We tap into the surprising links between stress and reproductive health and unpack what happens to our bodies when we stress less
Let’s talk about stress. And before you roll your eyes and think, ‘Pfsssh, we’re ALL stressed’, know that this isn’t going to be a preachy seminar about finding balance. Stay with us.
Stress is an underlying cause of an estimated 60 percent of all human illnesses, so when you consider that many of us encounter stressful situations 5 out of 7 days a week at our workplaces, the need to mitigate stress’ impacts on the body becomes urgent.
When you deal with ongoing stress, your body enters fight-or-flight mode and your brain reacts by releasing two very powerful hormones – epinephrine (or adrenaline) and cortisol. Whilst these two hormones are essential, in small doses, to human function, if your body doesn’t stop producing these hormones (because your perceived threat doesn’t go away), you can end up with chronic stress.
Take a moment now to consider the sources of stress in your life. How stressed are you each day, and how does this add up over time? If you find that you’re spending more than 20 percent of your time feeling stressed, it’s time to reconsider your lifestyle.
When your body is in constant fight-or-flight mode, you’ll find yourself feeling jittery, on edge and in a constant low simmer of anxiety. Not only is this bad for your mood, it’s also incredibly detrimental for your reproductive system.
A surplus of stress hormones can upset the balance of your other hormones – including those that regulate your reproductive system. They can also cause other parts of your body to fall down on your brain’s ‘to do list’ when it comes to healing, cell rejuvenation and general maintenance while your body deals with the stressful threat.
Feeling stressed out? You might want to consider limiting your stressors or finding ways to better cope with them.
By reducing stress, you can...
Significantly improve your PMS symptoms
Hands up those of us who suffer with horrible PMS?
The ‘average’ woman may experience light-headedness, fatigue, irritability, bloating, cramping, flatulence, diarrhoea and mood swings over the course of a normal period. But, if your mind and body are also running on overdrive trying to deal with chronic stress while you’re also trying to deal with the stress of having your period, you’re likely to feel like you can’t cope.
In addition to stress making symptoms of regular PMS more difficult to deal with, PMS symptoms themselves can also cause more stress (for example, obsessing over why you’ve suddenly gained 2kg, feeling depressed about it and then binge-eating a whole tub of ice cream) and additionally, your hormones might be sabotaging you.
Researchers have theorised that stress hormones can alter the regular hormone levels that contribute to PMS and that hormones themselves can increase the intensity of PMS symptoms.
In other words, if you’re more stressed, your physical PMS symptoms will actually feel way more severe. Not good.
Steady your libido
Many women report that their time of the month leaves them feeling less than sexy – feeling intensely bloated is hardly an aphrodisiac!
Other women also report that while their physical symptoms aren’t exactly conducive to feeling sexy, they crave sex more than ever while menstruating (which can trigger feelings of discomfort or even shame).
Feeling stressed makes it extraordinarily difficult to focus on feeling pleasure. Stress is one of the biggest distractors, and when you’re stressed, it’s difficult to focus on anything other than whatever it is that’s causing you stress in the first place.
Additionally, sustained levels of stress hormones can interfere with the hormones that dictate your sexual response to an external stimulus (primarily testosterone). Although women’s reproductive systems are largely dominated by oestrogen and progesterone, a delicate balance still exists that also relies on testosterone to help govern libido.
If you find that you struggle with a deflated, exaggerated or otherwise rollercoaster ride of a sex drive during any point of your cycle, Super Boosters Women’s Libido + Hormone Support can help. A combination of Black Cohosh extract, Maca Root, Red Raspberry Leaf, Holy Basil extract, natural Raspberry juice and Peach flesh give targeted support for your libido, as well as assisting your body’s adaptive reaction to stress.
Balance your pH
Stress is a huge contributor to vaginal dryness during sex, and if you’re perimenopausal or menopausal to boot, this is going to be a major inconvenience. Vaginal dryness is a big indicator that something is going haywire with your body. And when you’re experiencing stress, it can be quite difficult to concentrate on getting aroused and in turn, your body interprets your lack of arousal as a stop sign; failing to produce enough blood flow to the genital area to provide adequate lubrication.
Additionally, your chronic stress can throw the delicate pH balance of your reproductive system out of whack. High stress levels can trigger yeast imbalances (the dreaded thrush infection) and bacterial vaginosis by lowering your immune system’s response. This can make you more susceptible to infection.
Regulate healthy function
On the flipside of vaginal dryness, many women will find that their normal monthly discharge changes are thrown well out of whack by their stress levels. Vaginal discharge is normal and fluctuates throughout your cycle, but stress can trigger drastic changes in its colour, smell and volume. If you’re consistently stressed and you find that you’re experiencing way more discharge than is normal for you, it signals that your reproductive system is under greater pressure and is struggling to mitigate the hormonal fluctuations.
Lessen your cramps
New research is finding that stress can make menstrual cramps even more painful, depending on where in your cycle that you experience stress. If you experience stress early on in your cycle, your next period is likely going to feel a lot worse in the lead up to – and during – menstruation. Researchers are still learning why exactly the timing of stress matters but in any case, it’s an important red flag that we should pay attention to. No one likes cramps so if we can help them be less severe by keeping an eye on our stress levels, then we owe it to ourselves to do just that.
Maintain consistent rhythm to your periods
Stress is THE single most common reason for irregular periods. Cortisol greatly impacts how much progesterone and oestrogen that your body produces – and since these two hormones dictate the rhythm of your menstrual cycle, stress-induced hormonal fluctuations can cause you to be early, late or skip your period entirely.
If you find that stress is often impacting the rhythm of your cycle, we urge you to talk to your doctor, as not only are irregular periods a total pain when it comes to planning your lifestyle and activities, they’re also detrimental for your overall reproductive health in general (contributing to weight gain, mood disorders and insomnia) and can be red flags for more serious conditions such as endometriosis, PCOS and even cancer.
Boost your fertility
If you’re looking to start a family, or have more children, you’re going to want to seriously consider how stressed you are. When our bodies are in fight-or-flight mode, the ability to fall pregnant is another function that is deemed ‘non-essential’ as your body struggles to cope with stressors.
Furthermore, stress-related hormonal imbalances can also impact ovulation and your ability to get aroused in the first place… basically, stress is a natural contraceptive.