Stress can impact nearly every aspect of our lives, from our mental and emotional wellness to our physical health. Some of the signs of stress are well-known, such as muscle tension and sleep issues. But its effects can manifest in other areas of the body, and the female reproductive system is no exception. Here’s what you should know.
How Does Stress Affect the Female Reproductive System?
Stress is the body’s natural response to threats — both real and perceived. Our ancestors relied on a form of acute stress, the fight-or-flight response, as a survival mechanism. While your body is designed to handle this type of stress in small doses, problems arise when we’re too stressed for too long.
Specifically, high levels of prolonged stress impact the brain’s ability to regulate and produce key hormones. When hormone levels are out of balance, it can affect your menstrual cycle, leading to issues like:
- Delayed or missing periods
- Heavier or lighter periods
- Bleeding between cycles
The main culprit for these conditions is the glucocorticoid stress hormone, which not only suppresses your body’s main sex hormone (gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH)), but also boosts a gonadotropin-inhibitory hormone that further suppresses GnRH. This one-two punch to your hormones can have a pronounced effect on both sex drive and fertility.
And if you’re trying to conceive, stress can be especially problematic. Many women experiencing high levels of stress already have a lower libido, as it can be difficult to unwind and connect with your partner. But since stress hormones can also suppress ovulation, women who are stressed while trying to conceive may also have a difficult time getting pregnant.
What Can You Do to Reduce the Effects of Stress?
While it would certainly be ideal if we could avoid stress altogether, the reality is that many of us have demanding responsibilities that can leave us feeling overwhelmed. The idea is therefore not to escape stressors entirely, but to manage them in a way that minimizes their impact on our health. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to combat the effects.
- Find outlets that work for you. Everyone manages stress differently. You may find that talking with friends or loved ones eases your mind, or you may prefer solitary activities like journaling or meditation. Taking a hot bath, a walk outside, or an exercise class are some other options to consider.
- Communicate with your partner. If stress is affecting your sex life, talk to your partner often and openly about your thoughts and feelings. Keeping the lines of communication open and supporting each other can go a long way in bringing you closer. Additionally, you might try other forms of intimacy, such as a new shared hobby.
- Talk to your healthcare team. When stress disrupts your quality of life, it’s time to get professional help. From therapists who can help you find effective coping mechanisms for stress, to your women’s healthcare providers who can help you manage its physical effects, there are resources available to help you feel like yourself again.
To discuss any aspects of your reproductive health, get in touch with the experts at Avant Gynecology online, or by calling 404- 352-2850.