Is stress making you hormonal?

Emotions and hormones are very closely linked. When you’re feeling stressed, upset, down, anxious or overwhelmed to the point where your emotions are taxing your body, hormones can go haywire, and periods might become irregular or even stop.

This is because stress affects our biochemistry with the release of a whole cascade of hormones that are part of the “fight or flight” response. Our body activates these hormones when we are in a stressed state because it can’t detect the difference between when we are confronting an actual life or death situation or when we are worrying over our finances, anticipating an upcoming confrontation with someone, or we’re stressing about a work deadline.

Stress for a lot of us has become routine. Some days it feels manageable, and other days it feels like it has a life of its own and this is considered “normal”.

The end result is being in a constant, physically stressed out state.This is a problem because the body’s stress response isn’t designed to continuously cope with the levels of stress and it impacts on other hormonal systems. For females, it can negatively influence our reproductive hormones at whichever stage of life you’re in.

Sure, PMS can affect our emotions. We can blame being a victim of our hormones for snapping at people and our “Jekyll and Hyde” personality change at “that time of the month” but if the stress system wasn’t overtaxed, that monthly cyclical transition could be smoother.

This can often be the case in fertility problems. Why are so many needing IVF to fall pregnant these days?

My suspicion is that our stressed out systems are a factor. I treat women experiencing fertility issues. Often they’ve had medical testing and there is nothing mechanically wrong but when we look at their life there’s stress overload. Making changes to lifestyle as well as treatment with my favourite tonic herbs to balance the hormones and support the body’s stress response can lead to shopping for a pram.

Most of us know of a couple that when they stopped trying, and focused on other aspects of their life, or even adopted, they conceived. This is evidence of the link between stress and hormones.

This interplay with stress hormones and female hormones is paramount in menopause. Our adrenals play a crucial role in the stress response and all our life they are pumping out stress hormones, often without a break. Then during menopause they are expected to be taking over some of the duties of the ovaries that are heading for retirement.

These stressed out adrenals say, “Sorry, I’m busy dealing with the stress response, can’t help you” so the woman has a harder time with low energy, low libido and any of the other (not fun) menopausal symptoms. A trigger for a hot flush can be a stressful situation, so there’s this emotions-and-hormonal link again.

So what can be done? Minimising stress is the key, and preventing the effects of stress is how to keep those hormones balanced. In an ideal world, this would mean having an equal balance between work and relaxation. Keeping completely chilled, not overworking, eating well, doing exercise you enjoy and choosing activities that bring you joy. In reality, for most of us it’s a struggle to not take on too much, say no to extra commitments and not feel guilty when we do something for ourselves.

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A wise friend once said to me, “We are human beings not human doings,” and I’ve often used this phrase when counselling people about achieving balance and allowing time to just “be”. I always ask patients “What do you do for relaxation?”and I often get puzzled expressions.

It seems we are very good at being busy but not so good at not being busy. The opposite of busy is what will give that stress response a break, let those hormones settle and ultimately lead to better health.

Life is short; live in the present. “At this moment I’m okay” is a mantra for when you are anticipating events that haven’t happened yet.

We never have full control of the future, that’s the nature of this life. If you let go of the drive to do everything, be everyone for everybody and allow time out, that’s when the fight or flight emergency system can stop pumping out those stress hormones. Female hormones will equalise, you’ll regain balance and feel better.

What improvements could less stress make in your life?

 

Written By

Regina Lasaitis is a qualified Medical Herbalist with 20 years of experience in herbal and naturopathic medicine.  She is a lecturer, new practitioner mentor and consults with patients at her Sydney practice or via Skype.

3 Comments

  • As someone experiencing secondary infertility, I have ironically found that the pressure on people to ‘not stress’ when trying to conceive is actually stressful!! It’s hard to switch off from overanalysing whether you’re ‘relaxed’ enough. That’s what I’m working on. As silly as it sounds.
    It’s hard always hearing about people who ‘stopped trying’ and suddenly got pregnant (apparently everyone has a friend who it happened to). Not everyone can stop trying if they want to have a baby. I’m just trying to manage my stress about being stressed. Life is stressful and we can’t always prevent stress but I am trying to handle it better. Not constantly measuring my stress is helping! I hope!

  • Yes, Kez, it can be challenging to manage the inevitable stress of living! And especially when people are telling you to just “relax” and you’ll conceive. When I’m talking with patients that are undergoing herbal treatments to enhance fertility, in order to take the pressure off, I advise them to consider the general improvement in their health they’re gaining and that their goal is optimal health not necessarily to get pregnant. In my experience with what ever the desire is, it is helpful to focus on what you do have and not on what you don’t have. Sounds like you are on the right track though with having the awareness to manage your stress better.

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