As the school year comes to an end and final exams begin, it’s normal to feel stressed and overwhelmed. High levels of anxiety can impact every aspect of your life, including the physical, emotional and sexual.
Although sex may be perceived as a stress reliever to many, stress can also have the opposite effect and impede one’s ability to engage in sexual activity. Sex therapist and licensed psychologist at the Center for Marital and Sexual Health of South Florida Rachel Needle says that feelings of anxiety can create a hormone imbalance, according to self.com.
“Your biggest sex organ is your brain,” Needle said. “If you have a ‘busy mind’ and are distracted during sex, it’s going to be harder to focus on your arousal, the pleasurable sensations or orgasm.”
Stress can cause one’s body to overproduce a hormone known as cortisol, which may lower libido. For women, this imbalance can affect the timing of the menstrual cycle as well.
“The hormones produced when an individual is stressed can impact metabolism, which can in turn lead to [weight fluctuations],” Needle said. “When you experience changes in your body, or don’t feel good about your body, you might be less likely to want to engage in sexual activity.”
Sexual arousal is coordinated by the autonomic or involuntary nervous system, so humans have no conscious control over it. For men, physiological reactions such as an erection can be impacted during times of high anxiety. Erectile dysfunction is a common response to stress—which can have a serious effect on sexual intimacy.
Furthermore, stress can influence relationships with your significant other, which can affect your overall mood and libido. When under a lot of stress, people can lash out or become irritable with their loved ones, which may create feelings of resentment. This tendency can lead to a lack of communication which is why relationships ultimately suffer under stress.
Stress can be very difficult to manage and target, but it must be dealt with in order to ensure optimal health and happiness. Needle urges people to find a healthy outlet for their stress like yoga, exercise and getting a massage, according to self.com.
“Make time for self-care,” Needle said. “While some stress is normal, if you can pinpoint big stressors in your life, it’s a good idea to do what you can to minimize them or eliminate them altogether, if possible.”
Other stress relievers can include taking part in creative projects such as crafting, photography or painting. While it can be easy to turn to substances such as alcohol and drugs to cope with high levels of stress, these substances will have the reverse effect and further contribute to one’s lack of libido.
If you’re having difficulty finding an effective outlet for your stress, seeking help from a mental health counselor or doctor could be beneficial. Although finals week can be anxiety ridden and overwhelming, it’s important to find time to de-stress to ensure success in all realms of life.