Stress can affect your body in many ways, including your hormones

Your body is a complex organism full of systems that interact and affect each other in intricate ways, sometimes in ways that don’t make a lot of sense to us modern humans on the surface. We tend to think of the mind and body as two separate entities, and because stress is primarily a mental state for people today, it seems like stress shouldn’t have much of an impact on the physical health of the body. 


However, this couldn’t be further from the truth! The body affects the mind and the mind affects the body in turn, and if you’re under high levels of stress, it’s likely that you’ll notice it affecting your wellbeing and how you feel on a daily basis. In fact, a lot of the physical signs of stress, like weight gain, sleep and energy problems, and even menstrual problems, share common ground with the signs of hormonal imbalance. That’s because your stress levels are affecting your hormones! It all comes down to a little chemical your body makes called cortisol. Let’s take a look at the ways it is affecting you!

What is Cortisol?

Cortisol is a hormone– more specifically, it’s a steroid hormone– that the human body produces in the adrenal glands, which are located near the kidneys. Cortisol is naturally occurring and every human body needs it! In the right amounts, it helps to regulate your blood sugar, reduce inflammation, and keep your blood pressure at an optimal level, along with many other jobs.


The issues arise when stress is introduced to the situation. Cortisol plays a vital role in the body’s “fight-or-flight” response. This is actually the reason it’s often referred to as the stress hormone. When your system is triggered by a stressor, whether it’s an actual physical threat or an anxiety-inducing modern threat like a deadline you forgot about, your body is flooded with high levels of adrenaline to prepare you to respond to the stressor. If the stressor goes away, these levels drop off, but if it stays, the body starts producing high levels of cortisol as well, releasing blood sugar to give you energy and slowing down the digestive and immune systems to conserve effort. Once you are no longer being confronted by a stressful situation, these levels will go back down to normal and your body will start to function as it usually does, but if you’re dealing with chronic, ongoing stress, your cortisol levels stay elevated, leading to a whole host of health problems. 

Effects of High Cortisol

High cortisol from long-term stress can really wreak havoc on your physical health. Some symptoms of high cortisol are frequent headaches, digestive problems, low sex drive, appetite changes leading to overeating or undereating, brain fog, and anxiety. If it goes on for long enough, high cortisol can also cause heart disease, depression, and can affect your menstrual cycle. Basically, cortisol levels that are too high for too long have a waterfall effect on all of the systems in your body, telling them to constantly be ready to fight or run from an incoming threat. Your body moves resources away from less essential systems like digestion and reproduction to focus on keeping you ready to act at any moment. When your body is in this state for a long time, it can be bad for your health in both the short term and the long term!

How to Regulate Your Stress and Hormones

Regulating your hormone levels when you’re dealing with chronic stress and high levels of cortisol is something that it’s wise to consult a doctor about. However, there are some healthy lifestyle changes that you can easily make on your own that can help you to start feeling better! Eating right, exercising enough (but not too much– you don’t want to overtax your body when it’s already stressed!) and making sleep a priority will help put you on the right track for recovery. 


Additionally, taking measures to reduce your stress can help pull your body out of that constant fight-or-flight state. If you’re able to remove external sources of stress, like cutting down your hours at a difficult job, that’s a great place to start, but not everyone has that option. In both cases, it can also be beneficial to use techniques that talk to the base systems of your body and tell it that it’s not in danger. Meditation can be a great way to do this, and so can deep breathing exercises and mindfulness practices that focus on stopping stressful thinking patterns. Basically, anything that you wouldn’t be able to do if there was a tiger or a bear right in front of you is a good way to tell your body’s primal stress response system that it’s ok to calm down and relax. Any activities that increase endorphins, the feel-good hormones, are also great to counteract high cortisol, like dancing, spending time with friends and loved ones, cuddling a pet, or even just laughing!


These techniques are a great way to help address hormonal imbalances caused by stress and high cortisol, but what about other kinds of hormonal imbalances? For more information, you can learn about your hormonal health and how to improve it by reading our blog here!

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