On the heels of the pandemic, one thing is certain; none of us are strangers to stress. The past year and a half has meant change, and a lot of it.
Even though we’re taking steps to return to pre-pandemic life, stress levels are still very high. In fact, polls show most of us feel even more stressed out than ever before. All this stress takes a toll on our bodies, and can even affect our monthly cycles.
If you’ve been experiencing some out of the ordinary periods, stress could be to blame. Let’s go over what your period normally looks like, how stress can affect it, and what you can do to get back on track.
What to Expect in a Monthly Cycle
Your body completes a monthly cycle every 28 days. That number is different for everyone, and your monthly cycle may be shorter or longer depending on your body.
On average, it takes your body 28 days to prepare for a possible pregnancy, release an egg, and discard it (and the lining of your uterus) if you don’t become pregnant. It’s a pretty amazing cycle, and most of us will have it for at least 40 years of our lives.
There are four phases of each monthly cycle.
Menstrual phase. The menstrual phase is the first phase of your cycle, but it’s technically the last phase of your previous cycle.
The menstrual phase is the phase of your cycle when you have your period. During this phase, your body sheds the lining of your uterus, along with the egg that was released and not fertilized.
Follicular phase. The follicular phase overlaps a bit with the menstrual phase. It begins on the first day of your period, and ends when you ovulate.
During the follicular phase, hormones change and signal your ovaries to make tiny follicles that hold eggs. Eventually, these eggs will mature and one will be released. The lining of the uterus also becomes thicker during the follicular phase.
Ovulation phase. The ovulation phase is the only time during your cycle when you should be able to become pregnant, however because every cycle is different and it’s impossible to know the exact time of ovulation, there’s always a chance you could get pregnant during your cycle.
Ovulation starts when a mature egg is released from an ovary and travels down the fallopian tube to the uterus. Ovulation happens around day 14 in your cycle and lasts for about 24 hours.
Luteal phase. The luteal phase produces hormones that further prepare your uterus for a fertilized egg to be implanted. The hormones are released from the follicle that released the egg.
If you don’t become pregnant, the follicle is reabsorbed by your body, causing hormone levels to decrease. When your hormone levels decrease, you will get your period, or the first phase of your monthly cycle.
During this cycle, you’ll experience fluctuations in hormone levels, and a whole host of symptoms and changes in mood. Even if we don’t know exactly what phase of our cycle we are in, most of us know what to expect, when our periods will start and end, and how heavy our periods will be.
When something changes, it’s usually pretty noticeable. Stress can create changes in your period and your body.
What Happens When You Are Stressed?
Stress is strange. Some levels of stress are necessary and helpful to us. For instance, stress helps us get tasks accomplished or push through a workout.
Healthy stress is always short term, and when you’ve completed the short term activity that was causing the stress, you are rewarded with a feeling of relief.
Chronic stress, like the type you’ve been experiencing during the pandemic, leads to fatigue, feelings of sadness, and even health problems like higher risk of heart attack and stroke.
Cortisol and Adrenaline
When you are stressed, your body releases adrenaline which helps you move into fight-or-flight mode. Adrenaline raises your blood pressure and increases your heart rate, essentially heightening your senses so you can make a quick decision.
Cortisol is a powerful hormone. When you are stressed, your body releases cortisol which raises your blood sugar. Cortisol also helps your brain process glucose more effectively. These are needed responses when you need to make a quick decision or muscle through a task.
However, cortisol also depresses certain functions that your body deems nonessential when you’re highly stressed. Cortisol changes your immune system, causes slower digestion, and suppresses the reproductive system.
The interference with your reproductive system is what causes changes in your monthly cycle.
How Stress and Anxiety Affect Your Period
You might think your period is all about your ovaries, but it really starts in your brain. Your hypothalamus is the part of the brain that signals your hormones to start your monthly cycle.
Chemicals in the hypothalamus tell your pituitary gland to begin releasing hormones. These hormones then signal your ovaries to start your monthly cycle.
When you’re stressed and anxious the cortisol your body releases disrupts the communication between your hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and ovaries. This can result in cycles that seem different than what you are used to.
Stress can cause:
- Light periods or missed periods. Depending on your stress levels and how chronic your stress has been, your body may even skip a period. This is the most common change you might have experienced since the pandemic.
Irregular periods. If you’re used to periods that last a solid seven days but you’ve been having periods that last only five, it could be due to your increased stress and anxiety levels.
You may also find your period comes a few days earlier or later than you expect.
- Spotting. Stress can also cause you to experience spotting between your periods, or for a few days before or after your period.
- More intense cramping. Cramps and premenstrual symptoms can feel worse if you are stressed. You might feel more intense moods, and experience cramps that are more uncomfortable than you are used to.
Most of the time, you can take care of yourself at home if stress is affecting your periods. However, if you’ve missed a period and ruled out pregnancy, you should make an appointment with your healthcare provider.
Also, if you’re dealing with levels of stress and anxiety that feel insurmountable and overwhelming, it’s a great idea to talk to someone. A therapist can help you find better ways of managing your stress levels and help you feel better.
What to Do When Stress Changes Your Period
First, take a deep, cleansing breath. If stress is changing your monthly cycle, there are ways you can prepare for the unexpected and feel better about the changes your body may be undergoing.
Be Prepared for Your Period
Half the stress of dealing with changes in your monthly cycle are from not being prepared. When your period comes early or gives you more intense cramping it can be stressful if you aren’t prepared with the right period care products on hand.
For cramps. Rael’s Heating Patches are miracle workers. Our heating patches adhere to the inside of your underwear so provide you with warmth and relief from cramping that lasts for hours.
With no harsh chemicals or ingredients that could disrupt your hormones or irritate your skin, our heating patches deliver warmth and relief when you need it most, by promoting blood flow and relaxing your muscles.
For unexpected early periods and spotting. If your period has been “surprising” you the past few months, it's likely you’ve been doing some extra laundry, or ruining some of your favorite intimates.
Rael’s period panties are the perfect solution for keeping you protected and comfortable no matter where you’re at in your cycle. Our seamless reusable period panties look and feel just like your favorite underwear, but have an incredibly absorbent center that wicks away moisture and keeps it locked away in a waterproof layer.
No more worrying about when your period will be here. When it arrives, it arrives, and you’re totally prepared.
Check Your Stress Management Plan
If stress is really taking its toll on you, it may be time to review your stress management plan. If you don’t have a clear plan for managing your stress, chances are you aren’t doing anything to help alleviate it.
Whether you decide to practice meditation, take a yoga class, book a day at the spa, or go for a walk, find a method of alleviating your stress that is accessible and enjoyable for prevyou. If you have trouble finding a way to alleviate stress, talk to a professional.
The Bottom Line
Stress can be healthy, but chronic stress has negative health markers and can even affect your period. If you’re feeling stressed, take steps to manage it healthfully, and speak to a professional if you still have trouble.
When stress interferes with your period, trust Rael to keep you ready with products that help keep you comfortable, protected, and prepared no matter what your period brings you.
US adults report highest stress level since early days of the COVID-19 pandemic | APA
Your Menstrual Cycle | WomensHealth.gov
Chronic Stress Puts Your Health at Risk | Mayo Clinic