High levels of stress can disrupt your hormones at any age – and badly. Specifically, how does stress level affect a woman’s hormones as she grows?
A warning to start: stress is not always bad. It is generated in our brain as part of the most important survival response.
Survival is the most powerful driving force in our brain, period. Stress changes the most vital systems in our body. It is behind many diseases, we age faster, and it can even damage our genes. Therefore, it will affect the hormones in many ways.
Stress management is the only thing women can do to help balance their hormones as they age.
Stress and the aging process
Aging often brings added stress because it accumulates over time.
The stressful experiences of our lives add up if we don’t regularly do something about them. This accumulated stress can bring all kinds of health challenges on top of the menopausal change.
Menopause brings many trials for some women. Others have smoother transitions. But after menopause, permanent changes can bring serious stress – especially if you are in a relationship with a man.
Your estrogen will be lower and your testosterone relatively higher. In some ways, you react a little more “masculine”. You can be a little less emotionally available and more assertive.
And this is right at a time when your man’s testosterone has fallen over the years and he wants a warmer emotional connection.
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Decreased sexual desire and stress
Less subtle will be other experiences that many couples have after their menopause. He has less interest in sex or even men in general. She may have vaginal dryness and pain when she is with him. At the same time, he wants more reassurance with sex, but his sexual drive can also be decreased.
The couple becomes confused and deeply frustrated or angry. Stress levels rise in their home. This will also throw off their hormones and make things worse in a vicious cycle.
However, reducing your stress will allow you to think clearly and act more successfully. Therefore, managing stress through these stages of life can bring many benefits to your relationship, well-being and health.
And beyond the special processes of menopause, what can you do in your daily life to keep stress at bay? What can you do for aging gracefully from the perspective of managing your stress?
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Two vital elements of stress management
Genetics and neuroscience tell us that our bodies and brains are still 99 percent as they were during the Stone Age. Our genes change that slowly. Thinking in this way is certainly new and a little strange for us. To be honest, it took me a couple of years of research to wrap my mind around it.
Two vital elements of stress management are diet choices and movement of our bodies.
What we eat affects stress levels
Our ancestors did not have refrigerators full of prepared food. Three square meals a day is only a very recent invention. Our body was never built for that. And above all, he was never built for the diet eating three smaller meals a day.
Eating small meals makes our Stone Age brain think we are missing food. So it will encourage us to eat more and store more fat.
But our bodies are built to eat one decent meal a day – or maybe two. Anything else will stress our metabolism and throw off our hormones.
Also, there was no sugar back then. Sugar seriously stresses the metabolism and the hormonal system. It will be hard at first, but you will learn to take sugar and sweets out of your home completely.
What to do: Eat good protein meals with healthy fats and lots of vegetables. Protein will help reduce sugar cravings immediately. And minimize prepared foods because they have so many chemicals including sugar and artificial sweeteners that are worse.
You may also want to explore intermittent fasting, which supports stabilizing hormone systems and has many other health benefits. Always consult your doctor before making major diet changes.
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Get up and move around to manage stress
Over millions of years, our bodies and brains have been perfected for movement.
Sitting for extended periods is not natural for us. Our bodies do not treat each other well. Our current civilization challenges our physiology, especially combined with too much food in developed countries.
Muscles, tendons and bones tend to be weakened by a sedentary lifestyle. Heart health and languid circulation. Unused energy is stored as fat and our organs are overloaded. This opens the door to all kinds of malfunctions and diseases, including hormonal imbalance.
Regular and frequent short breaks of movement at work and at home will get things more in balance. Spurts of more intense exercise recreate the experience of hunting, fighting or flying and build strength in the muscles, organs and mind. Weight training especially strengthens your hormonal systems and helps with aging gracefully.
If you haven’t moved much and now decide to do regular exercise, start slowly to avoid injury. The secret is to be kind to yourself. Always try a little harder. Never give up. Your hormones and all your organs will be grateful.
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Other factors that influence stress levels
One of the strongest predictors of longevity and healthy aging is being in the community. Again, this is our primal need to be part of a band, tribe or clan. We could never survive otherwise.
Access and exposure to nature and the arts can also reduce stress. In ancient times we lived in nature. Therefore, it has a powerful effect on our nervous system. Go out with friends and join an outdoor activity club.
You can also find deep peace and release stress by sitting in front of a large painting and meditating on it for half an hour or more. Others receive similar benefits from immersing themselves in good music.
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Genetic implications of aging and stress
Don’t think you are imprisoned by your genes. When hormonal problems, or any other health problems, run in your family do not be discouraged.
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Family history can affect your ability to manage stress and balance your hormones in two ways.
First, you may be affected epigenetically. This means through learned habits and traditions. Therefore, it is not genetic, but an established way of behavior of the family, for example, being very frank and “in your face”.
That could intensify aggression and anger and lead to spikes in stress hormones. This can reduce your estrogen and make you look less feminine in this instance.
Frequent high stress can also result in higher blood pressure.
A genetic trait passed down in a family could be genes for high blood pressure. Children who inherit the gene tend to have this problem. This in turn can cause more stress, which affects the estrogen-testosterone balance.
Situations like this are not easy for you, and professional medical help can be essential. But a systematic and consistent program to manage the stress involved can and will make a positive difference.
While we cannot change our genes, gene expression is something we can influence. However, it requires more commitment to regular effort.
The one thing that will always help you to be stronger and healthier is to manage your stress every day. Persistence will make you successful beyond expectations.
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Fritz George Sauer, MS, is a science-based stress management expert and coach, author, and experienced business manager and consultant. In his work, he shows that stress is much more destructive to personal and professional life than it is understood.