How stress can change and even stop your period

We talk about stress a lot these days, don’t we?  That’s because stress is undoubtedly one of the most intrinsically linked challenges to health. 

Too often in the clinic, we hear clients telling us that they aren’t stressed, however their bodies and pathology are telling us the opposite. 

It’s important to recognise that stress is not just related to emotional stress or a specific trigger or trauma that makes its way into our lives. 

Stress is around every corner; from the orange traffic light that we think we just might make, the deadlines on our shoulders, the frantic chase of kids and dinner and feeding the dog. 

It’s also caused by processed foods, artificial lights, lack of sleep, shift work, chemicals and pollutants rife in our environment, and of course, information overload. 

Literally just the amount of information we are exposed to in a day alone is hundreds of times more than we were exposed to just 10 years’ ago.  In fact, reading the newspaper from cover to cover exposes us to more information than a person from 1800s would have been exposed to in their entire life!  The processing and categorising of that information, along with the emotional responses we may have to whatever we have read, also causes massive mental stress. 

So, just recapping an average day in an average person’s life in the first world, you can see the amount of stress we have is monumental (despite all the privileges of a first world… ironic, right?). 

Prolonged stress from these and other areas (from illness to planning a wedding to sudden grief to dealing with Telstra…) takes a physical toll on our body. 

We are not designed to be exposed to stress for long periods (…yet).  Our bodies are designed to experience stress for a short period, and then have time to de-stress and take all the physical responses of stress back to a pre-stress state.  This way we could learn from the stress trigger and grow more resilient to future stress.

Nowadays, the stress triggers are present far more frequently than they’re not.  In fact, our stress triggers rarely go away.  And, as this continues, our bodies learn to adapt to high stress by maintaining a physical stress response.

Cool story, but what does this have to do with my period, you say?

Your menstrual cycle is massively affected by stress. 

When you stress you release stress hormones, including a hormone called cortisol.  Cortisol and progesterone (a prominent female hormone, which increases in the second half of the menstrual cycle) are made from the same ingredients.  When there is high stress in the body, the body will make cortisol over progesterone… every single time.

So, what effect does that have on my period?

Well, without progesterone being made in the body, it’s any guess as to when your period might come.  This is why it’s common to have a late period or absent period during periods of high stress. (Just a side note, this is one aspect behind losing your period after getting into hardcore exercise… so is the fat loss that occurs which is essential for hormone creation… but more of that in another blog!).

Because progesterone and oestrogen keep each other in balance, low progesterone can result in high oestrogen levels.  Low progesterone (as well as high oestrogen) is also linked to PMS symptoms, like mood changes and irritability! 

High cortisol levels also tend to mean that your body has higher blood sugar, because high blood sugar is part of the stress response (AKA fight or flight response)

All that sugar in the blood needs to get out of the blood and into the cells to prepare us to run or fight.  Insulin is the vehicle that gets that blood sugar into the cell, so as blood sugar rises, so does insulin. 

High insulin means there’s a good chance you will have low levels of a hormone called sex hormone binding globulin (AKA SHBG).  Sounds like the name of a strange magical creature, doesn’t it? 

Sex hormone binding globulin helps to package up excess oestrogen and get it out of the body (usually through your poop!).  If you don’t have enough SHBG then you may have a bit too much oestrogen floating around… and without it’s partner in crime, progesterone, to keep it in balance… BOOM.  PMS symptoms, late periods, irregular periods, acne flares, bloating and a change in cycle length occurs.

Ironically, the changes that happen to your periods due to stress end up increasing stress as women all around the world are left scratching their heads wondering what the hell is going on!

So, if you are one of those people, we hope you have found this blog

And, we hope you now have a better understanding how much of an effect stress has on your periods. 

Now, go have a cuppa tea and relax!