Lately, I’ve noticed more of my mummy clients expressing concern about their temper: “I’m so frazzled by the end of the day that I lose it over the smallest thing!”. These normally calm, collected women feel out of control in the face of their crying new born or a tantrumming toddler. Are we less capable than our mothers? Is it normal to want to scream back at your child? And what is the real cause of your short temper? If you are finding yourself having your own tantrums, or feeling angry at your children a lot; then maybe you need to assess your nervous system health.
Lets think about how life has changed for the average mother. When once she was living with and supported by family, extended family and the community around her, now she is often left alone for most of her day, while friends and family make occasional babysitting appearances, which, although gratefully accepted, do little to lighten the actual load. She is often juggling full time care of her children and the home with part time paid work, while trying to maintain a balanced, fulfilling life that includes exercise, time with friends and time with her partner. Meeting all those expectations is impossible so we are often left with feelings of guilt, disappointment, constant rushing and ultimately, discontentment.
I’m always surprised when I listen to clients recount what they do in a day. It often goes something like this:
Feed the 5 year old, toddler and nurse the baby, before dressing all three and herself and getting in the car. School drop off, kindy, nurse the baby, coffee with friend, visit grandma, nurse baby, back to kindy, home for late lunch, nurse baby, 1 hours work from home while they both nap (Ha!), back in the car (why does this take so long?), school pick up, nurse baby, dinner for the kids, bath time, PJ’s, nurse baby, story time, bed time for kids! Phew. Having fun yet? Now comes the laundry, dinner for mum and dad and another 2 hours work on the computer. All this on a broken nights sleep.
This relentless routine might be fine occasionally, but if this is the norm, there will be consequences for sure.
So how does all this impact on your health?
The negative impact is broad and insidious but sometimes not obvious to the patient. Every day in the clinic I see women who have exhausted nervous systems – their adrenal glands are crying out for help. But instead, they come to see me because they want to “do a detox” or “lose 10kg’s”. It usually becomes clear within minutes where the real problem lies.
Your nervous system responds to stress for you. Every time you are in a situation that you perceive as stressful, such as confrontation, running late, tantrums, an endless to-do list; your adrenal glands (components of your nervous system) release adrenalin into your bloodstream to ready you against the ‘threat’.
In response to this adrenalin, your heart races as your blood is shunted to your skeletal muscles and brain so you can escape from danger and think fast. You may have palpitations, increased blood pressure, quickened breathing and a nervous sweat. This response is often referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ response and is designed to counteract danger by making more oxygen and glucose available for immediate use. At the same time non-essential functions such as immunity, digestion and urinary output are shut down. Digesting your last meal is counterproductive when running from a tiger! If the ‘threat’ is perceived to be over, your body will eventually return to business as usual, no harm done. But if you continue to experience stress, you will enter into a second phase, where your adrenals release another stress hormone called cortisol. A whole book could be written on the subject of cortisol, but for these purposes, it’s enough to know that chronic stress and the resulting effects of cortisol can be blamed for many modern diseases. It can wreck havoc on your reproductive hormones, putting progesterone production at risk and leading to oestrogen dominance and all its nasty symptoms. Sometimes your thyroid function will be compromised, leading to lethargy, lack of libido, weight gain and depression. Not to mention a short temper!
So what can we do?
There are of course many lifestyle strategies that will help. Asking for help, time management, yoga, diaphragmatic breathing, lowering your expectations (ahh, the relief!), and many more. Also be sure to cut out stimulants such as coffee, tea, energy drinks and too much sugar. These strategies are all necessary, and will help immensely. But even so, years of stress takes it’s toll on the body, mood and emotions; here is some natural medicines help restore the balance.
Nourish your Adrenals
Those poor glands will lap up any nutrients you send their way. They don’t make the stress hormones out of thin air; they need fuel! B vitamins are the first thing to try. There are 12 of them. Ensure you get roughly 25-50 mgs of most of the B vitamins (get a B complex formula) and only take them in the morning with food.
I love the Ayurvedic herb Withania somnifera. Used for thousands of years to combat stress, it has been shown to benefit those with anxiety and depression, and also has a normalising effect on the thyroid gland. It can be a real life saver for those women (and men) who feel on the edge of a breakdown at the thought of another frantically busy day.
Calm your mind and emotions
Most women are so exhausted that they are tempted to close their eyes in the car at the red lights but often frustratingly, they can’t fall asleep at night, or they wake after only a couple of hours. Their busy brain is running through what didn’t get done that day and adding it to the mile long list for tomorrow. This is the effect of those elevated stress hormones, keeping you alert, in case of danger. There are some nutrients and herbs that can be enormously helpful. Start with the basics; magnesium morning and night and 50mg of the herbal extract 5-hydroxytryptophan before bed.
Hypericum perforatum, or St Johns Wort is another herb with a long history of use as a nervous system tonic. My clients describe its effect as helping them feel a little sunnier about life and giving them the feeling that a burden has been lifted.
The herbal medicine Piper methysticum is also an amazing natural solution to anxiety, anger, irritability and insomnia. This and Hypericum are best used in consultation with an experienced herbalist.
Being a parent is an indescribable privilege. It’s guaranteed to be maddening and frustrating at times, but if you are having more bad days than good, if you are struggling with any of the scenarios or symptoms mentioned above, reach out for some help. Make some changes and support your body. It will make for a happier you and a happier home.