Dr Libby Weaver: How Can We Start To Feel Calmer?

In part one of our chat with Dr Libby Weaver, we talked about how so many of our bodies are in a constant state of stress response and what that does to our periods, our thyroid and our hormones. In this part two, we talk to Dr Libby about how to feel calmer and what happens when we ignore our body’s messages.

It’s been 10 years since Dr Libby Weaver, internationally acclaimed nutritional biochemist and best-selling author, released her landmark book Rushing Woman’s Syndrome, about the – then – new set of symptoms that women were experiencing due to constant stress. Now, to bring access to that knowledge to even more Rushing Women, she’s released an online workshop called Overcoming Rushing Woman’s Syndrome.

One of the stand-out body responses to this constant stress is that the sympathetic nervous system (flight or fight) is always on. So how can we start to reactivate our parasympathetic nervous system – the part that controls good sleep, good digestion, reproduction and a sense of calm?

Rushing Woman’s Question 1: How Can We Start To Feel Calmer?

“So, Rushing Women don’t usually like this answer…” Libby laughs. “But the only thing science currently knows that will activate the parasympathetic nervous system is extending the length of our exhalation – in other words, we need to make the exhalation longer than the inhalation.”

That’s right, breathing. It’s not flashy, it doesn’t cost anything and it’s been within our power all along… so no wonder it’s not an answer that many people want to hear! Not only that, concentrating on your breathing simply requires two things: time and focus, which are both things we like to think we’re too busy for.

“If you work at a computer and you see the clock flick over, every hour on the hour, and you do 20 long, slow breaths, where you count to ‘four’ for the inhalation and then a gentle pause, and then you count to ‘six’ on the exhalation, that can be really lovely to remind your body that it’s able to breathe slowly,” Libby says. “A lot of people breathe between 14-20 times a minute and the ideal time is around six times a minute.”

Libby admits that being told to “focus on breathing” can often induce an eye-roll response in women – “’I’m not going to do that, because it’s going to irritate me,’” she quotes – so instead, we can focus on not stimulating their nervous system as much.

One lifestyle fix? “Reducing caffeine consumption – and, I’ll be honest, some Rushing Women will benefit from taking a break from it  – can be a great step, because you won’t make as much adrenaline,” Libby says.

And another shift that can help calm us down is “addressing our perceptions of pressure and urgency,” she says. “There are absolutely things in our day that are urgent, but what a lot of us do is make what we get to do each day full of stress, pressure and urgency. We can’t see it – but a lot of it is self-created.”

“A source of our adrenaline is our conscious or unconscious perception of disapproval of others. We rush because we care.”

“A source of our adrenaline is our conscious or unconscious perception of disapproval of others. We rush because we care,” Libby says. “But if you peel back that layer about rushing because you care for others, there’s also a layer about rushing because you care what people think of you.

“We have behavioral traits that we want other people to see us as – and it’s different for everyone – but it can be incredibly helpful to know what yours are, so the next time you feel worked up inside, you can pause and consider ‘am I perceiving that someone is seeing me in the opposite way to how I want them to see me?’”

Rushing Woman’s Question 2: What Happens If A Rushing Woman Doesn’t Slow Down?

We know now what our bodies are telling us and how we can start to listen to them more clearly. But what if we don’t?

“I see the body as a feedback mechanism and it gives us feedback about our choices – and some women will function really well and not get any feedback from their bodies for who knows how long, when they rush,” Libby says. “And that might be because it’s tied up with them living their highest purpose, living their highest values. However, I would say for the majority that’s not the case.”

“When we do something out of duty, it’s very depleting.”

How can we tell the difference? “When we do something out of duty, it’s very depleting,” Libby says. “But when we do something from a place of authenticity, it’s very energising. So it depends, if we’re rushing, if we’re doing something out of duty or out of authenticity. Because if it’s part of who we really are, it’s not going to hurt us. But so much of what we do comes from that place of duty.”

The Three Stages Of Rushing Woman’s Syndrome

Stage 1: Superwomen
“You feel like Superwoman, to start with. Adrenaline is elevated, you feel like you’re kicking goals, but that mentality has started of ‘ugh, if I could just get one more thing done, I’ll feel better,’ and so you push. This is the stage where digestion symptoms can start and when you start to experience sleep disruption  – you can’t sleep, or you wake up during the night.”

Stage 2: ‘Famine
“You have an excess of cortisol in your system, because after adrenaline has gone on for too long, it drives inflammation and cortisol is a potent anti-inflammatory. Long ago, our bodies only made cortisol in a famine, war or disaster, historically where food is scarce. The body has not yet learned how to discern between the cortisol we make when there really is a famine and the cortisol we make with our modern, long-term stresses.

“An excess of cortisol slows your metabolism and it breaks your muscles down. As a result, body fat can go up and you won’t understand it, because you feel like nothing has changed. But you get thicker on your torso, to protect your organs from the ‘famine.’ Your blood sugar will also get disrupted and your immune response will be affected – you might have only got a cold every three or four years, now you get three colds every winter.”

Stage 3: Burnout
“If the rushing keeps going out of duty, we end up in – to put it simply – burnout. Your body is still demanding cortisol but you can no longer make enough to satisfy the body’s requirements, so you feel stiff and that you’ve aged 20 years overnight. Thyroid dysfunction will start to kick in – not necessarily a disease or condition, but they’re skewed to one end of the normal range.

“The fatigue is the biggest issue at this point – and it’s not just ‘I’m a bit tired, because I worked hard today,’ it’s a deep, unrelenting fatigue. When women get to this point, many of them have said to me, ‘Am I ever going to feel like myself again?’”

“It’s very possible to have a full and thriving life, without the detrimental effects of always being in a rush”

Spoiler alert: Yes, they will. “You can completely recover,” Libby says. “Your body is so resilient and it has the ability to heal and your body wants to be well. Everything runs off homeostasis and everything in your body wants to have that homeostasis, that balance. It’s about providing the conditions for ourselves so that that healing can happen. I just want to remind women that it is possible to change it and basically retire from the rush BUT still have a full and thriving life.”

“I worry sometimes that people think ‘Oh, she’s telling me I just have to permanently lie around with my legs up the wall, breathing deeply and actually, I love my life, it’s just sometimes it’s a bit much,’” Libby says.

“But no, it’s very possible to have a full and thriving life, without the detrimental effects of always being in a rush. And sometimes that’s a physiological shift that’s needed and sometimes it’s a mindset shift that’s needed, and sometimes it’s both.”

For more information on Dr Libby’s new course, Overcoming Rushing Woman’s Syndrome, click here.

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