This coming week (May 10-16) is National Women’s Health Week!
It feels extraordinarily important for me to write this relevant post. My BrainCurves wellness community was founded on the hope of creating awareness around the fact that men and women have different minds, bodies, and brains, and therefore, need equally unique mental health guidance.
Even just as recent as the last few decades of the 20th century, scientists legitimately thought that women were just smaller versions of men in all ways, except for in their ability to reproduce. This idea was most blatantly manifested in all-male basic research studies. Female mice and rats were almost never used for clinical trials, because, as many researchers have said, “the menstrual cycle would just create confounds”. If this isn’t a red flag that specialized women’s wellness information was not only scarce, but also clearly needed, then I don’t know what is!
It is exactly that menstrual cycle “dilemma” which speaks to our differences. Menstruating means a cascade of different and uniquely feminine hormones that contextualize our brains throughout our development. In her book, The Female Brain, Louann Brizendine, M.D. emphasizes the “What we’ve found is that the female brain is so deeply affected by hormones, that their influence can be said to create a woman’s reality.”
Yes, her reality. That is no small thing!
Our hormone’s can literally create a shift in the way we feel about our world, our futures, our relationships, and ourselves. A brain that has just felt grounded and centered, can switch on a dime to feeling irritable, and frustrated, and engaging in negative self-speak and discourse.
Now, imagine that this switch doesn’t happen merely once a month, but also throughout a woman’s lifespan: from girlhood, adolescence, possible motherhood, to menopause, the latter of which then exposes an entirely new traversable terrain. Differentiating hormones are so potent, that as a girl enters puberty, rates of depression relative to boys begin their 2:1 ratio ascent.
Here’s the bottom line. Different is more than OK. Yet, that difference needs to be recognized so that we can all cultivate an increased sense of compassion and sensitivities for what our neuro-hormonal milieu can elicit. Ultimately, with awareness of difference, more precise and fitting treatment for the plethora of mind-body-brain difficulties we all endure can be a reality.
Here are Five Actions That Will Help You Through Difficult “Hormonal Realities:”
- Self-Compassion: Above all, have some compassion for what your mind-brain-body endure. You are NOT your hormones, and the ability to be kind to yourself will help you ride the waves.
- Self-Care: Listen to your mind-brain-body and heed its call! Need more rest today? Take it!
- Self-Advocate: Talk to your doctor and other health professionals thoroughly about how you feel and how your mind-body-brain health seems to fluctuate in synch with hormonal changes. Ask questions, ask for holistic guidance, and if you are not given the space for this, think about seeking out a practitioner that listens.
- Self-Soothe: Stress reduction techniques will be particularly important during a time when you don’t feel balanced. Mindful-breathing is just one of many ways to relax mind-body-brain so that you feel more grounded. From this more grounded place, you will have a clearer vision of how to take care of yourself, advocate on your own behalf, and generate self-compassion.
- Connect Your Self: Allowing yourself to reach out to others who understand and have experienced similar difficulties is one of the best ways to foster any kind of mind-body-brain wellness. Community is a place where healing is made possible by connecting oneself to others.
How do you cope through more difficult times? How do you think the uniquely feminine brain impacts upon mind-body-brain wellness?
Please share your thoughts or story in a comment or email DrJen@BrainCurves.com
Happy Women’s Health Week. Let’s Thrive!
I love this post! If only women’s brains and hormones could be studied more. So many would benefit. Hormones appear to mediate so many body functions, not the least of which is mood and cognition. Additionally, it is no coincidence that rates of some autoimmune diseases appear to be much greater in women. Why not try to bottle the magic hormonal balance of pregnancy that appears to tamp down the immune system and along with it some autoimmune conditions? I can’t say enough about my belief that “hormones rule” and the importance of paying attention to this aspect of oneself when it comes to overall health.
Thank you so much for commenting-means a lot that you took the time to enter the conversation. I agree wholeheartedly. I know both personally and professionally just how deeply our hormones can impact upon our mind-brain-body. For some it is such a visceral, pervasive and fluctuating shift. Awareness is key, so that it can be at the forefront of more research studies and idea forums. I love the connection you made re autoimmune disease. I am now going to read so much more about that. Thank you so much again-it is clinicians like you who make a difference and help people thrive. Please stay connected! Dr. Jen
For someone who professes to be so committed to the mind-body wellness of women, this is a deeply, deeply detrimental to women everywhere. On the most basic level this book is flawed in that Brezandine constantly conflates sex differences with gender differences. Simply put, someone doing this line of research should be aware that these are two separate things –> Sex = the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women; Gender = socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women (http://www.who.int/gender/whatisgender/en/). Many of the examples that Brenzadine uses as evidence of the significant hormonal differences between men and women are simple not backed up by sound research and can clearly be seen as gendered behaviors that children are taught from a young age.
Claims such as “Girls arrive already wired as girls, and boys arrive already wired as boys” are frankly just not this simple. Our societies construction of what girls and boys should be like forced upon children from the time they are born. Simply look at baby clothing – when was the last time you saw a onsie with a truck on it marketed for little girls? Or a pink blanket geared toward baby boys? The answer is never – at least not in any mainstream child apparel outlets.
However these are only some of the tame claims this author makes. She continues to make even more troubling assertions such as “Men are on average twenty times more aggressive than women.”
and “Girls are motivated–on a molecular and neurological level–to ease and prevent social conflict.”These are simply not biological differences. These are social roles that we groom men and women to perform.
There are many other points to be made but for the sake of space I suggest you and any other women reading this post read some critiques of this book online and attempt to educate yourselves before you spread more misinformation. It is arguments such as this that give validation to those who say women should not be in positions of power or be trusted with decisions lest their “raging hormones” prevent them from effectively leading and managing.
No one is denying that there are biological differences between males and females, but to assert that hormones are the main root of these differences is shear ignorance. I urge you to read at least some of the work below before you post any more on this subject:
Review of (one of many) better books:
First off-thank you so much. I not only appreciate your honest comment, I heed it and value it. You are right in what you write! I think my use of her book was misleading and very unmindful, conveying, perhaps, that I espouse everything that Louann has presented in her book, which definitely has its pros and cons. I don’t agree with everything she says, and I should have been more sensitive in making that much clearer. I hope you can see her entire book as separate from my post, and my overall intention to support the mind-body-brain wellness of ALL women, and that means anyone who identifies as one regardless of their hormonal make-up or regardless of the hormones one was born with endogenously. My post was generated from personal and professional experience with menstrual and other hormonal changes that have exacerbated chronic pain, for example, and also have left the women I see enduring a great amount of stress. Certainly, this is possible to experience if one is taking hormones exogenously too.
It is very important for me to elicit awareness regarding the impact that hormones can and DO have on ourselves no matter how we identify. Hormones are a touchy subject, and I don’t think a hormone makes one a woman or a man. Yet, the reality is that we all have (or take) hormones and have to deal with the consequences of them.
I know the research you cite, and I support it wholeheartedly. I’m also going to get that book you mentioned. I apologize for the miscommunication, and again, value your post. I took the picture of Louann’s book down, because it occurred to me after reading your post that having it there aligned me with all of her work and seemed like an endorsement!
Hope to stay connected, and to continue to learn with and from you.