Stress, a feeling of emotional or physical tension, can affect different aspects of our health. A survey done among Australian adults showed that 75% of respondents noted that stress affects their physical health while 64% reported that stress influenced mental health (1).
Physical manifestations of stress are what most individuals first observe when in high-stress situations. For example, you may experience headaches or migraines, muscle tension, digestive disruptions, chronic tiredness, or even changes in complexion or sleep patterns (16).
Mental wellbeing is closely related to these physical symptoms; you might notice a dip in mood and energy level, or even a diminished interest in activities or socialising. Though seemingly unrelated, these issues may be tied together by a common factor: the effect of stress on hormones.
The body’s endocrine system—the body’s hormonal headquarters that regulates communication between other systems and hormone production—is especially sensitive to stress. And because the endocrine system plays a role in virtually all physiological processes that underlie both physical and mental health, changes in this system can subsequently manifest in the dysregulation of the body’s normal functioning. When this happens, we then feel the effect of stress on hormones.
Hence, effective stress management is not simply addressing the observable health issues stress brings about. You must be able to target the relationship of stress and hormones, ensuring that the balance between the two remains stable so as to protect your body from the ill effects of stress and hormones.
Let’s dive in deeper into how stress and hormones are related as well as how you can adjust your health regimen to better take this relationship into consideration.
Most people start learning about hormones in relation to adolescence, but in reality, hormones are a concern throughout one’s life. Puberty may be prime time to talk about how hormones affect sexual development and maturity, but sex-related hormones are but a few of the array of hormones the human body produces. The body produces at least 50 hormones, all of which serve different purposes in our metabolism and weight regulation, muscle growth and repair, mood control, sleep, digestion, heart health, reproductive health and more (2).
Hormones are released through different endocrine glands depending on their purpose. When different hormones reach their targeted cells, they attach themselves to the cells’ receptors. When this process goes smoothly, cells are able to execute appropriate actions to fulfill all the body’s functions.
The body is usually able to keep hormonal processes in check by itself. However, stress can disrupt normal hormonal production and regulation, thus causing a myriad of health issues.
Note that not all consequences of stress are harmful. Think about the hormone adrenaline, for example. It is our experience of stress that frequently triggers what we know as the body’s “flight or fight '' response, an offshoot of adrenaline production that allows us to react appropriately to threats. Like adrenaline, there are a number of hormones released in the body during stressful situations that are necessary for survival.
The kind of stress to be wary of is chronic stress that you are unable to manage effectively (5). Chronic stress can be a feeling of physical and emotional tension (3) or can be a result of long-term psychological pressure. Those affected by chronic stress describe the experience as being overwhelmed by a situation and their ensuing inability to alleviate the negative emotions (4). At its worst, chronic stress can cause illnesses, increase the risk of complications, and accelerate symptoms of existing health issues (18).
Despite not having a history of hormone-related health issues, you may experience one of the most common results of the effect of stress on hormones: hormonal imbalances. A hormonal imbalance is when the endocrine system produces too little or too much hormones than what the body needs (6).
The effect of stress on hormones can show up as slower digestion rate which causes stomach aches, slower metabolism affecting weight gain or loss, poorer sleep quality, disrupted menstrual cycles in women, lethargy, as well as increased emotional sensitivity, just to name a few things (4).
The manifestations of stress and hormones should be temporary. Your body must be able to recover and return to equilibrium. Otherwise, if the effect of stress on hormones is not properly addressed, you may be putting your body at risk of developing difficult to treat illnesses and disorders (3). It’s imperative to incorporate stress management techniques in your day-to-day activities to protect hormonal as well as overall health.
Despite the inevitability of stress, it’s advisable to be mindful of how our body responds to stress and when it’s time to take a step back to allow it to recover. It is best not to wait to reach the point where physical, mental, and emotional symptoms become unbearable. Proactive stress management is essential to fighting these health issues that are often propelled by the effect of stress on hormones.
Below, we outline a few simple but effective stress management techniques ideal for those looking to include the health practice in their daily activities.
One way to better manage stress is to start by being able to identify what causes it (7). The relationship of stress and hormones is never the same for all persons. You may experience immense stress, or experience noticeable hormonal imbalances due to work or school-related reasons, family concerns, relationship woes, even being in certain situations or having to interact with specific people in your life. It also helps to observe how your stress manifests by logging the physical and mental symptoms you experience most frequently and under what circumstances.
By understanding what triggers your stress, it will be much easier to anticipate the stress you know you will be facing and create reasonable steps to combat it. Things you can do include preparing a way to decompress after dealing with a stressful situation; you can call up a loved one, go for a walk around the block, or treat yourself to an activity you enjoy doing alone or with company.
When possible, some individuals even choose to avoid or remove a stress trigger completely. They may change jobs, weed out certain people from their social circles, stop engaging in some activities, or enact drastic but positive lifestyle changes to help themselves.
These conscious decisions you can make to combat the effects of stress and hormones may seem small in the beginning, but collectively, they form sustainable health practices that can have big effects on your well-being.
Sleep and stress have a two-way relationship (8). When you get at least six hours of uninterrupted nighttime sleep as is prescribed for adults, that feeling of waking up refreshed is tantamount to allowing your body enough time to recover from the stress of the entire previous day (9).
On the other hand, it’s easier to fall asleep when you do not feel stressed. The quality and length of sleep improves when the person feels less stressed especially right before bedtime (8). It’s then recommended to find ways to release pent up stress before going to sleep so that you’re able to reap the full benefits of sleep in relation to stress and hormones.
As a side note, the body can also recover via other means besides sleep. The simple act of taking a brief respite from regular day-to-day activities on the weekends, in the evenings, or during brief vacations can have welcome effects on stress and hormones (19). When time to relax presents itself, do take full advantage of it and your body will thank you for it.
Exercising regularly has been proven time and time again to be beneficial, having positive effects on the relationship between stress and hormones (20). For one thing, regular physical activity releases “happy hormones,” some of which are endorphins, that lessen feelings of stress (10) and relieve several physical manifestations of stress.
Meditating to achieve a state of calmness has similar benefits (11) on hormonal health. This age-old practice redirects attention to more positive experiences in one’s life as well as increases acceptance of all other situations one faces, including stressful ones, to reduce tension and anxiety. This change in attitude is known to improve bodily functioning, including the maintenance of the relationship between stress and hormones (21).
Eating well is also important in managing hormonal imbalances brought about by stress. Eating better can include minimising one’s intake of excessive sugar and unhealthy fats (12, 13), while adding more foods packed with stress-busting nutrients that specifically address the effects of stress on hormones.
For instance, nutrients from the herb ashwagandha are known to support a healthy stress response in the body and enhance the body’s adaptation to stress (14). There are also foods that contain the eight B vitamins that make up vitamin B Complex, that are known to aid in stress and mood management (15).
As a final step, you can also consider taking supplements alongside a healthy and well-rounded diet to support stress management. Vitable offers subscription vitamins to help support the different concerns you have in your body. These are crafted into individual daily vitamin packs so that you get the right dosage and supplement every time.
Create your own vitamin packs so that you’ll only pay for your selection and consume only what you need. Have it delivered straight to your home through Vitable vitamin delivery to start your healthy habits right away.
Enjoy the best personalised vitamin packs in Australia to support minimising the effects of stress on hormones with Vitable.
Find out more about other supplements that can support stress:
*Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, talk to your health professional. Vitamin and/or mineral supplements should not replace a balanced diet.