Your period can cause stress, and stress can affect your period. Escape this cycle by getting your cycle on track with a few tips and tricks.
When that time of the month comes around, it can be stressful. An early, delayed, or missed period can cause pregnancy scares or just general frustration.
Most of us know when to expect our period, so when we encounter some irregularity, it can create a bit of a panic. Ironically, the reason for an irregular period is often stress.
In some way or another, we all experience stress. It manifests in different ways for each of us, but the bottom line is everyone has moments with high levels of stress or anxiety.
Sometimes it’s caused by a tough week at work, something in your personal life, or the anxious anticipation of your period. Although stress can seem like a vague concept that we just have to deal with, it can seriously impact your mind and body.
One of the effects of stress on the body is changes in menstruation. For those of us with female reproductive systems, it's important to understand the two-way relationship between stress and periods.
Here at The Good Patch, we know how much that time of the month can weigh on both your body and mind. To help you cope, we’ve specially crafted the following guide to dealing with stress and periods.
As you follow along, keep in mind that everyone’s period varies in duration; if you have any major concerns, please contact your healthcare provider or gynecologist ASAP!
What Exactly Is Stress?
First of all, stress is totally normal! We cannot emphasize enough that feeling stressed out is an incredibly common reaction to often unexpected changes in our situations and environments. It shows up as physical, emotional, or psychological strain.
Despite popular belief, stress isn’t inherently bad. The real determiner is our stress response to challenges that we face in day-to-day life.
Typically, when we discuss it in a bad light, we are referring to chronic stress that negatively impacts our lives. Consistent stress on the body and mind can greatly increase cortisol levels, our stress hormone.
In turn, this puts you at risk of physical and mental health issues, such as:
- Feelings of sadness
- Digestive problems
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain
- Memory and concentration impairment
- Muscle tension and discomfort
How Stress Affects Periods (and Vice Versa)
Stress usually finds its way to your reproductive system through the brain. When we are under a lot of pressure, the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, brain regions that maintain stability, cannot function properly.
These brain areas normally manage basic bodily functions that maintain your body’s balance or homeostasis. Menstruation, as you might have guessed, is one of those functions.
In times of extra stress, the hypothalamus switches from rest mode to our fight or flight response. This starts a chain reaction that triggers your pituitary and adrenal glands to release cortisol, creating a hormone imbalance leading to menstrual issues.
A few of the changes you might look out for if you think stress is affecting your period include:
It may seem like a no-brainer, but the first thing to look out for is anything you think is out of the ordinary for your normal menstrual cycle. Irregularity is the overarching term for effects on your period due to stress. Many studies have linked stress directly to these abnormalities.
Keep an eye out for some of these red flags that signal an irregular period:
- Periods that occur less than 21 days or more than 35 days apart
- Missing three or more periods in a row
- Menstrual flow that is far heavier or lighter than normal
- Periods lasting longer than seven days
- Periods that come with pain, cramping, nausea, or vomiting
- Bleeding or spotting that happens between periods, or after menopause or sex
Extremely painful periods, with symptoms like severe cramps, could signify the medical condition dysmenorrhea. Though not entirely understood, research shows that this condition is connected to stress. At the same time, such intense discomfort can easily become a source of stress and create a positive feedback loop.
Missing a period is never fun. It could signify that you are pregnant, which is quite scary if that isn’t something you were planning. Luckily, there are many other reasons your period might take a month off. Stress is frequently the culprit of a delayed or altogether missed period.
Amenorrhea refers to the lack of a period when it is expected. When someone has not had a period by the age of 15, they are experiencing primary amenorrhea. You’re more likely to experience secondary amenorrhea or the absence of a period three or more times in a row.
Of course, the most common causes of secondary amenorrhea are pregnancy or contraceptives. However, there are various types of physical and psychological stress that can result in consecutive missed periods. Some of these include:
- Rapid weight loss
- Extremely low intake of calories
- Overly-strenuous exercise
- Emotional stress
How To Manage Stress and Get Your Period Back on Track
While you can’t directly control your menstrual cycle or balance out your hormones, you can take several steps to minimize the stress in your life and deal with your period.
Recognize Personal Stressors
The first step is to understand the things that trigger your stress. This may require some reflection, but ultimately the only way to completely avoid stress is to not put yourself in positions that you know will stress you out.
Do Things to Reduce Stress
Totally escaping stress is easier said than done, so the more likely scenario you’ll face is dealing with the stress you face. Creating a self-care routine for yourself that implements mindfulness and love for yourself is key.
For some of us, this can come in calming activities like meditation or yoga — combine these with the Ultimate Zen Duo for even more relaxation! You might benefit from more movement-based habits, such as cycling or running, to blow off steam.
Understand the Link Between Stress, Diet, and Periods
A commonly ignored source of period irregularity is what and how we eat. According to certain studies, diet can affect hormones like estrogen and cortisol, key factors in your ovulation cycle.
When we get overwhelmed or stressed out, our diet is often one of the first things to slip. We might start to eat too little, over-eat, or pile up on the wrong foods.
To avoid negatively impacting your hormone levels, try:
- Getting sufficient calories
- Eating a high-fiber diet
- Increasing your fat intake — not all fats are bad!
Ultimately, we all have different stress sources of stress and different reproductive systems. Learning to manage your stress and period can be challenging, but we’re sure you have it in you!
Remember, use your support system (friends, family, and doctors), and you’ll be just fine. Check out our blog for more information on supporting your health and wellness naturally.