Stress and menstruation: what is the impact on the menstrual cycle?

Do your periods tend to be late? Missing periods? Or more painful? The menstrual cycle can quickly be disrupted by a variety of factors: hormones, but also the notorious stress that is now omnipresent in many people's daily lives. The consequences of stress can affect not only your daily life, but also the smooth running of your menstrual periods. So how do you deal with it? We tell you all about it in this article.

Does stress have an impact on menstruation and the menstrual cycle?

Stressful situations can take many forms. In fact, in a stressful situation and to cope with it, the body will secrete hormones in excess of normal levels. In fact, it's the secretion of adrenalin and cortisol (the stress hormone) that causes the problem! Cortisol is secreted by the adrenal glands. Basically, cortisol is a vital hormone with many functions, including regulating blood sugar and blood pressure, participating in bone development and acting as a natural anti-inflammatory. When you're stressed, cortisol is released in large quantities into the bloodstream, which can influence several mechanisms, in particular:

  • secretions of female cycle hormones: progesterone and estrogen, which affect ovulation
  • thyroid function (cortisol will stop TSH secretion, thus preventing the thyroid gland from secreting T4 hormone, which affects ovarian function)
  • the production of GABA, a neurotransmitter which reduces menstrual pain.

Physical stress caused by repetitive and intense physical activity, as well as sudden weight loss, can have an effect on the menstrual cycle, accentuating menstrual symptoms.

What causes increased stress during menstruation?

It's very common for women to feel stressed during their menstrual cycle. Here again, it's all a question of hormones. But there may be other factors at play which can make anxiety worse during this period. These can be simple things in life, such as exam deadlines, or more serious things, such as illness, bereavement or the like.
Some women can also be anxious, especially if they suffer from painful premenstrual syndrome (PMS), painful periods or an abundant, anarchic menstrual flow that prevents them from living their daily lives as they should. Except that stressing for these reasons has a snowball effect, and the anxious state only increases, causing a variety of repercussions.

How does stress affect menstruation?

When you're exposed to prolonged anxiety, there are repercussions on your cycle.

Weak or non-existent periods

Cortisol levels that are too high have an impact onovulation, and can interrupt it. If ovulation is interrupted, menstrual bleeding may be delayed or, in some cases, even disappear. If the absence of menstrual flow lasts longer than three months, it's called amenorrhea. But the absence of menstrual flow can also be due topsychological factors, such as shock, depression or anxiety.
If you no longer have your period, the first thing to do is to rule out any external causes, such as :

  • Pregnancy: if in doubt, don't hesitate to take a pregnancy test.
  • Prolonged breast-feeding (since with lactation, women don't have menstrual discharge and don't ovulate).
  • Hormonal contraception: the pill, implant or IUD can cause an absence of menstrual flow or very light bleeding.
  • surgery on the uterus
  • Menopause, whether early or biological
  • PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) or ovarian dystrophy
  • Certain autoimmune diseases
  • anorexia

If you're still having your periods, but they're less abundant, this may also be due to psychological stress. Psychological stress has an impact on the ovaries. This causes ovarian insufficiency, which in turn reduces the abundant menstrual flow.

Irregular periods

If your cycle sometimes lasts 50 days, then 20, and then repeats itself over several cycles, you're suffering from irregular cycles. Consult a gynaecologist for advice on what to look out for: irregular cycles can certainly be caused by stress, but other factors can also come into play, such as PCOS or an ovarian cyst.
If you never know when your period will arrive, it can create a vicious circle of anxiety about not knowing when it's coming, making it even more irregular. If stress triggers your periods and they come too close together, this can lead to exhaustion, particularly from iron loss.

Don't hesitate to seek medical advice if in doubt! Only a doctor or healthcare professional can make a diagnosis.

Painful periods

Studies have shown that anxiety can make menstruation more painful, and that women exposed to intense anxiety are twice as likely to suffer from dysmenorrhea. For many women, stress causes more pain during the menstrual and proliferative phases.
PMS symptoms can also be accentuated: during a stressful period, for example, it's common to experience more severe menstrual cramps.

Our tips for limiting the impact of stress on your period!

If your menstrual troubles are linked to a stressful situation, then you can look on this as good news: the troubles are reversible! You can try to identify the source of this anxiety by following these tips.

Take up a sporting activity

Regular exercise helps you relax, release endorphins and reduce your anxiety. It's up to you to find the sport that's right for you. Certain practices, such as yoga, are particularly effective in helping you relax and regain a certain harmony between body and mind.

Sleep at regular times

Sleeping at regular times at night helps to regulate your physical and emotional balance, whereas a tired body and mind are more likely to be stressed and affected by external factors. Choose a sleep duration of around 8 hours!

Alternative medicine: sophrology and homeopathy

Modern, non-traditional medicines such as meditation, sophrology, acupuncture, homeopathy and phytotherapy can considerably reduce stress!

Taking hormonal contraception

Taking a hormonal contraceptive, such as the pill, can solve the surface problem of painful or irregular periods. On the other hand, chronic anxiety will always be present. But taking hormones will help to (almost) eliminate the effects on menstrual discharge.

FAQs on stress and menstruation

Why does stress block periods?

Cortisol has an impact on the menstrual cycle and on the secretion of the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which can delay or completely block ovulation. This is why menstruation may not appear.

Can stress cause menstruation?

Just as anxiety can block menstruation, it can also trigger it. In fact, in general, stress disrupts the entire hormonal cycle, so it can both bring on early menstruation and delay it.

How can I de-stress to get my period?

Fortunately, the effects of stress on menstruation are reversible. There are many solutions: a good night's sleep, physical activity, relaxation, meditation... If your menstrual cycle problems persist, consult your doctor, gynaecologist or health professional, who will be able to suggest a suitable treatment.

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