Intense stress can have a huge impact on all areas of our health - from our mental well-being to the strength of our immune system. But did you know it can also affect your menstrual cycle and symptoms like period pain and PMS? Here we’ll break down exactly how stress affects your period health and give some tips on how to combat it.
- When our bodies are stressed our reproductive system goes on the back burner - and this can impact the length of your menstrual cycle
- Symptoms like PMS and period pain tend to increase if we have had an intense period of stress
- There are lots of simple and effective ways to deal with stress - including exercise and breathwork
Stress and hormones
When we are stressed, our bodies release hormones like adrenaline and cortisol to help combat it. These hormones get some bad press, but the truth is they are really helpful if you are in a dangerous situation. They can make you feel stronger, react quicker, and be more alert.
Way back when, these physical changes would be perfect if we were faced with a life-threatening stressful situation, like escaping from a predator - but that’s not usually the kind of thing that is stressing us out nowadays.
However, our body does not know the difference between actual danger (like being attacked by a lion) and modern-day stressful situations (like getting a demanding email from your boss) - which is why so many of us are struggling with chronic stress - and it’s impacting our health.
There are many ways in which chronic stress can take its toll on our bodies - from increasing our risks of strokes to impacting our digestion - but for the purpose of this article, let’s focus on how stress affects our menstrual cycle.
Stress and your menstrual cycle
Delays in your cycle
Your menstrual cycle can fluctuate by a day or two without any cause for concern. However, if your period is more than five days late, it’s probably because something has disrupted your cycle. A late period usually happens because you have ovulated late or not at all. There are conditions - like PCOS - that can cause irregularities in ovulation, but there are other factors that could be at play, and stress is one of them.
The release of stress hormones - cortisol and adrenaline - can cause imbalances with our sex hormones. And it makes sense! When your body is in fight or flight mode it puts all its energy into the systems necessary for you to survive, like your heart function and respiratory function.
Whilst our reproductive system is important, it’s not vital, so it gets put on the back burner - which can put a stop to ovulation. It’s also a smart way for your body to avoid pregnancy when it doesn’t feel like the environment is safe for a baby.
If your period is late and you’re aware you have been having a stressful time, focusing on self-care and relaxation techniques might get it back on track. However, if you have missed 3 periods in a row (and are sure you’re not pregnant!) it’s a good idea to go and see your doctor.
Increased Pain and PMS
Even if your period is on time, you might find that you struggle with it more if you have been stressed. Research indicates a link between stress earlier in your cycle and more severe symptoms before or during your period. The impact can be seen in both the physical symptoms - like period pain and bloating - and the mental health side of things - including increased anxiety.
Stress can cause inflammation, which could explain the increase in pain, although It’s quite hard to confirm exactly why stress can have such a negative impact on our periods. Everyone is different and will react to stress and their period differently. However, as every function of our body is linked to our hormones, it makes sense that a body that is flooded with adrenaline and cortisol is going to struggle with the fluctuations of oestrogen and progesterone as our period approaches.
Stress relieving techniques
When we’re dealing with stress, our instinct can be to shut ourselves off from the rest of the world. Whilst rest is important, hibernating for too long can actually make things worse.
Studies have shown that spending time in nature can lower our cortisol levels and our heart rate. Getting outside can also often remove you from the source of your stress - be that work, your phone or an uncomfortable home situation. Next time you’re feeling stressed or anxious try taking a 20-minute walk in your local park - you’ll almost certainly feel better by the time you get home.
Exercise is one of the best things you can do to bust stress. Like getting outside, working out often distracts you from the things that are stressing you out - but there’s more to it than that. When we get our hearts pumping the body releases endorphins, which are feel-good hormones. Endorphins make us feel happy and also actually suppress the production of cortisol.
However, it’s important to be aware that some intense exercises actually trigger a release of cortisol and adrenaline - but these levels are usually back to normal a few hours after your workout is over. If you are really struggling with stress, lower-impact exercises that focus on calming the nervous system - like yoga or pilates - might be more helpful.
Breathwork is one of the best things you can do to relieve stress fast. Slowing your breathing down will instantly tell your body that you are safe. This will help the body switch from the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight mode) to the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest mode).
A simple breathwork technique to get you started is box breathing. For this, you inhale for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of four and then exhale for a count of four. Do this for 5-10 minutes and you should start to feel much calmer!
If you feel like your mind is constantly buzzing with worries or a never-ending to-do list, journaling can really help you offload and unwind. There are various journaling techniques that can be effective and it’s all about finding the right one for you.
If you are feeling down, a daily gratitude practice can help you feel more positive, whereas if you are feeling overwhelmed the blank pages technique (where you unload your brain on to paper for a set amount of time) can help you find some clarity and calm.
Tackling period pain
Whilst stress can intensify period pain, we also know that sometimes pain itself can have an impact on your mental well-being. It can also stop you from doing things that will help your stress levels - like moving your body or getting outside.
There are many natural ways to tackle period pain but the Myoovi kit is one of the best ways to tackle pain instantly. Not only do many of our customers rave about its effectiveness but over half say that using the kit actually had a directly positive impact on their mental health.