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How Stress Affects Your Hormones

Let’s face it. We live in a society where stress is pretty much inevitable. We have a “go, go, go” mentality that requires us to constantly be on the move. Whether you are a college student trying to keep up with classes, activities, a job, and your social life, or if you're a mom who's trying to juggle kids, your career, meal times, and keeping the house clean… it’s hard and STRESSFUL!

However, we all need to learn how to manage this stress because if we ignore it for too long, it can have serious consequences for our overall health.

When patients come to me with a hormonal imbalance, my job is to work with them to figure out the root cause. Once we know the root cause, daily changes can be made in our lifestyle behaviors and environment to avoid the triggers in the first place. More times than not, stress is the major contributing factor to hormonal imbalances.

How Stress Affects Your Hormones

Stress can cause havoc on your body in several different ways, affecting various vital functions and processes. All of them somehow end up affecting your hormone levels. I’ll explain some of the more common ways that stress impacts our body.

Stress and Your Adrenals

When your body experiences stress, it goes into “fight or flight” mode. Your body can't decipher if your stress is caused by a life-threatening situation or from financial, relationship, or overworking yourself kind of stress (aka non life threatening).

The difference between these two, however, is that your body usually returns to its “rest and digest'' mode after a life-threatening event has occurred, whereas with the other daily stressors, your body constantly stays in its “fight or flight” mode.

Your stress signals never turn off, causing your adrenals to produce more of your stress hormone, cortisol, in order to respond to the stress. After a while, your adrenals, which release cortisol, can experience “adrenal burn out”. This causes disruption in your stress response process.

It does this by not really burning out your adrenals, but actually suppressing the functioning of the hypothalamus. Your hypothalamus (part of your HPA- hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis) controls your pituitary gland. Your pituitary gland then sends out signals to control your adrenal glands, as well as your thyroid and ovaries.

Stress and Your Gut Health

If you read my last blog, you know how important your gut health is to your hormone health. When you are under constant stress, your microbiome bacteria can change. Stress promotes the growth of harmful bacteria in your gut, causing dysbiosis. Because your gut regulates and even produces a number of hormones, including serotonin and estrogen, it’s important that it contains beneficial bacteria to keep hormone production and regulation functioning properly. Therefore when stress disrupts your gut microbiome, it has the potential to disrupt your hormone levels.

You can read more about the Gut-Hormone connection here.

Stress and Your Reproductive Health

Are there ever months that you feel super stressed out, and to top it all off, you notice your period is late? You think, “umm, am I pregnant”... nope, maybe you’re just stressed out.

Stress can lead to a delay or even inhibit your luteinizing hormone (LH) surge. As a reminder on how your menstrual cycle works, the surge in luteinizing hormone causes your ovaries to release an egg during ovulation. Remember above how I said constant stress can cause increased levels of cortisol, which ultimately wreaks havoc on your HPA axis? Well, if your HPA axis isn't functioning properly, it can interfere with the LH surge since LH is produced and released from your pituitary gland (part of the HPA axis).

Help Your Hormones By Managing Your Stress

It’s critical to learn how to manage stress to avoid damage on your body and your hormones. I know there are times where stressful situations are unavoidable. However, if you start learning stress management techniques now, you’ll be in a better position next time you are faced with stress. Here are some ways you can help reduce the amount of stress on your body

Learn How To Say No

It’s hard sometimes to say no to friends or family when they invite you to do something. While sometimes these events are fun and exciting, other times these can be just plain tiresome and stressful. It’s time to put yourself first. If you need a night to relax and get some extra down time, then don't feel guilty for saying “no thanks”. Your body and hormones will thank you for it! Now go make some tea and put on your favorite Netflix show.

Practice Yoga

Yoga is a widely accepted practice to help manage stress. While going to a yoga studio is an amazing and relaxing experience itself, virtual classes can be just as nice (especially in times like now). You can add some candles, relaxing music, and some essential oils, like lavender, to help your body get into a calm state. Even doing this a couple of times a week can be hugely beneficial to your body and cortisol levels!

Give Meditation A Try

If you've never tried meditation, give it a go! There are some great apps out there like Calm and Headspace that help guide you along. With time, you’ll be able to get into a meditative state more easily when you feel stressed out, which will help you acknowledge and manage your thoughts.

Supplement With Adaptogenic Herbs

Adaptogenic herbs are great for supporting your adrenals. It’s essential that your adrenals are getting the support that they need if they are combating constant stress! After all if your adrenals aren't working properly, then most likely a number of your hormones are off!

Adaptogens can enhance the effectiveness of adrenal gland secretion, which reduces excess hormone production. Some great herbs are Schisandra, Ashwagandha, Tulsi Basil, Maca Root, Reishi Mushroom, and Cordyceps Mushroom.

Move Your Body

An easy way to help manage stress is by participating in regular moderate exercise. Exercise has been shown to reduce stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. Pick an activity that you actually like doing. This way you will stick with it. Working out doesn't have to be painful or hard. Go for a walk with your girlfriends and chat it up. Or have a weekly game of tennis with a group of friends. Moving your body can be helpful in reducing stress and help your hormones.

Want To Know If Stress Is Causing Hormonal Imbalances?

If you are struggling to figure out how to manage stress and are starting to experience health issues, please contact Naturopathic Doctor and Hormone Specialist, Dr. Jillian Smithers. She's currently accepting new patients in her Mill Towne Center office located in Tempe, AZ. Make an appointment to optimize your health and get back to feeling like yourself again!

Keep an eye out for her Hormone Reset Bootcamp online course coming soon. Through a series of modules, Dr. Smithers will teach you how to track your menstrual cycle, uncover hormone imbalances, and regulate & optimize your hormones. Sign up to make sure you're the first to know when it launches!

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