How Stress Affects Your Period & Ways To Stay Calm When You're Tempted To Freak Out
A woman’s menstrual cycle is the perfect example of how a negative state of mind can be directly linked to her physical health. For example, when everything’s copacetic, and you’re having a great month overall, your period will generally arrive on schedule, wreak its havoc, and peace out in a few days. But if you’ve ever noticed how stress affects your period, you’re well aware that anxiety can, potentially, either alter your menstrual cycle, or scare it off entirely.
If you think about it, it’s a pretty vicious cycle. I know myself, and when something is even slightly off-kilter when it comes to my lady parts, I’m first in line at the pharmacy buying a pregnancy test or calling my OBGYN for expert support, whining "SOS I’m not bleeding — what’s up with that?" Before your mind wanders to Mom haircuts and diaper bags, or you jump the gun and make an emergency appointment with your doctor, try not to panic, and instead, assess the situation rationally. If you’re always on-the-go or obsessively fixating on office work or term papers, chances are, your period’s running wild because your brain is, too.
I get it, though. When your period is nowhere in sight, and you're on the brink of both a mental and hormonal meltdown, it's almost impossible not to become even more stressed out over the whole situation. But you need to try your hardest to relax, because the following is a list of how stress actually messes with your menstrual cycle, and the key to making it better is learning how to cope in healthy, effective ways.
1. Your Period May Be Fashionably Late
In case you haven't noticed, stress and menstrual schedules are like those two kids arguing on the playground: They do not play nicely together.
Stress messes with your hormonal patterns, and can skyrocket your body's cortisol (a steroid hormone that basically has a hand in a wide variety of internal processes) levels to new heights. When this happens, cortisol suppresses ovulation, which can either result in a missed period or delayed bleeding.
But because ovulation was put on hold, according to Flo Living, a late period resulting from stress could actually be "more of a breakthrough bleed." Because your body didn't ovulate, it's not a true physiological period; it's simply your uterine lining shedding after a buildup.
2. PMS Can Get A Lot Worse
Many women experience agonizing premenstrual symptoms naturally, but if your PMS is usually not much of an issue, stress can definitely change that.
Dr. Jenny Abrams, an Integrative Family Medicine physician in Seattle, and a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, tells Elite Daily that overactive stress hormones can "manifest as premenstrual syndrome, where women can have mood swings, cramps, bloating, breast tenderness, and even migraines." Ugh.
So even if you're practically immune to ravenous chocolate cravings or painful pelvic cramps, if you're panicking over new responsibilities at work or a difficult thesis project at school, the stress can worsen your PMS symptoms.
To avoid monstrous PMS, make a to-do list and check off priorities one after another. A visual reminder of your progress is sure to ease your mind and keep stress at a minimum.
3. Your Nervous System Can Spiral Out Of Control
There's good stress, and then there's bad stress. Short-term stress, such as the pressure to sprint a little faster when you're at the cusp of the finish line, or to meet a deadline hours before a paper is due, can harmlessly build us up. Chronic stress, however, can weigh us down and trigger an active part of the nervous system called the sympathetic nervous system.
According to Dr. Abrams, when your sympathetic nervous system is activated, your body doesn't "waste any energy on a bodily function that doesn't serve at the moment," which can result in a late or missed period.
The solution, then, is to make sure whatever it is you're stressed about doesn't build up to the point where it's affecting your nervous system. You can do this by staying present in the moment, and making mindful strides toward being more self-aware of when your anxiety starts affecting your physical body as well as your mental state.
Dr. Abrams suggests practicing deep, long belly breathing exercises to ground you in the present moment. "Doing this kind of breathing can give us something to focus our mind on to calm the constant stream of thoughts and worries that we all live with day in and day out," she tells Elite Daily. "Doing five, and maybe eventually 15, minutes of this deep breathing every night before bed can help strengthen the parasympathetic nervous system, and you might find that you start taking deep breathes throughout the day during moments of stress."
4. Stress Can Lower Your Estrogen Levels
Typically there's a spike in estrogen (aka the primary female sex hormone) during the ovulation phase of a woman's menstrual cycle. However, as previously stated, the second anxiety takes over your system, your hormones can easily be thrown off-kilter.
Dr. William Leininger, an OB/GYN in San Diego, and a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, tells Elite Daily that when stress runs high around this time of the month, estrogen levels can plummet. As a result, menstrual bleeding can become irregular, or it can stop completely.
Luckily, there are ways to help estrogen remain stabilized throughout your entire cycle. According to Mind Body Green, maintaining a well-balanced diet and sticking to a regular exercise routine can regulate stress and, as a result, estrogen levels.
5. Your Period Might Skip A Month
When your period goes completely MIA, it's almost instinctual to assume you're pregnant. But please, I beg of you, take a good look at the bigger picture before you let yourself freak out.
Dr. Tanya Vayngortin, a pediatric emergency medicine physician in Oakland, and a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, tells Elite Daily that when hormones released from the brain and into your bodily systems are interrupted by stress, it can lead to "late periods, missed periods, or [no ovulation]."
One missed period isn't a huge deal, but if this becomes a regular thing, it's definitely in your best interest to speak with a healthcare provider and figure out a) what's causing your stress and b) how to prevent said stress from altering your cycle.