Hands up if you’re stressed right now?
It’s no secret stress can leave you feeling tired and irritable, and even affect your immune system. But did you know stress plays havoc with your hormones, too?
Because all hormones are so closely connected to each other, if one is out of balance all the others can be disrupted, too. It’s as if one member of the team isn’t playing well, affecting their performance for the whole game.
Since it’s Stress Awareness Week, in this article you’ll learn about how stress can affect your hormones and take away some quick tips for managing stress.
Stress is anything your body interprets as a threat. Any situation with the potential to harm you will cause your body to work to protect you. It does this by releasing chemical messengers causing changes in your cells and tissues.
Your major anti-stress hormone is cortisol, produced by your adrenal glands. This hormone helps you react to danger and prepares for a crisis by making extra energy available to your muscles and brain. These are vital responses to keep you safe.
However, your reactions to stress were only ever designed to be short-lived and cortisol comes with its downsides. It suppresses your immune system, as well as slowing your digestion by diverting blood away from your intestines. So it’s not great if cortisol is being constantly released. Your body isn’t designed to constantly live in fight/flight mode. Yet nowadays, you probably feel like you’re constantly stressed, and this can cause health issues over time.
Some bodily functions are given low priority during stressful situations. Reproduction is one of them – it’s not a good idea to be making babies in the midst of danger. So, the hormones involved in reproduction take a back seat when cortisol is in charge. Chronic stress isn’t a safe enough environment to allow reproduction to happen.
One of the reasons this happens is because progesterone, one of your main female hormones, can be used to make more cortisol if it’s needed. This means when a lot of cortisol is being produced, progesterone levels tend to plummet. And because progesterone is produced fairly early on in the hormonal hierarchy, this will have a knock-on effect further down the chain of command.
So as you can see, stress has a significant impact on women because of this impact on female hormones.
If your progesterone dives down too low, your oestrogen levels will usually end up being too high by comparison, a situation known as oestrogen dominance. Because these two hormones should ideally be in balance, you’ll probably experience symptoms like irregular cycles, heavy periods, PMS, difficulty conceiving and low libido. An imbalance in female hormones can also lead to anxiety, compounding any unresolved stress.
Incidentally, when you’re approaching the menopause, you often won’t ovulate every month. No ovulation means no progesterone in the second half of your cycle. So if you’re under stress around this time of your life – and bothersome perimenopausal symptoms in themselves can stress you out – your symptoms will usually be made worse by the stress. The same goes for the menopause. After your periods stop, you don’t produce progesterone from your ovaries, so your adrenal glands take over the job. If they’re too busy making extra cortisol to deal with stress, your progesterone levels can hit the floor.
Your hormone levels can easily be tested by analysing your saliva and urine. This takes the guesswork out of interpreting your symptoms, because many different hormone imbalances can produce similar health issues.
Stress management is hard work and it can be tough to go it alone, especially if you’re suffering from the symptoms of female hormone imbalance too. I will support you with a combination of nutritional, dietary and lifestyle strategies personalised to your goals and health issues. Contact me today to start your journey to balanced hormones.
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