When it comes to women’s health all too often we are handed a big steaming plate of “this is just how it is.”
To that I would like to reply a resounding BULLSH*T!
Here’s the scenario: you get to the week before your period and you turn into a bloated, murderous-swinging-to-weepy, unable to connect to your breath support, singer who feels like she’s trying to drive a mac truck rather than a ferrari. Oh, and let’s not forget the killer cramps when you finally get your period. Sound familiar?
Good. Well, not good, but let’s unpack three things you can do to lessen all that yuck. Because it doesn’t have to be ‘just how it is.’ And, if the only solution you’ve been offered by your OB/GYN is to take the pill, you definitely need to read this.
Things can change. Here’s how:
Those PMS changes are driven by hormone swings. Ideally our estrogen and progesterone are in a happy, balanced relationship and vary a bit as we get close to our period. But, for many of us, we are stuck in an estrogen dominant state: we eat meat, use products that have estrogen mimicking ingredients (called xenoestrogens) like parabens, and drink alcohol.
We need progesterone to keep that estrogen in check, but if we’re consuming all those things, estrogen takes over and progesterone can’t keep up. Then we’re bloated, moody, struggle to lose the muffin top, get migraines, and have abnormal paps.
We also need to talk a bit about insulin (blood sugar) which is like the gatekeeper for other hormones. When it’s high, it contributes to estrogen dominance too. Then we’re hangry, crave foods, get shaky between meals, feel anxious and have high fasting blood sugar.
We also can’t leave out the importance of Cortisol, the stress hormone. A little bit is good for us, we need to be able to respond to stress. Buuuut, a lot of it can lead to too little of it and then you’re in a cycle of sucking down caffeine in the morning to rev up and red wine at night to unwind. Plus cortisol raises your blood sugar and cross talks with estrogen and progesterone. When cortisol is high we’re stressed, have insomnia, GERD, and overeat.
All of this, becomes even more of an issue as you get close to and past age 35. UUUGGGGHHHHH.
As singers who are so highly attuned to the body as our instrument, we need things to do that help us return to as close to an optimal state as possible. Exercise more and eat less is a bit too simplified for women to get the results they want, I think, but here are some ideas that can help you craft what works for you.
- Eat: Up your plant intake. One of the ways we get rid of excess estrogen is through poop. Yep, I said it. You need to start pooping more. I’m a fan of thinking about what we can add into our diets to improve our health rather than thinking about what to restrict. Eat a rainbow sounds silly, but it’s correct. Lots and lots of leafy green matter, red, yellow, orange, purple veggies are all good. Go slow with adding veggies because if you overwhelm yourself with too much fiber…well, that can be ugly and uncomfortable. Some ways of adding things in: throw some dark leafy greens into a morning smoothie, chop up some carrots to crunch on rather than chips. If you do better with thinking about how to lower your intake of things here are the things you want to limit: caffeine, sugar, alcohol, processed foods. Also, drink enough water for your body, but you already knew that because singers are smart about water.
- Move: Movement is another way we can manage our hormones. Sweat helps flush estrogen out of the body. Movement helps manage cortisol levels and balances blood sugar. Do you need to kill it at the gym? No, but you need to start moving your body more and moving it better. Maybe that looks like a brisk walk 3 days a week to begin. Maybe it’s a spin class, or a yoga class, or a HIIT workout. Find something that makes you feel good and do it regularly. Many women have found connections between tension in the back of the legs and period cramps – stretch your calves regularly for a month and see if your cramps are better. Movement doesn’t just help your hormones, it helps your singing. Cardiovascular fitness, lung capacity and overall improved blood flow are all advantageous for your voice.
- Chill: No, this isn’t netflix and chill. Numbing out to technology (or food, or booze) isn’t what I’m talking about. I mean, get quiet with yourself. Schedule in downtime where you literally do nothing. Find a meditation practice that works for you. Take a hot bath nightly. Spend time off of social media, the land of comparison-itis. Women thrive in the company of other women, so plan a night with girlfriends. Engaging in mindful practices helps manage cortisol levels. We sleep better, we’re happier, and we sing better when we aren’t so freaking stressed all the time.
This list is far from exhaustive, but it’s a place to start. If you want to learn more, there are some great resources out there. Some of the most affordable and accessible are books by Sara Gottfried, an integrative MD and hormone expert. Her two books the Hormone Cure and The Hormone Reset Diet are must reads. Kelly Brogan MDs book A Mind Of Your Own is another great hormone/mental health read. A good functional nutritionist or hormone expert like Anna Garrett can help you test hormone levels and formulate a plan for yourself.
There are lots of apps out there for meditation like headspace and Calm. There’s a yoga studio on every corner and most have some kind of restorative class or meditation class if you like in person things.
If you want to talk about movement because you aren’t sure where to begin, reach out and let’s talk about what your body needs to begin to move more in a way that feels good.
You deserve to thrive as a singer all 4 weeks of every month and not feel so bogged down with the changes in your body that are driven by your hormones!