Sweaty palms and a racing heart, a tension headache or difficulty sleeping: Many of the short-term physical effects of stress are easy to recognize. When we encounter stress on a regular basis, however, it can affect our bodies in ways that aren’t quite as obvious.
There are several factors that can impact your menstrual cycle, so it’s not always easy to trace any issue you may be having directly to stress. But stress can indeed cause variations in your cycle — here’s how.
How Stress Affects the Menstrual Cycle
In certain instances, stress is actually a good thing. Our body uses it to respond to threats, and the earliest humans relied on the fight-or-flight mechanism as a critical component of survival. Although stress is fine in small bursts, it can begin to negatively affect our health when we experience it frequently over a prolonged period of time.
The physical effects of continued stress span far and wide, but it can be especially problematic for the female reproductive system. Specifically, it alters your body’s ability to produce and regulate key hormones, including the glucocorticoid stress hormone. This hormone suppresses ovulation, which causes irregularity in your menstrual periods. Stress can also boost the production of gonadotropin-inhibitory hormone (GnIH), which further suppresses the hormones that play a key role in ovulation and fertility.
As a result, being stressed can lead to the following menstrual issues:
- Missed or delayed periods
- Periods that are heavier or lighter
- Bleeding between periods
How Can You Address Stress to Avoid Menstrual Issues?
Avoiding stress altogether would be the ideal solution to the numerous physical symptoms it causes, including disruptions to your menstrual cycle. Unfortunately, many of us are managing several important responsibilities and it never feels like there’s enough time to do it all — including managing your stress. The goal is therefore not to avoid stressors completely, but to address them in a healthy way as they arise. Here are a few options to try.
- Unwind in a way that works for you. Some people prefer walks outside when they’re feeling overwhelmed, while others enjoy a hot bath and a book. Experiment with different ways of decompressing to find out what you like best.
- Tend to your body. Although stress can’t be avoided completely, you can help to mitigate its effects by caring for your body. Exercise regularly, eat a nutrient-rich diet, practice stretching or meditation to relax your muscles, and maintain routine preventive care like bathing and brushing your teeth. Also limit or avoid alcohol or substance use — while the effects may temporarily de-stress you, the results are short-lived and can do more damage in the long run.
- Stay connected to others. Talking with people can help you work through stressors, find new ways to cope with challenges, and give you a space to vent freely. Whether it’s family members, friends, or an online community, find a support system you can turn to when you’re stressed out.
- Talk to your doctor. If stress has significantly impacted your cycle or your quality of life, it’s time to get professional help. From therapists who can help you develop effective coping mechanisms for stress, to women’s health care specialists who can aid you in managing the effects on your reproductive system, there are professionals who are ready to help you get back on track.
If you’re experiencing any issues with your menstrual cycle, turn to Peachtree Obstetrics and Gynecology. Our caring providers will help to get to the bottom of the issue and discuss solutions that will work best for you. Schedule with us online or call us directly at 770-487-9604.