If you are feeling the stress of work deadlines, family obligations, relationship challenges, or health troubles then you are not alone. April is National Stress Awareness month. Everyone feels stress from time to time, but all stress isn’t bad. As a matter of fact, having too little stress in your life is not good for you. It leads to boredom and depression. There is also good stress and bad stress. Balancing the good stress and bad stress along with making positive lifestyle choices that includes keeping your hormonal levels in check will bring your stress into the best range.
Good Stress vs. Bad Stress
Good stress, called eustress, is the stress or excitement you experience from planning a big event, such as a wedding, starting a new job, or learning a new hobby. Research has shown that a moderate amount of stress can improve cognitive function because it strengthens neurons in your brain. This can help you feel sharper and improve your attention span. In a study at the University of Berkeley, rats that were subjected to brief periods of moderate stress had improved mental performance for the following two weeks.
You may notice that the days where your “to-do” list is a mile long are the days you feel most productive. This is because stress in your life can also motivate you to take action when needed. Consequently, on days when you don’t have much stress you may find that you become lethargic and don’t accomplish as much.
Bad stress, or distress, is the chronic negative stress that dominates your daily thoughts and has several mental and physical effects on your body. This stress impairs your ability to think clearly and feel happiness. A divorce, death, abusive relationship, bad work situation, extreme overscheduling, and health problems are a few examples of bad stress. A prolonged period of bad stress will lead to very serious medical problems such as heart attacks, strokes, ulcers, diabetes and more. Bad stress also causes mental problems such as depression and anxiety. This type of stress can truly be life threatening.
Hormones and Stress
Hormonal imbalances can be both the cause of stress and be caused by stress. However, many people don’t realize how involved hormones are with stress. The following are symptoms of a hormonal imbalance:
- weight gain
- hot flashes
- night sweats
- difficulty sleeping
- low sex drive
- brain fog
- difficulty concentrating
This list could also be the symptoms of stress. Stress and hormonal imbalances present with virtually the same symptoms.
Several hormones have a role in dictating your ability to gain or lose weight such as thyroid, estrogen, cortisol and leptin. Your thyroid hormone regulates your metabolism. Your metabolism is the process in which your body converts the food you eat into energy – or basically how fast you burn calories. Your thyroid hormones directly affect your ability to lose (or gain) weight. Unexplained weight gain is a common symptom of a thyroid disorder.
Many people “stress eat” but don’t realize there can be a hormonal imbalance at work. Cortisol is your body’s stress hormone and is also know for regulating your “fight of flight” instinct. It manages how your body uses carbohydrates, fats and proteins while also regulating your blood pressure and increasing your blood sugar. When you feel stressed cortisol floods your body with glucose (blood sugar) that supplies immediate energy to large muscle groups. The surge of cortisol increases your appetite especially for sugary or fatty foods and causes cravings.
In the absence of rising hormone levels, (like in your youth) energy decreases muscles shrink in size causing metabolism to decrease- all leading to weight gain.
Leptin, or the “obesity hormone”, is the hormone that tells your brain you are full after eating. It basically tells you that you are no longer hungry. Low leptin levels will leave you never feeling fully satisfied after eating and feeling hungry all the time.
Hot Flashes and Night Sweats
A stressful situation can cause you to break out into a sweat and so can a hormonal imbalance. A research study of women in the early stages of menopause suggests that hot flashes are closely correlated with anxiety. In the study, women who experienced anxiety reported 5 times more hot flashes than less anxious women. If your thyroid gland is producing too much thyroxin it will increase your body temperature that leads to hot flashes. Hot flashes experienced during the night are considered night sweats. These will greatly reduce your ability to get a good night’s sleep.
Lack of sleep causes stress and stress causes lack of sleep. It’s a vicious cycle. Stress leads to an overactive mind that can make it difficult to fall asleep and remain asleep throughout the night. Melatonin is the hormone that regulates your sleep and circadian rhythm. Darkness, or nighttime, causes the body to produce more melatonin and prepare for sleep. Light then signals for the body to produce less melatonin when it is time to wake up. Cortisol also contributes to sleep. It tells your body when it should be awake and moving, so it should be more active during the day. Stress increases your cortisol levels which can prevent you from getting enough sleep at night. Studies show a lack of sleep also increases cravings for carbohydrates.
The latest research reveals the neurotransmitter serotonin, most responsible for sound sleep, follows estradiol levels. HIGH ESTRADIOL = RESTFUL SLEEP. It’s the first improvement patients notice once their hormones are replaced.
Another hormone that plays a role in sleeping is your thyroid. An underactive thyroid, called hypothyroidism, can make your body feel more tired than it might truly be. This can lead to feeling tired even after you’ve gotten 7 to 9 hours of sleep. Conversely, an overactive thyroid, called hyperthyroidism, can make it difficult for your body to ever get into a relaxed state so that you can fall asleep. Hyperthyroidism is also linked to clinical anxiety.
Being forgetful, losing focus, making more mistakes than usual, and feeling like you are going to “lose it” are common side effects of stress. Trying to do too much, being overcommitted, and being in stressful life situations and life stages all contribute to difficulty in concentrating. For women, the drop in estrogen that occurs during menopause plays a big role in memory and cognition. When balanced with estrogen, progesterone has a calming effect on your brain.
In both men and women, testosterone enhances mental sharpness because it strengthens artery muscles and nerves. A lack of sleep caused by an imbalance of cortisol and/or melatonin also affects your mental clarity.
Your libido, or sex drive, is recognized by the World Health Organization as a key indicator in the quality of life. Sex drive in both men and women is linked to androgen hormones, specifically testosterone. Men have much higher testosterone than women which is why their sex drive tends to be more intense. However, sex drive decreases as you age (even for men!). The hormone oxytocin also decreases with age. It is known as the bonding hormone and is elevated at times of extreme bonding with your partner or your children. Oxytocin can also be part of your hormone replacement protocol.
Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are considered the sex hormones that affect sexual desire. An increase in the stress hormone cortisol suppresses these sex hormones. Stress from a toxic interpersonal relationship where you aren’t getting along with someone is an obvious reason for a low sex drive. Chronic pain or chronic medical problems also cause stress that reduces your sex drive. These issues coupled with a hormonal imbalance can pretty much shut your bedroom activities down.
Bioidentical Hormone Therapy
With the use of bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, you can balance out your hormones and reduce your stress levels. Whether your hormonal imbalance is the cause of your stress or the result of your stress, bringing hormone levels into balance will help you feel better and improve your outlook on life. You will notice more restful sleep, better weight control, improved ability to concentrate and an increased sex drive. Because there are so many hormones that play key roles in the feelings of stress, it’s crucial to know the primary cause of your stress. At The Riegel Center, we will do an initial consultation with you to discuss your concerns. Once we have done that, we will schedule blood work for you so that we can find out just which hormones are imbalanced. From there, Dr. Riegel will create a personalized plan of care for you based on your hormone levels. We will regularly monitor your hormones and make changes as needed. For more information on designer bioidentical hormone therapy, please visit our website or give us a call today.