It’ll come as a shock to no one that stress is bad for you. We blame stress for a myriad of things from our throbbing headaches to our sleepless nights. Now we also know who to point the finger at when we begin to develop erectile dysfunction (ED).

You bet it. Stress.

Stress is a sick cycle that can quickly spiral out of control. The more stress you feel, the more frequent you will encounter ED. As ED becomes more common it creates more stress, and one will automatically just feed the other.

There are a number of ways that stress inhibits your ability to achieve an erection. Here are the 4 most common ways stress contributes to ED:

  1. Lowers Testosterone By Increasing Cortisol

To understand why we do not achieve an erection, you need to understand how you achieve one in the first place. Just like breathing, erections are a completely involuntary process. The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) has two pivotal parts that are responsible for achieving an erection- the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems.

As you probably have noticed in your lifetime, when you become sexually aroused, your body goes through a bunch of changes. Its first instinct is to tense-up. You’re getting hot and heavy and the sexual tension becomes thick. At this very moment, your body is pumping out cortisol.

Cortisol is known as the “fight or flight” response in your body. When your body encounters a stressful situation, like kicking off a love-making session, cortisol is sent out to calm the situation. However, too much cortisol can be a bad thing.

That’s when the parasympathetic area kicks in. The parasympathetic system lets the body know that there is no reason to be stressed. This is about to become a pleasurable experience. Now your body is ready to achieve an erection.

However, in cases of those who suffer from ED, the stress wins. Knowing that you might embarrass yourself or let down your partner allows cortisol levels to outnumber the parasympathetic system. Therefore, no erection is achieved. The penis succumbs to the flight instinct over the fight.

Studies have proven that those who suffer from chronic stress naturally have lower levels of testosterone. As the study above determined, “That physical exercise induced cortisol increases would perhaps result in subsequent reductions in circulating testosterone levels.” Physical exercise is cardiovascular work, much like having sex. Therefore, overabundance of cortisol depletes testosterone levels.

Not to mention that regular erections also helps produce testosterone. As the testes become stimulated by ejaculation, testosterone is released as a byproduct into the system. When ED becomes a commonplace, the condition naturally reduces testosterone levels.

  1. Causes Weight Gain and Visceral Fat

High levels of cortisol do more than just trigger on repeated battles with stress. It also causes the body to gain weight. Studies have found a strong link between high levels of stress and an increase of fat distribution in the abdominal area.

Abdominal fat is also known as visceral fat. With nicknames such as a “beer belly” and “spare tire,” you probably have a well-painted picture. Having excess fat in this area makes it harder for hormones and blood to reach the area directly beneath it—the penis. Weight gain also results in less testosterone production (article link).

Carrying excess fat is a major contributor to ED. If you live an unhealthy lifestyle and carry excess fat you may also be at risk of forming arterial plaque which is a major erection killer.

  1. Clogs Penile Arteries

Clogged arteries is the leading cause of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and a leading cause of ED. Unprocessed fats in the body clog up arteries, preventing blood to flow freely to areas throughout the body, including the penis.

That’s why studies have not only confirmed that most cases of CVD and ED go hand-in-hand, but they now find that young men with ED have an increased risk of CVD as well. This only cements the direct link between the two conditions.

  1. Too Much Noradrenaline Production

Much like cortisol secretes when your body is under stress, the neurotransmitter known as noradrenaline (or norepinephrine) is also released into the system. This chemical is full of excitatory molecules that when secreted too much can cause irritability and further stress.

In order to maintain an erection, nitric oxide must guide blood into the corpus cavernous area of the male reproductive system. Researchers took samples of blood in a healthy young man’s cavernous and found that healthy erections contain low levels of noradrenaline. This points to too much of this neurotransmitter can be detrimental to a healthy male reproductive system.

3 Ways To Help Reduce Stress

The key to kicking chronic stress is to break the cycle. As we mentioned, stress breeds ED, which breeds more stress, which breeds more ED.

In order to have a healthy sex life, you need to take the stress out of the equation and learn how to have fun again. Here are 3 tips to help you reduce stress:

  1. Get Some Sleep

Exhaustive studies have been conducted linking stress to insomnia. As noted in the conclusion of the aforementioned, sleep is essential for every biological process in our bodies. That includes a healthy erection.

Your body needs time to repair itself. Losing sleep will only add to the stress as your immune system never has any down time. As your immune system becomes impaired from being on guard at all times, it leaves room for inflammations to burrow themselves through the body, causing clogs. As you continue down the slippery slope, the end result is ED.

In order to help combat your sleep woes, try some natural approaches before reaching for the habit-forming sleep-inducing pills. Diffuse lavender essential oil in your bedroom or drop a few drops onto your pillow. Lavender helps create a sense of calm that will counteract the overabundance of cortisol in the body. This in turn will help you shut your brain off and catch some much needed rest.

Speaking of shutting off, be sure to turn off all electronics at least an hour before bedtime. LED screens trick your pineal gland into thinking it is daytime. In turn, the pineal gland will not produce melatonin, which is the hormone that regulates your sleep. Here is a great article on how to hack your sleep (Sleeping Hacks For increased sex drive and testosterone levels).

  1. Eat Healthier

As we’ve drilled home, heart disease and ED go hand-in-hand. The reason why we get ED as we age is because our arteries have been putting up with our diets for a long time. A lifetime of refined sugars, artificial sweeteners, and high-cholesterol foods such as takeout, fried foods at the ball game, and ice cream sundaes after dinner have led to a thickening of the artery walls.

We need to be sure that we are eating foods that help clean out the gunk that we put into our arteries. Harvard published research conducted by Massachusetts Male Aging Study. They found that, “Eating a diet rich in natural foods like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and fish — with fewer red and processed meat and refined grains — decreased the likelihood of ED.”

  1. Meditation

Much like sleep rejuvenates the body; meditation is the awake-version of the same process. Meditating allows your body to hit the reset button and clear out unneeded worries that are cultivating your stress. A study published by medical journal: The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), stated, “After reviewing 18,753 citations, we included 47 trials with 3,513 participants. Mindfulness meditation programs had moderate evidence of improved anxiety, depression, and pain.”

Meditation is hard to get into the habit of. Your mind tends to wander and you lost interest in the practice. So start off slow. Do 2 minutes every day. Before you know it, you will be doing five or six. Also, check out YouTube for guided meditations. They are great to ease you into the practice. Stick with it. It only takes 30 days to create a habit. Once you see the benefits, you will become hooked.

Kick Stress to the Curb and Fight off ED

The key to solving your issues with ED is to first fight off the stress. Everything else will fall into place. Once you catch up on your sleep, eat a healthier diet, and practice meditation, stress levels will naturally decrease.

As stress decreases, so do levels of cortisol. When this hormone is not being overly produced, it allows for your body to better distribute your weight, opening up arteries to the penis. With stress decreasing, the excitatory neurotransmitter, noradrenaline balances out, decreasing irritability. ED may seem inevitable as we age, but it may also be reversible or less frequent. Start with lowering your daily stress.