Our society talks very generally about stress: don’t get stressed out, make sure you’re coping with stress, stress is bad for you. But what exactly do we mean? What is going on inside our bodies when stress occurs, and what does stress have to do with gynecology? How do you reduce stress?
Stress is essentially the release of chemicals into your bloodstream in response to something that is occurring. One example of good stress is an appropriate “fight-or-flight” response. Your brain tells your body to release adrenaline and cortisol which gives your body what it needs to respond to the threat. Heart rate goes up, your pupils dilate, your breathing increases, and when the event is over, your body begins to normalize again. In this case, stress was productive and appropriate.
But sometimes stress happens in your body when there is no threat. When adrenaline and cortisol are released into your body over and over again, that’s when problems happen. Stress affects your hormonal balance which might trigger hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, or extreme changes in mood. Stress affects your thyroid’s ability to function properly, and you may notice signs of hypothyroidism like cold hands/feet, hair loss, dry skin, or slight weight gain. Continued stress begins to affect just about every system in the body. You may notice aches and pains, headaches, low sex drive, weakened immune system, vaginal infections, or changes to your menstrual cycle.
Reducing stress requires incorporating many of the following: gentle exercise, yoga, meditating, deep breathing, new hobbies, companionship, lab work to diagnose vitamin deficiencies, improved diet, and prioritizing sleep. In addition, anything you find calming can be included like acupuncture, diffusing essential oils, or counseling. Medications to control anxiety and increase serotonin may also be prescribed when necessary.