How I Overcame a Hellish Health Year to Come "Home" to My Body (5 Strategies)
NOTE: The following article was written by our co-founder, Ryan Burch, and was originally shared in a newsletter with YHB’s subscribers only. Sign up HERE to join our newsletter list and receive regular hormone health tips, stories, advice and helpful resources (like this!)
Do you ever feel at war with your body?
I distinctly remember feeling this way a few years ago when I was dealing with horrible gut issues (I had SIBO but didn't realize it) and was misdiagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease (that later turned out to be severe eczema). At the same time, I had a herniated a disc in my back (my doctor’s order was to avoid all exercise, even walking) and after back to back deaths in the family just a few months apart AND leaving a highly stressful job that left me anxious and unable to sleep, I began experiencing adrenal exhaustion (zero energy) and was getting sick every few weeks!
As I was going through it, I journaled about my health issues, and looking back on those pages of notes…I truly don’t know how I handled it! I remember feeling hopeless and worried that I'd never find my way back to feeling truly COMFORTABLE in my skin.
I've previously talked about the turning point in my hormone health, when I was able to get my period back and relieve major hormonal symptoms–which played a huge role in improving my overall health, but it took more time to get to the root of ALL the different issues I was experiencing during this particular year. There were so many layers to dig through, different doctors and specialists to see, and personal habits to examine and change! Below, I’m sharing the specific action steps that helped me “calm the storm” within, but first I wanted to acknowledge any of you who may currently be struggling…
I hope you know that you are not alone! Please do not accept the notion that you will be struggling, in pain, or uncomfortable in your body FOREVER.
The negative voices in our heads can get SO loud, and it’s easy to internalize unhelpful comments from others (including doctors) who usually don't have ALL the answers and do not know our individual strengths and capabilities….
Resist the urge to believe the negativity. And when the negativity gets stronger, commit to CHANGING THE CHANNEL!
REPEAT AFTER ME:
I AM RESILIENT.
I AM WELL.
I AM CAPABLE.
I WILL MOVE FORWARD.
THIS TOO SHALL PASS…
(We have to BELIEVE that change IS possible!)
Last week we ran a mini giveaway asking our community to share “pain points” related to their hormone imbalance journey, and we got SO many replies and DM’s (you can see a few of them HERE).
We know it’s not easy to be vulnerable, but we thank everyone who came forward and participated! It’s really an integral first step to admit there’s any issue at all, and addressing it can help motivate you to prioritize taking action (any small step forward counts, and will make all the difference for your long term health).
Just know: there are many things you can do to bring you “back home,” and feel happy in your body again! Here are 5 of my favorite techniques* to move out of sickness, towards greater health + wellbeing!
(*Affirmed by my hormone health educator mama, my health coaching sister and many of the health practitioners Jess and I have had on our podcast: SOLO 2.0)
#1- Regularly tune into your body
When I was laying on the couch for 5+ months with a herniated disc - avoiding any and all movement because I listened to ONE doctor (when I should have gotten multiple opinions…), I decided that I was going to turn this depressing period of time into an investigation into my personal health. I was going to track every symptom I was experiencing, regularly ask myself questions, write recaps after seeing different doctors and identify patterns that could help me get to the root of my issues.
To do this, ask yourself:
- When do symptoms appear? (Get specific: time of day / week / month?)
- (For those of reproductive age): can these symptoms be correlated to specific hormonal fluctuations in your cycle? I.e.: what phase of the cycle do they seem to appear? (use tracking apps like Natural Cycles or My Flo)
- What symptoms pop up most frequently around stressful or anxious periods of time?
You can also download our hormone health journal HERE for helpful prompts and reflection questions.. NOTE: We highly encourage carving out 10-15 mins free from distraction to put pen to paper, reflect and let the words flow. (Studies show that we are 40% more likely to achieve our goals when we write them down regularly!)
#2- Work with an Integrative/Functional Practitioner (MD/ND/NP)
For years, my mom and sister told me to see an integrative doctor for my gut health problems (vs. only seeing a gastroenterologist who pushed prescriptions and never mentioned lifestyle or nutritional interventions). Integrative or functional medicine practitioners are trained to examine the root cause of health concerns and suggest natural solutions like lifestyle / nutritional changes and herbs/supplements before turning to prescriptions.
Although I will always have “traditional doctors” that I see when necessary, switching to an integrative doctor for my primary healthcare truly CHANGED MY LIFE.
In my first session, my ND asked all about my symptoms, my lifestyle habits, diet, exercise, thought patterns and so much more before making any suggestions (this is where my habit of journaling symptoms came in handy! I could share specific changes in my health that I’d observed over several months and pinpoint when specific symptoms had occurred!).
The session was SO much deeper than any doctor’s visit I’d ever had. She truly listened, and offered expanded testing options that had never been suggested before, including stool and SIBO (breath) tests. With this testing, I was FINALLY able to get an accurate diagnosis (SIBO) and got started on a strategic plan to heal my gut and relieve related skin issues.
If you would like to find an integrative doc in your area, you can use this tool HERE. (Note: these types of doctors tend to be out of pocket, but it can be SO worth it for your health and happiness!)
#3- Increase walks and restorative exercise
Like many women, I enjoyed cardio classes and high intensity exercise for YEARS, until I developed a herniated disc and learned that vigorous exercise can be perceived as a stressor by the body – ESPECIALLY for those dealing with hormone imbalances (such as low or high cortisol), inflammation, insulin resistance, infertility struggles, and/or weight that won’t budge.
When I began upping my walks, decreasing workout classes and increasing strength training (without a high intensity element), I began experiencing relief from the pain and discomfort I’d felt for so long. I also saw more positive physical changes doing workouts I actually enjoyed, VS. those that left me depleted!
So if you’re feeling uncomfortable in your body, and you’re experiencing clear hormone imbalance symptoms — challenge yourself to reduce the HIIT / boot camp style workouts and incorporate more walks and restorative exercise like stretching and yoga…and notice how your nervous system reacts when you S L O W down, let your thoughts naturally wander and focus on your breath!
#4- Increase “mindful meals”
This is a concept my sister taught me, and we’ve talked about a lot…but I'll ask again: how often do you REALLY take the time to eat a meal away from distractions (phones, people, music, podcasts, work, computers, etc.), and focus on the tastes, smells and experience of the meal?
It may feel weird at first, and may not be possible to do 3 x per day, but over-time you'll begin to really appreciate this habit and look forward to your mindful meals!
When we’re rushing and operating from a place of anxiety, overwhelm and stress, our cortisol levels increase, inflammation can increase and we may experience gut and adrenal health issues. (Jess and I actually just released an episode related to this topic with Victoria Albina, NP, which you can listen to HERE).
If weight loss or energy is a goal of yours, you’ll need to bring down your stress levels to help your body feel safe enough to release weight and increase energy (because the body likes to hold onto fat as a survival mechanism!).
Challenge yourself to 1-2 mindful meals per day, free from distraction, and track how you feel! Download my sis, Jess Suchan’s Mindful Meal exercise HERE to guide you in this process.
#5- Expand your education and commit to action. (You're in the driver's seat!)
If you’ve got chronic health issues and symptoms that are impacting your quality of life, but you haven’t gotten the help you deserve, remember that you’re in the driver’s seat of your own health and healing! Don’t give up! Become your own advocate and do everything in your power to uncover answers about your health (think of it as an investigative reporting job, like I did!).
This is why we’re such big fans of testing, for really any health concern (especially when results are examined from a “functional” perspective - i.e. focusing on “optimal ranges” VS. “normal ranges” to identify clues behind the symptoms you’re experiencing).
When it comes to hormonal health issues in particular, we always suggest starting with a saliva test - which captures ACTIVE hormone levels, is non-invasive, accurate and convenient, and results are easy to follow and act upon! You can check out our at-home testing and customized rebalancing packages HERE- filled with lifestyle, nutrition + supplement suggestions - based on your unique levels and top reported symptoms!
We're also big advocates of working with a health coach! No matter what doctor you’re working with, it can be a game changer to get an extra layer of support and a second opinion, and to walk away with actionable lifestyle and nutrition suggestions that you can apply immediately to start noticing changes! (You can add on a health coaching call with my sis, Jess Suchan of BodyBlissByJess to any of our packages during checkout, -or- email us for “A la carte” coaching options). Many of our clients describe the release they feel just having someone to talk to who genuinely CARES about their health and wellbeing.
Finally, don’t forget about our 6-week “Hormones in Harmony” course that provides an overview of the fundamentals of natural hormone balance, including lessons on: the master hormones / how they function, how hormones change as you age, “essentials of hormone balancing nutrition,” stress management, best forms of exercise for hormone balance, adaptogens, xenoestrogens, transitioning off hormonal birth control, regulating your cycle, supporting your liver health and SO MUCH MORE. The course is hosted by myself, my mom and sister, and features lessons from a group of incredible health experts (click HERE to learn about everything you’ll get in this course)!
OK, there is SO MUCH MORE I could say on this topic (and I plan to talk more about this on our Instagram in the coming weeks), but I’ll end with this…
The more you learn, share, reflect and ACT (even baby steps forward), the greater chance you'll have to change and improve your circumstance!*
(*within reason. We send love to anyone battling incurable disease and/or chronic illness or pain that has never improved. We understand the road to recovery and healing looks quite different in these cases, and that not ALL health issues can be easily resolved)
I hope you found these strategies helpful. Please comment below if you can relate to my story, and let us know if you have any tips to share with those going through a hard health year!
Co-founder, Your Hormone Balance