Stress and Your Period: Biological Dominoes?
Let’s face it - although periods are a natural part of being a woman, they can come with their complications.
There’s the potential for extreme bloating – usually timed impeccably with the donning of a new dress for a special event - the crippling headache at the end of a long work day and the cramps during a train journey of epic proportions. Not to mention the backaches and generally low mood you may be inflicted with during your time of the month.
Image: Eutah Mizushima
If you’re lucky, you’ll have a period at the same time every 28 days or so with a regular flow and never find yourself unexpectedly on your period the first day of a beach holiday. However, many women find that their periods are about as predictable as the British weather, and this alone is likely to cause some degree of stress.
Despite the fact that irregular periods are common and not always cause for concern, many women feel increased stress when they are particularly late. Unfortunately, the more you worry, the later your period is likely to put in an appearance; creating a vicious circle of late periods and heightened anxiety.
So how does stress affect your period?
It’s a bit of a domino effect, really. There’s a small part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which is affected by stress. The hypothalamus regulates the way in which the pituitary gland functions, which, in turn, impacts on the thyroid, ovaries and adrenal gland; all of which control our hormones…which impact on our periods. To put it simply, if you are feeling highly stressed, you may experience a change in your regular flow, find that the duration of your period is different to normal, or be faced with irregular periods (hooray, more stress!)
How can you alleviate the symptoms of stress?
Different people have different stress-busting methods. Some women seek solace from stress in a hot, bubbly bath, some find that running helps to clear their minds of negativity, whilst others opt for a spot of adult colouring-in!
Reading books, listening to music, eating and drinking healthily, exercising, getting enough sleep and talking to a friend all have the potential to calm an anxious mind.
Ultimately, you should do whatever works for you…but note that lying on the sofa eating biscuits by the packet will do little for your health in the long run!
To reduce the stress caused by the physical symptoms of your period, have a hot water bottle handy for stomach cramps, as well as painkillers for head and back aches. Light exercise may also help to alleviate your pain and you might want to tweak your diet a little during your time of the month.
If your feelings of stress are constant, have been going on for a long time or are interfering with your daily life, it’s worth checking in with your GP. They will provide you with a range of options to help you with your mental well-being, ranging from simple changes in lifestyle such as those mentioned above, to therapy such as counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy, through to medication, if appropriate.
What if you’ve not had a period in months?
This is called amenorrhea and can be caused by a range of things, including intense stress. If you’ve not had a period in three months, a chat with your doctor should be your next port of call, just to make sure everything is working as it should.
Of course, irregular periods can be caused by factors other than stress, but as it certainly can play a part, we should be making a conscious effort to take time out of our busy lifestyles to relax, unwind and give our bodies the best chance to function as well as they can.
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Written By Megan Whiting for Grace & Green.
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