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Natural Awakenings Metro Phoenix & Northern Arizona

How Hormones Affect Relationships: Dr. Andrea Purcell describes how stress impacts our connections with others

Apr 01, 2013 02:37PM ● By Andrea Purcell, NMD

It’s no news that stress can affect our moods, and by extension, our relationships with others. In a stressful situation, adrenaline (cortisol) is secreted by the adrenal glands to avoid “danger” and move us to safety. The human body is equipped to experience short-term stress, not chronic stress, and these days it sometimes seems like life has become one big stress marathon. Chronic stress causes the depletion of feel-good hormones and leaves us with the ones that make us feeling yucky, which can dramatically affect our relationships.

Chronic release of adrenaline disrupts the digestive, nervous and immune systems in the body. A weakened digestive system results in low energy and blood sugar highs and lows. These fluctuations in blood sugar lead to moodiness, depression, irritability and anxiety. For women, this leaves her feeling less connected and alone, and separated from her partner. Over time, the separation can lead to feelings of resentment.

A lowered immune system increases susceptibility to illness and results in health challenges. A nervous system exposed to chronic stress typically becomes hyper-stimulated and is unable to switch back into a relaxed mode, even after the stressors have passed. This leads to constant worry and anxiety as we wait on pins and needles for the next shoe to drop. This can be hard on a relationship because worry and criticism often go together.

Unrelenting stress even impacts the specific sex hormones that are characteristic of our gender. Chronic stress can affect thyroid and adrenal gland function and deplete progesterone in women. It has been shown to decrease testosterone levels, which has been associated with irritability, loss of drive and depression.

Because most of the focus has been on women when it comes to discussions about hormones, men often are overlooked. Women will have noticeable shifts in behaviors and moods, while men show a more gradual decline over time. Declining hormone levels are a strain on both a couple’s relationship and overall health.

Even physical appearance is affected. Elevated adrenaline increases fat deposition in the belly area by stimulating insulin, the hormone of fat storage. Women under stress crave carbohydrates and high-fat foods to temporarily soothe emotions. This promotes unhealthy eating, leads to weight gain and results in her feeling less attractive.

Stress can affect a relationship in many ways. Depression blocks excitement and passion and leads to feelings of isolation; irritability reduces our patience and promotes rigidity; low energy results in less to give to others; unstable blood sugar results in mood swings; and feelings of anxiety block appreciation.

When either partner feels less appreciated, has mood swings, lacks energy, is irritable and fails to see the joy in life, the relationship suffers. So it’s important to give hormones their due. Not only do hormones play an important role in health, but their balance is essential for a healthy relationship.

It is important starting around the fourth decade of life to have hormone levels checked, so our health and our relationship can be at its best.

Phoenix-based physician Andrea Purcell, NMD, is a specialist in digestive health, weight loss and hormone balancing. She is the author of Feed Your Cells! 7 Ways To Make Health Food Fast, Easy, and Gluten Free! Contact her at 602-493-2273 or

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