they could also be part and parcel of something else most universities don't openly discuss: hormone imbalance.
When I hear this phrase, I hear all of its attached assumptions: "hormone imbalances" often seem to refer to women, and menstruating women at that. But the term can be applied to men, women, and non-binary individuals, because we all have hormones, and not just those related to our reproductive organs.
Hormones are, in fact, substances all organisms produce to send messages and stimulate actions within the body's tissues and cells. They are incredibly vital to all aspects of daily biological and physiological life.
Hormone imbalances are hard to spot, as many of their symptoms can be attributed to other minor or major medical conditions. Yet they can occur easily, particularly due to stress, which can profoundly altar hormone production.
Here are the signs that you may be experiencing an imbalance and tips on how to align those helpful chemicals appropriately.
Fatigue is the sensation of heightened exhaustion, particularly that which is said to lie "in your bones." Fatigue can accumulate as a result of sleep deprivation—a common state of affairs in college—emotional issues, nutrition, and chemical imbalances in the body.
In some cases, this fatigue may be related to your adrenal glands, which are critical manufacturers of hormones and regulators of blood pressure and heart performance.
A hormone imbalance may be in play if you've done everything you can to address fatigue with little results: catching up on missed sleep, modifying your diet, or taking steps to boost mental health.
Moodiness or Emotional Swings
Once again, college can be the season of heightened emotion, and for good reason. It's a place of high demands, limitless possibility, and devastating setbacks. Personal life often intervenes helplessly with academic life, and this can generate some serious roller coasters.
It's okay to ride the waves of emotion as they arise. Yet if you feel as if your emotions are wild, unpredictable, and posing a serious impediment to your performance—especially despite attempts to treat them via medication or counseling—you may want to take a look at your hormones.
Hormones are essential when it comes to regulation of digestive processes. This is all too easy to forget, especially when it's far easier to blame foods, allergies, and stress.
A hormone imbalance can lead to nausea, constipation, and general stomach upset, and these symptoms are likely to persist for the extent of the imbalance, particularly if compounded with other symptoms like fatigue and vertigo.
How to Address a Hormone Imbalance
You don't have to visit your physician or sign up for hormone therapy to realign your hormones, although such options do exist for the right individuals. The secret to hormone balance lies first in body awareness—recognizing, for example, that there may be something larger and biological behind your persistent symptoms and that the symptoms exist in the first place.
To cultivate this awareness, try some simple meditations or body scans. Sitting quietly with yourself can be one of the most powerful means of identifying symptoms and their locales. Body scans, in particular, can help you isolate individual symptoms and even guess at their origin.
Next, note your diet. Some practitioners suggest that eating a diet high in protein, fat, and fiber and low in inflammatory foods such as sugars and grains can keep hormonal imbalances at bay. For this reason, it may be wise to trade that late-night pizza slice for something designed to counteract adrenal fatigue, such as amino-acid packed meats and fat-dense avocadoes.
If you are currently following a vegan or vegetarian diet, see if you can amp up your protein intake, making use of more beans, leafy greens, and gluten-free grains.
Adaptogenic herbs, those that specifically target stress, can also supplement this type of hormone-healthy diet. Check out ashwagandha or holy basil for natural remedies to anxiety and thyroid dysfunction. Immune-boosting supplements can also offset adrenal fatigue and ensure that your hormone imbalance does not lead to illness, particularly if finals are on the horizon!
Sleep is also medicinal when it comes to hormone imbalances of any kind. Sleep can be a rarity in college, but it is a key factor in the timing and extent of hormone production. In fact, your body regulates the stress hormone cortisol around midnight. If your body is already pumping out high amounts of this hormone, you may not have the chance to effectively manage it if you are climbing under the sheets at 2 A.M.
Proper sleep—at least 7 or 8 hours a night—can also help alleviate common symptoms of stress, including depression, anxiety, and moodiness. When paired with other stress-relieving habits, such as deep breathing, bed-time rituals, and general mindfulness, sleep can get those hormones back on track in no time.
Lastly, exercise is your best friend when it comes to balancing those important chemical messengers in your body. Aim to get outside or visit the gym three times a week for at least twenty minutes of vigorous exercise, which can—over time—aid in your body's ability to regulate cortisol and process healthy fats. Be sure, however, that you are not over exercising.
Too much time spent at the gym can actually topple your hormone levels, stimulating the overproduction of cortisol, that pesky stress hormone.
It's important to note that some hormone imbalances are more severe than others; some are due to allergies, autoimmune disorders, and other serious medical conditions. For this reason, it's wise to consult a practitioner if your strategies for natural balance prove ineffective.
Even if you aren't currently experiencing a hormone imbalance, these tips can be vital in promoting general heart, mind, and spirit health. And ladies, if it's that time of the month, give yourself some extra love in this department!