This short video gives a brief introduction to my work as a Certified Holistic Practitioner and my approach to working with clients.
The shape of your feelings…
Despair has a shape. Outrage has a shape. As do anger, fear, rage, or terror.
Our bodies are fully integrated vessels that are able to feel and process and move emotions healthily if we allow them to. The problem is when we hold back, hold in, or lash out.
When given time and the proper space, we can feel and express our feelings in a way that completely discharges the emotion and does no harm.
With emotions running so high right now, one thing we can do is allow ourselves to move our emotions in a healthy, productive, and healing way.
You can do this individually, and there is also a way to do this communally that could bring deep healing.
It begins with the ability to identify and speak your feeling. What are you feeling? Anger, rage, outrage, despair?
Say it out loud to another person. They don’t have to do anything in return other than show that they are listening. If you are alone, write it down, and say it to yourself. If it helps, look at yourself in the mirror as you speak your feelings.
Next, give the feeling a shape. That is, let your body move in the way that will express the feeling.
Despair can look like you balled up in the fetal position rocking yourself side to side.
Outrage can look like you flinging your arms and legs, kicking, or punching as if you were shadowboxing but with all your energy invested into each motion.
The key is to listen to your body. Once you’ve spoken your feelings, listen to what your body wants to do to move the emotion.
In community, the most powerful way of doing this is in a circle. Allow a person (the doer) to be in the center of the circle with one other person (the witness) who is listening to them and holding space for their movement. The witness can mimic the movement of the doer and in this mirroring relay the feeling of being seen and understood to the doer. All the while those sitting in the circle witness and hold the container for this emotional process.
If alone or in a group, give your body the time it needs to move in any way it needs to move to fully express your emotions. You’ll know when it’s over because your body will feel calm and the emotion will have subsided. You will feel more at peace.
Give shape to your emotions and feel them move through your body.
In this way, you will have restored wellbeing to your mind, body, and spirit. Not just to yourself, but to your community as well.
If it feels like your attention span is getting shorter and shorter with every new iPhone release and Netflix drop, you’re not wrong. Toss in an international pandemic, and most of our ability to focus is out the window completely.
Neurologists have found that we can maintain focus for about 20-minute intervals at best. So while we shouldn’t feel guilty about our wandering minds, we’re also not opposed to seeking out new strategies to help us focus for longer periods of time. Thankfully, neuroscientists have discovered a way to extend our focus, and surprisingly, it has everything to do with sound.
These burgeoning fields of neuroscience and psychology, called auditory neuroscience and psychoacoustics, study how our perception of sound affects the brain, our thoughts, and feelings. And these new scientific fields have spawned the development of something called “streamlined music,” which is thought to help improve cognitive functions, i.e., the way we think, process, and yes, focus.
The Science of Staying Focused
Neuroscientists have extensively studied how our brains take in external stimuli, process it, and focus on a single thing, blocking out everything else. When we’re able to focus on something with laser-like, narrowed concentration, that’s called selective attention.
The process for selective attention is complicated, so I’ll spare you the endless jargon and focus on this one word: norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is a neurochemical transmitter that works as a stimulant— it’s released from your brain stem (at the base of your brain) when you take in external stimuli, and it acts on your decision-making faculties. Basically, it helps your brain decide what to pay attention to, as it’s part of our arousal response of fight, flight, or freeze. For example, if you encounter something dangerous, norepinephrine tells you to pay attention to it.
The neocortex (or frontal lobes of your brain) is also incredibly important for focusing. While the brainstem plays a role in selective attention, the neocortex regulates something called executive attention. Executive attention calls the shots; it can override the selective attention of the brainstem and decides what to pay attention to, and what to ignore.
The last piece of the pay-attention puzzle is habituation, which is when you adjust to your surroundings until they no longer distract you. So, when you’re working from home, and your kids are playing video games, and your partner is listening to NPR, and your dog is barking at the neighbor’s cat— at first, all of this is hugely distracting. But after 20 minutes or so, you might start to drown them out, and they become background chatter. That’s habituation.
When you’re focused and efficient, then all these aspects of attention are working for you. But, at some point you’re going to get bored — remember, we can only maintain focus for about 20 minutes. Your mind will begin to wander, and when this happens, it’s called goal habituation, which means that you’re no longer interested in what you were doing (old goal), and now you want to do something else (new goal). This is when attention and focus can fall apart. If it’s not the noise and clamor of other people in the house distracting you from the task at hand, it’s your own brain, looking for something novel to pay attention to.
We need novelty. Every 20 minutes or so, we need something fresh to engage us, so that our minds don’t trail off into rabbit holes of Pinterest or YouTube videos or Amazon shopping. This is how sound helps.
The Right Sounds Can Help You Stay on Task
Neuroscientists are still studying how and why sound affects mood and our ability to focus, and they’ve found that people who listen to music while they work are more productive and happier. So like DJs in lab coats, neuroscientists have started playing with beats. Monaural and Binaural beats, to be precise.
Specifically, neuroscientists are interested in how we perceive these two types of beats. We can hear a monaural beat with one ear, but we can only hear binaural beats when we listen with both ears.
Beats are measured in frequencies. With a monaural beat, you have two frequencies being played together that the ears are hearing, but as the ears perceive the sound, the sounds either cancel each other out, or they amplify each other. With binaural beats, one frequency is played into one ear, and a different frequency is played into the other ear; from this combination of frequencies, your brain perceives a third sound. That third sound is what makes binaural beats intriguing because no one knows what makes it.
What they do know about binaural beats is that after listening to these sounds for a while, different areas of the brain that were pulsing at different frequencies begin to pulse in synchrony. While the evidence is far from conclusive just yet, this synchronization of disparate parts of the brain could be the reason people are better able to focus.
Participants in experimental studies have been found to have positive reactions while listening to binaural beats, like a slower heartbeat, feeling calmer, and improved focus. According to a study from the University of Southern Denmark, “there is also cumulating evidence suggesting that listening to binaural beats may increase sustained attention.”
To test this out, I played binaural beats as I worked on this article. YouTube is flooded with them— here’s one, if you want to listen. And though I can’t say for certain what helped me focus, I enjoyed the calming tunes and felt more focused overall.
If the number of binaural beats videos on YouTube is any indication of popularity, then it’s no surprise that all sorts of apps offering binaural beats are popping up, including one called Focus@will.
Focus@will has taken binaural beats and the idea of streamline music to create customized beats for its customers, and reports that customers are experiencing “decreased self-awareness, timelessness, and motivation known as ‘flow.’” Sounds good to me.
The company claims that their beats can help you maintain focus for up to 100 minutes straight! And a study they did (which of course, take with a massive grain of salt, because any study done by a company selling a product could demonstrate bias) showed that their clients improved focus by 200-400%. They also tout a pretty solid fan base singing their praises.
To be fair, there are dissenting voices out there that say binaural beats are just a bunch of hype. These writers refer to the sounds as “auditory illusions.” They report that people are being tricked into thinking that they are hearing something they’re actually not and that the beats have no proven benefit. Is it a placebo effect? Maybe. But if you think it helps you focus, then isn’t it helping you focus?
But the bottom line is this; the right sounds can potentially do wonders for your concentration and productivity. Will it work? Try it. At worst, you’ll be relaxed. Which doesn’t sound half-bad right now.
Tamara Jefferies MA is a freelance wellness writer and holistic counselor/coach based in Long Beach, CA. She has worked in the wellness field since 2005 and holds a Master’s in Somatic Psychology from John F. Kennedy University, several certifications in the specialization of trauma and trauma resolution, and is a certified yoga teacher and holistic practitioner offering transformational counseling to women.
Writing on topics that help women heal, grow, and live fulfilled and happy lives is her passion as is writing for wellness businesses, publications, and brands. She is a regular contributing writer to the wellness brand, The Candidly, and a Brand Ambassador to ADORAtherapy.
Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org for all your wellness writing or counseling needs.
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Hi, and thanks so much for visiting my site!
I’m Tamara, a wellness writer and certified holistic practitioner.
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Transform Yourself from the inside out, even if counseling and therapy failed you in the past.
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(Article first published on The Candidly.)
Let’s discuss one of the most universal facts of womanhood; we all feel, at the very least, mildly shitty on a near-daily basis. Some of us feel very shitty all the time, and the lucky ones feel “meh” some of the time. Our doctors usually just chalk it up to “aging,” but is that really an adequate explanation for half the population feeling tired, bloated, and lethargic?
Another popular explanation for women feeling like total crap is simply “women are hormonal!” As much as this statement can be incredibly frustrating, dismissive, and…let’s be honest…sexist, it, unfortunately, holds a nugget of truth.
And the truth is that women have a delicate balance of hormones—specifically, estrogen–that can get out of whack, causing a whole host of health issues.
Most of us think of estrogen as one simple, defined chemical that comes in 3 quantities: too little, too much, or just enough. But shockingly, “estrogen” is actually a group of sex hormones that promotes our sexual development, and includes estradiol, estriol, estetrol, and estrone. Estradiol, the strongest and most common form of estrogen, guides the functioning of everything from our skin, bones, and muscles to our liver and brain.
It’s normal for hormones to fluctuate throughout our lives (or even in the course of a menstrual cycle), but when the various forms of estrogen become imbalanced, we can experience irritability, depression, weight gain, painful periods and a slew of other conditions.
Let’s break down the most common health conditions associated with estrogen imbalances, what causes them, and what you can do to get your system back on track.
But first, we need to address an elephant in the room: hormone testing.
What Is Up With Hormone Testing?
In our research for this article, we were hoping to develop a clear picture of hormone tests; which ones to get, what they do, and what can they tell us. Instead, we learned that hormone testing for women in the U.S. still has a long way to go, scientifically, before the medical community can fully understand how to better test and treat women with hormonal imbalances.
To start, we all know that the medical community has been traditionally skeptical and dismissive of women’s pain and illnesses. According to Dr. Sara Gottfried, author of “The Hormone Reset Diet,” “millions of women around the world suffer from hormone imbalance. Many doctors say, ‘You’re just getting older. This is normal!’ and offer prescriptions for anxiety, sleep, and depression…Ignoring the root cause is not the path to total health.”
While the medical community might be finally acknowledging this tendency to overlook women’s hormonal imbalances, it’s still struggling to understand how to actually test for them. So even when we can convince our doctors to willingly prescribe a blood test with a full hormone panel, the results can be inaccurate.
According to the CDC, everyone from researchers to laboratory clinicians to endocrinologists have expressed concerns about the unreliability of hormone tests and measurement, prompting many organizations to reject certain hormone tests. Essentially, many of these tests are widely considered inaccurate by the professionals who use them, which is a problem, as variabilities in tests can lead to “different clinical interpretations of test results on the same patient, misdiagnoses, delayed diagnoses, or suboptimal patient care.”
According to Dr. Sarah Oreck, a reproductive psychiatrist, hormone testing is still a relatively unstudied science. And even test results that come back “normal” don’t tell the whole story. As Dr. Oreck told The Candidly, “we aren’t where we wish we were in terms of hormone testing, regarding the technology and research. With the limited evidence we have, we might think that someone’s test results are in a ‘normal’ range, but it certainly might not be the case for that person.”
She believes that it’s not always the raw numbers on a test that are important, but instead, it’s the changing balance of hormones over time that can indicate an imbalance. She explains, “I can’t just test your estrogen and say ‘at this level, it’s causing these issues.’ Because we actually think the problem might be the changes of these levels over a period of time, not sort of any kind of number that we get on a lab test.”
However, even in calling for standardized hormonal testing, it seems like the medical community still focuses more on testosterone than estrogen. According to Dr. Oreck, this tendency to study male hormones has created a huge gap in medical knowledge when it comes to women’s hormones. In fact, she said, “I’ve found that most [hormone] studies are done on healthy males.”
And aside from a lack of reliability in diagnoses, this massive scientific gap can lead women to seek out harmful, unnecessary, or unproven treatments. “A lot of things are being sold to women that don’t have the amount of evidence that we typically use in employing treatments. You’ll find saliva tests, at-home saliva kits, and untested, over the counter estrogen treatments, and I don’t endorse any of those. People think because it’s ‘natural’ or sold over the counter, that it’s safe. But there’s a huge lack of regulation,” said Dr. Oreck.
Great! So what we do?
Dr. Oreck still recommends seeking out a reproductive endocrinologist for estrogen testing and estrogen treatment, instead of turning to at-home tests or physicians who don’t specialize in hormonal issues. A reproductive endocrinologist might still be able to spot any glaring hormonal imbalances, or can test your estrogen levels overtime to get a fuller picture of your changing hormones.
Now, if you’re wondering why the inaccuracy of hormone testing is even a problem for you, then you might want to keep reading. Because estrogen and estrogen imbalance can be at the root of some of your most frustrating health concerns.
Weight Gain and Weight Loss Resistance:
If you’ve ever wondered why you just started gaining weight inexplicably, and no amount of dieting or exercise seemed to make a difference, we have good and bad news; you might have an estrogen imbalance. Estrogen levels that are too high or too low are linked to weight gain.
On one hand, low estrogen may affect insulin levels, leading to insulin resistance, which can cause fatigue, hunger, and—you guessed it—weight gain. But, when estrogen levels are too high, estrogen dominance can make it easier to gain weight and harder to lose it.
Unfortunately, the medical world’s understanding of these hormones is still evolving, meaning that plenty of women are simply directed to try more extreme diets and exercise regimens, never making weight loss progress because they’re solely focused on calories, and not their hormone levels.
As Dr. Gottfried explains, “most diets don’t work for women, because they fail to address the hormonal root causes that are the most common reasons for weight loss resistance, like excess cortisol, insulin and/or leptin blockage, estrogen dominance, a sluggish thyroid, low testosterone, and problems with HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) control system.”
Menstrual, Perimenopausal, and Menopausal Problems:
Even the most basic understanding of hormones includes the notion that estrogen impacts our reproductive health for our entire lives. And we know that our estrogen levels will change with big life events—like the onset of menstruation, pregnancy, perimenopause, and menopause, just to name a few. But generally, reproductive health issues at certain stages of life typically reflect age-related hormonal imbalances.
For example, reproductive health issues faced by women who haven’t gone through perimenopause or menopause often include irregular periods, spotting between periods, heavy bleeding, severe PMS, and intense cramps. These issues can usually be traced to higher levels of estrogen in young women.
And as estrogen levels fall with age, women over 40 or those entering menopause might experience more cramping, vaginal dryness, painful sex (due to low lubrication), and lowered libido.
Additionally, when women enter menopause, their estrogen levels drop significantly, which can potentially lead to an increase in bad cholesterol that can create fat build up in the arteries, contributing to the potential for heart disease.
But not all hormonal changes are bad! One serious benefit of a post-menopausal life is that, in the absence of estrogen fluctuations and frustrating mood swings, women ages 50-70 have actually reported feeling happier.
Mood Swings and Emotional Imbalances:
Let’s revisit those *super* fun mood swings for just a sec. We all experience mood shifts on occasion. Ok, some of us have even possibly experienced an emotional range consisting of happiness, sadness, anxiety, elation, love, disgust, and rage over the course of a few minutes. It’s called being married.
But when our estrogen production is particularly off-kilter, our daily activities might produce an abnormally heightened emotional state. Have you ever just burst into tears one morning while dropping your kid off at kindergarten? You can thank estrogen.
We hate to play into stereotypes about women as overly emotional, hormonal, or erratic, but estrogen does play a serious part in mood regulation by acting on specific chemicals in the brain. For example, it helps boost serotonin and endorphins, which are associated with positive emotions that make you feel good.
Though it’s still virtually impossible to predict how your changing estrogen hormones will impact your mood, the point is that hormonal imbalances can make you feel great, but they can also impact depression, irritability, anxiety, and emotional reactivity.
Other Health Issues:
If you have an estrogen imbalance, you may have experienced any of the following conditions:
Noncancerous breast lumps and uterine fibroids
Heavy or irregular periods
Vaginal dryness or pain during sex
Basically, an estrogen imbalance could be at the root of anything and everything making you feel shitty.
Causes of Estrogen Imbalances:
Great. Estrogen is wreaking havoc on your body. But why have your own hormones turned against you?
Unfortunately, the list of potential causes for hormonal imbalances is almost as long as the symptoms. Hormonal contraceptives, antibiotics, genetics, and stress are just a few. Recently though, the medical community has started to explore environmental and dietary factors as well.
Some endocrinologists have begun pointing to exposure to certain chemicals found in everything from the environment to food to personal care products as potential hormone disruptors. Meanwhile, phytoestrogens, pesticides, and growth hormones found in our food could also be contributing to estrogen imbalances.
Some more traditional causes for estrogen imbalances include:
Turner syndrome (a chromosomal condition that affects development in girls)
Tumors affecting endocrine or pituitary glands
An overactive OR underactive thyroid
How To Get Your Estrogen Levels in Balance:
Since every single person reading this is currently nodding their head, thinking (or maybe even screaming) “this is me!” let’s discuss how to get your estrogen levels in balance.
The process of balancing your hormones can seem costly, time-consuming, and opaque. Treatments can range from switching up your diet to hormone replacement therapy, which includes consistently taking medication to replace the hormones that our bodies are struggling to produce.
But let’s start with the “easy” method: diet. According to Dr. Gottfried, one of the simplest ways to counteract the effects of hormonal imbalance is through the foods you eat, and so she suggests that you “eat in a way that optimizes your hormones.”
If you tend towards estrogen dominance, then a hormone-balancing diet might entail plenty of leafy green vegetables such as kale, collard, and mustard greens, along with broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower, which all lower estrogen levels and can “improve your…estrogen ratio by 30 percent.” Side note: wouldn’t it be amazing if, just this once, science proved that the best food to balance hormones included coffee, chocolate, and pasta? Anyways, mushrooms, red grapes, flax seeds, and whole grains are also great for lowering estrogen.
Dr. Gottfried also recommends eliminating processed foods, refined flours, sugars, and sugar substitutes, because of course. Dr. Gottfried encourages the elimination of alcohol a few weeks out of the year because alcohol might change the way a woman’s body metabolizes estrogen.
Some practitioners may recommend a course of supplements to even out your hormones, such as those that aid estrogen metabolism, but it’s important to dive into the research of these supplements, as some have yet to be proven safe and effective. Similarly, if you are on medication that can affect estrogen levels–like hormonal contraceptives– talk to your doctor about the dosage, and if it could be affecting your estrogen balance.
When it comes to glaringly obvious hormone imbalances, like those in perimenopausal and menopausal women, some practitioners will recommend hormone replacement therapy. Dr. Oreck believes hormone replacement can be great for some women, but recommends approaching these methods with caution, as hormone replacement therapy been associated with an increased risk of endometrial cancer, blood clots, stroke, and dementia. She explains, “sometimes estrogen replacement and hormone replacement for perimenopause can be helpful for some women, sometimes it can be harmful. Women with a history of breast cancer or endometrial cancer in their family should not be doing hormone replacement therapy—they should really talk to a physician about the chance of potentially increasing the risks of those cancers.”
We know it sounds like estrogen, whether it’s too high or low, is at the root cause of every one of your health frustrations. Maybe it is. But don’t let the challenging, opaque nightmare of trying to navigate hormonal changes deter you from finding a great doctor who will listen, believe you, and thoroughly and accurately test and treat your hormones for an imbalance. Because you should not have to feel crappy all the time. That shouldn’t be your life or a burden you constantly shoulder. And hopefully, more doctors and researchers will continue to realize the importance of understanding and properly managing estrogen, so hormonal imbalances become as minor and treatable as a small headache.