Stress is a normal part of everyday life as we juggle study, careers, finances, family and the fast pace of change in the world. We all know the feelings aligned with the stress response that put us on edge but the body also has mechanisms to get it quickly under control and help us move on. When everyday hassles become problematic, the “fight or flight response” designed to effectively deal with possible dangers can lead to hormonal imbalance and become a problem.
The “fight or flight” response is that sudden response to deal with impending danger be it life-saving or a burst of anger that draws several nervous system chemicals and hormones to “fight or flee”. Increased heart rate, energy to muscles and blood pressure kick in and survival mode takes over.
When the body is focusing on survival functions, other bodily functions are suppressed to maximise the fight-or-flight reaction.
When everyday smouldering stress is not switched off, sensitivity to digestive problems, increased heart rate, extra demand on the nervous system and oxidative stress start to impact hormones including reproduction.
Research links chronic stress with a host of potential health problems, and many of these are as the result of changes in hormone levels. Cortisol is a main player which causes disruption to sleep, digestion, depression, memory and focus.
During fertility treatment, relaxation is strongly advised as well as tapering off excessive exercise as stress can dampen down the production of reproductive hormones. Prolonged suppression of reproductive hormones due to chronic stress can cause irregular menstruation in women and lower sperm count and sexual function in men, and may even lead to prolonged infertility. Stress also impacts other hormones such as leptin and ghrelin which control appetite, affect metabolism and influence blood sugar levels.
Managing stress is easy when you are on the outside looking in but not so clear when it’s you involved. Changing behaviour is a science in itself and requires a real reason to make a commitment to dealing with life’s hitches. Identifying the things that trigger prolonged stress can be as easy as writing a list and the difficult part is taking the steps to find a solution.
Sometimes it might be planning ahead and being consistent such as having a protein rich breakfast, making a balanced good lunch the night before so you can eat a lighter dinner as soon as you get home and go to bed at a reasonable hour to get eight hours of sleep.
A troublesome boss, colleague or partner is another common issue that causes stress or family turmoil. But they all have a strategy albeit, not always straight forward. Don’t feel like you need to go at it alone. Find out a range of stress-relief techniques and ask family and friends for support when going through difficult times.
Using relaxation techniques such as reading, exercise, crosswords, yoga and meditation may also work for you. But it’s important to remember that stress management and relaxation aren’t achieved overnight and that stress won’t simply disappear from your life even if you’ve mastered these techniques. What you can change is your reaction to stressful events, the framework of your timings and add in some techniques to improve your ability to cope with life’s challenges.
Studies show anti-stress supplementation helps too: Ashwagandha, magnesium and 5HTP before bed improve serotonin and promote a more restful sleep to push through cortisol being produced too early. Avoiding a heavy meal late in the evening and also taking energy promoting supplements such as B complex and vitamin C early in the day is also a good strategy. Keep on top of your vitamin D levels as they are also linked to neurotransmitter function and depression.