If comparison is the thief of joy then stress is the thief of regular menstrual cycles. From overexercising, work deadlines, undereating and too much screen time our stress response is at an all time high. Raised stress levels are correlated with menstrual irregularities namely changes in cycle length, menstrual phase duration and PMS.
This is particularly evident after living through the COVID-19 pandemic where psychological stressors increased for many. Studies have shown that the increased stress levels during this time have had an impact on women’s reproductive health due to the increased trends in menstrual irregularities.
During times of stress our adrenal glands produce cortisol, our fight or flight hormone. It is ingrained in us as a survival mechanism since day dot to be able to run away from predators. However, this is not so handy when it comes to our cycle. Chronic stress and elevated cortisol levels signals to the body that right now is not the ideal time to reproduce shutting off reproductive hormone secretion, aka irregular periods.
The textbook menstrual cycle is 28 days with the shedding of the uterine lining marking the bleed. Having a period is a biomarker of women’s health indicating proper hormone function between biological systems – your brain and the ovaries. It really is a superpower. Read below for tips on making your body feel safe and chill out.
Stop Doing Intense Workouts 24/7
Exercise is imperative for our health. Although, intense exercise such as HIIT and long-distance running are a form of physiological stress that is associated with amenorrhea – loss of a period. Of course, intense exercise is more favourable at specific times in your cycle when the body naturally has more energy during the follicular and ovulatory phases. However, your body needs to feel that it is safe. Dial down the intensity of your exercise just before and during your bleed and choose lower intensity activities like yoga, pilates, walking or simply stretching.
Get Enough Sleep
We all seem to have one thousand things we need to tick off daily and being well rested can do wonders for your stress levels. It is no wonder, really, as sleep is such a vital part of our overall wellbeing. Sleep is a regulator of our 24hr internal clock – the circadian rhythm- which helps modulate bodily functions such as our hormones, including our stress hormone cortisol. Sleep routine disturbances such as shift work and insomnia have been observed to impact reproductive ability in females. Make sleep a priority by creating a night-time routine just like you would a morning routine to set you up for a good night’s sleep.
Eat Enough Always, Eat Too Much Sometimes, Eat Too Little Never
Ladies, nutrients are your body’s best friend! Without the right levels of energy and nutrients your body is not going to prioritise menstruation. Again, not fuelling your body correctly is a form of stress which, although may not feel stressful, is stopping the proper functioning of your hormones. Having poor nutrition and restrictive eating behaviours puts you at risk of not only amenorrhea but also osteoporosis and nutritional deficiencies. Prioritising a balanced intake of all macronutrients and food groups will remove stress from under eating. Naturally, due to hormonal fluctuations, your body may crave more energy, carbohydrates, fats or protein at different times. This is due to the different energy demands throughout your cycle. Listening to your body and intuitively consuming what it needs is the best tool for eating enough. Make sure you are pairing colourful vegetables, protein, fat and carbohydrates at every meal for optimal nutrient intake.
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