525: Dr. Sonya Jensen on Woman Unleashed and How Stress Shapes Our Hormones

525: Dr. Sonya Jensen on Woman Unleashed and How Stress Shapes Our Hormones

Wellness Mama®
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Download file | Play in new window | Duration: 00:48:29 | Recorded on February 24, 2022 | Speakers: Dr. Sonya Jensen, Katie Wells | Download transcript
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I’m excited to welcome Dr. Sonya Jensen back to the podcast. Dr. Jensen is a naturopathic physician and recently released her newest book, “Woman Unleashed.” Her mission is to change the way women understand their bodies and themselves. She believes women are the center of their families and communities, and by supporting them, we are creating a ripple effect to support the entire community. And I wholeheartedly agree with her.
In this episode, we go deep on hormones. We talk about how stress, trauma, and childhood experiences can shape our hormones, why excess stress and cortisol can decrease our progesterone and what to do about it, and the first steps of reversing that process and balancing hormones.
This is a very educational episode, so let’s join Dr. Sonya.
Did you enjoy this episode? Please drop a comment below or leave a review on iTunes to let us know. We value knowing what you think and this helps other moms find the podcast as well.
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Child: Welcome to my Mommy’s podcast.
 
This episode is sponsored by JuneShine – a better-for-you alcohol made with only real, organic ingredients and unlike other alcoholic beverages, they are transparent about every ingredient they put in their products. I love how light and refreshing it tastes without the bloat of other alcohols like beer. It’s naturally fizzy and fermented, and I’ve found that even friends who aren’t big Kombucha fans love the flavor and fizz of JuneShine. Each can is only 3 grams of sugar, low-carb, full of probiotics AND they come in creative and delicious flavor combos like their new Prickly Pear Margarita, which is delicious and enjoyable.  Best of all, it doesn’t leave you with that I’m-too-full-after-drinking feeling and gives you a lighter, brighter buzz.  JuneShine is sustainably produced, they are 100% carbon neutral, they donate 1% of all sales to environmental nonprofits, their Brewery is powered by 100% renewable solar and they plant trees for all those used to make their 6-pack boxes. I get this stuff delivered straight to my doorstep now that JuneShine has nationwide shipping.  We’ve worked out a special offer for our listeners. Receive 20% off plus Free Shipping site wide. I recommend trying one of their best selling variety packs, it’s a great way to try all of their delicious flavors. Go to JUNESHINE.com/WELLNESSMAMA or use code WELLNESSMAMA at checkout to claim this deal. JuneShine can also be found in over 10,000 stores across the country, including Whole Foods, Safeway, Kroger and Publix.
 
This podcast is brought to you by Sunday for Dogs… a new staple in our house that the newest family members could tell you the most about if they could talk. Lollipop and Hemingway, our two family dogs, are loving this food and get so excited when it’s time to eat now! When we got them, I knew I didn’t want to feed them overly processed kibble and homemade options were a lot of work! And Sunday has been my solution. It’s the first (and only) human-grade, air-dried dog food. Combining the nutrition and taste of all-natural, human-grade foods, with the ease of a zero-prep, ready-to-eat formula, Sundays is the best way to feed your best friend.  Sundays is easier for dog parents to manage than refrigerated human-grade dog food brands. No fridge, prep, or clean-up.  Unlike most human-grade dog foods, Sundays is gently air-dried and ready-to-eat, versus those other brands that are cooked and frozen instead.  It’s as simple as scoop into their bowl and watch your pup devour it.  In a blind taste test, Sundays outperformed leading competitors 40-0.  No artificial binders, synthetic additives, or general garbage — seriously, look at the label. All of Sundays’ ingredients are easy to pronounce (okay, except quinoa), and healthy for dogs to eat.  We’ve worked out a special deal for our listeners. Receive 35% off your first order. Go to sundaysfordogs.com/WELLNESSMAMA or use code WELLNESSMAMA at checkout.
 
Katie: Hello, and welcome to the “Wellness Mama Podcast.” I’m Katie from WellnessMama.com and Wellnesse.com, that’s Wellnesse with an E on the end. And this podcast is all about how stress shapes our hormones and what to do about it. I’m here with Dr. Sonya Jensen, who is the author of “Woman Unleashed,” And she’s a naturopathic physician with a mission to change the way women understand their bodies and themselves. And she has the belief that women are the center of their families and communities, and that by supporting women, we are creating a ripple effect to support the entire community. And I wholeheartedly agree with her on that. She’s the co-founder of Divine Elements Health Center, The Longevity Lab, and The Health Ignited Academy with her husband, Dr. Nicholas Jensen.
 
And in this episode, we go deep on hormones and how stress, trauma, and childhood experiences can shape our hormones, the reason that excess stress and cortisol can take our progesterone and what to do about it, the first steps of reversing that process and balancing hormones, her question for food in life which is: Is this nourishing me?, how to shift into parasympathetic and signal to the body that it is safe, her 80/20 health, top supplements for women, how to improve your progesterone, and so much more. Very fact-packed episode, and let’s join Dr. Jensen. Dr. Sonya, welcome. Thanks for being here.
 
Dr. Sonya: Thank you for having me. It’s so nice to see you this time.
 
Katie: Nice to see you too. You are a requested repeat guest, and I’m so excited because you have a new book that I just got to check out, called “Woman Unleashed,” which we’re gonna talk about today, and I think there’s so much in this that’s really relevant to women, especially… I mean, always, but especially right now, from the women I hear from, and from my own personal experience, and I think there’s so much we can learn from you today. To start broad, I’m sure people have maybe, like, a passing understanding of the connection, but can you kind of walk us through how stress, and trauma, and childhood experiences, and even generational trauma can shape our hormones and our body and our blueprint?
 
Dr. Sonya: Yeah. For sure. That’s a great question. And the story really does begin even before we were born, in the womb, depending on our mother’s health and just how she’s perceiving her world, and the hormones that we’re receiving from her give us information on the kind of environment we’re going to be born into. So that actually changes our phenotype and the hormones that we produce, so that we can actually be accepted into this new tribe that we will be born into. And from day one, we start to kind of observe our environment, we go through these experiences that then are imprinted into our brain. So, when, it could be something as simple as, as we’re growing up, maybe we didn’t receive the attention that we wanted from our parent, even though they were doing their best. So, it could be a micro-experienced trauma, or it could be a big T trauma, where we’ve experienced something that has forced our brain to look at its environment, to get all the cues, like the sights, the sounds, the smells, and train the brain to understand if we ever feel this way again, if we ever notice these triggers ever again, the way to respond is with our fight, flight, freeze, or please scenario, which is our sympathetic nervous system, right? So, it activates that nervous system.
 
So, fast forward, now, we could be in a relationship, or we could just be doing everyday life, and all of a sudden there’s a smell. Maybe mom was cooking something when our parents were fighting at some point, and it triggers the brain to kind of go back to that memory, and our emotional center holds onto that memory, the hippocampus, they all kind of talk to one another, and then, again, activate that sympathetic drive, which then turns off our parasympathetic and those thriving hormones, like progesterone, testosterone, and estrogen, that actually help us thrive and navigate life the way we are required, and the way we need to for fertility and just overall health, and if we’re constantly in that sympathetic drive, it’s really hard for the body to do what needs to be done in order for us to feel healthy.
 
Katie: Absolutely. I know I’ve experienced this firsthand, and seen it in the last few years in my own life, with… Definitely, I had big T trauma, and what I’m realizing now is some smaller ones as well, that I kind of discounted in comparison to the bigger one, but I was, for a decade, doing all the things “right,” and by the books, and all the diet and the supplements and the exercise, and it wasn’t until I dealt with that other piece and let go of the trauma that everything else shifted. And what was amazing was I had worked… I felt like I’d worked so hard trying to fight my body all those years, and then when I dealt with this piece, all those things got so much easier and all the health stuff resolved itself. And since I’ve started talking about that, I know… I’ve heard from so many women who were like, “How did you do it? What were the steps?” And that’s why I was so excited to have you on. But talk more about how the hormones in that situation are basically causing havoc in the body in all aspects of life? Because I saw it and I felt it, and I know you understand and can explain it.
 
Dr. Sonya: Yeah. For sure. So, when we think about stress in general, we release hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to navigate that experience and move us through that experience. But in order for us to do that, we have to shut down our progesterone, because progesterone gets converted into cortisol. So, what’s progesterone? So, if it’s a menstruating woman, for example, the first half of your cycle, after you bleed, it’s predominantly geared towards using estrogen, and then testosterone when you’re ovulating. So, during that first half of your cycle, you may have a bit more energy, you’re feeling a little bit more outward bound, and want to get things done, whereas the second half of your cycle, as soon as you ovulate, progesterone is supposed to shine, and progesterone is very anti-anxiety, it’s anti-depressive, it’s the one that just helps regulate our entire system. So if that’s getting depleted due to this imprint in our psyche and in our nervous system, of always being very vigilant and always looking through the lens that we may be in danger when we’re looking at our environment, we’re constantly depleting that hormone.
 
So now, we might see irregulation in our cycle, we might see PMS symptoms, we might see weight gain because of that. So, when that’s happening, and we’re not addressing these traumas and these stories, we could be doing all the right things, we could be eating all the right things, we could be taking the supplements, but that upstream factor, that was initially giving the signal, or creating this communication pathway between the brain and the rest of your body, that is what needs to shift. That’s the thing that we need to unravel and unveil in order for us to create a new pattern where we can understand that we’re not always in danger, that this is something that’s had a hold of us, but we don’t always have to be there. We can be in the parasympathetic, and then we can step into action when we need to.
 
Katie: Yeah. That’s such an important piece. I realized after I worked through it that I had probably been primarily on sympathetic for literally years and years and years, and fighting my body, and realizing, of course, my body is not gonna heal and rest and digest and sleep well when you’re in that state. And, that said, I know it’s also very multifaceted, and that there’s a lot of individuality that comes into play here, but let’s start broad with how do you start to figure out those factors and then bring those hormones back into balance?
 
Dr. Sonya: Yeah. For sure. So, in the book, I have these pause moments. So, often, we will know in our mind when we are responding to life not the way we actually want to, but it’s coming from this reaction place. So, we may be having a conversation with someone and having this feeling inside of our body that just doesn’t feel like ourselves, and we’re reacting, and we’re irritable, and all the actions that we’re taking, we may wanna go on this diet and do really well, but there’s always something that drives us to grab onto that food that we know isn’t gonna serve our body, so, pausing and asking ourself this question of, “Who does this story actually belong to? What are my driving forces? Like, what drives me to make these decisions? What’s the foundation on which I have built my life on, and this lens that I’m wearing?”
 
The more questions we begin to ask, the more curious we become of why things are happening the way they are. So, in the book, I also lay out this questionnaire where you get to figure out if you are the duchess, the diva, or the damsel. So, these are these three archetypes that we may have put into our life. We may have captured these roles and put these masks on in order to survive our moments. So, for example, the duchess, she may be someone that, you know, gets everything done perfectly. So, she is on schedule, on point, more of a Type A. She may be a CEO. She’s somebody that runs her household, very organized, and just gets the job done. So, that’s such a gift. And she also has to live in more of that yang, sympathetic state in order for her to get that done.
 
So health never really is a priority. So, in this state, she may not sit down and eat her meals and chew properly, because she doesn’t have time, right? Or she is just on the go all the time, so maybe now she’s dealing with IBS, and maybe irregular cycles, and all these things, their signals are showing up in her body, but she can’t stop and actually look at that because if she does, she’ll feel unraveled and she doesn’t have time to feel unraveled. It’s really asking yourself the question of, “Where am I in that triangle of disconnect,” that I talk about. “What are my driving forces? And then what can I do to support myself in making an alternate decision, so that I can unpack what’s actually going on here?”
 
Katie: Yeah. I definitely can resonate with aspects of that, and I think, for me, part of it was a reaction to that feeling of helplessness and the trauma was to then control every variable, and run everything in a very regimented manner. And I had to learn how to unpack that, and also to find gratitude for it, because what I realized was that mechanism happened to protect me. My subconscious was doing its job. It was for, like you said, for safety and survival. That’s not a bad thing, but it wasn’t a thing I needed anymore. And so, it was learning to release that. And I also remember in that phase being worried I was gonna lose my edge, because that was the thing that drove me to get so much done. And I tell women now, it’s, you don’t lose your edge, you just get to choose when you use the sword. And I think that’s the really important distinction.
 
Dr. Sonya: Yes, that identity, right? So, we feel like we’re gonna lose that identity, and there often can be a lot of grief around that, and an unknown, and that unknown can feel like a very scary place.
 
Katie: Absolutely. And it’s led to this interesting discovery. I know you talk about some of these things too as far as childhood stuff, and realizing, like, I had, by all accounts, exceptional parents, and yet there were still ways that I needed to probably be loved a little differently than what they were doing, and being able to recognize that and work through it without it being a fault of theirs, there didn’t need to be any guilt or blame there, but realizing, like, that was a thing I could, as an adult, now work through and move to a healthier place with. And then the generational side as well, can you talk a little bit about that? I know you’ve mentioned it some.
 
Dr. Sonya: Yeah. So, you know, speaking to what happens when we’re in the womb, kind of starts from our mother’s story, and then, especially as women, we definitely carry seven generations before all the stories that have been passed down. As we know, lifestyle gets passed down, stories get passed down, and really, the power is held in the storyteller, and often, what happens as these stories are being passed down on how we’re supposed to behave, how we’re supposed to look, the conditioning that we receive from a very young age has been going on for generations and generations, and it really isn’t until we become conscious of the fact that we’ve been living out these conditions, rather than from our truest essence, from who we really know we are at the core, we then get an opportunity to unravel and heal even things that have been passed down from before. Like, many traditions will speak to once you heal, you heal seven generations before and seven generations forward.
 
And this has been mapped out in genetics. So, as we start to change, we start to change the lineage, and we start to change the story we’ve been carrying on our backs for so long, so we don’t pass it forward. And often, if you just pause and start to recognize and observe, for example, even our parents, if we start to observe them, without emotion, and start to understand that they were doing the best that they could with the information they had, same with their parents and the parents before, it takes away the hold that some of those stories may have on us, or those beliefs, and we can start to really understand that, “I can give myself permission to release this. It’s not my duty to hold onto this, but if anything, it’s my duty to heal all of the traumas and the stories” that, you know, as collectively, as women, that we carry too, from many, many generations ago. You know, many generations ago, women weren’t safe to even express themselves and their power. And so, that in itself gets embedded into our genetic story and into our DNA, so then we navigate and tiptoe throughout the world from that place. So, the moment we recognize that what actions we’re actually living out today necessarily aren’t ours to do, it creates more freedom as well.
 
Katie: And I wanna go deeper on the maybe the stress relief and the inner work side, but before we do, one thing I’ve noticed, it seems like especially maybe in trauma survivors or people who have some of these patterns, especially as women, is almost an undereating, under-nourishing, which the thing I noticed in myself, is that I was that kind of driven, duchess type, and I didn’t make time… And I was also trying to deprive myself, because I was trying to, like, be a certain size and look a certain way, and there were a lot of stories intertwined with that. And when I really started tracking it, I realized I was drastically undereating, and I had sort of trained my body cues to not have natural hunger anymore, and this is a thing I’ve heard now from a lot of women that have just truly, like, not consuming enough nourishing food. Is that something you see as well?
 
Dr. Sonya: Oh, all the time. And even through my own personal experience, when I was 13, I went through anorexia. And I speak to that in the book as well, and just not having control of my outside world, food was the way that… I used food as punishment, because when it comes to our culture, food is how we connect, right? Like, feeding people is, like, number one priority. Doesn’t matter who it is, somebody walks into our, you feed them. And I realized afterwards that I was using it almost as a weapon towards my family, because I wasn’t in control of my life, that I felt, at that time. And when you start to understand that relationship with food, and just nourishment in itself, like, nourishment isn’t just food, it’s the conversations that we have, it’s what we watch. It’s who we let into our circle of trust. It’s all of those things.
 
So, the question that I always often seed in women is asking yourself, “Is this going to nourish me?” as soon as we’re making a decision. So, if it’s a decision… Even for fasting, for example. I’m an intermittent faster now, and I teach on fasting, and yet, I’m always asking myself that question, “Is this fast going to nourish me, or is this going to deplete me?” So, as you start to wonder about that, and become curious about that, you start to understand why you’re making the decision that you are, why you’re choosing the relationship that you are. What are you receiving from that? Are you receiving love and connection, or are you giving of yourself and not able to say no and don’t have boundaries, because you feel that’s the only way that you’re gonna feel like you can belong, or feel accepted? So, it just opens up this door to wonder of yourself, and more self-discovery.
 
Katie: That’s a beautiful question. And I’ve heard it said that “boundaries are how I can love myself and someone else at the same time,” It’s a beautiful reframe. And I’d love to talk more now about how, like, maybe the practices we can incorporate into our lives that help balance hormones, more on the awareness, and maybe meditation side, getting more into that parasympathetic.
 
Dr. Sonya: Yeah. That parasympathetic drive is so, so important when it comes to changing that communication in your hormones, because as we know, hormones are just communicators, right? So they’re gonna respond to their environment. So, one beautiful way of changing the signals in that environment can be through meditation. And meditation can look differently for everyone. It could be a walk in the woods, and that’s meditative. It could be putting on a great song and dancing, and that’s meditative. It could be sitting for just a few minutes, and just being in gratitude for life this morning, or today. So, it’s the moment we step into that space of wonder and reverence of ourselves, and that getting really tuned in to that heart space, is when we can start opening up that connection within ourselves. And the moment we make that decision to connect, we can’t go back, right?
 
So, we can really step into that space of being more in our yin, which is a woman’s natural state, because we do carry yang and yin within us. We have a masculine feminine side, and we have that female feminine side as well. But recognizing that often, we step into the yang, to get things done, to be of significance in the world today. So, to counteract that, in order for us to be in our softness, and also in our strength at the same time, things like meditation, things like yoga, things that give you joy, are going to activate that oxytocin. They’re gonna activate that response in your body, to help you feel settled and grounded in yourself. So, whatever that looks like for you, maybe it’s art. Right, it could be anything, but any time your focus is in just that present moment and you’re not future-projecting or living in the past, in depression, or anxiety for the future, whenever you’re in that present moment, whatever activity you’re doing, hold on to that, and bring that up as a part of your daily habit, and non-negotiable.
 
And my non-negotiable is my morning routine. So, often, that’s movement, because I’m in my mind so much. I’m very much that Vata constitution, when it comes to ayurvedic medicine, so I’m often in my mind, I’m a worrier, I’m always thinking. So in order for me to feel grounded, I have to step into my body, so my meditation is movement. And so, my morning is nonnegotiable. And, you know, working with a lot of moms, too, with young kids, and, I mean, you have six. I only have two, and even two is a lot to handle sometimes, but sometimes it’s habit stacking, right? So, maybe they’re doing something and I’m cooking for them, and I’m doing, like, calf raises at the same time, just to bring awareness to I’m still in my body, I’m still right here, right now.
 
Katie: Yeah. I’d love to hear any other parts of your morning routine as well, or, maybe, 80/20 high-value things that people can do to incorporate. Because I know that was a part I faced in my own recovery, was that I had detached from my body, and I had to, like, re-learn to be in my body and listen to my body.
 
Dr. Sonya: Yeah. When I learned about how my mind functions, that really helped support me too. So, my mind looks for the negative. It looks for the holes and the gaps in a scenario, because it’s protecting me because of my big-T trauma. So my mind is used to looking at its environment and understanding what’s going to go wrong. So, for me, my morning practice, and my non-negotiable, is gratitude. So, waking up and just being thankful for waking up. It’s as simple as that. And then as soon as I put my feet on the ground, being thankful that I can feel my feet on the ground. And then going to the bathroom, I’ve actually incorporated now Mel Robbins’ high five, so, giving yourself a high five. Because the moment we look at ourselves in the mirror, we have all of these things going on in our mind, our to-do lists, all the things we’re not good at. “Oh, my goodness, I have bags under my eyes,” like, all these things start to show up. But the moment you honor yourself in a little bit of reverence with that high five, it changes what your mind is going to do next. It changes how you’re relating to yourself.
 
And then I move into having my big cup of water with a little bit of lemon, and then move into my practice, whether that’s movement with yoga, or a HIIT exercise. And then I’m doing a sauna, cold showers. That’s a big part of my practice as well. Again, anything that’s gonna bring me into my body is what I need for myself. And then, as the day goes by, too, I have moments that I capture. So, for me, having a cup of tea is a moment for me, and it reminds my mind and my psyche that I’m making myself a priority, and that I’m important. So it could be as simple as having a cup of tea, a cup of coffee on your own, reading something, just finding these little moments throughout the day can create a profound effect for the rest of your life, really. So it doesn’t have to be this grand event, this huge spa day, which, I mean, I love. Love my spa days, but really, you can do little things every single day that start to create huge changes, and helps you become more and more of the observer of you.
 
Katie: Yeah. I love those. I’m a big fan of gratitude practice as well, and also, yeah, big one is non-negotiable going outside as soon as possible after waking up, and getting sunlight. So, often my movement, or my reading, or whatever is outside. There’s so much cool research on that light hitting our eyes in the morning, and triggering these certain receptors in our eyes that really are good for hormones and helping with sleep later on, and I definitely notice that correlation when I don’t do it. I see that lack that. When it comes to hormones, I also hear from a lot of women who struggle with hormone-specific problems, whether it be PMS, or hot flashes, or endometriosis, or PCOS. Do you have any tips for specific, whether body or mind, balancing those?
 
Dr. Sonya: Yeah. So, when I was speaking to the duchess, and the other two archetypes are the diva and the damsel. So I’ll give an example of the damsel, for example. The damsel usually looks at everything as half empty, and she’s the one that can’t say no, right? She’s volunteering, she’s doing everything for her family, because, again, that’s how she received significance and that feeling of being important and belonging. So often, this woman may have thyroid issues, because she’s not able to voice her opinion and speak her truth, and she may even be growing things within her body like cysts, because the counter polarity of not being able to say no is resentment, because she’s not really doing it from a place of true service, she’s doing it from a place of depletion. So often, when I find a woman has, you know, cysts on her ovaries, and again, in Chinese medicine, ovaries and resentment are also correlated… Anger is correlated to the liver.
 
When we start to look at these scenarios, and understand that what is the emotional cue that is creating this different communication within your body, and start resolving that, then the physiology also follows. So, endometriosis is a huge one for so many women in today’s world, and often, the question I will seed for that woman is when in your life did you not feel safe in your environment or in your home? Because at that moment, the uterine lining, that endometrium, is trying to leave. It’s trying to leave its home because it doesn’t feel safe there. So what can we do to bring more safety into your life, to bring more steadiness into your life, so that you feel secure in your self, and not looking for it from the outside world?
 
So, when we start to create these correlations, these aha moments happen for women, and they start to kind of unravel that story that maybe they’ve been holding on to, and then we can look at the physiology, too, and say, “Okay. Well, this is how your body’s been responding, so your progesterone’s lower, your estrogen maybe is dominant, your testosterone is also low. So how can we support that with things that we know we can do with the herbs, and the food, and the nourishment from that aspect, but also, how can we unveil the story that you’ve been carrying for so long, and how can we unravel that to now serve you, so that you can understand the gifts from that story, and it’s not controlling you, but instead, you get to use that story, and have strength to navigate your world?”
 
Katie: That’s beautiful. And I think it is, like you said, it’s a small, intentional practice, and that awareness goes such a long way. I also am a big believer in that we are so much the product of the questions we ask, whether it’s internally, through our own subconscious, or externally to others, and I think anytime we can quiet for a minute and pay attention to that, we see the results over and over and over. I also hear from a lot of women who, especially after the last two years, are very overwhelmed, and struggling with motivation and energy, and so I’d love to talk about ways we can start increasing energy to even have the motivation to do these creative things and to do these practices that are helpful.
 
Dr. Sonya: Yeah. That’s a great question, because I do find you have to work on your body first before you can go into your psyche and look at all these emotions. Because if your body is tired, there’s no way you’re gonna be able to deep dive into your story and what you need to unravel. So, some things that you can do on a daily basis is intermittent fasting is a great practice to wake up those nutrients within your body that are already available to you to feed your brain. So, doing a little bit of fasting, nourishing your body with food that’s gonna nourish your hormones. So, for example, the first half of your cycle, you wanna nourish your body with more healthy fats. The last half of your cycle, you wanna nourish your body with healthy carbohydrates. So feeding your brain and your mind is going to make a huge difference on how you are responding to life, because now we’re creating more energy. We’re creating more fuel within your system.
 
Understanding if there’s stuff in your environment that might be creating a sluggish environment in your body and reducing energy, so, is there toxicity in your food? Are you not eating organic? Is there toxicity in the products that you’re using? Is there toxicity in what you’re cooking with? So, going from room to room, I find, simplifies everything, so we can get rid of what we can control, and then detoxifying our inner selves, so that we can make room now for that healing to happen, and working with someone to kind of do a deeper dive is really important, and there are so many things that you can do just at home, like a castor oil pack routine, dry brushing routine, if you have access to a sauna, infrared sauna. So, always making sure we’re trying to empty that physical bucket, so that we have time and space to now go into our emotional bucket and start emptying the stories out from there.
 
Katie: Yeah. And I feel like it’s kind of a self-perpetuating cycle. When we start doing the physical things, we have more motivation, then energy, that we are able to do the inner work, and also then, that makes us more motivated to do the physical things. Whereas backwards, too, if we get in that kind of overwhelmed cycle and then we’re not doing the things, then it’s harder to do it, and it kind of goes backwards. But I think you’re right. Like, the baby steps make the big difference, and it’s what can we start sustainably, that isn’t going to add to the overwhelm, and that’s gonna slowly increase our bandwidth to be able to add in more, it seems like.
 
Dr. Sonya: Because it’s really easy to go into this mindset of, like, “I’m failing.” Right? When we try to go on this other track, where we’re doing all the right things and really putting so much on our plate, because we really wanna tackle what’s happening, but if we just do those small steps and have these small victories. So I encourage women to make success lists. Like, even writing down things you know you’re gonna get done that day. I’m gonna shower. So I’m writing that down on my list. I’m gonna brush my teeth. I’m writing that down on my list. It’s just that act of checking that off, and that reassurance in the mind and the brain that yes, I can get things done. And that also doesn’t define me, that, all of what’s happening is a journey. So the more we focus on what we can do and we can have control over, we’re able to let go of what we can’t control.
 
Katie: Yeah. That’s a great reframe. And I, for a long time, managed everything on my phone, just because technology is such a part of our life now. And I have recently switched back to a planner, not for calendar stuff, but for my daily task list, and for gratitude, just because there is, like you said, something that is really helpful about that tangible crossing something off a list, and also, to me, writing out what I’m grateful for, it just helps cement it, and helps me, like, really internalize it a lot more. And it seems like for women especially, like, journaling, or even just drawing, something like that, is a very helpful practice to, like, you said get the inner, and start processing it, and help it get out.
 
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I also hear from a lot of women who seem to have skin issues, and it seems like this can definitely be hormone-related as well. Do you have any specific tips for skin-related issues?
 
Dr. Sonya: Yeah. So, when it comes to the skin, it really is your liver that’s speaking, right? So, often, women will have cystic acne before their period, and that’s often due to estrogen dominance, and because the liver maybe is congested. So, like I was speaking to the castor oil packs. You can do castor oil packs. You wanna detoxify, and you wanna make sure your gut is moving. So, healthy bowel movements every day. So that could be simply adding something like Triphala to your nighttime routine. That’s a powder that has three ayurvedic herbs in there, that you can put in warm water after your last meal. So, that can really serve you. Having some ghee and, like, golden milk before bed, that’s also gonna serve your gut, and the butyrate in your gut. Making sure you’re having things like ground flaxseed, chia, hemp, like, fibers. Prebiotics are also gonna support that as well, because, again, you’re just amplifying that healthy bacteria in your gut, so that the estrobolome, which is a group of bacteria in your gut, have the capacity to work with the liver to detoxify those excess estrogens from the environment and from your body.
 
So the more you do that, the less your bucket fills up every day, and has to use your skin to secrete these toxins out of the body. Because if you see yourself as a bucket, as, you know, the body, and we fill it up every day with different toxicities, we have these emunctories and pathways of elimination that help support reducing that load. So, that’s your gut, your lymphatics, your kidneys, your mucous membranes. But if any of those are clogged up, your skin being the largest organ, it’s just easy to push things out of the skin. So in order to support the skin, you have to support your lymph, your gut, your kidney, so just making sure things are flowing and moving every single day.
 
Katie: And for people who are just starting… I know we’ve touched on probably a few of them, but what would be some of maybe, like, the 80/20, you know, 20% of things that give the biggest bang for your buck if you are overwhelmed and you only can do baby steps, where would be some of the best starting points?
 
Dr. Sonya: Yeah. So, waking up and having that lemon water movement is gonna increase your lymphatic flow. Dry brushing, if you can get a dry brush and just use that, and giving yourself a massage with some sesame oil, that’s gonna be supportive. Your first meal, if it’s a smoothie, you can put in those fibers, and that in itself will start just movement to happen. And in your nighttime routine, you can put in just that teaspoon of Triphala, and maybe a castor oil pack, so a little bit of castor oil over your belly, and a hot water bottle and a towel. It could be as simple as that. And that could be your daily routine, just to kind of get things moving.
 
Katie: And then, I’d love to touch on sleep as well, because it seems like whenever there are hormone issues, often, sleep issues go right alongside with it. And then, we know from the research, sleep is one of the most core, foundational things for all aspects of health, and in over 500 episodes of this podcast I’ve never had anyone say quality sleep is not important. It seems to be, like, one of the things every expert can agree on, and it seems, obviously, a fall-down point for a lot of women, and moms especially, for lots and lots of reasons. Any tips for improving sleep?
 
Dr. Sonya: Yeah. Sleep is so important when it comes to our hormones and our circadian rhythm. And just going back to that progesterone piece, progesterone, GABA, and melatonin are best friends. So, when melatonin is low because of our high cortisol, it’s going to affect progesterone. When progesterone is low, it can’t turn on the receptors in the brain to receive GABA. So then GABA is gonna be low, which creates more of that wired tired feeling in the evening, and doesn’t really allow the body to calm down before bed so we can have a restful sleep. So, sleep is so important. So, having a sleep routine is really important, and really, going to bed before 11:00 p.m. So, that’s also key, because you don’t wanna bring up your cortisol after 11:00 p.m., because your body thinks you’re awake. So that’s gonna mess up your circadian rhythm.
 
So, before 11:00 p.m., you wanna be going to bed, and you want a routine that actually, you know, gets rid of the blue light. So maybe having red light blockers on if you’re watching something, but really, putting away technology as quickly as you can after dinner, reading something, having that gratitude practice, something, again, to kind of bring your out of your mind and into your body, so you can release the day, and move into that dream state and more of a calm and relaxed manner.
 
And, yes, so it’s gonna be things that people can use, like melatonin and CBD, and many herbs, that can be really helpful. But what you really wanna understand is, first, what are the things that I’m doing, starting from the point when I wake up to the evening, because as soon as we wake up, we’re getting ready for sleep. So, all the habits, all the things that we’re eating, making sure that we’re eating healthy fat in our last meal, so that our glucose isn’t driving up, and also increasing that cortisol, not allowing melatonin to do its job. So those are some things that you can just kind of observe about yourself, and have almost, like, a sleep journal, to understand, “Okay. What are some things I can incorporate into my life that will increase that quality sleep?” And, you know, many people have Oura Ring. My husband’s obsessed with his Oura Ring, and you can just look at your data and understand, “Okay. When I eat this dinner, this is affecting my heart rate variability. It’s affecting my parasympathetic nervous system.” And all that data is gonna show you what you can or can’t do in the evening that’s gonna support deep sleep for you.
 
Katie: Yeah. I’m also a big fan of my Oura Ring, and also, the Chilipad has been a game-changer for me for sleep. But the Oura Ring, especially, you’re right. You start to see the patterns, and it’s learning things like no matter how much I may think I like to drink wine at night, my deep sleep does not fall when I drink wine at night. And I’ve learned some helpful things, and if I eat enough protein during the day, my deep sleep loves that, and it’s helped me learn myself in that way. You’ve also mentioned progesterone a few times, and how important it is. Is that something you would recommend supplementing with, or if not, what are the ways to help sort of naturally raise that without using some kind of external supplement?
 
Dr. Sonya: Yeah. So, I often use bioidentical hormones with women if it’s needed. So getting tested is really important, doing your DUTCH test to recognize where your progesterone is at, because often, low progesterone can also look like normal progesterone but low estrogen. So, just those nuances, to understand them, getting tested is important if you’re gonna go down the route of using progesterone. Other herbs that can really support your progesterone are herbs that are gonna act more like adaptogens, so will help support that lowering of your cortisol. So, ashwagandha is a beautiful one that you can use. Chaste tree is a beautiful herb that’s gonna increase LH but also increase progesterone in your body. So, those are just some things that you can utilize. But when it comes to food, healthy carbohydrates like yams, and beans, and lentils, and these kinds of things are gonna support your progesterone as well, along with those daily practices that we spoke about, the meditation, the gratitude, and just really working on that vagal tone and that parasympathetic state is gonna feed into your progesterone, because it’s gonna reinforce for your body and your mind that you’re not in danger. So, the more we work on that, the more support your progesterone will feel.
 
Katie: Yeah. And it’s another one of those positive feedback loops, where as you get better sleep and as you nourish your body, then these things improve and they continue to want to improve. Also, knowing, of course, there’s so much bio-individuality with this question, I’m curious if there are any supplements that you find, on average, very helpful for women, obviously with the caveat work with someone who knows what they’re doing. But any that you see kind of recurring that are helpful for women, especially?
 
Dr. Sonya: My favorites are chaste tree, magnesium. DIM and I3C are really great because they’re gonna help support that liver detox, which will then support your progesterone to rise, and then ashwagandha is my favorite adaptogen, along with rhodiola, is another favorite of mine, that can really be supportive, just for that nervous system. And then, again, understanding your neurotransmitters, so GABA can be really supportive for women as well in that last half of her cycle. GABA and a little bit of melatonin, to just support that progesterone drive.
 
Katie: And of course, as women, we have much more fluctuating hormones than men, which I think is actually…can be a huge advantage, because we get these natural changes throughout the month. Are there any things to be aware of related to our cycle, as far as maybe different ways to work out or nourish our bodies differently in different parts of the month?
 
Dr. Sonya: Yes. I love this question. So, I often speak to the seasons of a woman’s life, the seasons of our environment, and then the seasons of her cycle. So, you know, there’s four different phases in the cycle. There’s when you’re bleeding. So, what do you wanna do when you’re bleed? Because that’s such a time of detoxification, it really is a time of reflection. So, you can be journaling then, you can be detoxifying emotions, and really kind of uncovering some of the things that maybe you were holding on to for the past month. So, here, you probably won’t be that hungry, so having more, like, soups and stews, and just really nourishing foods, the more colored food, like purple and, like, deep and rich colors, because you wanna feed that iron in your body, as well, and just kind of replenish that.
 
And then as you step out of that phase and you go into your follicular phase, this is where estrogen is gonna start to rise. So, how do we feed our estrogen? So, healthy fats like avocado are gonna support that. Here is also where you could probably do more HIIT exercise. There’s more movement. You could be a little bit more aggressive with your routine, because you have the capacity and the energy to do that. Soon as we step into ovulation, testosterone begins to rise. So, fasting is a little bit easier before that. Not so much during ovulation, but also recognizing that this is that one time in our cycle where testosterone will go up. So, often, libido will be a little bit higher.
 
Then as we step into our luteal phase, and progesterone needs nourishment, this is a time where your body wants you to be more internal, so slowing down. Maybe now you focus more on yoga, or going for a walk outside, eating those healthy carbohydrates, journaling a little bit more, really reflecting on life itself, and, like, what’s working for you, what’s not. Saying no more to outside things, and working on it from that perspective, and also understanding that your libido here will go down. You know, often, there’s this misconception that I should feel the same throughout the entire month, but because our hormones ebb and flow like that, it’s important to understand that your libido may be high at one point every cycle, but then it starts to go down, especially if you’re not on the pill, right, you’re gonna really recognize these ups and downs, and often, this may be a challenge in a relationship. But if you understand your cycle, you can then communicate this with your partner, so they also understand that this is a time where, you know, I am gonna be a little bit more internal and focus more on me, so that I can step into the next phase of bleeding with more control, and just with more steadiness.
 
Katie: Yeah. And I think libido is an important point, especially for women as well. I know I hear from people about this quite often, and especially libido seeming to go down with age somewhat, but I wonder if this also is really, like, tied in with some of these hormone changes, and if so, what can women do to support libido, obviously, realizing it’s still gonna ebb and flow throughout the month. But are there things that in general can help with that?
 
Dr. Sonya: Yeah. For sure. So, even understanding that’s…beginning age 25, our testosterone starts to drop. And with every child, we lose about 15% of our testosterone stores. And what are the things that are gonna affect testosterone? Insulin is going to affect it. So if there’s any sort of insulin resistance in your body, so, again, if you’re eating processed foods, or higher carbohydrates, snacking a lot, these things are gonna increase your insulin. So the way to bring your insulin down is by incorporating that fasting routine that works for you, and also increasing your healthy fats, lowering those grains, which will then support your testosterone. Working out first thing in the morning, before 8:00 a.m., on an empty stomach, also increases your testosterone and growth hormone. So that’s something you can incorporate also, to increase it naturally. And then, doing things like maca is gonna support it as well. So you can really help to just support that testosterone drive within you through some of these habits, so that when you go into your cycle, you start to really understand that this is actually true loss of testosterone, or is it just a part of my cycle at this time?
 
Because when we go through perimenopause and menopause, you know, it’s kind of nature’s birth control. Testosterone does naturally go down, but you can kind of build yourself up with some of these habits and resistance training and these things, to just support your system, so that, you know, it helps support the relationship, but also inviting things in your life that give you joy. I find the more oxytocin that gets built up in the woman’s body, the easier it is for her to step into having more libido, because now she can kind of make the conscious effort. She can kind of bring that motivation up, because she’s been filling her cup up. If you’re moving into that phase already depleted, that’s what creates more of that loss in libido.
 
Katie: That makes sense. And as we get close to the end of our time, a few other questions I love to ask are if there’s a book or a number of books that have had a profound impact on your life, and if so, what they are and why.
 
Dr. Sofia: Yeah. Yeah. So, Dr. Edith Eger, she wrote the book “The Choice,” and that one’s had a really profound effect on me as I went through my journey, and just realizing how much of a choice we really have in our mind, and the real prison, and the real challenge is really in here, not so much in the outside world. So, we change this, we change our story, and we really begin to change our lives. So that one, I have to say, hands down, has been huge for me, and it’s one that I refer to all the time.
 
Katie: I’ll make sure that’s linked in the show note as well, for you guys listening, wellnessmama.fm. And where can people find you, find your book, and keep learning more?
 
Dr. Sonya: Yeah. Thank you. So, on Instagram, my handle’s @drsonyajensen, and also my website, drsonyajensen.com. And you can get the book anywhere in the world on Amazon, in the U.S., Barnes & Nobles, and in Canada on Indigo or Amazon.
 
Katie: And any parting advice for our listeners today? It could be related to what we’ve talked about, or something entirely unrelated.
 
Dr. Sonya: Yeah. Just give yourself an opportunity to fall back in love with yourself, because there was a moment in time in your life, when you tap into that little girl, that little child, where she thought she was the bomb, and something happened along the way that took that drive away, that took that experience away, and you can shift that, because as soon as you do, you don’t even know how much power you have built in you, that you’re gonna be able to express into the world.
 
Katie: That’s beautiful. I think it’s a perfect place to wrap up for today. Thank you so much for your time and being here, and for all of the work that you do.
 
Dr. Sonya: Thank you. Thank you for everything that you do.
 
Katie: And thanks as always to all of you for listening and sharing your most valuable resources, your time, your energy, and your attention with us today. We’re both so grateful that you did, and I hope that you will join me again on the next episode of the “Wellness Mama Podcast.”
 
If you’re enjoying these interviews, would you please take two minutes to leave a rating or review on iTunes for me? Doing this helps more people to find the podcast, which means even more moms and families could benefit from the information. I really appreciate your time, and thanks as always for listening.
Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a wife and mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.
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