By Toni Brannagan
We’ve all had those weeks (or months!) that take an emotional toll on us — and, unfortunately, they can very easily turn into a physical toll. Stress can have an affect on a number of areas in your day-to-day, not just your mood but also your sleep cycle, your blood pressure, your sex drive, and, yup, your period.
It can be tough to conclude that it’s time to take control of your stress levels, but if it’s gotten to the point that your menstrual flow is being disrupted, all the more reason to prioritize both your mental and physical wellbeing.
If you are dealing with stress, here are a few things you can expect when it comes to changes in your period. And if you are experiencing these irregularities, consider giving your doctor a call to help you put together a game plan for feeling and ~flowing~ better.
Expect an early (or late!) visitor
If you’ve been period-ing for more than a few years now, you probably know how finicky your flow can be. There are so many factors that can affect the length of your cycle (like your birth control) that it can be difficult to isolate when stress is the issue. However, a link has been found between women working stressful jobs and having short cycles (defined as less than 24 days).
Here’s where things get a li’l complicated. Stress levels often affect your hypothalamus, the part of your brain that controls your hormone levels, and can cause illness or sudden fluctuations in your weight — two things that can throw your period out of whack. That means you may find yourself with an irregular period, which means it can come early *or* late.
Aunt Flo might skip town entirely
It’s considered normal for your period to fluctuate, changing from the average 28-day cycle every so often. But stress can cause amenorrhea (one or more missed periods), similar to how it causes irregularities — it’s all about hormones, ppl! When your hormones are out of whack due to factors like stress, your hypothalamus essentially makes the call that your body can’t handle pregnancy at the moment, which can result in a missed period entirely.
And we all know it can be even *more* stressful to experience a late period when pregnancy isn’t in your 5-year plan. Don’t simply brush off a no-show due to stress. You should reach out to your gynecologist if you miss two periods in a row, and make sure there’s nothing else going on down there.
Brace yourself for *amplified* PMS symptoms
We’ve all heard that pregnant women should take it easy and avoid stressors, but little definitive research has been dedicated to how emotional strain affects your cycle. One reason for this is the misconception that the intense emotions people with periods feel are *always* hormonal, and that those feelings can be discredited when they are ~PMS-ing~. Thanks, patriarchy!
However, this 2004 study concluded that there is “a significant association between stress and the incidence of dysmenorrhoea” after results showed that women with high stress were twice as likely to endure dysmenorrhoea (aka painful periods, usually cramps).
In general, if you find that you’re in extreme pain due to your period, it’s definitely time to hit up your doctor. Don’t let anyone (ever!) try to convince you that suffering through the week is normal!
Soooo, what does this all mean?
As a recap — stress can cause your period to come early, late, not at all, *and* give you extreme discomfort. Don’t you think that’s a good enough reason to start tackling stressors? Here are a few tips to help you do just that:
- Call your doctor. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, if there are any interruptions in your menstrual cycle (especially more than 2 months), pleeease give your gyno a call! They’ll be able to give you more insight on irregularities, and if you find that stress is really changing your flow, you can discuss your options with them.
- Prioritize de-stressing. Track your cycle, and make an effort to give yourself a li’l extra love during that time of the month.
- Practice self-care. Self-care means different things to different people. Figure out what *you* need to unwind, and commit to giving yourself that. You deserve it!
How has stress affected your period in the past? How did you handle it? Share your stress-busting tips in the comments below.