Stress is an inevitable part of life. Relationships, work, finances—stress can come from anywhere. And when there are major life changes like the ones we’ve all experienced this year, stress can become an overwhelming force with serious repercussions for your physical and emotional health.
Understanding how stress can influence your hormonal state is always valuable. But in the midst of a global pandemic that is introducing new and unpredictable stressors, it takes on even greater importance. Knowing what you can do to try to counter the impact of stress on hormones can be a key part of adjusting to a new normal.
COVID: A New Source of Stress
You don’t need a pandemic to feel stress. Chances are that things in your everyday life, both personal and professional, already introduce tensions to varying degrees. But COVID-19 has exacerbated uncertainties and introduced new sources of stress. Will your job be affected? Will a loved one get sick? Will you get sick? You begin to doubt that anything is going to feel normal again. And that can have a profound impact on your mental state.
A recent large study by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) is stark evidence of this impact. When polled in mid-July, “53% of adults in the United States reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the coronavirus. This is significantly higher than the 32% reported in March.” Researchers found this deterioration of emotional wellness is manifesting in a variety of specific behavioral and health changes, including:
- Difficulty sleeping: 36%
- Difficulty eating: 32%
- Increases in alcohol or substance use: 12%
- Worsening of chronic conditions: 12%
While these changes can be the result of stress, they can also perpetuate it—and that cycle can cause real damage to your hormonal health.
The Impact of Stress on Hormones
Stress doesn’t just happen in the mind. When you are under emotional stress, whether acute or gnawing, your body reacts. In certain situations, these stress hormones can be invaluable. Indeed, they are an innate survival mechanism. But repeated and sustained elevation of hormones like cortisol due to chronic or repeated acute stress can be detrimental, potentially leading to a host of emotional and physical symptoms as well as decreased life expectancy. Symptoms of stress may include:
- Mood disturbances
- Sleep disturbances
- Weight gain
- Cognitive difficulties
However, glucocorticoids are not the only hormones affected by stress. A 2017 paper published in EXCLI Journal notes:
Stress can either activate, or change the activity of, many endocrine processes associated with the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands, the adrenergic system, gonads, thyroid, and the pancreas.
In other words, the impact of stress on hormones can be widespread, leaving you vulnerable to a wide variety of hormonal imbalances. This can be especially pronounced in sex hormones, particularly testosterone and estrogen.
When faced with prolonged stress, the body essentially reallocates resources to maintain cortisol production. This includes borrowing from estrogen and testosterone production to keep cortisol flowing. Over the long term, this can have a significant impact on sex hormones, resulting in a wide variety of symptoms that may affect the mind and the body—and could make it even more difficult to cope with stress.
Getting Back in Balance
The pandemic will be with us for years. Even as we begin to recover, economic uncertainties, changing social norms, and lingering fears of illness and death will mix with our normal concerns, problems, and anxieties. To fortify yourself against the impact of stress on hormones, learning how to cope with both new and existing stressors can be essential.
You probably know the basics of destressing. Meditation. Exercise. A healthy diet. Regular and adequate sleep. Turning off your devices once in a while. But sometimes, these just aren’t enough. This is particularly true if your hormones have been thrown out of balance, leaving you to struggle with serious, disruptive symptoms.
If you are concerned that stress is impacting your hormonal health, connecting with a hormone health specialist can be the first step toward healthier living. Using telehealth, these practitioners can assess your needs and send a comprehensive hormone testing kit right to your home. By understanding your symptoms and obtaining a clearer picture of your hormonal state, they can try to ensure you get the support you need to regain balance. Typically, this will include bioidentical hormone replacement therapy tailored to your body’s unique hormonal profile along with practical and positive diet, fitness, and lifestyle advice.
Stress won’t simply disappear, but finding ways to minimize and manage it and reduce its harmful effects can be vital to protecting your long-term health and quality of life.
If you are curious about telehealth for menopause, BodyLogicMD wants to help. The practitioners in the BodyLogicMD network are experts in hormone health and understand the challenges of hormonal imbalance. With telehealth, a BodyLogicMD-affiliated practitioner can assess your needs and can try to create a personalized BalancePro plan to help you achieve your health goals. Set up your telehealth consultation, or take the BodyLogicMD Hormone Balance Quiz to learn more about how hormones may be affecting your everyday life.
Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. All content on this website is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent diseases.