Stress is a part of everyone’s lives, and it affects us in many different ways. It helps us when it triggers the fight-or-flight response in troubling situations or when it focuses our attention on something that needs doing. But too much stress is bad for you. It can impact your mood, create anxiety, headaches, and an upset stomach. Stree can even affect your sex drive. And for women, stress can complicate menstruation in a variety of ways.
If you live in the Arlington, Texas area and stress is affecting your period, having a compassionate, experienced team is essential. Dr. Joan Bergstrom and the team of doctors at Women's Health Services have been helping women for decades manage stressful periods and many other women’s health issues.
The nature of stress
Stress isn’t inherently bad. In fact, it’s a normal physiological and psychological response to emotional, physical, social, or cultural changes in your environment. Too much stress, though, can leave you feeling like you can’t handle daily tasks and have little — or no — control over the direction your life is heading. You can become easily angered or irritated, and if the stress becomes chronic, it can affect both your short-term and long-term health.
Stress also affects your hormones, which can be both a good and a bad thing. When you’re stressed, your adrenal glands pump out adrenaline and cortisol into your bloodstream, getting your body ready to fight or flee. It’s a very handy process when you’re in grave danger. But when stress starts coming from mundane events, such as work deadlines, it ends up depleting your cortisol reserves, leaving you unable to respond to serious stressors.
The stress-menstruation connection
A woman’s stress response is different from a man’s, as her hormone levels differ depending on where she is in her 28-day menstrual cycle, also called her infradian rhythm. Cortisol, one of the stress hormones, is present at different levels in the first and second half of the rhythm, and it’s important to be mindful of those levels so as not to create even more hormone imbalances by adding additional stress.
Here are a number of ways stress damages your hormone levels, negatively impacting your menstrual cycle:
Interferes with blood sugar
Stress raises cortisol levels and unbalances your blood sugar. This, in turn, disrupts your ovulation and your period. Imbalanced blood sugar harms your hormones. By de-stressing, you can improve your blood sugar, balance your hormones, and improve PMS, bloating, cramps, period-related acne, heavy or irregular periods, and missing periods.
Cortisol blocks progesterone production and lowers the hormone’s levels. Your body uses progesterone to make cortisol so it can respond to stress, and the more stress you undergo, the more progesterone your body “steals” to make cortisol. This lengthens the luteal phase of your cycle, making your periods start out slow, with a lot of brown spotting and blood before you experience your regular flow.
Increased cortisol levels can delay or even prevent ovulation, which makes sense in an evolutionary sense — getting pregnant on top of dealing with a lot of stress puts too much of a demand on the body. Stopping ovulation helps to preserve energy to deal with the stress before the body has to rev up to support a baby too.
Changes your period’s timing or causes it to go missing
If you’re dealing with stress after you ovulate, your hormone levels are thrown out of whack. You can experience spotting, a period that arrives early, or a period that differs from your norm in terms of consistency, length, color, and/or symptoms like cramping. Intense stress can also cause months where you don’t ovulate at all.
Causes vitamin and mineral deficiencies
Excess cortisol depletes the body of essential vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients. Especially, B vitamins, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids. Unfortunately, these are the most important nutrients to calm down your adrenal system, and an overworked adrenal system, as we have seen, can interfere with ovulation.
Disrupts up your gut
Stress disrupts the balance between good and bad bacteria in your digestive system, which disrupts your hormone balance. That’s because gut flora, especially a bacterial colony called the estrobolome, helps process and eliminate excess hormones from the body. With high levels of stress hormones, you can expect abnormal menstrual cycles.
Are you dealing with irregular or absent menstrual cycles? It could be due to stress. Contact Women's Health Services to learn more by calling either of our two locations or by scheduling a consultation online. We can help you de-stress and get your cycle back to normal.