Have you heard of a stress period? Before we get to that, let us look into some stress-related facts. The findings of a study deduced that women are more stressed than men. The male-female stress ratio was 20:28 (%).
On a scale of ten, most women participating in the survey scored relatively high – 8, 9, and even 10- when analyzing their stress levels. A medical expert in an online conversation once said that if we were to determine stress in women and men of the same age, the former were 50% more susceptible to it than the latter.
There are umpteen reasons why women surpass men in stress. One of them worth mentioning is that women have a highly active limbic area, which is the part of the brain that helps control memories and emotions. I am never liberal when it comes to letting go of a particular situation. I am sure the same happens to you as well.
Without beating around the bush any further, let’s get to the point. How stressful has your menstrual cycle been for you? For me, it would be a blend of the good and the bad. While sometimes my menses would be hassle-free, on a few occasions, it would be a mammoth task for me to deal with stress. That would make things worse. I remember once I was going through a bad phase, and it took a toll on my menses as well. I had my period ten days before my due date. My friend had a similar experience, with the only difference being that intense stress delayed her periods in one cycle.
Did you also have a similar experience? Would you want to know how high levels of stress will affect your period? Read on to know more. I have elaborated on the relationship between stress and periods. I have even mentioned about the different ways to deal with stress. So, let’s get started.
How Does Stress Affect Your Period?
You must be thinking about how stress can cause irregular periods. Right? Well, there is a lot of science behind it. The hypothalamus is part of the brain that controls and regulates your menses. That is not the only function of the hypothalamus, though. It controls your hunger, thirst, mood, blood pressure, sleep, etc. When everything is under control, chemicals released by the hypothalamus help stimulate the pituitary glands.
As a response, your ovary is stimulated to release estrogen and progesterone, the hormones that induce period. Now comes the function of cortisol. They are stress hormones that increase by about nine times when you are immensely anxious.
When a lot of cortisol enters your system, it disrupts the estrogen-progesterone balance. The outcome is irregular periods and inconsistent flow from heavy periods to extremely scanty bleeding. When my friend had missed her periods for three cycles in a row in her 30s, amidst many things, the doctor had advised her to keep control of her anxiety levels as immense stress can lead to missed periods for quite a long.
I would also like to give you an interesting piece of information about how a woman’s mood changes during the different phases of menopause. In the follicular phase (the period before your ovary releases an egg), a rise in estrogen levels makes you feel energized and happy.
During ovulation, your mood is the same as in the follicular phase because the estrogen levels are the highest. In the luteal phase (after the release of the egg), the estrogen levels start following, and that’s when you may experience a dip in your energy levels, alongside mood swings.
It’s natural for most women to feel stressed before their periods start. That’s when self-care is needed, as increased stress can have an impact on your periods. Studies have shown that chronic anovulation (where the ovary doesn’t release eggs) could lead to infertility in the future.
How Much Stress Causes Spotting and Irregular Periods?
You could be stressed because of anything, like getting late to work or going through a rough patch in life. It all depends on what impact your stress has on your mind. Lighter stress doesn’t impact your overall health more than heavy stress does. The higher the cortisol levels, the greater its impact on your menstruation. Chronic or irregular stress often leads to irregular or absent menstrual cycle. As a result of stress, you may have:
- Unusual flow (too heavy or extremely light)
- Unpredictable or abnormal menstrual cycle
- Late or missed periods
7 Tips for Managing Stress to Regularize Your Menstrual Cycle
Stress during your period isn’t good for your menstrual cycle. Here are some tips to help you deal with stress that may induce a feeling of calmness and relaxation.
1. Practice Breathing and Relaxation Techniques
Breathing exercises do wonders in relieving stress. It has helped me immensely, particularly during that phase of life when things seemed overwhelming. Stress can affect your breathing, which becomes short and shallow when you are anxious.
At this point, deep breathing helps you feel calm and relaxed. There are varied breathing techniques for keeping your stress levels under control. I would like to elaborate on a few I am familiar with.
- Alternate Nostril Breathing: This involves alternate breathing by blocking one nostril at a time. Close your left nostril using your thumb, and breathe through the right one. Then, use your index finger to close your right nostril and breathe out through your left nostril. Try doing this for around ten rounds in a go. You will feel a lot better, especially if you are going through stressful times.
- Belly or Abdominal Breathing: The AIS (American Institute of Stress) says that belly breathing for around 30 minutes daily may help lessen stress effectively. Sit on a chair and place one hand on your chest and the other on the belly. Keep your belly relaxed and start breathing in through the nose. You should inhale in a way that you can feel your stomach rising and falling inward. While exhaling, make sure your lips are pursed slightly. Doing it at least three times a day will help you immensely.
- 4-7-8 Breathing: The name may seem like a rocket sign, but it’s not. Hold your breath for seven seconds. Exhale for eight seconds. If stress is impacting your daily walk of life, this breathing technique induces a feeling of relaxation.
It also helped me overcome my sleep issues. Some have mentioned falling asleep a minute after doing this breathing technique.
- Visualization Technique: This is a unique way to let go. Engross yourself in imagining a situation or a place that relaxes your mind and calms you. It’s not just the visual imagery. For complete relaxation, you must go deeper and imagine every intricate detail of sound, smell, touch, and sight.
If you imagine a mountainous landscape, think about the snowy landscape, the sounds of the wind, the woody, earthy smell of the pines, and so on. Choose a serene place where you can visualize and imagine the best.
Simple things like a hot shower or a relaxing massage may be a great mood-booster. Deep tissue massage involving slow strokes helps your body ease muscle tension, relieving you.
2. Regulate Your Sleep Cycle
Stress can impact your sleep, as your cortisol hormones are on the rise during such times. If your cortisol levels spike mainly in the evening, it is challenging to fall asleep. Moreover, even if you sleep, you may often wake up at night due to elevated cortisol levels. That is why it is essential to maintain a calm ambience before bedtime.
Keep your bedroom cool and dark. On cold days, make sure it is warm enough. When you have a perfect bedroom environment, falling asleep quickly becomes easy.
Limit screen time, and do things that relax your mind, like reading a book or listening to soft music. You should also fix a bedtime routine and make sure you go to sleep at a particular time each night. This helps to regulate your body clock.
My doctor suggested trying bedtime yoga for a better night’s sleep. The corpse pose is one of my favorite yoga poses. Lay on a mat, and align your spine, neck, and head. Take deep breaths, and let go of the tension within. Stay for about fifteen minutes in that posture. I would often feel relaxed and sorted after the same.
The effectiveness of aromatherapy in relieving stress has been proven time and again. You could inhale the fragrance of your essential oils through your nose or apply them topically during a massage session.
Some essential oils effective in relieving stress and inducing sleep include lavender, lemon, bergamot, and chamomile. It would help if you consult an aromatherapist and find which oils would suit you the best to calm your mind.
3. Be On the Move
If your menses have been delayed or stopped due to stress, one way to combat it is by emphasizing more on physical activity more. When you dedicate much time to exercise, it helps to boost the endorphins or feel-good chemicals in your body. At a time when I had joined Zumba classes, I would always feel rejuvenated after every session. If you do not have the time for strenuous exercises, brisk walking at least 30 minutes daily will help. Get a group of pals to walk together. It would be a combination of enjoyment and workout.
Besides walking, other aerobic exercises like jogging, swimming, and cycling are great for staying physically and mentally fit. If your period cycle went haywire due to stress, then working out may help to a great extent.
4. Take Care of Your Diet
Having a balanced diet not only helps to keep several ailments at bay but is also beneficial for lessening your anxiety levels. A medical expert said that a healthy diet is pivotal in lessening the adverse effects your body may go through when you’re stressed. Certain foods play a significant role in lessening your anxiety levels. The ones that top the list include avocados, asparagus, berries, oysters, tuna, salmon, etc. You should also take care of your vitamin intake.
B vitamins, mainly B6, play a significant role in regulating mood and controlling stress. This vitamin is also said to be effective in managing PMS symptoms. Some vitamin B-rich foods include peanuts, soya beans, oats, bananas, wheat germ, etc. You could even ask your health care professional if you need Vitamin B6 supplements to better your mood and manage other problems.
5. Cut Down On Trigger Foods
Certain trigger foods could worsen your stress further. A steamed cup of coffee may make you feel better. That’s what it might appear to you. However, the damage it does to your stress hormones is beyond your imagination. Studies have shown that caffeine increases panic disorder risks in people with panic disorders. Alcohol, too, is another trigger that makes it troublesome for you to deal with stress. Guidelines from the CDC suggest that women shouldn’t have more than a drink a day on days when they consume alcohol.
6. Take Out Time For Yourself
What matters above everything else is to give yourself time to unwind and do things that make you happy. Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I prefer doing things that give me pleasure to reduce stress. It involves something as simple as watching my favorite television show or going to the beach with friends. If something bothers you, always talk it out with anyone you feel comfortable with. A friend once said that the time before her menses began was stressful. The cramps and pain were too challenging to put up with.
These thoughts made her stressed way before her periods. When we talked about it, I suggested yoga and some herbal remedies. It helped her immensely. That’s why I say when you seek help, it eases your woes and enables you to find practical solutions. If nothing works, seeking professional help will be one of the best choices.
7. Try Herbal Remedies
If you believe in the power of herbs and natural remedies, then herbal teas are something you can try to lessen your stress and anxiety. Some teas that support your adrenal glands and help control stress include ashwagandha, chamomile tea, lavender, valerian tea, and passionflower tea.
The healing and adaptogenic properties of the teas often help to give a relaxed feeling. When you drink herbal teas, make sure to have it in moderation. Also, if you are on specific medications or allergic to certain herbs, consult your doctor before going for herbal remedies to manage your stress.
When Should You See a Doctor Regarding Irregular or Stopped Periods?
If you are facing irregular or missed periods quite often and experiencing other symptoms like cramps and heavy bleeding, then do not rely on at-home remedies only. It’s time to figure out if the irregularity in your menses is because of stress or caused by other underlying conditions. Schedule an appointment and see a doctor at once. The other conditions, apart from pregnancy, which could stop your periods or make them irregular include:
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
- Overactive thyroid
- Heart disease
- Obesity or sudden weight loss
Your menstrual cycle is a complex interaction of different hormones that go through a rise-and-fall cycle. The FSH ( follicle-stimulating hormone) is one of the hormones that regulate your periods. It stimulates the ovaries to mature eggs for ovulation. This hormone fluctuates throughout the menses and is at its peak before the release of eggs.
The LH (Luteinizing Hormone) triggers the ovary to release the egg. The primary reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone prepare the uterine lining for your menstrual cycle.
There are mixed opinions regarding the effectiveness of birth control pills in managing stress and depression. Some studies show that women on birth control pills get additional benefits when it comes to managing stress.
However, some findings have a different story to tell. The findings conducted on 16-year-olds showed that those on birth control pills had more emotional outbursts and sleep issues. If you are wondering how effective birth control pills could be for your stress, you should consult the doctor.
Yes, chronic stress could result in spotting between your menstrual cycle. The coloration of the spots varies from brown to pink or light red.
Stress affects your hormones tremendously and causes your body to go through adverse changes.
When your body is in a fight-or-flight response to stressful moments, it affects your periods and overall health. Increased stress can also cause your blood pressure or blood sugar levels to rise.
Besides trying out natural ways, the onus lies in taking the initiative to eliminate triggers that could result in a stressful situation. If it isn’t possible to eliminate stress through natural ways, your doctor might put you on anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medications.