How does stress affect your period?
A little bit of stress is no bad thing. A HIIT workout, cold shower, or a period of intermittent fasting can make the body more robust through a biological process called ‘hormesis’ – the ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ idea. Plus, the fight-or-flight stress response cycle is an intrinsic part of our evolutionary heritage; it was designed to help us survive in the face of a perceived threat.
But chronic, prolonged stress is a very different story. And it can affect your health in numerous ways, including – yes, even messing with your menstrual cycle.
Can stress delay your period?
Missed periods, heavy periods, late periods, early periods, and irregular periods can all be put down to stress. Why? The short answer is your hormones.
When you’re stressed, your body releases the stress hormone, cortisol. High levels of circulating cortisol make the hypothalamus, the area of the brain that governs your menstrual cycle, suppress normal levels of reproductive hormones, which may lead to abnormal ovulation or amenorrhea (absence of menstruation) (1).
How to manage stress
Experiencing stress in the modern world is somewhat unavoidable. The problem is, if we don’t deal with stress, it can stagnate in the body. Over time, chronic, unresolved stress can drain our emotional resources and affect our overall well-being.The secret is learning how to manage stress.
Close the stress cycle
From email overwhelm to a long morning commute, most of us will encounter a few stressors each day. And these micro-stressors activate our evolutionary fight-or-flight response. However, instead of completing the stress cycle like our ancestors, which makes the body feel safe after confronting danger, many of us allow stress to sit in the body.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to close your stress cycle and discharge any stored tension. Aim to do a few of these quick releases every day.
Ways to close a stress cycle
Five minutes of intense exercise
Diaphragmatic (belly) breathing
Seek out positive social interaction
Have a big cry
Hug someone you trust
Self-care is taking your power back; it’s anything but selfish. Make a conscious effort to diarise relaxation and downtime every week. Put a block of time in your calendar every week, so you’re more likely to honour it. Have a nap without setting an alarm, practice a short meditation, or call your best friend.
Get enough sleep
Sleep deprivation and stress often go hand-in-hand. Sleep is the Swiss army knife of health; it’s the elixir of life. Without it, emotional, mental, and physical health falls to the wayside: your mind shuts down, your energy tank sputters, and you start to feel overwhelmed.
Tips for better sleep
Set an alarm to prompt you to start getting ready for bed
Try to wake up and go to bed at the same time each day
Ensure your bedroom is dark, temperate, and quiet
Aim to have eaten your dinner and exercised by 7 pm
Avoid alcohol before bed. If you want a drink, enjoy it earlier in the evening.
Refrain from drinking caffeine after midday
Try to get lots of natural morning light to calibrate your circadian rhythm
Implement a strict curfew on all technology 90-minutes before bed
Remove all clock faces from your bedroom
Don’t count sheep! Take yourself on a visual walk instead.
Exercises for stress relief
While physical activity is fuel for emotional health (hello, feel-good endorphins), there’s a delicate juggling act at stake: you need to find that exercise sweet spot – a place where you’re working out enough to feel good but not overdoing it to the point of more stress.
Call on brain-friendly food
Food affects your mood – for better, or for worse. Your diet can offer a helpful buffer against the physiological changes caused by stress.
The gut-brain axis
The gut is often referred to as the ‘second brain’ (the term ‘gut feeling’ says it all). Feeding your gut, therefore, means feeding your brain. And your gut loves nothing more than fibre-rich plants. Including 30 different plant foods in your diet every week will help to support your gut health – and, in turn, your emotional health. This doesn’t just mean eating more fruit and veggies. This number includes all plant foods: legumes, grains, nuts, seeds, spices, and herbs.
The worst foods for stress
The likes of caffeine, refined sugar, and overly processed foods may exacerbate symptoms of stress. These foods are known to aggravate an already-spent nervous system. Drinking copious amounts of coffee, for instance, will only make you feel more restless and on edge. For the time being, try to reduce your intake of these foods.
Natural remedies for stress
St John’s Wort
A perennial plant with yellow, star-shaped flowers, St John’s Wort is a traditional herbal remedy used for the relief of mild anxiety and slightly low mood.
Ashwagandha is a revered herb in the Indian Ayurvedic system of medicine. This herb is also known as ‘Indian Ginseng’ since it has similar adaptogenic qualities.
Most people are familiar with that warm-and-fuzzy-cup-of-tea-feeling. The amino acid, l-theanine, is thought to be responsible for making the nation’s favourite brew oh-so-comforting.
Colloquially known as ‘nature’s tranquiliser’, magnesium supports psychological function, which may be helpful at this time.
5 hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP, is the natural compound the body manufactures from the amino acid, tryptophan. The brain then converts 5-HTP into serotonin, our ‘feel-good’ hormone. For this reason, 5-HTP may be a useful addition.
Increasing evidence suggests the family of B vitamins are important for helping the body manage stress.
Coping with stress long term
Stress is a normal part of being alive, and our bodies are relatively well insulated against the short-term impact of stressors. That said, chronic, unremitting stress can have a sizeable impact on many areas of health and wellbeing, including the menstrual cycle. If you struggle to manage stress at home, you may want to consider speaking to your GP or seeking advice from a therapist.
For more information on supporting your menstrual or emotional health, please feel free to reach out to our team of expert Nutrition Advisors.
Vitoratos N. et al., “Reproductive” Corticotropin?Releasing Hormone. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 2006;1092(1), 310–318.
Kalantaridou S. et al., Stress and the female reproductive system. Journal of Reproductive Immunology. 2004;62(1), 61–68.
Disclaimer: The information presented by Nature's Best is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications.
Olivia Salter has always been an avid health nut. After graduating from the University of Bristol, she began working for a nutritional consultancy where she discovered her passion for all things wellness-related. There, she executed much of the company’s content marketing strategy and found her niche in health writing, publishing articles in Women’s Health, Mind Body Green, Thrive and Psychologies.