Nancy Lonsdorf, MD, is a popular speaker, author, and teacher specializing in women’s health. Dr. Lonsdorf currently has a private practice in integrative and holistic medicine in Fairfield, IA, and teaches medical doctors and health practitioners at The Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in La Jolla, CA. She has been a featured guest in top media venues such as CNN and NPR and published articles in magazines such as Yoga Journal, Yoga International, and Natural Solutions. Dr. Lonsdorf is the author of four books, including The Ageless Woman and her most recent, The Healthy Brain Solution for Women Over 40: 7 Keys to Staying Sharp—On or Off Hormones. Having treated over 20,000 patients in more than 30 years of practice, we thought she was the perfect person to explain why women today are so tired and what they can do about it.
Linda Egenes: According to the Centers for Disease Control, sixteen percent of women aged 18 to 44 reported feeling “very tired,” “exhausted,” or otherwise worn out most days, compared with just nine percent of men in the same age range. Is there a medical reason for the gender disparity?
Dr. Lonsdorf: Menses is something that women don’t talk about much. Perhaps this is because it’s not considered politically correct, or because we don’t want to make ourselves out to be too delicate, or “different” out of concern it will be seen as weak or less competent. Or maybe we worry about being ridiculed. All valid concerns, unfortunately, in this still “man’s world,” especially in the workplace. In our culture we just ignore it and barrel on, yet the fact remains that menstruation is a physiological function that takes energy from a woman’s body.
That’s why traditional societies and health care systems over the millennia have recommended that women get more rest when they are menstruating. The reasoning is that if we honor our bodies during the first three-to four days of the monthly cycle, we will have more energy and feel better and healthier the entire rest of the month.
That doesn’t mean that you have to call in sick, but to the extent that you can manage, get more rest during those few days a month. For example, if your period is regular and you can plan ahead, don’t plan to throw a party or stay out late or do extra events during those days. Instead, come home early, take more quiet time, meditate, take a walk—these are gentle things that help your body during your cycle.
What is the physiological difference between women and men? Women have fluctuating hormones, and we have blood loss every month and an energy debt that men don’t have. But if we honor our body and take care of it, we can be more vital and vibrant and energetic than ever. That’s something I wanted to raise awareness about.
LE: Are there other ways women can conserve their energy?
Dr. Lonsdorf: I don’t know if this is a scientifically-validated fact, but it’s a common understanding that women are more oriented to relationships and more sensitive to other people’s emotions than men.
With this sensitivity, we need to use our emotional intelligence not only to be looking out for how everyone else is feeling, but also to keep our emotional energy expenditure in check, especially in the workplace. Even with our families and friends, we need to keep an eye on how much we expend emotionally on others. We really don’t have to be the rescuer and emotional support for everyone around us, and often it’s better for others when we are not.
LE: I understand that you recommend the Transcendental Meditation technique to your patients for overall health. Do you find it helps with burnout?
Dr. Lonsdorf: I’ll always remember one patient in her 20s, who told me that on the first day of her period she would feel suicidal. My assessment was she was so burned out that when she hit her cycle on top of everything else in her life, she felt so down, so exhausted, she became depressed and suicidal.
She had consulted other doctors, and their recommendation was to take a Valium and sleep through the day. So that’s 12 days lost in a year, and if you multiply that by 30 years, that’s 360 days of her life that she would spend sleeping under the influence of a drug because she’s basically out of balance and burned out!
I suggested that she take the course in Transcendental Meditation and after two months she came back for a follow-up visit. When I asked her how she was feeling before her period, she said, “The TM has been great. My PMS moods are completely gone. I don’t need to take a drug and sleep through the day before my period – I’m fine now without it.”
That was one of my first experiences with recommending TM to my women patients and seeing what a difference it can make. Now after 30 years as a physician, I have recommended many healthful practices, but across the board, Transcendental Meditation is the one thing that inspires my patients to say, “This changed my life.” I hear it over and over. There’s nothing else that is so deeply influencing them as their TM practice. I just want to encourage anyone who hasn’t learned Transcendental Meditation to go for it.
LE: How does TM work to relieve fatigue or exhaustion? What are the mechanics?
Dr. Lonsdorf: For one thing, it calms the nervous system and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is called the rest-and-digest mode of function of our brain and nervous system. It’s the opposite of the fight-or-flight response, which comes into play when you’re in high-energy mode, such as giving a public talk for a few hours, or if you go through a really stressful experience. Afterwards, you can feel a lot of fatigue because the fight-or-flight response uses up a lot of energy.
The rest and digest phase, on the other hand, actually rejuvenates the body. It lowers cortisol, our stress hormone, and it activates all sorts of rejuvenating processes in the body. So the body gets deep rest, and you come out refreshed.
As shown in scientific research, within just four months of TM practice, baseline levels of cortisol dropped significantly, by one-third when compared to a control group that simply was instructed about health education or how to management stress better.
LE: I think TM must be working for you because you look so incredibly rested and fresh. How has it helped you stay balanced in a profession that is known for burnout?
Dr. Lonsdorf: I learned TM when I was 16 years old. Since grade school I had been interested in learning more about the mind-body connection. I don’t know that I’d heard the word “meditation” before, but a high school teacher invited me to go to a TM Introductory Lecture with her and her husband. I was especially fascinated by the concept that we use only ten percent of our mental potential, and the idea that I could develop and experience more of my own mind—which I had sensed was so much deeper and vast and powerful than we experience in our daily living.
So I learned Transcendental Meditation and loved it from the beginning, felt how precious it was and continued it all these years, twice a day. I never found it a burden; I only found it a refuge. It’s something that recovers my energy at the end of the day when that tiredness hits, in late afternoon. I meditate, and it’s like I have a fresh, new physiology for hours. So the evening is not a tired, stressed-out time for me. And that’s a common benefit for people who practice the TM technique.
In medical school when my colleagues would go to the cafeteria and chat for half an hour over dinner, I would bring a sandwich and meditate for twenty minutes before taking a few minutes to eat. Due to the deep rest of TM, I found I didn’t have to resort to coffee and other stimulants to perk me up. It rejuvenated me.
LE: Can you offer any other simple, natural recommendations to help women prevent burnout and fatigue?
Dr. Lonsdorf: I already mentioned one: getting more rest during your period and trying to eat more vegetables and lighter foods for the two days before and three days during your cycle.
The other thing would be go to bed earlier, by 10:00 or 10:30 at the latest. Going to bed earlier makes a big difference in the quality of your sleep—try it and you’ll find your sleep is better.
A lot of sleep problems later in life are heightened due to cumulative sleep abuse in our earlier years. When I traveled to the West Coast a few years ago to do consultations, I was astounded by how many young people were having serious sleep problems. It’s not something that I’d seen that much before, but I realized it had to do with their really hectic lifestyle and lots of electronics in the evening and staying up late. And being on electronic devices too late in the evening, after 8:30 or 9:00 p.m., is a really great way to break down your body’s health and disturb your biorhythms.
This is especially true if you’re looking at screens without blocking the blue light from the electronics, which suppresses your melatonin, an important factor for immunity. You’re also weakening your sleep, and that’s not good, night after night. Most devices and computers these days give you the option to block the blue light in the evening in the settings. This can help on the occasional times when you’re going to be on your device because you have to finish something that night.
When we’re tired, we don’t think as clearly, are more distractible, and take longer to complete our tasks. We may stay up too late trying to finish off what didn’t get done during the day. This ends up creating a vicious cycle of fatigue, lack of rest, too much activity, and more fatigue. Taking the TM course is the #1 recommendation I make to all my patients because it eliminates stress—the root of most ill health. The Transcendental Meditation practice brings about what no pill ever will: vital health, mental clarity, and boundless creativity from within.”
To find out more about Dr. Lonsdorf and her books, go to www.drlonsdorf.com
Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.