By Annaliese Jones
Lately, I’ve noticed more of my mummy clients expressing concern about their temper: “I’m so frazzled by the end of the day that I lose it over the smallest thing!” These normally calm, collected women feel out of control in the face of their crying newborn or a tantrumming toddler. Are we less capable than our mothers? Is it normal to want to scream back at your child? And what is the real cause of your short temper? If you are finding yourself having your own tantrums, or feeling angry at your children a lot, then maybe you need to assess your nervous system health.
Lets think about how life has changed for the average mother. When once she was living with and supported by family, extended family and the community around her, now she is often left alone for most of her day, while friends and family make occasional babysitting appearances – which, although gratefully accepted, do little to lighten the actual load. She is often juggling full-time care of her children and the home with part-time paid work, while trying to maintain a balanced, fulfilling life that includes exercise, time with friends and time with her partner. Meeting all those expectations is impossible, so we are often left with feelings of guilt, disappointment, constant rushing and ultimately, discontentment.
I’m always surprised when I listen to clients recount what they do in a day. It often goes something like this:
Feed the five-year-old, the toddler, and nurse the baby, before dressing all three and herself and getting in the car. School drop-off, kindy, nurse the baby, coffee with friend, visit grandma, nurse baby, back to kindy, home for late lunch, nurse baby, one hour’s work from home while they both nap (ha!), back in the car (why does this take so long?), school pick-up, nurse baby, dinner for the kids, bath time, pj’s, nurse baby, story time, bedtime for kids! Phew. Having fun yet? Now comes the laundry, dinner for mum and dad and another two hours’ work on the computer. All this on a broken night’s sleep.
This relentless routine might be fine occasionally, but if this is the norm there will be consequences for sure.
So how does all this impact on your health?
The negative impact is broad and insidious but sometimes not obvious to the patient. Every day in the clinic I see women who have exhausted nervous systems – their adrenal glands are crying out for help. But instead, they come to see me because they want to “do a detox” or “lose 10 kg”. It usually becomes clear within minutes where the real problem lies.
Your nervous system responds to stress for you. Every time you are in a situation that you perceive as stressful, such as confrontation, running late, tantrums, or an endless to-do list; your adrenal glands (components of your nervous system) release adrenaline into your bloodstream to ready you against the “threat”.
In response to this adrenaline, your heart races as your blood is shunted to your skeletal muscles and brain so you can escape from danger and think fast. You may have palpitations, increased blood pressure, quickened breathing and a nervous sweat. This response is often referred to as the “fight or flight” response and is designed to counteract danger by making more oxygen and glucose available for immediate use. At the same time, non-essential functions such as immunity, digestion and urinary output are shut down. Digesting your last meal is counterproductive when running from a tiger!
If the “threat” is perceived to be over, your body will eventually return to business as usual, no harm done. But if you continue to experience stress, you will enter into a second phase, where your adrenals release another stress hormone called cortisol. A whole book could be written on the subject of cortisol, but for these purposes, it’s enough to know that chronic stress and the resulting effects of cortisol can be blamed for many modern diseases. It can wreck havoc on your reproductive hormones, putting progesterone production at risk and leading to oestrogen dominance and all its nasty symptoms. Sometimes your thyroid function will be compromised, leading to lethargy, lack of libido, weight gain and depression. Not to mention a short temper!