In my work with women over the years, I’ve noticed a few trends. Even though clients come to me for nutritional needs, they inevitably start talking about the stressors in their lives — which is why I now offer a separate 3-Month Thyroid Mind-Body Program. I can’t tell you how many women have sat in my office, and upon me merely asking how they’re doing that day (and REALLY listening to their answer), they start crying, start divulging their stresses, fears, insecurities, and after a few minutes of being truly heard, take a big breath, a deep sigh of relief and apologize for crying or “talking too much”. I always make sure to tell them “it’s okay. Crying is good” because usually when someone cries, they get shushed and “comforted” by people telling them, “it’s okay, don’t cry!”. In truth, they get told to stop crying so the observers aren’t uncomfortable or have to process emotions. Crying is a better medicine than learning to not cry.
What I see in my clients is similar to what I have also noticed and experienced through out my life — very often, women have been taught to trivialize their thoughts, feelings, and emotions, because it makes other people uncomfortable when they express their true thoughts. Other people may not know how to process their own emotions so they feel very uncomfortable being asked to experience someone else’s. We are expected to be stoic or appear to have it all together because it makes people uncomfortable at the thought that we could be “dependent” or “needy” or “hysterical”. So we learn to suppress. And suppress and suppress and suppress because we definitely don’t want our mental health to be in question — ever.
Think of stress like a body of water. The sand, shore and blue-green water are a beautiful scene but take a closer look and you’ll notice that every now and then the surface current picks up. We’re suddenly aware of the passing temperament of the water. We often judge our stress level by the “surface current” in our lives — those major stresses like finances, relationships, work, children, an uncleaned house, making sure to get to important meetings on time, unexpected circumstances like a broke down car or water heater, or the unexpected environmental events we can’t control like fires, floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes. And addressing those fears and anxieties is important. But the work I prefer to do with my clients is the work of beginning to recognize and address the UNDERCURRENT.
The “undercurrent” in our lives is the subconscious behaviors and thoughts we have been taught and that cause us intense stress by trying to live up to certain standards, or meet certain expectations, or be a certain way to keep towing the line and being what others demand. The undercurrent is the power play in our relationships that we are scared to upset. It is the way we get subconsciously punished when we don’t stay inside another person’s expectations. It is the pressure we put on ourselves to look and act a certain way in order to get the affirmation we desire. It is the way we walk, hold ourselves, speak, and dress to get positive feedback. Most of the time, we do not even think about doing these things — it is all subconscious choices that we have become accustomed to. It is an inauthentic way to live. And the undercurrent is ultimately what hurts people the most.
Here are “undercurrent” themes I have seen in my work with clients:
- feeling pressure to look a certain way to keep their spouse’s attention (and getting hurt feelings when they don’t receive their husband’s full sexual attention visually)
- fears that their spouse will leave (for various reasons — all because of false perceptions of ourselves — “If only I did this better”, “If only I looked more like that”, “He’s going to find someone better”, “I’ll never be good enough”)
- letting others (often a father figure or other strong figure, like a stern mother or grandmother) take the lead on decisions and daily activities, suppressing your natural desire to lead (it can be something as simple as always letting them drive because you are retaining their rightful place as the leader and you as the follower)
- diluting your opinions so you don’t rock the boat (minimizing and sugarcoating how you really feel so you don’t face consequences, or straight-up lying so you don’t get “in trouble”)
- agonizing over your wardrobe choices so you don’t upset anyone or receive unsolicited comments (whether sexual attention from strangers or disapproval from friends/family)
- feeling ashamed of certain body parts (ex: my eyebrows aren’t thick enough, my skin tone looks horrible without makeup, my feet are disgusting, my hands are manly, my neck is too saggy, my stomach will never be good enough. We can have hundreds of these “subconscious” thoughts every day!)
- feeling ashamed of eating in front of people, no matter what you are eating or how much
- trying to hyper-feminize your voice to appear less aggressive or assertive
- speaking in passive sentences or writing in passive sentences to appear less assertive (ex: “Is there any way you could please help me take out the trash?” versus, “Please help me take out the trash”)
- apologizing and saying sorry for normal requests so you are not perceived as aggressive or rude (“I’m sorry to ask but could you please cook this burger a little more? I asked for well-done and it’s rare. I apologize — it’s not your fault!”)
- over-thinking your choice of specific clothing or make-up colors so you will be taken seriously in business encounters
- feminizing ourselves so we don’t emasculate fathers, spouses, and friends (fear of emasculating because it brings forth anger from others)
- and so many more!
Now here’s how those undercurrent themes stress you out physically:
- shallow breathing (can lead to dizziness and panic attacks)
- resentment that causes adrenaline rushes and high cortisol (notice next time you get secretly resentful how jittery you feel)
- tensed stomach (causes improper digestion, gas, bloating, heavy full feeling, ulcers, stomach acid problems. Inhibitory responses also cause low thyroid function)
- painful lump in throat when suppressing tears or words
- strained vocal cords and muscles
- tense neck, shoulder, and back muscles
- tense jaw muscles and TMJ (you would be amazed how much tension we can hold there!)
- racing thoughts, fear, anger, resentment, and shame
- inability to fall asleep (due to racing anxious thoughts and unexpressed desires)
- low thyroid function (a lifetime of inhibitory responses can cause this. When we inhibit normal breathing, muscle function, and digestive function, it slows thyroid hormone release)
- adrenal fatigue (low or high cortisol problems)
- and more!
Have you ever thought about your “undercurrent” stressors? Consider which subconscious thoughts and behaviors are stressing you daily and why (or for whom) you are still choosing them. After you recognize them, you can begin to live more authentically and therefore be less stressed and healthier.