Stress, Hormones and the Female Body

Every year I write an article on how to manage stress during the holiday season. While learning stress management tools are important, it is also important to appreciate how stress affects our body and our hormones. Stress produces a hormonal response. Whether the stress is induced by running into a tiger in the woods, as experienced by our ancestors hundreds of years ago; sitting in traffic; or trying to finish an article by its deadline, stress causes a hormonal cascade that can have deleterious effects on our body.

Our stress reaction begins with the release of adrenaline and cortisol by our adrenal glands. Our nervous system is now in the “fight or flight mode.” More hormones are released, preparing our body to be in the best position to escape danger (such as when a pedestrian finds the strength to lift a car off the foot of a screaming child). We experience:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Rise in blood pressure
  • Rise in blood sugar levels
  • Spike in insulin
  • Blood rushing to our heart and brain
  • Drop in Progesterone
  • Estrogen dominance
  • Cold and clammy palms
  • Cloudy thinking and brain fog

For short-term events, the stress response is evolutionarily advantageous. We did escape from the tiger in the woods, and we do find the energy to write an article by its deadline. If, however, the stressor is not removed, or we do not find a better way to manage the effect of stress on our bodies, we will experience the negative side of stress. Constant exposure to cortisol, adrenaline, insulin and estrogen leads to:

  • Weight gain
  • Loss of libido
  • Bloating
  • Breast tenderness
  • Acne
  • Insomnia
  • Decreased immunity
  • Suppressed thyroid function
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Sugar cravings
  • Brain fog

I see woman of all ages who experience these symptoms and are eager to find ways to balance hormones and feel better. It is essential that we gain awareness that what is happening on the outside has real, physiological and hormonal consequences on what’ s happening on the inside. Our society does a disservice to woman when it preaches, “your problems are caused by stress” without recognizing the real hormonal consequences that stressful experiences create. Once sources of stress are identified and an individualized treatment plan is created to best support the body and balance hormones, a higher level of health and vitality can be experienced.

Dr. Maggie Ney co-directs the Women’ Clinic at Akasha and specializes in hormone balancing and healthy aging.