One of my womb massage clients asked me “my period has been fine for years but it’s just gotten out of whack recently, my friend says it could be stress. Is this true and how does it affect my period?”
This is a fantastic question and highlights the issue of stress we all experience. Life has recovered from the post holiday slump, we are starting our spring projects. And everyone seems to be busy, I don’t know about you, but I am certainly feeling a little overwhelmed and dare I say it stressed.
How Stress Affects Us
Stress has such a profound impact on our bodies. I know it sounds silly that an external event can affect us but did you know your body can react to any stressful effect in the various ways:
1. Increase your blood pressure, thickening your blood and increasing your heart rate – this was to enable you to move quickly in response to danger and to clot quickly if you were to bleed.
This can lead to heart palpitations, dizziness headaches and excess strain on the heart over a long period of time.
2. Your digestive system switches off – it is an unnecessary function and in some cases people open their bladder and bowels
This leads to loss of appetite or over-eating as you can’t tell if you are hungry or not, indigestion, irritable tummy or gut and general discomfort after eating.
3. Your body secretes adrenaline and cortisol – to keep you alert and to release sugar reserves
But if don’t use that sugar it becomes fat deposits around the abdomen, the classic “fat around the middle”. It also means that your other hormones, especially oestrogen and progesterone which create the various parts of your cycle, and the result is irregular cycles.
3. Hair and nails become dry, brittle and may fall out
Your body is diverting valuable blood with nutrients and oxygen to the essential organs, so your hair and nails fall out.
4. Your reproductive system “switches off”
It isn’t essential to your survival so your body focusses its energy and blood elsewhere.
How Stress Affects Your Periods
Stress Before Ovulation
If you have a stressful event before you ovulate, your body recognises that now isn’t the greatest time to have a baby, and in many cases it can often stop the ovulation process if it is underway or hold off ovulating until stress levels have come back down again.
Essentially, stress can delay ovulation and therefore delay your period. I can’t tell you how often, I have someone come to me panicked that they are missing their period, only for us to look at their chart and where they were supposed to ovulate nothing was happening.
No cervical fluid, not other signs of ovulation such as extroversion. When I ask them what was going on, they can look back at their diary and see some stressful event, such as exams, busy periods at work, a sick family member a piano recital. You get the idea.
Stress Post Ovulation
As well as recognising that stressful events are not great for ovulation and for preparing for pregnancy, sometimes our bodies can do the same post ovulation.
I have several stories of my own where I have had a stressful event shortly after ovulation which has resulted in my period starting over a week early within a few hours.
There is another interesting thing that happens when we are stressed. The hormone responsible for supporting our luteal phase (the phase between ovulation and menstruation) is progesterone.
Progesterone and cortisol are made from the same base material, pregnenalone. The body will always prioritise a stress response over fertility as our primitive brain will always (hopefully) prioritise our survival and running from a wolf over reproduction. So it will make cortisol in priority as a priority over progesterone.
Sometimes, it can deplete levels to create an earlier period and sometimes not. It is important to note that just because you are stressed, doesn’t always mean that your menstrual cycle will be affected. There are times when it can feel like the world is on top of you, but your cycle remains unaffected.
It is highly personal, and different, even within the same person at different points in their lives.
What Can You Do About Stress To Improve Your Menstrual Cycle Consistency?
1. Stop and breathe
I was reminded recently myself, when we have so much to do and just go full pelt with everything, we make more mistakes (requiring re-work flushing more time away). So, I have found, the more you feel that you don’t have time to stop and breathe, is the time you need to do it the most.
I have also found that whilst meditation and mindfulness are great practices, they can be difficult to get into or maintain, even with the huge number of apps available. Instead a breathwork practice can often be easy to do and very beneficial.
2. Build time in your day for you
Whether it is an uninterrupted bath, a walk, going to bed early, a nice meal – anything that allows you to relax, and take some time to convalesce.
3. Learn to listen when your body needs rest
I learnt the hard way, if you don’t listen your body will stop you anyway: I once did a very stressful job in finance, the hours were long, the pay was mediocre and the commute a killer.
Within weeks of ignoring my body, I ended up being hospitalised with pneumonia. If I had just acknowledged I needed a break, I would have caught the signs that my body was crying out for attention. If you think you need a break, then you probably do.
4. Learn a technique to help you process what is causing you stress
I love EFT, it is so simple, can be done immediately or within minutes and learnt very quickly too. Other things that can help you include meditation, mindfulness, yoga or even a walk.
If you want to know more about EFT, meditation or mindfulness techniques, then contact me for a one-to-one session.
I would love to hear from you about how you manage the stress in your life, so feel free to comment in the box below or in The Healthy Womb Facebook Group.