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How Stress Impacts Your Hormones

Written by dr. Saru Bala

While a little bit of stress is a normal part of life, like the occasional deadline or unexpected car trouble, chronic stress can create chaos in your body in several ways.

Not all stress is created equal. Eustress, or "good stress", is the kind that motivates and energizes you. It can come from challenges you find stimulating, deadlines that push you to perform your best, or even exciting new experiences. This type of stress is temporary and can actually be beneficial, promoting growth, focus, and a sense of accomplishment.

However, distress, or "bad stress", is the overwhelming, chronic stress that drains your energy and leaves you feeling depleted. This can be caused by work overload, financial worries, relationship issues, or any situation that feels like a constant burden. Unlike eustress, distress can have negative consequences for your physical and mental health, including hormonal imbalances, sleep disturbances, and increased risk of chronic diseases.

A major area that is impacted, over time with prolonged high levels of stress (from both eustress and distress), are your hormones. And it affects all of us differently. So understanding how your body reacts to stress, and what symptoms are showing up because of it, is so crucial for long term health.

Cortisol

When you encounter a stressful situation, your body initiates a cascade of responses known as the "fight-or-flight" reaction (your sympathetic nervous system).

This stress response is orchestrated by the release of cortisol from your adrenal glands.

Cortisol helps mobilize your body's resources to deal with the perceived threat, increasing alertness, blood sugar levels, and heart rate.

It’s preparing your body to “fight or flight.” More blood pressure and flow to your brain and muscles, less to your organs.

While this response is crucial for immediate survival situations, long term exposure to an elevated cortisol level can have negative health effects.

Beyond Cortisol

Cortisol isn't the only stress hormone. Chronic stress triggers a chain reaction, impacting the production and balance of various other hormones, including:

  • Sex hormones: Stress can disrupt the production of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, potentially leading to irregular cycles, anovulatory cycles, decreased libido, and fertility issues. It can also be one of the many reasons for what throws off your pH balance.
    • Research shows chronic stress can lead to low levels of progesterone, causing issues with fertility, moods, and PMS.
  • Insulin: Stress can lead to insulin resistance, a condition where your body struggles to regulate blood sugar levels, increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Thyroid hormones: Stress can interfere with the production of thyroid hormones, which are essential for regulating metabolism, energy levels, and mood, potentially leading to fatigue and weight gain.
  • Growth hormone: This hormone plays a crucial role in cell repair and regeneration. Chronic stress can suppress growth hormone, hindering tissue repair and contributing to feelings of fatigue and weakness.

Consequences of Hormonal Imbalance

When stress disrupts your hormone levels, the consequences can ripple throughout your body, impacting various aspects of your health and well-being.

Menstrual Health

  • Menstrual cycle irregularities: If you’re wondering, “can stress delay your period?”, stress can lead to irregular periods, including heavier or lighter bleeding, prolonged cycles, or even missed periods.
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) worsening: The hormonal fluctuations already experienced during PMS can be exacerbated by stress, intensifying symptoms like mood swings, bloating, anxiety, low libido, low moods, and even physical symptoms like headaches and cramps.

General Health

  • Weight gain or loss: Stress can disrupt your appetite and metabolism, leading to unhealthy food choices and weight fluctuations.
  • Skin problems: Stress can trigger acne breakouts or worsen existing skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
  • Decreased immunity: Chronic stress can weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to infections and illnesses.
  • Sleep disturbances: Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and experiencing restless sleep can be consequences of hormonal imbalance caused by stress.

Managing Stress

While you can't completely eliminate stress from your life, you can learn effective strategies to manage it and mitigate its impact on your hormones. Here are a few ways to cultivate a calmer, more balanced approach in your routines:

  1. Exercise regularly: Physical activity is a powerful stress reliever. Engaging in regular exercise, whether it's a brisk walk, yoga practice, or dance class, can help lower cortisol levels and improve your mood.
  2. Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques: Techniques like meditation, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation can help calm your mind and body, reducing stress levels and promoting hormonal balance.
  3. Prioritize sleep: Getting enough quality sleep is vital for maintaining hormonal balance. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night, and establish a consistent sleep schedule for optimal rest. Sleep hygiene is VERY important for your nervous system and your cortisol regulation.
  • Aim for at least 30-60 minutes without screens prior to sleeping
  • Make sure your bed is only for sleeping (no screens in bed)
  1. Maintain a mostly whole foods based diet: Nourish your body with nutritious foods that provide essential vitamins and minerals to support hormonal health. Limit processed foods, sugary drinks, and excessive caffeine, which can worsen stress and hormonal imbalances. Aim for the 80/20 rule, where 80% of the time, you are striving eating whole foods.
  2. Connect with loved ones: Strong social connections provide emotional support and a sense of belonging, fostering feelings of well-being and reducing stress. Spend time with loved ones, engage in activities you enjoy, and build a supportive network.
  3. Herbs and supplements that can help with stress & PMS
  • Chamomile: can be helpful with insomnia and restless sleep in luteal phase
  • Curcumin: Helpful for inflammation and period cramps
  • pH-D’s menstrual support: helpful for mood swings and stress around your period
  • Magnesium: Great for supporting pain, PMS, and stress

By incorporating these women’s health supplements and stress-management techniques into your life, you can create a better environment for your hormones to function optimally. Remember, taking care of your mental and emotional wellbeing is crucial for your physical health.

pH-D Feminine Health provides a variety of products including feminine sprays, boric acid suppositories, foam wash, probiotics, menstruation supplements and travel-sized items for your vaginal health. Check it out today!