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Is stress spoiling the mood? Here’s how to achieve a healthy sexual balance during these stressful times.

Sex shouldn’t be stressful, but sometimes stress can mess with your sex life. The two don’t play well together. For example, heightened stress levels can put a damper on your sex drive.

Healthy, consensual sex may even protect your mind and body from stress and reduce symptoms altogether. A quality sex life also has many other positive cognitive, physical, and emotional benefits.

Stress may be the ultimate mood killer, but you can boost your libido and improve your sex life with the help of some self-care strategies. Good sex can lead to a better mood and less stress, and help you feel healthier, overall.

Cortisol has a bad reputation as the “stress hormone.” But under typical circumstances, this hormone plays a critical role by:

  • regulating immune response
  • controlling blood pressure
  • stabilizing metabolic processes

Too much stress, though, means cortisol continually pumps out of the adrenal glands, increasing the chances of:

  • heart disease
  • chronic high blood pressure
  • many other mental and physical conditions

When cortisol levels spike, sex can be a natural and effective method for reducing the stress hormone. Like any physical exercise, sex releases endorphins that naturally lift your mood.

But the benefits of good sex aren’t limited to making you happier during foreplay, active sex, and orgasm.

One 2016 study found that women who have quality sex have a lower risk of heart disease.

If you’re serious about reducing stress, you might have changed your diet to eliminate processed sugars, started a mindfulness routine, or even received a prescription from a doctor.

But don’t forget to consider how anxiety, stress, and sex can be connected.

Having sex releases feel-good chemicals and hormones, including the endorphins mentioned above. You’ll also enjoy boosts in:

  • Oxytocin: Those butterflies people talk about when falling in love? They’re the result of oxytocin. Touching, cuddling, and having sex also trigger its release.
  • Serotonin: This is also called the happy hormone, and it’s responsible for naturally lifting your mood. Balanced serotonin results in a stabilized mood and alleviation from depression and anxiety symptoms.
  • Dopamine: This neurotransmitter is responsible for the intense pleasure and the rewarding feeling of orgasm.

When all three of these hormones are activated during sexual activity, the positive impacts long outlast the orgasm. These neurotransmitters offer long-term benefits that can relieve stress and anxiety symptoms, such as:

  • sustained attention
  • motivation
  • balanced mood
  • strong feelings of bonding
  • better sleep
  • improved nutritional absorption
  • preserved memory

While sex can certainly combat stress levels, higher stress levels can also disrupt sexual activity.

You’re certainly not alone if you’ve been feeling more stressed and less frisky lately.

Throughout the pandemic, many people have experienced higher stress and anxiety levels over illness, death, social isolation, and quarantine.

One 2022 meta-analysis showed that pandemic-related stress correlated with more sexual dysfunction and less frequent sexual activity, except for solo sexual activity.

High-stress levels can contribute to:

If your stress levels are higher than typical, there’s hope for your sex life. Simple lifestyle changes can help regulate stress so you can get back to enjoying a healthy sex life.

To get the most out of your sex life, consider trying to reign in stress well before you’re ready to get intimate.

Build the intimacy and anticipation

Life gets hectic, and sex isn’t always immediately possible, especially if you have kids or a busy work schedule.

By making your desires clear to your partner through a text or physical touch throughout the day, your brain gets a head start on the oxytocin release. Plus, you’ll have something to look forward to later on.

Consider skipping the gym

There are only so many hours in the day, and getting to the gym in the evening might be one way you practice self-care. But it may be a good idea to avoid neglecting your sex life.

You’ll get similar benefits if you spend that time behind closed doors with your partner. You’ll also encourage a deeper bond, which is good for your mental and emotional health.

Practice deep breathing

Consider not treating sex as another task on your to-do list.

Learning to stay present through breathing exercises can help you remain in the heat of the moment with your partner. Research from 2017 suggests that deep breathing encourages emotional arousal and empathic connection.

The 4–7–8 technique for diaphragmatic breathing can help you be more present and intentional during sex.

Sex might be a regular part of life, but so is stress, and the two don’t coexist very well.

Prioritizing sex can be an effective way to reduce your stress levels. But it can take a concerted effort to have satisfying, healthy sex because unchecked stress can interfere with sexual performance.

Embracing your healthy sexuality as a routine part of your mental, emotional, and physical health may be the necessary step to reducing stress.

You can learn more about the link between sexual health and mental health at Psych Central’s Mood, Mind, and Good Sex hub.