In modern society, when you hear the word “stress” you most likely think of negative things, like traffic, work worries, and feeling like you have too much to do. Stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. When you’ve had an accident, for example, stress can help you keep a cool head. When your stress levels are consistently high, though, you may begin to notice it has a physical impact.
Dr. Parisa Pourzand and our staff know only too well how stressful life can be. Between work, family, and trying to take care of yourself, it can feel like there’s never time to unwind. If that sounds like your life, and you also have irregular periods, stress could be the reason.
Your body’s stress response
A cascade of things happen when you experience something stressful. Your muscles tense, you breathe faster, your heart rate goes up, and your endocrine system releases specific hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Your digestive system and nervous system respond as well. In other words, your entire body reacts to stressful events.
If it’s a single stressful event, all of these changes are temporary, and may even help you get through a rough time. But, if you’re under high levels of stress consistently, the changes can cause problems. You don’t want your heart rate to remain high, or to feel as if you’re panting all the time.
Cortisol, particularly, can affect your menstrual period.
Your period and stress
Obviously, there are different levels of stress. There’s the kind of stress you feel when you’re late for brunch with your friends and can’t find a parking spot. Then there’s the kind of stress you feel in a pandemic that seems to never end. Both types of stress have physical consequences, but it’s the longer term stress that is more likely to affect your period.
Big, traumatic events such as war, famine, or separation from family has been associated with missed periods, or amenorrhea, though only in reports and not through rigorous scientific studies. Day-to-day stress is more likely to affect the length of your period than to cause amenorrhea.
Another possibility is that stress can cause dysmenorrhea, or painful periods. You may experience more painful menstruation following a stressful episode instead of during it. Timing appears to play a role in the effects of stress on menstruation.
If you think that your period is being affected by stress, you may be interested in how to manage your stress levels. Sometimes it feels impossible; most people can’t abandon their obligations because they are too stressful. But, there are small things you can do that may help.
For example, pay attention to your sleep schedule. Do you find yourself staying up late to enjoy some peace and quiet? That probably isn’t helping with your stress. Work on getting eight hours of high quality sleep.
Good nutrition, too, may be helpful in lowering your stress levels. Hitting the drive-thru might save time, but it may not help overall.
Scheduling time that’s just for you can help, too. Even if you just take an extra five minutes in the morning to enjoy some luxurious skin care, you may start feeling more relaxed. Scheduling time for hobbies, or to spend time with friends, is even more effective in lowering stress.
Rule out medical issues
Of course, underlying medical issues can also cause irregular periods. If you’re missing periods, or having especially heavy or painful periods, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with Dr. Pourzand to make sure that there’s not a medical issue.