Stress… we hear the word all the time.
But do we actually know what it means? And do we even realise how much of an effect it can have on the health of our hormones? Probably not.
And Stress can be a major driver for hormonal symptoms. I’m sorry, but I can’t just prescribe you a month-long holiday – I probably couldn’t anyway even if I wanted to… thanks, COVID.
You may be thinking, yeah yeah, I can’t not stress so I’m not going to worry about it.
However, it doesn’t come down to ‘not stressing’, it comes down to how we deal with stress, and how we support ourselves on the outskirts of stressful situations.
This is where the magic can happen in regards to hormonal symptoms.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, I want you to understand how stress works- what it actually is.
Your Nervous System
Our nervous system has two modes, the sympathetic, and parasympathetic nervous system.
Now our parasympathetic system, is our Rest, Digest and Reproduce (sounds good right).
Whereas our Sympathetic nervous system is out Fight & Flight- yes you’ve probably heard of that one.
Back in the day, our bodies developed the Sympathetic nervous system as a survival technique. When we were in a life-threatening situation, our bodies would switch on this mode. Cue Cortisol. If you haven’t heard of Cortisol, it is our Stress hormone and released in Sympathetic nervous system situations (stress).
Now this influx of cortisol would do a few things- increase our heart rate, increase conversion of glucose for energy, dilates airways as well as reducing blood flow to our digestive system and endocrine system (hormones). Because who wants to have sex or poo when they’re being chased by a tiger? Your body thinks the same thing.
You are then able to run faster, think faster and get away, faster.
But that doesn’t really work in our modern era, does it? We don’t usually have life threatening situations, but our body may PERSIEVE situations as life threating- i.e. the stress we feel at work, at home, when we open up an overdue bill, when we haven’t met that deadline. That’s the difference between then and now. We have these stressful situations all day every day, and we don’t know how to counterbalance that, or even what it means for our health.
Now let’s get into the juicy stuff, hormones.
Our hormonal system is a very sensitive bodily function. We don’t all just have 28-day cycles and ovulate every month on day 14. There are many things that influence the health of your cycle- especially Stress.
Our period is like a monthly report card, it tells us how healthy and nourished we have been that previous month. So, if you have good months and bad months, have you ever linked more stress, worse diet with the bad months?
To understand the next steps, we also need to understand how our hormones work. Our oestrogen peaks the day before ovulation, leading up to your follicle rupturing in ovulation. Once you release your egg, this oestrogen drops. Now with the egg released, the follicle now turns into something called the corpus luteum. Which is a gland that releases progesterone. Progesterone peaks around 1 week after you ovulate.
So going back to the Sympathetic Nervous system, yes, our blood system will favour our main muscle groups, over our hormonal system. But also, something called the Pregnenolone Steel happens.
Generally, when we make our hormones, we first start off with Cholesterol thanks to our diets. Cholesterol then slowly converts into our progesterone, oestrogen, testosterone and cortisol.
Now Cortisol is usually made through the conversion of pregnenolone to progesterone, to cortisol (there are loads of steps in between but who you don’t need to know about these just yet).
So, when we are stressed, your cortisol will steal the pregnenolone from progesterone and directly produce Cortisol. Leaving little to no progesterone left for healthy fertility and menstruation.
The significance of this lies on how progesterone is meant to make us feel.
- It reduces clotting
- Reduces heaviness and helps to shed the uterine lining efficiently
- Reduces Pain
- Plus is vital for conception and fertility
When we are stressed, we produce less progesterone, and we often experience a multitude of symptoms during our periods.
On top of this, we know that stress has a big influence into why some of us may not ovulate every month (or at all).
If you think about it, our body needs a HUGE amount of energy to facilitate this hormone production every month.
And what also happens when we produce more cortisol? Our body has a higher demand for nutrients such a zinc, magnesium, b vitamins and vitamin c.
If we don’t replenish these efficiently in our diets, and we are constantly stressed, then your body will eventually run off steam, and most likely choose to facilitate SURVIVING over OVULATING.
You’ll then start to ovulate sporadically or not at all, experience anxiety, sleep issues, recurrent colds and flus, mouth ulcers, restless legs, low energy and irregular, painful and possibly heavy periods.
Make a bit of sense now?
What is the solution from here? This is all great information to start off with but what can you actually DO from here.
- Find out what is going on- get blood testing, comprehensive hormone testing and possibly cortisol testing to find out what YOUR body is doing.
- SELF CARE- balance the stress, with relaxation techniques such as breathwork, meditation, yoga or however self-care looks to you.
- Find a practitioner who will support you and hear what is going on for you, getting the answers and having a support system can be extremely beneficial.
Because hormonal symptoms are common, but certainly not normal. Don’t put up with these any longer.