Stress is like a ninja.
I’m sure you know the feeling. One minute you’re coping, bossing at life, merrily bumbling along.
The next you’re tits deep in unread emails, missed calls, a full laundry basket, copious social plans and an empty bank account three days after pay day. Stress interrupts when you least expect it.
As someone who crumples under the weight of even the slightest hint of strife, here’s what I’ve learned about how stress frazzles your libido, and how to recognise when it’s time to self-care.
#1: We have an innate response to stress that shuts down our desire:
Stress is one of the factors making up what Emily Nagoski calls the sexual inhibition system. Feeling stressed is the brake applied to your sex drive and a sharp stop- no matter how hard you press the accelerator, you go nowhere.
This stress response is written into our DNA. To find out more, we need to look back at how our ancestors approached sex, back when we were cave men and women….
For them, sex was simple: solely for procreation (AKA to have offspring).
Sex also happened to feel nice- we release dopamine (the pleasure hormone) when we bang.
Every so often, they used to come across a stressor- e.g. a lion, bear, or long winters without food. Stressors were life threatening.
Seeing a stressor makes humans go into survival mode (fight or flight).
Our brain concentrates on increasing our heart rate and blood flow to help us run away, and pumps cortisol (the stress hormone) around our bodies to keep us alert.
Our bodies don’t want to have a baby, feel pleasure, or orgasm, because we’re under threat.
We wouldn’t stop if a lion was chasing us to get a bit jiggy. Instead, to stay alive we’d need to stay alert for danger. Therefore, when we’re stressed our bodies actively shut down our desire to have sex, because it’s quite literally the last thing on our minds.
#2: Stress has a cumulative effect
The problem is that stress used to an infrequent experience- a passing lion, a hungry wolf, outrunning a bear…. but now it’s an everyday issue.
Although exercise certainly helps, it’s hard to outrun stress when it lies in wait for us at work, at home, inside our own heads.
The problem is in recognising stress, so that we know when to destress.
Sometimes, you might notice the burden and stop to unload by remembering to self-care and destress.
Other times, if you’re like me, you may continue to carry around the stress because the weight becomes so familiar to us that it feels somewhat comforting. Perhaps you haven’t even noticed you feel stressed because it’s crept up on you so gradually you’re used to bearing the load. There is a strange sense of satisfaction in being busy, so feeling frazzled just feels like the backing track to our lives- regular, normal, and expected.
Stress is so common because it occurs when a person feels that the perceived demands on them (work, family, parenting, life) exceed the resources they have to deal with them.
I’ve learned that it’s the “perceived” part of this that’s important. Often the levels of everyday stresses we have don’t change that much. But our perception of them does. So what one day we’d be as cool as a cucumber over the next could be the proverbial straw that cause us to go into nuclear meltdown.
The positive message behind that is, if you can change your perception of either the demands placed on you or the resources you have to cope, you can learn to manage everyday stress.
Most of the time tasks can be delegated, downgraded, forgotten or aren’t as life-threatening or time-critical as once thought. Or they can be shared to lighten the load.
#3: How to recognise when you feel stressed
My golden rule for recognising everyday stress is…
If you’re too busy to have a break, that’s when you really need one.
If you don’t have time for lunch, a cup of tea, to put your feet up and relax, or to have sex, you’re stressed.
And a break is likely what you need most in the whole world right now.
Listen to warning signs like irritability, anxiety or frustration when others interrupt or try and encourage you to take a break. They’re sending an SOS signal to you that it’s time to step back and reduce your stress levels.
So to really revamp your sex drive, your stress levels need to come down to a normal level and stay down. Consider how you can take more regular breaks and incorporate the anitidote to stress (pleasure) into your life.
May I cheekily suggest that infact sex is an excellent, proven way to destress?
P.S. for more information on stress and how to recognise it, visit the MIND website