You CAN do it!
Over nearly my entire life, at least since going through puberty at an early age, there’s been a cold war brewing in my mind and body between sex, stress, and depression. There is a seemingly never-ending battle between my libido and the physical and hormonal effects of stress and depression.
My own depression would take me falling from the ecstatic highs of a healthy sex drive to frustrating lows that made me feel like my body just flipped a dampening switch.
I also had those pesky libido reducing hormones that come out only when a woman becomes pregnant and has children. My depression and stress worsened over time, so about two years ago I delved into learning more about how stress and depression affect your ability to feel any interest in sex or even find it enjoyable.
I learned that depression releases hormones and chemicals that pretty much chase away your sex drive and even diminish your ability to enjoy sex when/if you finally get around to it.
And not only does depression release these chemicals that have a negative effect on you, but it also packages them along with negative thoughts. Mentally and physically, you can become your own worst enemy when it comes to sex.
There are two factors to look at when assessing depression’s effect on your sex drive
- How the neurotransmitters and hormones released by depression lower your libido.
- The mental state of mind in which your brain thinks you out of wanting or enjoying sex.
Stress and anxiety often increase significantly at the same time.
Research suggests that all this can trigger the release of hormones that can suppress your sex drive, in a way similar to how stressful situations release chemicals that produce the same reaction.
Basically, it’s like the stress of the holidays — feeling overwhelmed, over-scheduled and stressed out by family, work or events which can be accompanied by severe depression — all year long.
Researchers have noticed that the release of the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine have something to do with depression, but they’re still not exactly sure what or why.
Antidepressants work for some people because they regulate these neurotransmitters
- Reuptake inhibitors (reuptake is when the released substance is reabsorbed) work to keep these chemicals in your body longer
- SSRIs regulate serotonin reuptake and are the most common
- SNRIs regulate serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake, while NDRIs regulate norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake (this category is only represented by one drug, Wellbutrin)
- There are also SARIs, MAOIs, Tricyclics and Tetracyclics. I simply have no space here to go over them all, but each works in a different way to prevent reuptake
Of course, while medication may work for some people, it doesn’t work for everyone.
An even more disappointing fact is that while anti-depressants may make some feel people better, most of these suppress sex drive, so arousal and orgasm may remain difficult, if not downright impossible while taking medication.
When you experience stress and anxiety, your hormones, hypothalamus, adrenal cortex and pituitary gland all play a part in releasing hormones.
Some hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline (or epinephrine), can be helpful to you in small doses, as they increase heart, blood pressure, and metabolic rates. Basically, part of your fight or flight response.
Cortisol suppresses low-priority functions that make you less effective in times of crisis to help you focus and save energy for things needed to survive. Cortisol will actually inhibit sex hormones. So depression is probably triggering reuptake of chemicals you need to feel better and once you add stress to the menu you are releasing chemicals that suppress your libido.
Welcome to my world, the magical world of stress + depression
On top of all this, you have the subjective issues that accompany depression, those things that you can’t really assign to a chemical or hormonal imbalance.
Depression comes with a reduced, or completely removed, ability to experience any kind of pleasure.
You simply stop enjoying everything, including sex
You may also experience other issues affecting your desire. People with depression may lose connection with their partners or feel no arousal with new partners due to their feelings of disconnection or their desire to withdraw from the world.
This can even mean the lack of physical touch of any kind, which results in the loss of certain chemical releases that accompany touch, especially prolonged touch such as hugging or kissing. (Hello oxytocin!)
Depression can also trigger anger or anxiety, both enemies of fun in the hormonal/chemical release and reuptake battlefield.
And anxiety, a stressor, can, in turn, deal out things such as a lack of sleep, an inability to concentrate, irritability, lack of energy and constant worry. These problems can then turn into highly negative thoughts about yourself and may keep you in a worst-case scenario mindset.
None of this is conducive to feeling sexy or fostering positive feelings about sex
A combination of these things puts a great strain on any relationship.
This may lead you into a nonstop cycle in which you feel depressed and so stop having sex, after which the lack of sex and intimacy creates tension and/or strife in your relationship, which then triggers more depression and stress, which keeps you from wanting or enjoying sex even more than you already didn’t, which triggers more anxiety/depression/stress, and on and on and on…
It can be a frightening non-stop carousel of negative emotions and consequences, but working on your depression and trying to your remove stressors can help.
Here are 8 ways to go about doing so:
- Talk to your partner and your doctor about ways to minimize these effects.
- Taking time for yourself, even if it’s just 10 minutes a day can really help.
- Practice meditation or meditative breathing to help calm you and increase the amount of oxygen you’re receiving.
- Take a look at your diet, as poor choices can actually decrease your sex drive. Watching what you eat and daily exercise (as little as 20-30 minutes a day) can decrease the effects of depression and stress, which can then lead to an increase in desire.
- Find time to connect with your partner without the stress of sexual performance involved. Hugs, simple kisses, even just holding hands can help to release those feel good chemicals.
- Sometimes, attempting to have the sex you want, even when your brain tells you it’s not interested sparks your body to overrule your mind.
- Talk these ideas over with your partner and see if you can both come up with some ideas that might work for you.
- If you don’t have a partner, look for these connections elsewhere with family, friends or at a local cuddle party.
Non-sexual touch can help you feel more connected with yourself and others, while in turn luring your libido back so it will be there when needed
Note that a hug releases oxytocin after 20 seconds, so hold on a little longer if you can.
Making time to talk, share stories, have a laugh, make eye contact (another hormone releaser), and do anything that connects you with others and with your partner will help to undo some of the destructive effects of depression and stress.
Your brain is your largest sex organ but it can also be your biggest enemy
While the cold war may never actually end, you can remove yourself from the battlefield and remind your brain and body how to have sex in a way that makes you fulfilled and satisfied with your sex life again.
This guest article originally appeared on YourTango.com: 8 Ways To ‘Trick’ Your Brain Into Sexy Thoughts When Struggling With Depression.