When not properly managed, that stress—more specifically the stress hormone, cortisol—can impact your overall health, including your blood pressure, immune health, sleep, digestive health and vaginal health.
You read that right. Along with sex, chronic health conditions, hygiene practices, pregnancy and hormone levels—Dr. Liguori says that stress can take a toll on vaginal health, too.
“Research has proven the effect that cortisol levels can have on vaginal pH and blood flow, and this can have widespread manifestations from sexual discomfort to an increased incidence of infections,” says Dr. Liguori.
You may already know that stress can impact your menstrual cycle—making it irregular, more painful or intensifying PMS. It can also impact your vaginal health in these surprising ways:
It may increase your vaginal discharge. We don’t need to get into the details here, but as a part of the vaginal cleaning process, discharge is produced. There are a lot of different factors that can influence the color, smell or amount. Everything from ovulation and pregnancy to infection and stress can all make an impact. So if you notice heavier-than-normal discharge, it may be due to stress.
It can cause dryness and/or discomfort. When you’re stressed, the last thing you want to be is intimate. So it makes sense, then, that your body would follow suit. With stress on your mind, hormone levels will begin to shift—as cortisol rises, testosterone (essential for your libido) will dip. On top of that, your body won’t be sending enough blood down there to increase moisture, so vaginal dryness and/or discomfort is more likely.
It may spur on pH imbalance. There are few things more delicate than the pH balance that exists below the belt. To maintain a healthy pH level, your immune system helps to regulate several different types of healthy bacteria that coexist in perfect harmony. That is until something like stress gets involved. Any change in your immune health—like stress—can impact your vaginal pH level, making a yeast infection and/or bacterial vaginosis more common.
Unfortunately, your stress probably isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. That’s why it’s important to understand the impact it has your body from head to toe. But it's just one of the many factors, which is a lot to keep track of on your own.
“Being osteopathically trained, I focus on the entire mind-body connection and how this can impact overall health,” says Dr. Liguori. “Being mindful of the impact stress can have on vaginal health is just one way we can all be more holistically focused."