Yes. Yes, it does. Stress is one of the worst things for your sex drive. (Assuming your relationship is healthy, the others big players are alcohol consumption, fatigue, certain medications and being overweight.) The hormones produced by chronic stress are the reason stress so quickly affects your libido. They act fast and don’t screw around.
Cortisol, the stress hormone, allows us to tap into an emergency store of energy to, say, flee from a ravenous lion. But modern life has tricked our brain into thinking that there are lions everywhere, so we’re living in a constant cortisol bath. All of that cortisol streaming through our veins lowers both our testosterone and estrogen. Testosterone boosts libido in both men and women. When estrogen is low in women, there can be a further lowering of libido and also side effects, like vaginal dryness. Cortisol also affects our thyroid function and a whole host of other organs, hormones and body systems.
Stress is high during the holidays, so we always see an increase in patients in the clinic complaining about stress-induced problems, like IBS, low libido, hair loss, and neck and back pain. Unfortunately, since the holidays also usually coincide with vacations, it seems like a particularly inopportune time to not want to be able to relax enough to have sex.
Here are six ways to help manage stress:
- Get acupuncture. Acupuncture stimulates the part of the nervous system that inhibits release of cortisol, the parasympathetic nervous system. We can also specifically tailor treatments to address low libido.
- Eat a protein-rich breakfast with healthy fats, like pastured butter or avocado. Eggs from hens raised on pasture, sauteed kale, and a cup of bone broth is one of my favorite breakfasts. Eating a breakfast without carbs is the best way to keep yourself feeling full until lunch, your energy high, and your blood sugar even throughout the day.
- Get enough sleep and avoid bright lights after sundown. Sleep is when your body repairs itself. Inadequate sleep exacerbates the negative effects of stress because your body doesn’t have a chance to undo the damage, so the new day’s damage compounds on the previous’ days. Using electronics that emit bright lights after sundown will disturb your sleep cycle. I use F.Lux on my computer, which automatically dims my computer’s screen at sundown and returns it to normal at sunrise. Beware of e-readers and smart phones, too.
- Consider adaptogenic herbs like Holy Basil, Rhodiola, Schisandra, and Ashwagandha. These herbs help us manage stress better by moderating stress hormones. These herbs are called adaptogens because they help us adapt to our environment better.
- Exercise regularly (at least twice a week). Any exercise that makes you break a sweat and raises your heart rate is good in my book. I prefer jogging, rock climbing and lots of yoga.
- Meditate. There are lots of options for meditation from secular mindfulness techniques to Buddhist training. I’m a fan of Zen meditation, but find a system that resonates with you.