Stress & Your Vaginal Health

MyPathAdvantage |

You likely already know the toll stress can take on your health. Stress can be responsible for acne flare ups, herpes outbreaks, heart disease and worsening conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diabetes, and depression. No wonder gynecologists now say that stress can affect your vaginal health, too. 

While stress, like anxiety, doesn’t directly cause vaginal problems, it can worsen ongoing issues (such as an infection) or bring about outbreaks of dormant infections, like herpes. The bottom line is that your vagina feels stress, and that stress can throw off your hormone balance, your immune system, your menstrual cycle, and the balance of good and bad bacteria in the vaginal microbiome.

Stress and Vaginal Infections

No, you won’t develop a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis (BV) from stress alone, but stress can help launch and complicate those infections. Anything that throws off the natural balance in your vagina can lead to an infection, including work stress, family problems, or a big fight with your significant other.

Stress is often accompanied by poor sleep, unhealthy eating habits, and skimping on self-care. Plus, stress can cause an increase in vaginal discharge and changes in the vagina that throw off its self-sustaining microbiome.  In turn, this can lead to yeast infections, BV, Aerobic vaginitis (AV) and menstrual cycle problems.

Research shows that an optimal immune system is required to stave off BV and that stress reduces Lactobacillus, the good bacteria in the vagina, which can also lead to yeast infections. One study found a clear association between perceived psychosocial stress and BV as well as stress having an adverse impact on the immune system.

Stress and STIs

Since stress may stunt your immune system and decrease levels of good bacteria in the vagina, it can make you more vulnerable to STIs such as gonorrhea, chlamydia and HIV. Research shows that the imbalanced nature of the vagina during stressful periods may suppress the local functions of your immune system and destroy the vaginal microbiota that typically help protect you against STIs.

Stress and Your Period

Studies also show that stress can aggravate hormone levels by decreasing estrogen during the menstrual cycle. This decrease can make women more prone to autoimmune disorders. In fact, anxiety during your period may cause increased cramping and pain in the vaginal area that may be absent without the stress. What’s more, when women are stressed, they’re apt to feel more aches and pains, headaches, and generally unwell during menstruation versus when they are less stressed.

Stress and Pregnancy

Unsurprisingly, stress during pregnancy can adversely affect your vaginal health and lead to pregnancy complications such as preterm labor, a low birth-weight baby, and uterine infections. Normal pregnancy-related problems like morning sickness, aches and pains, and trouble sleeping can also worsen with stress. Plus, stress often leads to high blood pressure, a prevalent problem in pregnancy that causes preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication in which the kidneys and liver are in jeopardy.

To summarize, stress and anxiety alone don’t cause vaginal health problems, but can contribute to and lead to them. Therefore, you should manage your stress and anxiety as best you can. Work with your healthcare provider if your stress is out of control. Also, consider lifestyle changes like learning meditation, self-care practices such as yoga and exercise, and relaxation measures like slow breathing to reduce your stress.