Strategies for stress and hormone balance with Dr. Keira Barr
In this interview, Laurie and Dr. Kiera barr discuss Strategies for stress and hormone balance, as well as sleep, nutrition and listening to your body.
Blending science with soul, Dr. Keira Barr turns conventional methodologies on their heads to empower women worldwide to stress less and enjoy life more so they can pursue their passion, purpose and experience more pleasure in their life.
An accomplished double-board certified physician, international speaker, best-selling author, coach and mind-body medicine expert, Dr. Keira created the Skinny Dipping Method to help women strip away the layers holding them back to reveal their inner resilience and radiate their true beauty.
As a former academic clinician, editorial reviewer of multiple leading medical journals, medical advisor within the personal care and tech communities, Dr Keira is dedicated to providing the most-cutting edge and innovative solutions for women. Her work has been featured in MindBodyGreen, Better Homes and Gardens’, Reader’s Digest, Glamour, SELF, Oprah Magazine, and more.
This is a transcription of an Instagram live conversation. You can find the full video on Laurie’s IGTV tab on Instagram and on soon on YouTube.
Today Dr. Keira Barr and I are going to be talking about stress, health and hormones.
Let’s start with you introducing yourself.
I’m Dr. Keira Barr. I’m a dermatologist who has become very passionate about supporting women going through menopause. So many of the changes that we see on our skin are because of hormone imbalances and hormone decline as we mature. I support women through lifestyle nutrition and replenishing hormones with bioidentical hormones.
There’s just too much misinformation out there and we need to thrive and not just feel like we’re surviving at this stage of life.
I’m with you. Could you tell us a little bit about how you got here, how you got into this work that you’re doing?
Starting in my mid to late thirties. I just had headaches all the time. I was bloated all the time and generally not feeling well. My skin was changing. I had little skin lesions and I was getting it biopsied and thinking nothing of it, because that’s just what you do. You see something, you do something, you cut it out and you forget about it.
But what I didn’t realize at the time is that this was stress. This was emotional stress. This was physical stress, because I was running ultra marathons and just putting my body under such stress which led to mental irregularities, anxiety and all the things.
Ultimately fast-forward I had to diagnose myself with melanoma, which was my wake up call. What I thought I was doing right was wrong.
That really was my entry into discovering more of an integrative functional approach. When I went to my physician, they just wanted to give me prescriptions. It just wasn’t helping. It was actually making me worse.
I realized this connection between stress and hormone imbalance and what was showing up on my skin. I thought, “If as a physician of 20 years, I have no clue what was happening in my body. How is the average woman supposed to navigate this?”
So it really did become my mission to help support other women. I’m still learning. I’m still growing. That’s why I’m so passionate about working alongside women, because together we rise.
We need support. I still have support and I know that other women need support. So that’s my story, my health really hit the ground for a while.
You said you were passionate about stress and helping women with that. Could you tell me more about that?
I think we don’t necessarily realise how much stress impacts our overall health and our wellbeing. We talk about hormone balance.
All of our hormones are connected. Especially our stress hormone cortisol is really bossy out of all of them. Our body is going to prioritize our survival, that’s why we need cortisol.
Yet when we are stressed, it really does create havoc for the rest of our body. It essentially suppresses many of our other hormones, like our thyroid and our sex hormones, our digestion and our immune system, all the things that help us really feel well.
So many of the things that women struggle with like exhaustion, weight gain, menstrual irregularities and low sex drive are correlated to our stress response.
It’s not that stress is a bad thing. We need stress. It helps get us out of harm’s way. But when that stress response is ongoing it leads to those difficulties.
We can choose how to respond to stress. So I work with women to help them acquire the tools they need to help regulate their stress response. We see how you can manage the stresses that are constant and help to calm that nervous system down so that we can restore some balance to our hormones.
I love that.
But it’s hard. You have to do it constantly, it’s not a one and done.
I think that’s one of the things that I hear people get frustrated about. They’re like, “I’ve meditated, why don’t I feel better?”
Meditation is important. It’s helpful and meditation can mean many things. It can come in many different forms. Not all of us can sit down and just be still, our minds are very active and I think that’s also a misconception that meditation is just clearing your mind, making your mind blank.
It’s just observing what’s there without judgment, without latching onto it, and just allowing it to be.
If you can sit still, doing a nice concentrative meditation, focusing on your breath or the sensations in your body, that’s great .
But sometimes doing an expressive meditation, like exercise, dancing or just something to break up that tension may be necessary and that’s great too. It’s something that we may need to do throughout the day over and over again.
I think that’s something that many people may overlook. They think that they just have to do it once in the morning or once in the evening. After that they think they’re good for the rest of the day. Then they get really frustrated that they’re still feeling overwhelmed.
I think that’s just an opportunity to check in with yourself throughout your day and constantly ask yourself, “What do I need right now?”
Maybe that’s just a deep breath. Maybe that’s standing up and putting on some music and dancing. It doesn’t have to be something time consuming, it could literally be 30 seconds. It could be a minute, but that accumulates over your day to help create a sense of greater control of your emotion and help nurture your stress response.
And for each person we’re going to find a different experience with these different tools. The tools that I love might not be the tools that you like or work for you.
What's your sugar stability score?
Find out if sub-optimal blood sugar regulation or insulin resistance could be at the root of your fatigue, brain fog, moodiness, declining resilience or performance, period or skin problems, weight loss resistance & more!
What are some of your favorite tools?
Well I love breathwork. I love yoga. I practice meditation, but I’d say that the go-to for me would be breath work and yoga.
Also sleep for me is really important and making sure it’s good quality sleep. I really prioritize my sleep, turning down lights at night and doing whatever I can to make sure that I get quality sleep. That’s one of my biggest tools.
Yeah. I think sleep is underrated.
I think most of us women are like, “Stress and sleep? We’ll deal with that later.” We just power through.
But if I can give a plug for sleep and skin health, beauty sleep is real. Sleep is the most powerful rejuvenative tool that we have.
You can knit, you can invest in serums, zaps, fillers and laser, and they all have their place.
But sleep is the number one youth fountain of youth strategies, because at night is when our skin has an opportunity to repair melatonin, which is generated only at night and only when it is really dark. This is why it’s important to have blackout curtains and to make sure that all the lights from your devices are blocked, so that melatonin production can happen.
Melatonin is one of the most potent antioxidants our body produces. It’s important for hair growth. It stimulates the hair follicles. It repairs DNA damage that you’ve received during the day from environmental exposure, like sun and air pollution.
Melatonin in itself is a potent antioxidant, but it also is responsible for helping generate other antioxidants, like glutathione and superoxide dismutase, that help repair damage in your body. That only happens like when you sleep. So prioritizing your sleep is incredibly important.
In fact, tracking your sleep can be interesting. If I wake up exhausted, I can verify why I feel so tired. Maybe I had too little deep sleep or REM sleep or my heart rate variability was all over the place and my body temperature was fluctuating. That’s an especially good clue for us ladies midlife having hot flashes.
Then you can work backwards. Look at nutrition, what did you eat that day? How close before bedtime did you eat? The wine and chocolate that we love can mess with your sleep if you have it too close to your bedtime. So it’s just using the data to your advantage.
I love data. Data helps keep you honest. Sometimes we’re like, “Oh, I’m not stressed,” or “Oh, I slept eight hours.” And then the data tells us that we might have slept eight hours, but it was really crappy sleep.
Full transparency, there are times when I leave my tracker charging. Sometimes I just don’t want to know, when I know that I’m not doing my self-care to the best of my ability.
It’s important to be using the data, not to judge ourselves, but for support, nurture and from a place of curiosity. So reflecting, “This is telling me I really didn’t get good sleep. Okay, I feel like I didn’t get good sleep. Why didn’t I get good sleep?”
It allows you to backtrack, “What was going on in my day? Did I not give myself time to wind down? Was I watching TV up until the last minute and then just passed out in bed?”
When you’re getting that light stimulation and not allowing yourself to have that good wind down period, that’s going to interfere with your ability to get quality sleep. So you can use it to your advantage, rather than something to beat yourself up with.
Absolutely. That’s what I use it for. It’s a great tool for just learning more about yourself. Over the years, we’ve learned to not listen to our bodies.
So when you’re told to listen to your body, sometimes it’s like, “What does that mean?” It can be hard to pick up on these things. It’s hard to feel what a good night’s sleep feels like, when you haven’t had one for years.
Totally. I’m really focused on menopause medicine, supporting women from the inside out and balancing their hormones.
We use the skin as an amazing window and guide into what’s happening in our body. When we are not sleeping well, when we are stressed for a prolonged period of time, that stress hormone I had mentioned, is going to influence all your other hormones.
If you’re noticing that your hair is thinning, especially in the lateral third of your eyebrows or your hair is shedding more, that’s a prime indication that your hormones are out of balance.
That could be your thyroid. It could be a nutritional deficiency. But widening of the part, receding hairline and female pattern hair loss, means we’re looking at androgen imbalance. Relative imbalance doesn’t mean that you have more testosterone than normal, but more in relation to how your progesterone and your estrogen, which are decreasing at a more rapid rate.
Just looking at your hair, your skin and your nails can tell you so much about things that could be going on in your body. So it’s just a very objective way to tune in and look, because sometimes we don’t want to deal with the emotional part right away. That one’s hard, but we can look at the physical and ask, “Why is this happening?”
I think most women look in the mirror and they just get really frustrated when they see blemishes, like the thinning hair and they see the fine lines and wrinkles as if their body is sabotaging them.
I just invite a different perspective, these things are showing up, because your body is asking for support. You, as the individual, can be empowered to do something about it.
I love that. I like to say that if you listen to your body, when it whispers, you won’t have to hear it scream.
It’s the idea that our body is constantly giving us little signs that it needs a little more support, but sometimes we don’t listen to those little signs and then the problem explodes.
“Beauty sleep is real.”
A hundred percent. That was my story. I had these pigmented lesions on my skin that were growing and changing for decades. As a skin cancer melanoma specialist at the time, these were loud warning signs that something’s going on and I completely ignored it.
So it’s that idea of listening and queuing into the clues when they’re just whispers. So you are not getting shouted at. We want to do what we can early on, so more prevention than reaction.
Yes. You were talking about the skin and hair. As women when we have those symptoms showing up, we want to do something about that. So we start looking at things when it’s on the outside, but when there is stuff that is on the inside, we can ignore it a little bit longer.
Absolutely. When we see things on the outside, we’re also looking for the quick fix, but it’s about realizing that those are messages that the inside needs support.
I think it’s sometimes not until we are in a position of really not doing well, that we pay attention to what’s happening on the inside.
I’m trying to help women see their skin from a different lens, when these things are showing up, that is a clue for what’s happening on the inside. Sometimes because it’s external, so it’s visible, we’re more motivated to do something about it.
Rather than just treating the surface, go beyond skin deep and understand that this is your hormones that are being affected. This is your overall health and wellbeing, your immune system and your digestion. Food can be medicine.
It doesn’t have to be a massive change. You could just make one shift, just one. What is the one thing that you can do today? Oftentimes it can be as: I’m having my coffee, but then filling my water bottle.
I know there’s a lot of controversy about coffee and I’d love to hear your opinion. In skin cancer research, caffeinated coffee as well as the coffee roasting process can be beneficial, especially for melanoma and skin cancer prevention.
So I’m not giving up my coffee. But drink it earlier in the day if you’re a slow metabolizer. Then paying attention and knowing what your sleep is like, maybe you have to drink decaf to still get the benefit of the roasting process. I would just love to hear your opinion.
I think we could probably do a whole talk on coffee. Like you said, there are slow metabolizers. I’m a slow metabolizer and I feel a little bit anxious with coffee. I don’t want to feel that way, so I tend to stay away from coffee. Although I love it. I will have some from time to time as a little reminder.
But from a nutritional perspective, I think like a lot of things, some things work for some people, some things don’t work for others.
A lot of women, that I see, might have digestive issues, maybe not digesting protein well or maybe not absorbing their nutrients.
At this point, we might need to take the coffee out. We might need to take the coffee out for good. We might need to take that coffee out for a little while, while you heal your digestion. That’s where I stand on coffee, it’s not across the board good or bad. I don’t like using those terms when it comes to things. Coffee is a potent herb. So depending on what you want to use it for, it could be great or not for certain people.
I love that. I think that’s a challenge in our collective cultures. We label things good or bad. You have to figure out what works for you. Food that can be healthy, like avocados and bananas can be poison for somebody, if they’re dealing with a leaky gut, gut dysbiosis or an infection.
You would think bananas shouldn’t be bad. Broccoli shouldn’t be bad, especially for midlife women trying to get sulforaphane, anti-cancer benefits and helping to metabolize hormones.
But I wasn’t feeling that good. I did a food sensitivity test and the root cause was not the broccoli, but the underlying gut issues and leaky gut. On the test broccoli came up and bananas came up. Those are healthy, but for me at this point in my journey, I just couldn’t have them.
So again it’s tuning in and knowing that there isn’t just one way of doing things. It’s about really understanding what’s going to work for you. Also working with a health practitioner, can guide that process to help us understand that we’re not doing anything wrong and help understand what our body needs the most right now.
Exactly. Right now your situation could be different than a few months from now or from last year.
Also the difference between heal and ideal. The ideal diet for you might be different from the diet you need right now to heal whatever is going on in your gut and your hormones.
Sometimes you need to take a moment and just step back, heal it and then reintroduce some foods that maybe weren’t working for you at the moment. For example for you that was bananas and broccoli. So taking it out for a moment and then you can bring it back in at another point.
I love that. I’m going to have to remember that heal versus ideal. I think that’s so valuable. We can get frustrated and be like, “I have to give up everything.” No, maybe it’s just temporarily.
We always think about the five big culprits like dairy, sugar, gluten, soy and corn. For many people, these are inflammatory foods and taking them out for a period of time, if not forever, can be really beneficial.
So it’s a matter of being honest with ourselves. How do you want to feel? Are you eating for how you want to feel? That’s what I always encourage. If you want to feel energetic, if you want to feel vibrant, if you want to not have an ache in your gut, then it may require the elimination of certain things. It’s like cost benefits.
Absolutely. Sometimes we use the good and bad language, but we also say I can’t have this. It’s not a matter of us saying you can’t have something, it’s just about making the choice, “Am I going to have this today and maybe not feel my best or not so that I can heal my gut?”
It’s that reframe of, “I can’t have, versus I’m choosing not to. I’m choosing that. I want to feel better. So I’m choosing not to eat this so that I can feel better.”
I think it’s just how we talk to ourselves and the language that we use that can help create that bridge of, “I’m choosing this. I’m empowered.”
You can make a different choice when it comes to these things and it’s the same thing with managing our stress. We can feel at the mercy of our circumstances and we can’t change our circumstances, but we have an opportunity to reframe how we think about them.
There’s nothing wrong with showing ourselves some kindness and some love. Everyone experiences that discomfort or that doubt: Try to bring in that mindfulness, not wanting it to be different, not trying to change it, but just be with that feeling of disappointment or what have you and just let it pass. We get to chose that.
I love that. It takes time to reframe your mindset or to do things differently. If you catch yourself and you shift, you keep shifting until you realise,”Okay I am getting better at this now.”
Absolutely. It definitely takes consistency and practice and more practice. Our brains love to focus on the negative. It’s just our natural default.
We can build that muscle, just like we work out. We build strength, stamina and resilience and it’s the same thing with our emotional health as well. You have to learn to navigate that stress response. It just takes practice and consistency so that we can build that resilience.
Thank you Keira for our chat today. Is there anything that you would like to add?
Everything is connected, there is so much that we could talk about. I think that’s the beautiful thing. It can be frustrating that everything is connected. On the flip side, it’s amazing. Everything is connected and we get feedback. Like you said Laurie, we have to listen to our body when it whispers, so that we don’t have to hear it scream. So using your skin as a tool is your greatest ally. Most people think of it as a foe, but it is your greatest ally. It will give you information that you can use to be empowered and to take good care of yourself.
I’d also like to add that our periods, for the women that do have them, can be really informative.
Exactly. If you are clotting, if you’re having heavy periods or irregularity, that’s a really helpful clue. It gives you so much information about the balance between your estrogen and your progesterone, especially starting in your mid-thirties, when progesterone starts to go down.
Yeah. So many clues and so many things we can do that are so easy.
Find out more:
Connect with Keira on Instagram @keirabarrmd and be sure to check out her website.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, manage, or treat disease or serious conditions. Always check with your doctor before making any changes. It’s important to consult a well-informed health practitioner for personal advice about your situation before relying on general information — we’re all wonderfully unique.
Sign up now for the 14-Day Hormone Harmony Jumpstart
Elevate your energy & mood, reduce cravings, upgrade memory, focus, clarity & calm, kickstart fat loss, & more!
Laurie Villarreal, FNLP, CHWC, FNS, LMC, CPT, RYT
Hi, I'm Laurie, a functional nutritionist and board certified health coach, athlete, dog-mom, and biohacking adventure-lover. After having struggled for years to find lasting solutions for my own debilitating hormone-related symptoms, I created my online practice to begin helping other active, driven women get the support they need. I now help women around the world elevate their health, energy, business and life by optimizing their hormones with personalized nutrition and lifestyle tweaks. Together, we discover new tools and strategies that keep you showing up at your best so you can play even bigger in your life and work.
Book a free Hormone Harmony Strategy Session | Let's Connect: