When it comes to sex and libido, there is perhaps nothing that impacts them more than stress. After all, when you’re worrying about work and fussing about finances, the last thing on your mind is getting it on.
But just because stress can take a major toll on libido doesn’t mean that you have to let it. Here’s what you need to know about stress and your sex drive, and how you can keep your libido up, even when you’re feeling a little overwhelmed with everything on your plate.
The Stress Hormone
When your body’s under stress, it releases the stress hormone cortisol, which triggers the body’s flight or fight response. Sure, that was great thousands of years ago when life or death situations were common and the bodily response was actually pretty vital. Today, though, when stressors fall more along the lines of an updated financial report that’s two days late or a toddler who doesn’t sleep, cortisol can be super counter-productive.
Because the body doesn’t use the cortisol that stress produces, that stress hormone ends up lingering in the body and impacting its functions. Excess cortisol makes it hard to sleep, lowers the immune system, increases cravings for unhealthy foods, and, ironically, increases anxiety. If these symptoms weren’t enough, heightened cortisol levels can, in the long term, end up causing your libido to crash.
Cortisol’s Impact on Libido
Cortisol impacts libido in a number of ways. First, cortisol is produced at the expense of testosterone, automatically halting its production. The stress hormone also restricts blood flow, making it harder for men to achieve and maintain an erection. When this happens more than once, a lot of men start to worry about getting erections at all, which then suddenly leads to higher stress levels that make it even harder to get an erection. And it becomes a perpetual downward spiral.
In women, it’s a little bit more complicated but just as detrimental. The female arousal cycle is a balanced blend of hormones and interactions, and cortisol messes with all of it. By impacting estrogen, progesterone, and prolactin levels, as well as testosterone levels, stress decreases women’s libidos just as much as it does men’s. It impacts fertility, causes irregularity, and can even stop ovulation.
As if this weren’t enough, stress causes other problems and responses in the body that can have an indirect impact on libido, too. Here are just some of the ways:
- Feelings of being overwhelmed: When you’re already overwhelmed with life and have 398 things on your mind, sex is far from it.
- Insomnia: Chronic stress keeps you up at night, making you worry about everything from the smoke alarms to PTA meetings, and when you’re tired and not sleeping, you don’t feel your sexiest.
- Weight gain: High cortisol levels are associated with craving sweet foods and weight gain, and sometimes those few extra pounds can make you feel undesirable.
- Depression: Sustained levels of cortisol have been linked to reduced levels of both serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters associated with happiness, and may be linked to depression.
- Suppressed immune system: When stress levels are chronically high, the immune system suffers, and nobody feels sexy with a runny nose and hacking cough.
It’s Time to Destress
Just because you have a busy life, it doesn’t mean you have to give up on getting busy, but it does mean that you have to make time to destress. When stress starts to impact your life, from your sleep to your libido, it’s time to gain back control.
Start by taking a look at your life and seeing if and where you can eliminate some of the things causing you to feel overwhelmed and anxious. Cut back on some activities if your schedule is too packed and make time for yourself. If there are people affecting your mood, reevaluate your relationships and distance yourself from any that aren’t positive. If struggling to get to the gym is causing you stress, make it a priority to schedule a workout earlier in the day or after work.
You should also utilize stress management techniques. Things like deep breathing, meditation, and yoga have significant impacts on stress levels and have both short and long-term health benefits.
The Last Tip? Just Do It.
If you really want to cut stress and increase your libido, do it by actually having sex. Sex generally reduces stress, lowers cortisol, and increases libido, so when you do it, your brain releases feel-good chemicals, including endorphins and oxytocin. These chemicals, along with the physical exertion that sex requires (it’s exercise, after all), work to lower cortisol levels and boost testosterone. And when testosterone levels are high, there’s an increase in libido, bringing balance back to your sex life. And if you end up having more sex because of that, great. You’ll have less cortisol and less stress. That’s a win-win.