Stress and Periods.
In a rush but got fear of missin' out? Here's a summary for ya:
- Stress can cause your menstrual cycle to be longer or shorter, or your periods may stop altogether.
- Practicing meditation and yoga can promote mental and physical changes in the body
- If you're under a lot of stress leading up to your period, it can be the cause of painful cramps
- Stress raises cortisol levels and disrupts your blood sugar which disrupts your ovulation and period.
- If you're finding it hard to cope with stress, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may be recommended. CBT is a talking therapy that can help you by changing the way you think and act.
- Exercising, getting restful sleep, having a healthy diet, confiding in friends and family and having healthy social activities can potentially reduce the effects of stress on your health
Most of us have experienced some sort of stress in our lives, and the effects are not only mental but also physical. Being stressed can often leave us feeling 'run down' and reduce our immune system, making us easy targets for things like flu and colds and giving us other symptoms such as headaches, upset tummies, and insomnia. Stress can also cause changes to your menstrual cycle. Your monthly cycle is regulated by hormones, and if this balance is upset by something like stress, it can interfere with your period.
What is stress?
Firstly, let’s debunk one myth: stress is not necessarily a ‘bad’ thing. Without this brilliant ability to feel stress, humankind wouldn’t have survived, and wouldn't continue to survive. Our cavemen ancestors, for example, used the onset of stress to alert them to a potential danger, such as a sabre-toothed tiger.
When stressed, the body thinks it is under attack and switches to ‘fight or flight’ mode, releasing a mix of hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine to prepare the body for physical action. This causes a number of reactions, from blood being diverted to muscles to shutting down unnecessary bodily functions such as digestion.Through the release of hormones such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine, the caveman gained a rush of energy, which prepared him to either fight the tiger or run away. That heart pounding, fast breathing sensation is the adrenaline; as well as a boost of energy, it enables us to focus our attention so we can quickly respond to the situation.
In today's world, the ‘fight or flight’ mode can still help us survive dangerous situations, such as reacting quickly to a person running in front of our car by slamming on the brakes. However, the challenge is when our body goes into a state of stress when it does not need to, and if we are kept in a state of stress for long periods, it can be detrimental to our health.
- FIGHT: When your body goes into a state of stress, we may feel agitated and aggressive towards others; this can be due to our bodies’ natural reaction being “fight”. This can be a helpful reaction to ward off predators, but in unnecessary situations, it can negatively affect relationships and ruin reputation
- FLIGHT: Some of us remove ourselves from situations instead of tackling them. This is a sign of the “flight” survival instinct; a function that can save our lives if we find ourselves in dangerous surroundings. However, in everyday life, this natural instinct can lead to stressful situations escalating, and increase our stress levels when we realise the stressor isn’t going away and we need to face it.
Why can stress stop your period?
The stress hormone cortisol impacts how much oestrogen and progesterone you produce. If you have too much cortisol it can affect everything from the flow and length of your cycle, as well as when it’s due to arrive, and even cause it to completely stop temporarily.
There’s also a theory that the loss of your period at stressful times goes way, way back. Focusing on survival means that your body shuts down hormones needed to reproduce so that you don’t get pregnant in a threatening and scary environment. Our bodies are more clever than we might think!
So how can I get my period to come back?
The obvious way to get your period back to how it used to be is to remove the stress from your life. If you’ve gone through a stressful event or situation and you’re finding it hard to feel like you again, engaging in a little therapy could help you feel saner and help you get your cycle back on track.It’s hard to completely remove everyday stress from your life and we all suffer from this once in a while, however, therapy like CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) can help you learn how to handle it better, which will stop you from becoming so stressed or overwhelmed, and in turn will help your periods return.
How can stress cause painful periods?
As well as shortening, lengthening, or completely stopping your period, many women also report that psychological stress worsens their menstrual pain.
Cortisol, our stress hormone is used when we are under pressure or experiencing stress of some sort. Progesterone, which is one of our female balancing hormones, is replaced by cortisol if we are stressed. Therefore we make much less progesterone when we are stressed causing our female hormones to be unbalanced and in turn, increasing period pain.
Tips to tackle stress:
1. Take some time out to focus on YOU
Stress can be unavoidable, but how you react to it is in your hands.
- This can mean a deeply relaxing bath 3 times a week with epsom salts and essential oils (we love Rose oil and Lavender oil). Check out Plant Therapy (www.planttherapy.com or @PlantTherapy) for oils that we love.
- Get lost in a good book before bed each night. We're reading 'How to be heard' by Roxane Gay at the mo. Find Roxane on Twitter for your daily dose of inspiring & unapologetic tweets @RoxaneGay.
- It can mean getting creative - why not have a look at some mindfulness colouring books? We love Emma Farrarons. Find her work at www.emmafarrarons.com.
2. Look after your body, and it will look after you
Exercise, getting enough z's, and eating well plays a big role in stress.
- Working out releases endorphins, which makes you feel better. If you feel stressed, try something like boxing, which will release all those frustrations!
- During stressful times it can be hard to eat well but making sure you’re getting a balanced diet is essential. Step away from comfort chocolate and instead eat nuts, fruit, and veg.
- Sleeping badly will cause high levels of stress hormone and you’ll always feel like you’re running to catch up. Try going to bed by 10pm and getting up by 6:30am to feel more in control and give yourself some time in the morning to get centred and ready for your day ahead.
3. Learn to say NO!
If you feel overwhelmed, then it’s time to start saying no. It doesn’t make you a bad person, but it does make you a healthier one.
- Often we can feel like we have so much to do, so many people to please, and like we're being pulled in so many different directions. Take some time out for yourself, and politely decline offers that you don't feel up to.
- Taking a step back will give you the time to self-reflect and really look after yourself, which will give you the time to recover and get yourself back into a normal state of mind.
4. It's time to ditch coffee and alcohol (don't worry, it's only temporary)
When we're stressed we tend to turn to coffee in the morning to help us get things done, and alcohol in the evening to help us rewind - this doesn't help anything. In fact, they do the opposite and raise cortisol levels, increasing your stress in the long run.
- If you're looking for a morning boost, swap the coffee for Maca Root Powder to give you the energy you're seeking. We love Organic Maca Root Powder by The Natural Health Market. You can find it here.
- Manage your alcohol intake to avoid chronic stress. Instead, replace alcohol with herbal tea and try yoga to destress. We love Niche Tea, TeaPigs, and Pukka Tea.
5. Look on the bright side of life
It's easy to get caught up with what we don't have and focus on what every one else is doing. Sometimes we forget to appreciate what we do have. Try to be glass half full instead of glass half empty.
- Try writing three things that went well at the end of each day, or try keeping a 'grateful list' where you write down things that you are grateful for each night before bed.
- Listen to audio guides or podcasts on helpful thinking. We love the app 'Insight Timer' for great mindfulness podcasts and meditation guides.