Between a global health pandemic, an upcoming election, and the holiday season approaching, there are many reasons to feel more stressed than usual. Not to mention, traveling to visit friends and family away from home is overwhelming. It can be hard to keep up with your routine and continue to do things for your own physical, mental, and emotional health. But what does stress mean for my period, ovulation, and menstrual cycle? Let’s discuss.
Stress and your period
Under extreme stress, both emotional and physical, your menstrual cycle can get off kilter. Everyone’s cycle is different, but a cycle is considered clinically irregular when the majority of cycles in the previous six months have been less than 24 days or greater than 35 days or if they vary greatly in length. Additionally, people with irregular cycles may notice that their periods happen infrequently, frequently, or are very unpredictable. You may notice late periods with spotting in between when under a lot of stress because of the hormonal imbalance that stress causes. It’s important to remember that an irregular period doesn’t always mean that you’re not producing eggs and there is still a chance you’re ovulating.
Not eating enough or exercising too much creates physical stress on your body and scares it into skipping your period as your body can’t handle the drastic imbalance of nutrients in your body. Similarly, your menstrual cycle also shuts down if you are eating too much and taking in too many calories.
Your circadian rhythm is like your body clock and influences sleeping and eating habits, hormone release, and cycle. Since travel often disrupts your circadian rhythm, it will likely affect the hormones that control your menstrual cycle as well. Between flying into different time zones, spending hours in the car, and spending time in an unfamiliar place, traveling can take a toll on your hormones and in turn your cycle.
Stress and ovulation
When we feel stressed, a hormonal pathway called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis is activated. When activated, this pathway produces extra levels of cortisol and corticotropin-releasing hormone, which are made to help your body respond to stress. While these hormones are good for dealing with stress, they can also decrease your body’s normal level of reproductive hormones, interfering with ovulation. This is not to say that high stress levels completely prevent ovulation from happening, but it makes it harder for your body to produce eggs and, in turn, harder to get pregnant.
As with your period, what you are putting into your body affects ovulation. Excess insulin, which is found in many high-carbohydrate foods, can stop your eggs from maturing properly and may prevent you from ovulating. Stress from undereating may cause a condition called functional hypothalamic amenorrhea (FHA). FHA leads to extremely low insulin levels and accounts for 33% of cases in which adults no longer ovulate.
The stress put onto your body when traveling creates a hormonal imbalance and makes it harder to track ovulation. Your menstrual cycle gets used to a specific hormonal balance when living your everyday life, and traveling throws that balance off and creates a shift in ovulation.
Tips for how to stay healthy and regular
We all know how frustrating it is to receive profound advice to “just relax”, like it’s easy. There are certain things you can do in stressful times to keep your cycle as regular and healthy as possible. First, try to keep up with some sort of routine. Your body likes consistency and familiarity, so lifestyle changes tend to throw your cycle off.
If things get overwhelming, make a to-do list and journal! Having everything you have to do for the day laid out in front of you makes it much less stressful. Journaling can also help as writing down some things you are thinking and feeling each day takes some emotional stress off your shoulders.
Know your body so you know when it is off. Taking ovulation and pregnancy tests regularly lets you know your cycle better and understand how physical and emotional changes affect it. Additionally, knowing your sleep and nutritional needs throughout your cycle helps you manage your health and hormones better.
There are so many factors that influence your cycle and in turn your mental, physical, and emotional state. If your cycle has a mind of its own, we find it helpful to take ovulation tests regularly to try staying on top of it. In stressful times, you can always turn to Stix as a resource and a community.