Tips to boost your libido

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We have all been stressed at one time or another. And while there is a certain amount of good stress that can help us function day to day, it can also disrupt our sleep and make us feel overwhelmed. Because many of us have experienced it, it’s no surprise that stress and libido are linked. Feeling stressed and unsexy? Know that you’re not to blame if you’re not in the mood. Your lack of desire has much more to do with internal hormonal balance than you may have realized.

Stress and not feeling sexy go together like PB&J – or should I say Barbie and Ken. (But make it Barbie and Ken with racing wits, insomnia, and an inability to focus while donning a pair of tracksuits — and not the cute kind.) When we’re stressed, to get us excited, it takes overcome a hormonal crisis. You are faced with the fight against the downstream effect of unregulated stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline).

Featured image of Lani Halliday by Belathee Photography.

Image by Michelle Nash

Hormones aside, we don’t either feel like having sex when we’re stressed because we’re distracted and worried, and we have a lower than normal threshold to tolerate just about anything. Emotionally, we are not here for that.

Today I share the science behind what is really happens when our body experiences stress and how it affects libido. Then I’ll wrap it all up with ideas on how to reduce tension and start healing your nervous system so nothing is holding back your libido when you’re ready to get busy. Let’s dig.

Image by Kristen Kilpatrick

Understanding the Sex Hormone Connection

Women’s libido is fueled by the hormones estrogen, progesterone and testosterone as they move and change throughout the month. Estrogen rises and falls at the start of our cycle, triggering a spike in testosterone around the time of ovulation. This causes the so familiar feelings of desire, followed by a drop in testosterone and an increase in progesterone. As progesterone increases, blood flow to the uterus and reproductive organs also increases, which can also increase libido. It is a beautiful dance to the inner rhythm of life.

It’s also a delicate dance, what’s more! Our nervous system (which takes the biggest impact from high stress) and our endocrine system (responsible for hormonal balance) work together to connect our stress and libido.

It works like this: when our body feels stress, a small part of the brain called the amygdala goes into overdrive. The amygdala is responsible for signaling the release of cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol sends our cells into overdrive to help us think and act quickly (giving you the best chance of survival).

In a temporary and dangerous situation, our body does what it can to keep us safe. But in our normal, modern lives, coping with repetitive stressors (being cut off in traffic, reading an upsetting text, being late for work) can become harmful. When cortisol levels are high, our brain tells our sex hormones to calm down. After all, why waste energy if you’re in fight or flight mode?

With consistently high stress levels and more cortisol than our bodies need to survive, our endocrine system senses that sex hormones are no longer needed. It begins to suppress the production of these hormones, making it harder to orgasm and decreasing pleasure and blood flow during sex.

In a 2013 study by the Journal of Sexual Medicine, researchers looked at the relationship between chronic stress and sexual arousal. The study found that women with high levels of chronic stress had lower levels of sexual arousal. Additionally, it is well understood that high levels of stress can be linked to reproductive problems in both human and animal studies. Chronic stress that is never alleviated will suppress sex hormones in the long run, causing imbalances that leave you chronically disinterested or less able to feel pleasure.

Image by Michelle Nash

Tips for finding your groove

Dealing with chronic or high levels of stress is not easy. Oftentimes, our busy lifestyles cause stress, and not everyone can snap their fingers to deal with it. That being said, prioritizing connection and actively aiming to reduce the stress in your life is a great place to start.

Practice physical touch

Physical contact is a great way to not only melt away stress, but also strengthen connection. Try hugging your partner for 30 seconds to a minute when you greet them. My partner and I love to connect after a long day by taking time for a “heart to heart hug”. The heart-to-heart hug is an intentional hug in which you physically align your hearts as you hug. It only takes a second but it’s a million times better than a regular hug! You may not feel the other person’s heart beating in itself, but there’s something to slowing down for a deep, soul-filling embrace. This is a surefire way to eliminate any tension.

Physical touch is something most humans crave, need, and benefit from. Intentionally spending time with a partner or friend giving or receiving a back massage, holding hands, stroking a leg, or simply laying a hand on someone’s arm while you talk frees up energy. oxytocin, the love hormone.

Go out and exercise

Remember to move your body every day. It doesn’t have to be regimented exercise – just walk around and breathe some fresh air! Also consider spending more time outdoors and in green spaces. Data shows that spending time outdoors, “bathing in nature” and exercising all help reduce stress hormones, lower blood pressure and heart rate and release an increase in serotonin, the happiness hormone.

Image by Belathee Photography

Prioritize sleep

It is difficult to heal a stressed body when it is working overtime. Go to bed well before midnight if possible, and start figuring out how many hours of sleep your body needs to wake up feeling calm, rejuvenated, and rested. I suggest starting with 7-9 and seeing how you feel.

Try breathing and meditation for at least 8 weeks

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: mindfulness and meditation are the most powerful tools you can use to reduce stress. MRI data shows that an eight-week breathing practice regularly reshapes our brain function and helps us calm and ground ourselves during stress. For tips on practicing breathing, check out this article for all the information you need.

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