Stress is good! It’s a normal reaction to being pushed or in some sort of danger (whether this is study, work or something else entirely). It’s not always a bad thing, as it can make you more alert and ready to take on whatever challenge it is that you’re facing. However, if you have so much stress that you feel overwhelmed or that it’s extreme, then this can manifest in many physical ways, including affecting your menstrual cycle. Chronic stress can cause irregular cycle lengths, missed periods, and more painful periods.
What is stress?
Stress is a normal response to pressure, and is actually really important! When people talk about stress, they’re likely talking about bad stress that makes it hard to function, but there are good kinds of stress too. Exercising causes stress to your body for example, and that stress pushes your body to be stronger and can give you a sense of accomplishment and an endorphin rush. If you have chronic stress however, that can cause feelings of being overwhelmed, anxious, and unable to handle your day to day life.
How stress can affect your menstrual cycle
Healthy levels of stress shouldn’t have an impact on your menstrual cycle. But, if you have chronic stress, or are going through something particularly stressful (grief, illness, etc.), that can affect your menstrual cycle in a number of different ways.
Being in high-stress jobs or other situations has been linked to a shorter and longer menstrual cycle. Often, cycle irregularities happen because of delayed or missing ovulations, and an irregularly short or long cycle can be a sign of that. When your body is under immense stress for a long time, it may feel a need to shut down non-essential systems in your body, like your reproductive cycle. In a natural setting, this could be a good thing, as highly stressful environments may not be a good setting to bring a baby into the world. Your body may do this for a long or short period of time.
If you haven’t ovulated, that can sometimes cause you to miss a period. It’s not necessarily a reason to be concerned if it only happens occasionally, but if you’re regularly skipping periods, that could be a sign of a clinically irregular cycle. If this sounds like you, it never hurts to chat with a doctor.
More painful periods
Stress has also been linked to more painful periods. Even if the stress is earlier in your cycle, the effect of that stress could still affect your period.
Ways you can manage stress
Exercising, prioritising sleep, opening up to loved ones, and engaging in activities you enjoy can all help to reduce stress. You may also want to consider a therapy which can give you life-long skills that you can take with you into all kinds of stressful situations, especially if you have a mental health condition like anxiety which may make stress worse.
Stress is completely normal and helpful, but too much can be a bad thing. Too much stress can cause a cycle that’s too long or too short, missed periods, and even more painful periods! But, thankfully, there are many ways to manage chronic stress. Spending time with loved ones, exercise, good sleep, and even therapy can all be effective ways to help manage your menstrual cycle, and your general quality of life.
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Post by Miranda Bromage