Stressful situations trigger the adrenal glands in our body preparing us for our primal ‘fight or flight’ reflexes. This ‘survival mode’ reflexively makes our body divert energy and resources to strength and speed (heart, lung capacity and muscles), prioritizing this over homeostasis which is the stable, balanced environment between all our organ systems, digestion, hormone production etc. With chronic or persistent stress, the natural balance that our body craves can get disrupted.
Here are some of the ways that stress impacts our hormones.
Chronic stress and anxiety disrupts the signaling pathway between the pituitary gland and ovaries, causing irregular periods and skipped ovulation. Similar to the disruption in your menstrual cycle, stress can also cause decrease in testosterone production from suppression of the pituitary - gonadal connection. Testosterone is very important in men but also has a small but significant role to play in women for energy, mood and libido.
Increases in the stress hormone Cortisol, in turn increases blood sugar production in our liver and also increases blood pressure. This puts us at risk of metabolic syndrome and diabetes.
Stress increases systemic inflammation in the body which can trigger autoimmune disorders such as alopecia, IBD, Hashimoto’s, etc.
During times of illness and intense stress (which can be emotional or even physical such as major surgery or a car accident) the thyroid gland will go into safety mode to preserve energy and protect our body by reducing production of the T3 hormone which is the actual active form of thyroid hormone. The low levels of T3 in stress is called “euthyroid sick syndrome”.
Adrenal glands that are overworked from chronic stress, may eventually dysregulate, resulting in fluctuations in stress hormone production that can manifest as fatigue, weakness and mood swings.
Have you noticed a change in your body due to the stress you're experiencing? With this information, it's important to check in with yourself and see a doctor if needed.
Yours in good health,
Dr. Ashita Gupta