Your hormones are responsible for regulating practically every process in your body, and keeping a healthy hormonal balance is extremely beneficial for your health. But there are many factors that can affect your hormone levels in your everyday life, including chronic or high stress.
Keep reading to learn more about the relationship between stress and the endocrine system.
Can stress affect your hormones?
Yes! In fact, stress is one of the main lifestyle factors that can significantly impact your hormone levels. According to the American Psychological Association, stress can impact every system in your body, including your endocrine, respiratory, cardiovascular, reproductive, and nervous system.
What are stress hormones?
Once upon a time, human beings had to fight or flee from many different threats on a daily basis. Nowadays, we’re more likely to be stressed when we’re working in front of our computers or worrying over an upcoming deadline. However, our bodies still respond to stress in the same way as we did thousands of years ago.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, hormones are responsible for sounding the alarm for the rest of your body under stressful circumstances. Your brain functions like a command center, and hormones are messengers that tell the rest of your body to follow certain orders in order to respond to real or perceived threats.
What are the 3 main stress hormones?
Chronic stress causes changes to your endocrine system by stimulating the production of different hormones. Some of the hormones that can be affected by stress include:
- Growth hormone
- Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH)
- Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)
How does stress affect the endocrine system?
Everyone handles stress differently, but chronic stress will typically lead to changes in your endocrine balance.
When your body perceives a stressful situation, your brain activates a system called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is in charge of the body’s stress response. Your hypothalamus and pituitary are small glands located inside your brain which regulate the production of several hormones.
During stressful times, your hypothalamus and pituitary send signals to your adrenal or suprarenal glands — two small glands located above each kidney — and stimulate the production of cortisol. As we mentioned above, cortisol works as the main stress hormone in the human body, and it triggers a number of changes in your physiology.
Our bodies naturally produce cortisol everyday. Under normal circumstances, your cortisol levels are higher at the start of the day, which provides more energy for you to perform your daily activities. But excessive stress can lead to cortisol spikes that happen at any point of the day.
The effects of cortisol
Cortisol mobilizes glucose and fatty acid from your liver in order to quickly increase the amount of energy that’s available, because your body assumes that it must go into “fight or flight mode” to keep you safe from threats.
This increases your blood sugar levels when you’re stressed, and it can also increase your appetite and make you crave sugary foods. Over time, frequent cravings can lead to metabolic disorders that can affect your weight and increase your risk of dangerous health conditions.
According to the Mayo Clinic, stress and hormone imbalances can also impair your immune system, mood, and digestive tract. Other consequences of chronic stress can include:
- Muscle tension or aches
- Heart disease
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain
- Cognitive impairment
- Digestive problems
- Frequent infections
Chronic stress has also been linked to a higher risk of developing certain diseases in the future, such as diabetes, mental health disorders, chronic fatigue, and obesity.
According to a study published in the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, a prolonged stress response can also trigger complications if you have a chronic disease, such as an adrenal crisis or thyroid storm.
And according to the Association for Psychological Science, stress during our early childhood can make us more sensitive to stress later on in life.
How to relieve stress
Fortunately, there are many strategies you can use to lower your stress levels. It’s never too early or too late to learn how to manage your stress, and small changes can have a big impact on your health and happiness. According to the Cleveland Clinic, some techniques that can help relieve stress include:
- Improve the quality of your sleep
- Learn how to limit stress-related thinking patterns
- Start journaling
- Get regular exercise
- Seek support from your loved ones
- Enjoy yourself and find humor in everyday life
- Practice deep breathing
- Maintain healthy relationships
You should seek professional help if your stress levels are too high, don’t respond to lifestyle changes, or interfere with your daily routine. There are many different resources for mental health available, and finding the right way to manage stress can lead to a happier, healthier, and longer life.
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Stress effects on the body - apa.org
Understanding the stress response - health.harvard.edu
Chronic stress puts your health at risk - mayoclinic.org
Stress and hormones - ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
Stress in Childhood and Adulthood Have Combined Impact on Hormones and Health - psychologicalscience.org
Cortisol - my.clevelandclinic.org