Stress is one of those hard to define phenomena that we all seem to be surrounded by. Do you ever feel like you’re constantly stressed, under pressure to do more, have more, be more? Or maybe you’re under the weight of everything that’s going on in the world right now, embroiled in conflicts on Facebook and worrying about the health of your loved ones. Truth is, stress is hard to escape and sometimes its effects are even more difficult to evade. Stress can even affect your hormones.
While we can’t always control stress, my hope is that if you understand the serious health consequences that stress can create — motivation to reduce your stress levels will be easier to find.
Let’s take a look at how stress can affect your hormones and what to do about it.
Understanding The Stress Response
When your body detects that you’re experiencing stress, your nervous system kicks into overdrive, stimulating the fight/flight/freeze response. Your heart rate may quicken. Your pupils dilate. You may have shallow, rapid breathing and you could even feel shaky.
Unfortunately, your body responds in the same way whether you are getting stressed running late for work, or running from a mountain lion.
Which means that you’re likely feeling the effects of a tense nervous system almost every day, right? You’re triggering a stress response whether you’re frustrated with traffic or nervous about a presentation.
When you’re experiencing this kind of stress daily, your blood sugar could start to rise. And your digestion could be affected, too. Long-term stress can put you at higher risk for diseases like diabetes and heart disease. It can seriously impact your mental health, too.
How Does Stress Affect Hormones?
Long-term, low levels of stress don’t just affect your blood sugar and your digestion. They can also wreak havoc on your hormones.
In fact, when your body is feeling stressed, one of the main responses of the adrenal glands is to release the stress hormone known as cortisol.
Cortisol is one of those hormones that’s not a sex hormone — but it directly impacts your sex hormones when it’s circulating.
When cortisol is abundant, your body gets the message to downregulate all non-essential functions. This includes any baby-making activity. Thus, the effect on your other hormones.
In this way, stress directly impacts normal levels of :
- Thyroid hormones
- Luteinizing hormone (LH)
- Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)
By extension, when these hormones aren’t at their optimal levels, symptoms start to crop up like:
- Brain fog
- Low libido
- Hot flashes
- Low energy
- Vaginal dryness
- Memory problems
- Urinary incontinence
- Menstrual cycle irregularity
The impact stress has on your body is enormous. When stress messes with your hormones and symptoms arise — well-meaning doctors attempt to treat the symptoms and not the cause…Which often leads to prolonged struggles.
If you’re able to identify stress as the culprit and take steps to minimize its effects, you can make huge strides in changing your hormonal balance.
Getting Your Hormones Back On Track
Once things have spiraled out of control with your hormones, it can be difficult to get back to good.
The first, and often hardest step is taking a good hard look at your stress and cutting out what you can. Remember that it’s OK to say no, set healthy and firm boundaries, and make changes in the name of your health. Taking care of yourself first isn’t selfish.
Some other, supplemental ways to help your hormones along include:
- Try adaptogens — these herbal stress busters can help to usher out cortisol and let your body get back to producing normal levels of hormones.
- Get plenty of rest — sleep is crucial for hormone production and helps your body to efficiently repair itself. Bonus points if you can stick to a regular sleep/wake schedule that includes sleep by 10 PM.
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet — what you put on the end of your fork without a doubt makes a difference in how your body responds to stress and your hormone levels. Eat as many vegetables as you can. Fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, legumes, olive oil, and high-quality protein are all essential for keeping your hormone levels in the proper place.
- Supplement to fill in any gaps in nutrition — magnesium and b-vitamins are important for keeping your hormone levels in tip-top shape, and many Americans are not getting enough of these critical nutrients. It can help to add in a supplement or two to give your body the extra boost it needs to produce optimal levels of hormones.
- Don’t forget to exercise — exercise is one of the greatest tools we have when it comes to stress reduction and health. A regular short walk or a gentle yoga session can help get your hormones back to where they’re supposed to be.
Your Hormones Are Important For Your Overall Health
Here’s the thing. When your hormone levels are out of balance, you can feel the effects from your brain down to your toes. Your memory and thinking can be affected, your energy levels can plummet, and your body tissues can become thinner.
If stress is messing with your hormones, you may not even realize it until things have gotten really out of hand. If brain fog is a common companion and you can’t remember the last time you woke up feeling energized and excited for the day ahead — I’d invite you to take a look at my quiz below.
It could just start you on the path to balanced and happy hormones…and then energy and mental focus could be right behind.
“The impact of stress on body function: A review – NCBI.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579396/.
“Stress and hormones – NCBI.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3079864/.
“Cortisol, Sexual Arousal, and Affect in Response to Sexual Stimuli.” 4 Jul. 2008, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2703719/.