The changes were so gradual that I didn’t notice for several years, and even then I chalked most of it up to advancing age. The dark patches on my face started with a blotch taking up residence on my otherwise-pale forehead. To someone who’s about as sun kissed as freshly installed drywall, this was noticeable and irritating.
A little time spent on the Internet convinced me that it was fairly normal: I’d had our second child a few months earlier. Sometimes “Pregnancy Mask” was a postpartum issue and surely it would resolve itself quickly.
Cue the exhaustion of parenthood and childcare in a large metropolitan area, complete with extreme on-the-job stress and overwhelming commutes. No one’s getting enough sleep, and in all honesty, sometimes pasta and tomato sauce comprise the entirety of a “healthy” dinner.
Our son was eight and our daughter 18 months old when we moved cross-country for work. The move was financially, physically and emotionally overwhelming, as we left one bad situation for another entirely unknown. We had lived in NYC for ten years and despite the drudgery, the exhaustion, and the frustration with a string of unfulfilling jobs, I wasn’t ready to leave the city that never slept. (Hey, we had something in common.)
Try moving from a major metro area to Florida–and I don’t mean Miami. The culture shock was instantaneous and extreme. Potential employers fawned over work experience, education and processing speeds. It was the standard in New York, but in Florida it was Wonder Child material. Still, the cloud of stress hung over my head as I pushed myself to work faster, harder, more efficiently.
It was in Florida that I began to realize I had no lifestyle excuses left. Sure, I still spent a lot of time commuting but the weather was generally so nice, why wasn’t I outside? Why weren’t my kids outside, playing and getting dirty and building forts?
“Mama, I love nature,” my daughter said one day after spending hours in the back yard, climbing like a monkey through the tall branches of a bush that had glossy, magnolia-tree-like leaves. “It makes me feel so calm and peaceful.”
She was right. On the days I could spent hours working in the yard, I was never happier. I wouldn’t say the time helped to quiet my brain, but I was able to focus frenetic energy into tangible results, digging my fingers deep in the dirt.
Slowly, slowly, the hyper-pigmentation has begun to disappear. Thanks to years of sun damage, it’s unlikely to ever completely disappear, but the hormonal basis seems to be balancing out. Although I credit this to a number of things: cleaner diet, better sleep habits, more stress management, there are a number of things to yet improve upon. (More salmon, less Malbec? Yeah, probably that.)
What are some simple ways to balance your hormones? First of all, it’s a good idea to get tested so you can figure out which are actually out of whack. It’s not uncommon for women to be too high in estrogen or to have abysmal progesterone levels. For men, low testosterone is quickly becoming an epidemic. In many cases, these issues point back to the thyroid, that tiny little butterfly-shaped gland near your Adam’s apple. (Did you know you have thyroid receptors in every cell of your body? That gives you some idea of just how important it is.)
If you find yourself to have any major imbalances (especially thyroid), I’m not going to say it’s impossible to fix things. However, your chances of fixing it faster and completely are with medical guidance. Do your homework on this one, as not all doctors (or even naturopaths) are created equal.
But what can you do for yourself? Well, a couple ideas:
-Try incorporating adaptogens into your diet, either in edible form or as a supplement. Some examples: Maca root, Holy Basil, Rhodiola, or Ashwaganda. (Lion’s Mane, Chaga, Cordyceps are all also excellent.) Any and all of these will help to support your body’s stress response, and I notice when I keep myself on a regimen of adaptogens, I feel more “leveled out.”
-Increase your veggie and fruit intake. A lot. Eat leafy greens until you think think they’ll ooze out of your pores. Cut out scary trans-fats (donuts, for example–sob!) and add in healthy fats like genuine extra virgin olive oil and avocados. Work in cold water fatty fish, trying to consume up to a pound a week. (Can we talk about intermittent fasting later?)
-Improve sleep hygiene. It might take implementing a nighttime routine to get your brain ready for sleep. This could mean a hot bath and a good book. Maybe a cup of hot tea, or warm milk, and certainly some magnesium glycinate and potassium supplements within an hour of bedtime. (Some also swear that CBD helps them sleep.) Unfortunately, a glass of wine before bed isn’t a great way to prep your body for sleep. (This makes me sad too.) Alcohol messes with your ability to fall and stay asleep, in part because of the blood sugar swings that can take place while you try to catch some shut-eye.
-Find joy. This is something that’s really hard to do. If you’re a workaholic, a parent, commuting tremendous distances–all of the above? Well, you probably don’t have much time to do the things you love and oftentimes taking a moment to do those things makes you feel guilty. Remember that there’s truth to putting on your oxygen mask before helping others: If you’re exhausted, emotionally overwhelmed, burned out or sick, you can’t even help yourself let alone others. Giving yourself a small space each day, or every few days, to do something you love will help to fill your life with meaning and purpose and will keep the fires of inspiration burning.
-Last but not least, and this is something in which I firmly believe: You need some form of a spiritual practice. Your practice doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. Some people find peace in meditating, taking long walks in nature or in praying. Some people journal; others go to church. The common factor is that for people who feel they’re connecting to something larger than themselves, whether or not they call it Divine, tend to be healthier. They’re more grateful and optimistic and are better able to let things slide off their backs.
Life will forever be a perpetual balancing act. Even with great lifestyle habits, stress happens. Illness and sleepless nights happen. It’s easy to get out of whack–easier than it is to maintain good lifestyle patterns, I’m afraid. But with a few tweaks and changes, you’ll start to notice a difference and you’ll wonder how you ever survived before.